Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe. Proverbs 29, verse 25.
When was the last time you avoided doing something because of fear? I’m not asking whether or not you’re afraid of things but I did ask when you last avoided doing something because you were afraid? Read the verse again and then ask yourself why that matters.
It matters because it’s an important distinction. It’s important because I believe everybody is afraid of something, and some things are good to be afraid of, but none of our fears are necessary. Still, we each have pet fears; mine are difference from yours. For instance, I am still afraid of being alone. Even though I know I’m never alone, and even though my marriage is so much improved over what it was just a very short time ago, I still find myself feeling afraid of being alone. I spend ¾ of every year, and 4 of 7 days of each week alone in far away cities. It’s an irrational fear, and talks, communication, regular devotions, personal study time and these words all help alleviate that feeling. But some times when I can’t sleep, I lie in my hotel bed and realize that I’m afraid of being alone without another heart to love.
Another fear I have is being afraid of the dark. I’m a grown man. I’ve been trained to take care of myself physically and emotionally. I can handle myself in a fight, and with good reason I can say that strangers would have greater reason to fear an unknown me than I would have to fear them. I can handle myself. Yet I’m afraid of the dark. I don’t like to walk down dark streets, and I don’t like driving lonely highways at night. When I’m in the house I like to have lights on because there seems to be comfort in the light. I sleep in the dark, but when I’m awake in the night, I like to be where it is lit. Again, it’s an irrational fear because even the dark is full of God’s presence. Were I in solitary confinement in a dark, closed off cell I would still have no reason to feel afraid because even there God would be very much with me.
And failure:> I’m afraid of failure. When you’ve been in a dying marriage, when you’ve been fired from jobs, when you have lost work and felt unsure of yourself, and when you’ve felt the world of depression closing in around you, you realize how failure can soak you to the bone. This is perhaps the most understandable fear of all my fears. It’s almost justifiable…almost. I rarely failed courses in school; I don’t think I ever brought home anything lower than a D in 13 years of grade school. There simply was the expectation with my parents that neither my sister nor I would fail, that it was beneath us to fail, especially in school. Our parents weren’t punishing for low grades, but they were disdainful and cold about it, almost bordering on arrogance. Since school came easily to me, I rarely had to struggle to achieve. I threw myself into it to avoid friendships because we moved around quite a lot. Years later, when I finally did fail at other things, it was spectacular; shattering even. Working in corporate America, where you have to fight for work and for your time in the sun, my fear of failure manifests as perfectionism, intolerance, and restlessness. Those aren’t always healthy traits.
I think you see that verse resonates with me and I hope it does with you as well. You have your own fears. Fears are evidence of the places where our faith, our trust, could be weakest. They may be your kid fears, the things that fed the monster under the bed or the ghouls in the closet. Adulthood, maturity, and short-sightedness sometimes rationalize our fears away, telling us that our misbehavior as adults is an expression of inward-focused fears. There’s truth in that, you see, as old as Solomon and this verse.
Fear can be a warning sign, but fear can be a lie. Fear can be a deception meant to hide you from something good. Fear can be a very effective weapon of spiritual warfare used against us by the serpent who was craftier than all the other creatures. After all, as King Solomon was divinely inspired in another book, there is nothing new under the sun. And because that is still true, just as it was in Eden, today fear can be a trap to keep you where you are. The devil doesn’t attack us where we are strong: he attacks where we are weak. He uses our fears and our weak spots against us, trapping us in the other traps he’s already sprung on us, convincing us to hold back when we should advance.
How do we avoid the snare? Trust in God. It isn’t that tough. After all this talk about what fear is and why it’s so difficult, the solution to it really is very simple. Trust in the LORD. Trusting in the LORD will keep you safe. Fine lot of good that will do for the soldier driving along the road in Kabul, or the mule trying to cross the border at night, or the suburban housewife who lives in fear of her husband, or the husband who lives in fear of losing his job. Or you or me. Fine bit of good that is, you know. Really?
Really not. Really not because the way to face your fears and overcome them is to trust in God. God doesn’t give lottery tickets or luck: He provides patience, strength and confidence. More than that, an active relationship with Him provides peace. In my experience, that inner peace is the key to overcoming one’s fears and replacing chaos with outward peace. When we trust in what God says about loving us, forgiving us, making us alive, replacing our angst with peace and our anger with joy, we are empowered. Suffering, perseverance, character, hope: see Romans 5 for what that means, but they are actions in which trust in God is key to turning human suffering into both temporal and eternal hope. Then read Romans 8 about being more than just conquerors: more than conquerors of the things that vex us, and that starts with our fears.
With God in my life, it’s getting easier to face my fears. Like I said, there are some things that it’s good to be afraid of. If I’m living a life of riskiness or deceit, then I have good reason to fear the consequences because they will be dire. But if I trust in the LORD to renew me, then I can have the inner stuff to change my habits in that life and own up to the risk and lies. When I trust in the LORD, He lives through me to turn those things around, keep me safe, and empower me to do better. It always works; that’s His promise, and the proof is in the pudding. And it really isn’t too tough after all. The tough part comes when you realize that, the bigger the sins with which you’re dealing, the bigger attack you are under. God in you must be pretty valuable if the enemy works so hard to try to hit you in the chinks and bring you down. Believe it or not, knowing that makes it even easier to face my fears and get back in the fight to conquer.