This week we mourn over the hateful act of a husband and wife who forever changed the lives of the people attending a company Christmas party in San Bernardino, California.
A few weeks ago, 130 people were murdered by terrorists in Paris, France. The world is becoming a scary place. A soccer game, a pub, and a Christmas party no longer feel safe. But how do we respond? Do we stay home bunkered down in fear? Overcome by the evil around us? Or as God’s people, are we challenged anew to learn to live by faith and overcome evil with good?
Don’t get me wrong. Fear is a normal human response to evil, terrorist attacks, and anarchy. And, if we are faced with such evil, our fear response enables our body to kick into action so hopefully we can protect others and ourselves.
However, it’s tempting today to live in fear of what might happen. In addition to living in fear of what might happen, many of us also struggle with living in fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of death, fear of conflict, and fear of change. As we do that we orient our lives around avoiding what we fear rather than around serving and glorifying God. That is not how God wants us to live
The Bible repeatedly tells us to fear not. God tells us “do not be afraid.” Why? Because he knows we are naturally fearful creatures and that life can terrify us to a place of being ruled by our fears rather than the love of Christ.
It’s interesting to me that the psalmist says two seemingly contradictory things in Psalm 56 about fear. The first one is “I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me? (Psalm 56:11)
And then he says, “When I am afraid, I will trust God” (Psalm 56:3).
So what he tells us is that sometimes our faith is so big we don’t feel fear. Other times, we are so filled with fear we will be overwhelmed by it if we don’t trust God.
So, if you don’t want to be ruled by your fears, here are four things you can start to do.
1. Name your fear. Whatever it is, it needs to be named and faced rather than avoided or ignored. It’s only when we face our fear and move towards it in courage do we practice the faith to trust God with the outcome. For example, if you found you had a lump in your body somewhere and you feared cancer, naming your fear of the possibility of cancer and taking appropriate action will help you have the best chance of living longer if it is indeed cancer. Ignoring it or avoiding it will not make it go away. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is relying on God’s strength to walk towards your fear in faith.
2. Get some support. In our individualistic, independent society it feels shameful to admit we need help. Yet, God created human beings to need one another and to need him. We were not meant to walk through life all by ourselves. The victims of last week’s shooting will need support to process the tragedy. I needed support when I was called to write a book and feared rejection. Sometimes we need to borrow someone else’s faith so that we can face our fear and move through it.
3. Take responsibility for your life and how it’s going. Sometimes we stay victims when we do not need to. We are afraid to make a change, take a stand or speak up against what’s wrong. We allow ourselves to be mistreated, abused, terrified and feel paralyzed to get help, get support, or implement consequences including availing ourselves of the laws of our land for our protection.
4. Center yourself in God and not in fear. By practicing step 3, taking responsibility, you choose whether you are going to center yourself in love or fear, trust or unbelief, God’s truth or human reasoning. When we center ourselves in God and live by faith, we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. We’re not supposed to. We were not given the gift of omniscience.
But Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow today (Matthew 6:34). Tomorrow will have enough problems of it’s own. When tomorrow comes and it’s scary, then he will give you what you need tomorrow to face it with faith. Living in the “what if’s” cripples us for today.
Ask yourself the question: Today am I going to live in faith or fear? Am I going to live in faith that God knows my story, faith that God is bigger than my story? Faith that God has a plan for my life and he is my helper in times of trouble?
The psalmist reminds you that when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death – you don’t need to fear evil. Why? Because God is with you (Psalm 23:4).
As the Christmas season approaches, listen to the words of this beloved Christmas carol and allow it to speak to your heart.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
Friend, you can either walk forward by faith and in faith or cower in fear. I pray you choose faith, even when you still feel fear.