++ GUEST BLOG BY ALI’S HUSBAND, MICHAEL LEADER ++
We all have fears, don’t we?
Some of them are rational and uncontrollable.
Such as the adrenaline -based fear that comes if someone puts a gun to your back and demands your cash.
Or the fear of snakes you get when you see one out in the backyard.
Those are natural, emotional responses to perceived or real threats.
We all have them, and they’re quite rational.
Sometimes we have irrational fears, called phobias.
Yes, some spiders may poison you, but that doesn’t extend to the Daddy Long-legs.
Or the roller coaster that you know is safe, but it still scares you.
And then there are the more deep-seated fears.
Some of them may be what’s behind irrational fears.
A trauma when a bully threw a spider at you is triggered when you see spiders.
But there’s a deeper fear – a fear of being bullied again – that lies behind it.
Many of us have deep-seated fears, like fear of failing.
Fear of not finding a partner.
Fear of poverty.
Of losing money.
Fear of safety.
Fear of sickness and death.
In fact many of our fears around COVID-19 reflect our deep-seated fears.
Fears of loneliness; of losing a loved one; of sickness; of being out of control; of confrontation; of poverty.
And these fears control us. They have power over us.
All fears do this – the fear of the gun to the back might cause us to – quite literally – freeze and be unable to speak.
The phobia of spiders may stop you from entering a room. The fear of failure may stop you from ever trying something new.
Ultimately, fear is the attribution of power to something.
You only fear things that have power over you, or that you feel have power over you. A spider controls which room of the house you will enter because you won’t go near the spider.
If you fear something, it has power to control you. You will do things, even things you don’t want to, because of your fear, and that ultimately has power over you.
In fact, we are so easily slaves to our fears. They rule over us like hard task masters. They drive us, they control us, they bend our will.
And if we do face them, the stress and anxiety can be all consuming.
So today I wanted to explore a bit about what the Bible says about fear.
Because if fear brings slavery, and fear is common to all humans, then you’d hope the Bible speaks into this.
And of course it does. And , in one area, the Bible actually encourages us to fear. But it encourages us to fear only one thing. And that is the Fear of God.
Psalm 111:10 famously says: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.
And this has puzzled a lot of people, and often turned them off Christianity. Does it mean that we cower in terror at a holy, often righteously angry God? Does our faith end up looking like that of Muslims, who are terrified by the thought that one day they will stand in judgement before an angry holy God? Is that the type of God that we could even love?
And often Christians from particular backgrounds have added to that misconception – trying to convert people through fear tactics surrounding hell and the holiness of God.
But the Bible tells us to fear the Lord right? What does that mean?
Well, as I said, fear has to do with the attribution of power. And so fearing the Lord has a lot to do with attributing him with power over our lives. That like anything we fear, he controls our actions, he bends our will, he guides our lives. And we live in slavery to him. Why? Because he has the ultimate power. And let’s face it, if God is the one who controls where you go when you die, what your fortunes are in this life, then you should be very afraid of him. Because he’s a lot bigger than you.
Except that overwhelmingly, God tells us on the one hand to fear him, but at the same time he also says “do not be afraid.” On the one hand he acknowledges that we are slaves to Christ, but also says that in Christ we find perfect freedom.
Isaiah 43:1 says:
But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
Fear not – don’t be afraid – because you are on my side. I summoned you by name, I know exactly who you are and I own you. You are mine.
See you had something to fear from God. While you were in your sin you should have been very afraid of the Holy God and his wrath. But now, Israel, and us as Christians, we are forgiven by God. We are in Christ. And slavery to God brings life and freedom because we are now free to be the people he made us to be. Slavery to anything else brings death. We fear God yet are not afraid. We are slaves to Christ, yet we are free.
Romans 8:15 puts it this way:
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “”Abba,” Father.”
We are children of God. We have a Holy Spirit in us – that means we have holiness before God because the Holy Spirit cannot dwell inside unholy people if their sins are not forgiven.
And every day the Spirit cries out with us “Dad, Papa, Father.”
You have a spirit of sonship, or adoption, which is the better rendering of the word.
We often look down on adoption, but in the ancient world it was far more powerful to be adopted by a father. A birth child they got because God gave them that child. But an adopted son or daughter was a son or daughter that the father chose. And that is you. God chose you to be his child.
