Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Whom Shall I Fear?

My Companion of Fear

March of 2013
The past few months have been days filled with tears, wet eyes that had trouble drying for the anxiety and fear sent to torment me once again. I say once again because this has been a recurrence throughout my entire life. The fight against fear and anxiety started when I was just a little girl in first grade.

I recall this terror taking a grip on my little heart as I sat in my first grade classroom. The other children seemed to be enjoying their first days at school but I was so troubled in my little soul they had to put a trash can by my desk just in case my lunch wouldn't stay down. I didn't have the stomach flu or food poisoning, no, I had a poison of fear in my body. I eventually worked through it and began to enjoy class and did quite well in school actually.

That was my first experience with my new companion anxiety, who would later rear his ugly head from time to time throughout my life. The next time it came to visit that I can recall was around 8 years old when I was on a trip with a choir group. Having a wonderful time I suddenly became very anxious one night when we went to stay at the home of someone within the church where we were visiting. I called home in a panic, fearful something awful was going to happen to me although nothing in my circumstances had changed except I was sleeping in a strange bed and I was far from home. I had been traveling and staying the night like this for several nights in different places and really enjoying it. Why was I suddenly unable to breathe and calling my parents wanting to come home?

I would later learn as I encountered many more episodes of these fearful moments that I was having panic attacks. Middle school, high school, college I had them on and off. Sometimes they were brief and sometimes they resulted in deep despair and weeks of depression. I once stopped eating for two weeks. I am a Christian. I believe in God’s word and no one has threatened to harm me so why am I so terrified?

After college when I went into the real world I had a few episodes as well. I’d been taking medication all throughout my life but there were times when it just wasn't enough. I began to see a counselor when I got back from a vacation where I had my worst panic attack I've ever had. While in the Dominican Republic with a friend I became very frightened once we settled into our hotel. We went to dinner and there I was, sitting in front of a beautiful ocean surrounded by palm trees yet in my tormented mind I was anywhere but paradise. The panic attacks came so frequently and so pronounced I boarded a plane two days later to go home.

I realized then I was very sick. Something had taken control of my mind and emotions and its name was fear. I began to see a counselor which helped tremendously but this was still a long battle I faced. I began to try and find relief in different ways. Smoking calmed my nerves and drinking eased the pain temporarily. I quickly learned though that those habits only exasperated the anxiety or were a short term remedy. I began to realize there was a deeper problem I needed to uncover and take a good look at. I once again turned to God as my source of strength.

I knew the word of God often talked about fear and how we are not to be afraid. Jesus said the word peace often, its something He promised to give us as believers who place our hope in him. Peace was something He gave me, so why did I not feel it? I would remind myself that I have peace in Christ but my feelings wouldn't change.

Study your Enemy 

They say if you have an enemy you should study him. John Christopher wrote in ‘When the Tripods Came’ – “The secret of success in battle lies often not so much in the use of one’s own strength but in the exploitation of the other side’s weaknesses.” This enemy of fear had been defeated at Calvary on the cross where our Lord Jesus gave up His life. How is it still taking territory in my life when I am His? I needed to learn more about fear and what God’s word says about it. I would study my enemy. I would find out more about him and identify what was really behind the curtain.

My spirit said fear was weak and frail while my emotions raged loudly that fear was large and unable to tame. I knew I had “not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love and of a sound mind” (1 Timothy) but I struggled experiencing that truth even as I would say it firmly over myself. I do not discount that there are some physical aspects of my body that result in heightened timidity and negative emotions, but to struggle at the level I have all my life was unacceptable. It was time to face this thing head on. I became dissatisfied with such hypocrisy!

Yes I will take my antidepressant, get rest, exercise, eat well and talk with my counselor but I also want to find out the truth about these companions of fear and worry. Jesus said when we need help to ask, seek and knock and that the door of understanding would be opened to the one who does. (Luke 11:9-10)

Experiencing Perfect Love 

In studying my opponent I discovered its opposite, its kryptonite, ITS worst fear – Love. 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. Instead, perfect love drives all fear away. Fear has to do with being punished. The one who fears does not have perfect love.”

