Some things terrify me!
What if there’s no one I know in the dining room to sit with? That’s the haunting question for an introvert traveling to speak at other YWAM bases. I wish I didn’t feel that dread in the center of my stomach, but it faithfully shows up wherever I go. At times it takes great effort to choose to go to a meal when I’m traveling alone. It sounds so trivial and I feel embarrassed to admit it. Yet it’s only one of many kinds of fears with which I’ve had to wrestle over my lifetime.
Fear vs. Love?
Fear shows up in countless situations and takes innumerable shapes. How is a follower of Jesus to deal with it? The Apostle Paul told his disciple, Timothy, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7 NLT). The Apostle John said, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18 ESV). From these verses I gather that fear and love are at odds with each other and cannot share the same space. If one is fully embraced, the other is pushed aside. So, why does fear tend to dominate? What’s going on when we feel it bubbling inside?
First of all it’s important to realize that fear is an emotion. It can be a very strong one that becomes enmeshed with our identities if we let it, but it manifests as an emotional sensation nevertheless. Contrast that with love. Though often treated as a feeling, love is fundamentally a choice to give of ourselves to or for another—especially in a sacrificial way. To respond in love rather than fear involves navigating a tension between our emotions and our will. We get to decide which one wins.
What’s the Choice?
When the Angel Gabriel showed up to announce to Mary that she would be pregnant with the “Son of the Most High,” he first said, “Do not be afraid, Mary” (Luke 1:30 ESV). The assumption is that Mary had a choice between responding to the angelic message as a terrified child, or not.
Experience reveals that we cannot necessarily stop ourselves from feeling an emotion—especially fear. We do, however, have the ability to choose what we do when we’re afraid. We can assume the angel had some insight and knew that Mary was terrified and that’s why he said it. And she chose to listen and submit in faith, though her emotions probably were going crazy. Her love for God strengthened her to choose a response that honored Him.
So, how do we grow in our ability to choose to do the loving thing rather than obeying the feelings of fear?
While fear tends to isolate us in the straitjacket of how we feel at the moment, love challenges us to recall the big picture. As the Israelites were preparing to cross the Jordan River to face their enemies in the land promised to them, Moses gave clear instructions, “You shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:18 ESV). They were directed to focus on what their God had done in the past and to trust that He was still the same good God who was with them.
We too must choose to remember and focus on the broader picture of what our God has already done for us. This has the ability to lift us out of the myopic morass we find ourselves in when fear strikes. We are so forgetful when it comes to the work of God in us and around us.
What are We Worshiping?
Fear also urges us to be in awe of the problem or need immediately in front of us. Love, on the other hand, calls us to be in awe of God’s goodness and power. One of the Hebrew words translated into English as “fear” literally means “to stand in awe.” Awe is that position where we find ourselves when deeply impressed with something. It’s a kind of worship. Fear, then, easily turns into idolatry, a twisted form of worship, where we become so impressed with our circumstances or problems that we bow down to them. Real love, however, will always call us to stand in awe of who God is.
We are terribly forgetful people. But we can choose to remember who God is—past, present and future—and not act upon our fears. Even when we don’t feel like it, we have the ability to choose to worship our loving God rather than worship our fearful circumstances.
It’s a daily choice. The fearful feelings stirred within my introverted personality do not necessarily go away. Love, however, calls me to dare to put myself out there, sit with people I don’t know, take risks that terrify me. And I suspect that even extroverts have fears they need to drown in love.
The opportunities to choose love are all around us. Fear not, and let the love of our awesome God lead you!