Now for some of you the concept of having God as a father might bring up images of fear. For some, you were terrified of a father’s anger, or abuse. You hid under the blankets when Dad came home from the pub. And if God is to be feared and is your father then that sounds about right to you.
But God is not just a bigger version of your Earthly father. He’s the perfect father that you have always wanted. You know what that father looks like, because you know why your earthly dad failed. Well that good father, that’s God, and you have nothing to fear from him.
And because you have this spirit of Sonship, do you see what Paul says: you no longer have a spirit that makes you a slave to fear. You have nothing else to fear. Sin cannot enslave you.
Idolatry, which is where most of our fears are rooted, cannot control you, cannot decide your eternal destiny. The things you fear to lose – your safety, your health, your marks at school, your friends or your job – when you are a child of God that supersedes all these things and you do not have to fear losing them.
You are no longer a slave to fear, because you are a child of God. Your status, your identity, as an adopted son or daughter cannot be revoked; it cannot change. There is no greater thing about you that you can achieve in this life. You are no longer a slave to your fear, because you are a child of God.
It’s a huge thing to admit your fears. I once asked a Bible Study group of young men: “what are you afraid of?” And the answers were all surface fears – fear of heights, fear of spiders, for me it was having my eyes touched.
But then I decided to talk about some of my real fears – the deeper stuff – and the group went dead quiet, someone said “deep”, and then the awkward turtle swam and we quickly changed the topic. It’s too embarrassing. It’s too confronting. It’s too real. It’s like confessing sin. But until you admit you have fears in your life you cannot be free of them and embrace the love of God.
So take a moment now, to go deep, and answer: What am I afraid of? What are my biggest fears? Have a time of confession.
You know whatever you answered, you have just begun the first step away from the idolatry that still lingers in your life. You have a deeper awareness of who you are. You are on the first path to joy and freedom in the love of Christ.
So, how do we move into freedom from fear? Well, that question’s quite big and complex. Some of you might need some counselling to unearth deeper fears and deal with traumas real or imagined.
Some of you may already be on the path to freedom by simply naming it. For some of you this may be a lifelong journey away from fear. There’s lots of permutations.
But there’s three keys ways Biblically that I think you will need to do, regardless of whether you use therapy or other methods to overcome your fears.
The first is the simplest and yet the hardest: trust God. Psalm 56 is a Psalm of David talking about some pretty scary and dangerous stuff that was going on while he’s a captive of the Philistines in 1 Samuel 21. And in the midst of what would be a traumatic experience, he writes Psalm 56 and verse 3 says:
When I am afraid, I will trust in you.
Notice he doesn’t say “if”. And this is something he wants Israel to sing again and again. It’s normal to feel afraid. It’s part of living in a sinful world in sin-filled bodies. Its normal to have chemical reactions that produce fear in us. But when we are afraid we will trust in God. And trust that he is good. And that he will make it right, or bring us home to glory, which is the ultimate making things right for you and me.
Secondly, know God’s promises. Isaiah 41 says:
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
He promises to strengthen you. He promises to never leave us to the end of the age. He promises to lead you to quiet pastures even when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. He will never ever leave you. And he will never stop loving you.
And thirdly, know your identity in Christ. In fact the verse above Isaiah 41:10 shows why we can claim the promises of God:
I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
You are my servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you. Your position is secure. You have the Holy Spirit and that can never be taken away, nothing can come between you and God’s love as a result. And 1 John also spends a lot of it’s time reminding us something even greater – that you are more than simply a servant. You are a child of God.
(3:1a) How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
That’s why we can rely on the love of God. That’s why having a spirit of perfect love will drive out all fears.
Because through the love of God evidenced in Christ’s death and resurrection – you are a child of God. You have nothing to fear when your Dad is Lord of the Universe.
So do not be afraid.
Can I finish by playing you a song?
It was a song Ali introduced me to when I was experiencing some fear in my life. And I want it to minister to you too. I don’t want us to be in slavery to fear. Because we are children of God.
Michael Leader is the pastor of Beverly Hills Baptist Church in Sydney, Australia. He is married to Ali (the writer of this blog) and they have two sons, aged 13 and 11.