Love? Love is my cure? Wait, actually it says “Perfect Love” is the remedy of my fearful heart. Hmmm, well I believe God loves me. Why is the knowledge of that truth not sinking in and helping me with this fear? I began to ask the Lord and pray about this, knowing He would have the answer. I would wait upon the Lord. After much prayer, in the stillness of my heart He spoke to me “There is a difference in hearing and knowing I love you and experiencing the reality of my love for you. There is head knowledge and then there is revelation and experience - heart knowledge.”

He then gave me an example I would like to share with you. Lets say you are at an event to see your favorite speaker. You have come to this large auditorium filled with people to catch a glimpse of this man you deeply admire. Excitement fills the room as the introduction builds to a climax. However, instead of the man taking the stage and platform, large screens come on either side of the stage as they announce “however, he couldn't be here tonight so he is going to speak to us live via satellite from his home in Michigan”. You are still getting the same message from the same man, but there is something about the presence of him actually being there in person, in spirit, soul, mind and body that you were looking forward to. The presence of this man and the experience surrounding it has a certain value. It isn't much different than our God. We can know him and hear him from afar but when we are experiencing intimacy with him and the reality of His presence manifests, it completely changes who we are and how we see things.

 I remember a story our pastor once told us about how he prayed and prayed for this woman who was about to commit suicide, doing his best to give her scripture and talk her into giving life a chance during their time together. She had come to him hoping for an experience that would change her mind and defeat her fears. After a couple of hours of doing his best to convince her, the pastor felt a nudging in his spirit. He told the woman, “Perhaps you should ask God what he would say to you?” So they bowed their heads in silence and after a few minutes in that silence the lady began to chuckle. She then slowly evolved into full laughter. The pastor, thinking she might need to be checked into a psychiatric hospital, asked her what she was laughing about. The woman said God spoke to her. The pastor asked, “Well what did he say?” She took a deep breath with a smile on her face and light in her eyes, “He said Peace.”

The pastor was sure he had said peace several times while they talked and prayed. Why did that not comfort her? Well, he would later learn that when God said “Peace” to her, it wasn't just a word, it was an experience. She felt peace because when God speaks He creates. The very presence of God came over her and she experienced His perfect peace. She left a changed woman and had no desire to take her life after that day. The pastor even followed up with her several weeks later and found out she was pursuing ministry. She had learned the art of making her misery her ministry. It sounds like once she listened, God continued to speak to her.

Exposing the Enemy 

When asking God to help me understand fear better He gave me this image of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz being thrown around in that house that the tornado had lifted into the air. When the house landed is where the story begins. I saw her rise from the bed in the black and white stillness. But as soon as she began to try to find her way out, a spirit of fear grabbed hold of her. Not physically but worse, emotionally. Strange noises from outside the house and in the closets made her run back to the bedroom and jump back onto the bed. She covered her head with the sheets and allowed every bump to keep her in the house. If only she knew that just beyond the front door was a beautiful place of color and destiny. A place over the rainbow where she would find freedom from fear. All she had to do was go open the door. Yet every crick and crack of the house sent her back under the sheets.

I think the visual I had was God’s way of showing me that the enemy of our souls wants to keep us bound by false fear so we won’t come out from under the covers and open the door to our life in Christ. His goal is to keep us from pursuing it with his distractions. If we are bound by fear how can we ever free anyone else? If the enemy can keep us fixated on our fears through his lies and deception, then we wont walk into a place of freedom and brilliance of color; a place of purpose and ministry - a place over the rainbow.

