Freedom From Fear – Part 2 (of 3)

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man afraid

As I’ve quoted before in an earlier blog (Common Stress Traps), anxiety and fear-related disorders constitute some of the most common maladies affecting people today.  Beyond growing rates that I see in adults, I’m seeing an increasing number of young children and teens in my office struggling with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders (an anxiety-based disorder), phobias and panic.  The causes for this escalation in recent times are beyond the scope of this blog, but suffice it to say, it is a growing concern that affects ALL of us – either personally or to a friend or family member.

And even if our problems with fear aren’t serious enough to be diagnosed as an anxiety disorder, the power of fear in many of our lives is rampant – from helicopter parents who over-protect their kids, to couples who are afraid to commit to marriage (see my previous post, Relationship Red Flags),  to career opportunities that are lost because of an aversion to risk even when we’re desperately unhappy with our jobs (statistics indicate that only 31% of employees worldwide are happy with their work and engaged).  Turn on the news today and you’ll hear doomsday reports about the economy, the safety of our world, and the future of our children.

When we are afraid, we believe that something bad is going to happen to us, and so our adrenal system kicks into gear within us.  That’s our “fight or flight” system that God designed to get us out of danger.  However, with fear, we often experience mostly “perceived” danger, and so we’re often on high alert to try to prevent the perceived bad things from happening.  But the problem with a constant state of alertness is that our adrenal system gets overused, and it causes our bodies to begin to break down, resulting in a multitude of problems over the long-term.

When we layer on top of that our tendency to over-load our lives with too many demands because we’re afraid to say no or we’re afraid that if we don’t do it, it won’t get done, or we’re afraid that if we don’t, bad things will happen to us…. Then we bring on ourselves a tremendous amount of stress that our bodies we’re never designed to bear.  And just like overloading an engine that was never meant to bear the weight of the load, it eventually breaks down and sometimes destroys the engine all together.  And beyond the physical damage fear causes us, it also causes a great deal of emotional and relational damage — including our relationship with God, thereby causing us spiritual damage.

Many times, we cry out to God, asking him to lift our suffering and anxiety, but in our fear, we refuse to do our part, which is to actively step out in faith and confront our fear.   Important truth:  we will never break free of fear if we don`t step forward and face our fear.   Confronting our fears is hard work – yes, part of it is done on our knees, but a large part of it is accomplished in how we choose to live our life, from risking rejection, to facing challenges, to confronting difficult changes in our lives and relationships.  It`s about facing into our problems, realizing that we can handle them with God’s help, and taking the steps of freedom.  Instead, unfortunately, the most common coping strategy we use to deal with fear is avoidance, which as I said in my previous blog (Freedom From Fear – Part 1) only causes our fears to escalate and establish a stronghold in our lives.

And when we continue to struggle, we often begin to blame God and see him as a harsh God who abandons us in their hour of need.  But you see, God’s will has never been for us to be struggle-free — he said, in this world, you WILL have trouble (John 16:33)– but instead to trust him in the midst of our struggles so that our character and faith grow.  Freedom comes not from an absence of struggles but from an absence of fear and fretting in the midst of our struggles.

Something else that I’ve learned about fear:  at the root of my fear is actually my tendency to confuse my ability to control the outcomes in my life with God’s ability to control the outcomes.  How often do we worry about things over which we have no control?  Often we trust our ability to control things in our lives, as well as our loved ones’ lives, but it’s a total myth.  We can’t control much of anything or anyone in our lives.  But unfortunately, we learn to depend on our ability to control outcomes, and when we can’t, we panic.  We have to learn to transfer our confidence in our own ability to control to God’s ability to control.  God has given me responsibility, but he’s never given me control.  I need to separate what I can’t control from what God can control.

Remember, we are with the One whom the storm obeys; we are with the One who raised the dead.  No storm is beyond God’s control, no matter how terrifying it is and out of our control.  Mark 4:35-41 is a probably a very familiar story to many of us, but let’s read this in the context of our own struggles with fear.  Beginning in verse 35, this passage reads, That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”  Now, Jesus, being God, must have known that a storm was coming, yet he still suggested that they get in the boat to get to the other side.  How many times does God actually lead us into the storm, even knowing the immense fear and pain we’ll face?  Why would he do that?

Then in verses 36 to 38a:  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.  So here’s Jesus snoozing in the middle of a storm.  Is he just oblivious or foolish?  Is Jesus caught unaware?  Is Jesus ever caught unaware by our storms; does he say, oh, no, I didn’t think this would happen, what am I going to do?  TRUTH – nothing is a surprise to God.  But the disciples respond in great fear and anger – and putting myself in their shoes, I know I would respond (and have responded) in much the same way in verse 38b: The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”  How often do we feel that God doesn’t care about what we’re going through when we’re struggling with a storm in our lives?  The word “drown” here actually means “perishing” – how often do we feel as if God doesn’t care if we’re perishing in our difficult circumstances?  We equate a lack of change in our circumstances or God not acting in the way we want with God’s lack of interest. 

Jesus then responds in verses 39 and 40:  He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.   He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”  When life is out of control, we’re often afraid.  But we don’t have to be.  As long as we think we have to be in control, we will be afraid.  Jesus knew that if we equate life out of control with God out of control, we will be afraid.  We have to shift to faith that GOD is in control.  There’s nothing like fear to make us lose our perspective, and once we lose our focus on God, we’re dead in the water.

In verse 41, it says, the disciples were “terrified” – this helped them develop a fear of the Lord – an understanding of how vast was Jesus’ power that even the storms obeyed him.  What’s Jesus teaching the disciples here?  Could it be to trust in his character, his sovereignty and love for them, rather than in what he does for them?  Jesus was testing whether the disciples’ faith was on him or on circumstances.  How often do we evaluate God’s character, promises and love for us by what he does for us, rather than on who he is?  Instead of evaluating God’s character based on circumstances, we need to evaluate our circumstances based on God’s character.  Because of this lesson, the disciples learned to face their fears with the “fear of the Lord” – that is, focusing on the truth that he is able to do the impossible, and that he is far bigger than anything we can fear.  As many of us know, they went on to do amazing things through this life lesson, facing terrors and great trials because of their great faith in the One who is able.

Remember the story of David and Goliath?  The Israelites made a classic mistake that we all make that led them to be terrified of Goliath.  They saw Goliath as their problem, and they forgot to factor in God.  It was when David entered the picture and he saw it as God’s problem to deal with — (1 Sam 17:47) “the battle is the LORD’s” – that they were delivered.  Not that they didn’t pray; scared people always pray and often!  But it’s a frantic, God fix this, God change that…I call that worry-prayer when we spiritualize worry by praying repeatedly for God to deliver us, but don’t really believe that he will — our fear is proof that we don’t believe.

Does this sound like you at all?  Be brutally honest with yourself.  How often do the words, I can’t come out of your mouth?  How many opportunities have you let go by because of your fear?  How many relationships have ended or been damaged because of fear?  One of the first steps to overcoming fear in our lives is to get honest with ourselves and acknowledge the stronghold that fear has in our life.  Take the time now to ask yourself how fear controls you in your life:  Is it your health, or your children, or your marriage?  What about your future, your education, your career, your money/financial stability?  Or your friendships, or your relationship with God?

If you missed the first part of this three-part series, be sure to check out Freedom From Fear – Part 1Stay tuned for Part 3, due out on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, when I wrap up this series.

 

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