Overcoming Fear

“It was a beautiful day on the beach, but you couldn’t be there because of embarrassing toe fungus.”

What do the advertisers of that product know about us that would motivate them to put a commercial together that way? We are afraid. We fear the opinions of others. We fear weakness. We fear vulnerability. We fear pain. We fear death.

I took a thoughtful look at today’s news headlines and advertisements and assessed how many of them play on our fear of economic loss, fear of sickness and death or fear of man. Just a scan of the big news outlets this morning produced these potential fears:

  • “This is the food that heart attacks are made of.”
  • “Doctor on Swine Flu: Be Alert, Get Vaccinated”
  • Fashion errors can get women passed over for job promotions.
  • “Durable goods orders tumbled in June”
  • We have had no hurricanes yet this season, but the worst-ever hurricane season started this way.

David may have been sitting on his porch watching a storm blow in from the Mediterranean when he penned Psalm 29:

1Ascribe to the LORD, O sons of the mighty,
Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
2Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name;
Worship the LORD in holy array.
3The voice of the LORD is upon the waters;
The God of glory thunders,
The LORD is over many waters.
4The voice of the LORD is powerful,
The voice of the LORD is majestic.
5The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
Yes, the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
6He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
And Sirion like a young wild ox.
7The voice of the LORD hews out flames of fire.
8The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
The LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9The voice of the LORD makes the deer to calve
And strips the forests bare;
And in His temple everything says, "Glory!"
10The LORD sat as King at the flood;
Yes, the LORD sits as King forever.
11The LORD will give strength to His people;
The LORD will bless His people with peace.

This is personal because I am working with a child in my own home who has developed an inordinate fear of lightning (and, hence, the outdoors). My wife wisely told me not to jump all over the issue with a little person. I realize that I may be demonstrating more fear (What will people think if the pastor’s kid has panic attacks?) of what might happen if my child persists in fear than my child is showing toward lightning. Specks and planks.

I will be gentle with the child, but fear is a serious sin. It becomes life-dominating. When I live in fear I rob God of His glory. Here are some examples:

  • When I am afraid of bad weather I miss the chance to delight in the power God displays in nature.
  • When I am afraid of what others think of me I ignore what God’s opinion is and what changes He wants to make in me.
  • When I am afraid of sickness I not only risk making myself sicker from worry, I also ignore the fact that God might want to show His power in my weakness.
  • When fear of losing my investments or other economic security consumes me, I reveal a heart that finds its security in a substitute savior.

Look at the text of Psalm 29. After the description of a loud storm that tears down trees, starts fires, throws pregnant forest mothers into labor and brings floods, the heavenly (I take it as heaven’s temple) audience shouts “Glory!” What a contrast. The crowd in the presence of the King gets to see every event on earth from God’s perspective (see Revelation 19:1-4). Talk about a big-screen, multi-media adventure! How can you have two individuals looking at the same event with one paralyzed in fear and the other energized in worship? Perspective.

Our problem is that we look at the things we fear as threats to our peace when we should be looking at them as displays of the glory of God. That is why the Christmas shepherds who feared an angelic appearance and twelve panicked disciples in a storm-tossed boat could go from terror to worship. They saw the King.

When you get to the end of the psalm you see where you need to be if you are prone to fear. You need to see that “the LORD sits as King forever.” His subjects go to Him for strength and peace.

Practically speaking, there is some homework you should do if you are prone to fear’s paralysis:

  1. Make a list of the good (God-pleasing) activities you are avoiding because you are afraid. Be thorough. The size of the list may surprise you.
  2. See your fear for what it is and confess it as an attempt at preserving self instead of glorifying God. It is a serving-two-masters matter. Repentance is in order.
  3. Memorize Psalm 29:9-11 (or others: Psalm 23:5; 27:1; 34:9-10, 19; Proverbs 21:1; Matthew 10:28; 2 Corinthians 1:8-10; Hebrews 13:6; 2 Peter 2:9) and call the text to mind when you feel fear taking control.
  4. Do what someone who trusts God would do in the fearful circumstance. This is not being fake. It is practicing trust. It is the fruit of repentance. For example:

  • When you least feel like being around other people (work, church, small group fellowship), step into that situation and find a way to serve them. Stop living a life that is controlled by feelings. You will find the “glory” in the storm.
  • When you are troubled by that person whose presence is intimidating or whose strong personality changes the way you talk or act or dress, remind yourself whom you should be seeking to glorify.
  • When the doctor says you have a deadly disease or the meteorologist says there is a devastating storm headed your way, remember the inhabitants of heaven are shouting, “Glory!” and echo heaven’s song.

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