Take Down the High Places 

“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3)

“And Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David, except that he sacrificed and burned incense at the high places.” (1 Kings 3:3)

I've learned you can love God and have good intentions but still attach your heart to worthless idols that carry no power. You may even be doing it unconsciously. To be made perfect in love we need to not only know God’s love but to experience it. I needed the Lord to make it real to me that His love was all I really needed. If He loves me, the author and perfecter of love, what more would I need? As this truth seeped into my heart God began to show me the idols in my life that had taken his place. How could I experience the fullness of His love if there were others in the way trying to capture my affection? Who and what was I looking to for perfect love and to free me from all my fears? It isn't wrong to want to be loved by others and find comfort from your family or a significant other, but the truth is they will all fail to satisfy my soul. Only God’s love can do that. I began to tackle the places in my heart where someone or something else had taken residence. In arresting these idols I began to place expectations back into the only One who could truly love me perfectly.

The Fear of Man is a Snare 

Was I really trusting God with my life or was I aiming to please man? Proverbs 29:25 says, “If you are afraid of people, it will trap you. But if you trust in the Lord, he will keep you safe.” God began to show me I not only looked to man for fulfillment and rest but also the approval of man. This verse makes it clear that we are to live not by trying to please others out of fear but to trust in the Lord. Was I really trusting the Lord in regards to the things I was constantly worried about? No. When the worry came I would try to manage it myself instead of taking it to the Lord in prayer. Learning where I needed to make adjustments through the wisdom of God’s word was leading me closer and closer to that place of rest and trust. Psalm 111:10 says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. In my ignorance and sinful nature I looked to others for my peace, but it is in the fear of the Lord where we find it.

Remind Yourself of God’s Goodness 

I love how David encouraged himself when he felt fearful, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23: 5-6) David reminded his soul when he was surrounded by his enemies. He recalled that goodness and mercy would literally continue to chase him down regardless of his circumstances and that one day when he leaves this life he will dwell in the beautiful courts of the Lord forever! I believe this reality of God’s love in his heart is what kept him going, caused his heart to remain steadfast and push through to the destiny God had for him.

My Cup Overflows 

I began to learn I could replace my fear with allowing the knowledge of God’s unconditional love to pour all over me. When we look to the cross we must remember what Jesus did to remove the guilt and condemnation of our sin so we could freely have fellowship and intimacy with a God who’s love is perfect! Then, once filled with his love, perhaps we can begin to love others as He has loved us? Perhaps even love our enemies as He commanded us?

The overflowing cup in Psalm 23, I believe, was meant to be a portrait of us taking that overflow of hope and pouring it into other vessels around us. There are many souls around us who are half full or maybe even empty. Jesus said in John 15:11, “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!”

Jesus made it clear there are levels of joy we can experience in this life and to have true fullness of joy overflowing we must look no further than Christ. Rivers of living water that will never run dry can be found at His nail-pierced feet. I’m not talking about being ‘happy’ because being happy depends on what is ‘happening’. I’m referring to the joy that sustains despite your circumstance. That’s what we need because in this life we will have suffering and hard times. It is a sure thing, but how we go through them is very important. Your choices can literally steer the course of your life into God’s plan or satan’s. Jesus said, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Preserve us from Evil 

Our God has promised He will never leave or forsake us and although we may not see much evidence in the natural right away, in due season we will reap a harvest of blessings if we faint not. Psalm 121:7 says, “The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul.” At no time is there the faintest suggestion that the life of faith exempts us from difficulties. What this verse promises though is preservation from all the evil in them. Even in the Lord’s prayer Jesus taught us to pray “Deliver us from evil”. All the raging waters of the ocean cannot sink a ship unless it gets inside. Nor can all the trouble in the world harm us unless it gets within us. I believe that is the promise of Psalm 121:7.

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” (Isaiah 26:3) Wait upon the Lord, He will hear you, He does love you just as you are and His perfect love drives out all fear. For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for Him! Isaiah 64:4

Let's be real clear, I have not come to a place where I do not fear anymore. No, but I have found the One whom my soul loves and He is a refuge I run to when I do. His hand is ever outstretched to carry us when we fall.

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