No one likes being afraid. I’m not talking about that adrenaline rush, thrill related fear that you get from riding a roller coaster, bungee jumping, or going on a date. I’m referring to capital F fear. The kind of fear that makes your heart pound, your vision narrow and your muscles twitch with anticipation. There’s not a person on this earth who enjoys the sensation of genuinely believing they are in mortal peril.
Fear works like an infection. Once it grabs hold of a little part of our mind it takes root so firmly and starts spreading so quickly it’s impossible for us to see it coming. In many ways, fear operates the same way as a tsunami. If you can see it coming, it’s already too late to avoid it.
Fear is as inescapable and unavoidable as breathing. Fear is normal.
If that’s hard to accept for any reason, let’s take a look at some of the greatest moments of fear in the Bible. Just the other week, we talked about Gideon and his victories in battle won by the Lord’s grace. Before that, though, Gideon was an undeniably scared man who had to repeatedly ask God to confirm his calling because the fear of what might happen to him had such a strong grip on his mind.
Then there’s Esther who was faced with a situation that was seemingly a one-way ticket to genocide or execution. Esther, who was so afraid at first she wanted nothing to do with the situation and tested the waters for a way out. Esther, who was so afraid she had to get a running go at her mission, not being able to accomplish it on the first try.
There’s Moses, who couldn’t comprehend what God was capable of doing because he was so afraid of what would happen to him if he went back to Egypt. Moses, who let his fear rule the incredible moment of speaking with God via the burning bush. Who used that glorious moment not to prepare for the work ahead of him but to dodge the calling at every turn and attempt to barter his way out of it.
If these greats wrestled with fear, what hope do the rest of us have? Fear is a non-negotiable factor in our lives. The more we try to convince ourselves that we can avoid it, the more we will exhaust ourselves and miss the opportunities presented to us. So if we can’t avoid it, what then?
There is still one more example of fear in the Bible, and it leaves all the others in the dust. In Mark 14, we find Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane the night of his arrest. Mark tells us that he cried out. Not spoke quietly. Not whispered. Not calmly stated. Jesus cried out and the prayer he cried out echoes the clutches of fear that we’ve felt in our own hearts: “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me.” (Mark 14:36) In Luke’s accompanying account, he actually tells us that Jesus sweats blood. This is an actual documented medical condition that only occurs in moments of unfeasibly intense stress and fear. Here is Jesus, the savior of the world, on his knees in the garden crying out, praying for God to change the course of his fate, and sweating blood from the strain. The savior of the world, too, was in the utter despairing grips of fear.
But Jesus wasn’t done praying and he wasn’t finished yet. In the same breathe as his fear, he finished his prayer with the words, “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then he stays in the garden praying and meets his accusers with awe-inspiring serenity and dignity in all the torture, heartbreak and pain that follows. In Jesus’ actions, we find our response to fear.
Despite whatever we may try to convince ourselves, we aren’t always prepared or aware of the things about to happen to us. A lot of the time we don’t even get to control them. It’s just a fact of life. We don’t always have that ability. What we do always have control over is our reactions.
We always have the ability to control our response to the uncontrollable circumstances.
You will get slapped with fear time and time again throughout your entire life, absolutely guaranteed. We don’t get to negotiate on that point. We will be afraid. Jesus was, what should make us think we can avoid it? It’s not the moment of fear that defines you, but the immediate moments following. What you do with fear says so much more about you than the act of being afraid ever could.
Jesus was afraid but chose courage. He chose to reject the response that fear offered to him and stayed the course. We have that same choice. We have that same choice every single time fear raises its ugly head. We may not have chosen fear, but we get to choose what we do with it.
So whatever good and noble thing is out before you, blocked by fear? Save yourself some time and don’t try to shake fear first or you’ll be there forever. Do it with fear. Do it with your heart pounding in your chest. Do it with trembling hands. Do it with shaking legs. Do it with a brain screaming “Stop! Turn back! I see risk ahead!”. Do it with fear and watch God grow your courage instead.
Gideon was afraid, but still lead the army God gave him to victory. Esther was afraid but still went to the king and exposed the horrific plot against her people, saving them all. Moses was afraid but still followed God’s call to deliver the Israelites out of slavery. And Jesus was afraid and still died for the sins of mankind and paved a way back to God.
You are in good company.
Choosing fear stops you from so many things, but having fear? That’s a part of life even the Son of God knows acutely. He will not leave you there to flounder. Do it with fear, and see just how far you go.
Let’s find some joy,