Fear. I remember all too vividly the first time I consciously felt it. When I was six, the villains of my world were Cruella de Vil and the bad guys on Zorro. I never felt threatened by bad guys while the lights were on. But in the dark of my bedroom late at night, I would experience fear. I know it was fear because of the way my heart would sink and my body would shake as I hid under the covers from whatever menacing presence awaited me in the closet, ready to sweep me into the gloomy darkness of death.
I remember the first time I consciously felt afraid.
Almost twenty years later, I still find myself afraid at times, but for very different reasons. A dark bedroom no longer frightens me (in fact, if it isn’t pitch black, I have trouble sleeping). But there still remains a plethora of things that strike fear in my heart, ranging from “I have the heebee jeebees” to near-paralysis. I will confess my fear of snakes and agitated dogs. And also the Burger King guy (tell me he doesn’t look like a pedophile). My wife is scared of the Jack-in-the-Box guy. I think she’s crazy.
My point is all of us have fears, and some are kind of comical, but others are all too real. Some of us are afraid of cancer. It claimed a parent or a sibling, and you are just convinced that it will one day call your name as well.
Some of us are afraid of divorce. It wrecked your family growing up, and you live in fear that your own marriage will somehow dissolve as well (which, if you think about it, can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy).
Some of us are afraid of failure. We have seen how a run of bad luck or a string of bad decisions have led to failure in someone else’s life, so we resolved to play it safe and never take risks. If mediocrity follows us all the days of our life, so be it. Mediocrity is a better bedfellow than failure, right?
What really bothers me is how this mindset can quite simply destroy a church, and it really doesn’t matter if the church is conservative, moderate, or liberal. A church views the religious landscape with trepidation, one in which values and doctrine are all for sale, and that congregation resolves never to try anything different, no matter how promising it might be. Our fear of how the upcoming generation will assuredly wreck all that has been built can keep us from nurturing young men and women into godly, biblical leaders. Or we are on the other side of the fence: we perceive the masses to be leaving in droves for the corner mega-church (they aren't), so we rush to copy everything they are doing so that we might get in on this “new thing” (a new label on an old thing isn't new). After all, it has to be a sin to be left behind, right?
Find yourself in a middle-of-the-road church? All you have to be is more afraid of “failure” than “average” (the fact that average people have never done extraordinary things for God notwithstanding). Isn’t it tragic to find good churches filled with good people not realizing their full potential in Christ simply because they are too comfortable?
Fear is a powerful motivator.
And there is a sense in which it is a biblical motivator. The fear of the LORD, after all, is where wisdom begins (Prov. 1:7). But that is not where wisdom should end. The apostle John confidently declared that mature love has cast fear from our hearts like week-old leftovers (1 John 4:18). In even bolder language, Paul reminded Timothy that God had not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power (2 Tim. 1:7)—so where, pray tell, does fear come from? God obviously would not have me be afraid. What fear I do have in my heart should only be in the form of a deep, abiding reverence for him (which isn’t fear at all since it doesn’t come from Satan and doesn’t paralyze me from action just as true fear so often does).
God wants me to be fear-less! So how do I cultivate a “no fear” attitude?
I think the answer may be blinders. Decades ago, when plows and wagons were pulled by horses, farmers would put blinders on their draft animals so as to keep them from being distracted from the job at hand. In case you have never noticed, a horse’s eyes are located on the side of their face, rather than the front (like, you know, human eyes). If a rabbit sprang from the bushes and startled the horse, it would be a disaster. Notice: Blinders prevented animals from being distracted by those things that weren’t really threats, but they might think were threats. As I understand it, an older horse that had spent many years with the same master could actually get along fairly well without blinders because it had come to trust its master to protect it and never place it in circumstances where it could be truly threatened.
In the same way, we all could use some “spiritual blinders” to keep us from being distracted by those things that can never truly threaten us if we are indeed in Christ. Our commander-in-chief has never known defeat. Paul assures us that those in Christ are more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37). Regardless of what stands against us, John is dogmatic that we can overcome because the One in us is greater than the evil one in the world (1 John 4:4).
Perhaps, as with a horse, it comes down to your relationship with your Master. Do you trust him? I mean, really trust him? Do you trust him to never place you in a situation over which he has no control? Do you trust him to never allow anything to threaten you that he cannot defeat (1 Cor. 10:13)?
Personally, I long for a heavy set of spiritual blinders that prevent me from being distracted by the things in this world that are well beyond my control. I can’t change Washington D.C. I vote, and believe every Christian should, but while all governments are ordained by God (Rom. 13:1), few honor God, and I suspect that sin has something to do with that (which, last time I checked, is a problem that is not going away anytime soon for those outside of Christ). Frankly, the problems that face this country do not fill me with fear. God is bigger than our problems; he will either conquer them for us, or will provide us with new opportunities to live an abundant, full life (John 10:10). If God has determined that we should enter into a season of suffering, then he is to be praised that he considers us worthy and strong enough to endure such (cf. Acts 5:41). Whether we suffer or prosper, spiritual blinders keep us focused on what really matters. Comparatively, the Dow Jones average does not matter. The unemployment report does not matter. The number of your family members victimized by cancer does not matter. Whether your parents’ marriage ended in divorce does not matter. Whether a church in a different locale (one in which you have no influence and over which you have no authority) has walked away from the Truth does not matter. Whether a church in a different locale (one in which you have no influence and over which you have no authority) is too crusty and old to change for their own good—that does not matter. Whether a church is more satisfied with average than with testing the “immeasurably more” that God is capable of (Eph. 3:20) does not matter.
Brothers and sisters, what matters is whether we are doing the will of God in our own lives and in the unique circumstances and environments that he has placed us in.
I say this because, in my own personal life, I have already expended too much time and energy over things I could not change. And I did this to the neglect of things (i.e. personal sins, bad habits, failures, weaknesses) I very easily could control. What you and I so desperately need is for God to give us spiritual blinders so that we would no longer live in fear. Like a horse, let us come to trust our loving Master who has commissioned us for work, equipped us to do that job well, and is frustrated when we get jumpy over bunny rabbits darting out of the bushes.
Father, fill my heart with your boldness when I feel afraid. Give me spiritual blinders that I may focus solely on you, your son, your salvation, and the things you would have me do in the situations you have placed me in. I ask this prayer in the name of Jesus, one who always slept like a child no matter the storm. Amen.
Editor's Note: Originally published Jan. 22, 2011.
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