I woke this morning and didn’t feel like getting up. Yes, my body was sore from some recent ambitious exercise. But that wasn’t the reason I wanted to stay in bed. I realize now that I was wrestling with fear. I was feeling apprehension that this quarantine is never going to end. I was feeling anxious that we are going to run out of money. I was worried that there are things I should be doing that I’m not. I was feeling afraid that somehow I have missed my life calling, though I don’t know what that might be. Remaining under the blankets felt like the overall best option for the day.
I finally decided to get up and make coffee for my wife. While standing there grinding the beans, my thoughts turned to Psalm 46, which I have been meditating on the past few days. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea…” I began to feel better.
Fear vs. Courage
Angst lurks around every corner seeking to entrap us. Immersed in a world-wide pandemic and isolated from our normal routines, these circumstances produce fertile soil for fear of all kinds. And once we give in to one it seems that there are 20 more pushing behind it. Feelings of fear quickly multiply when we let them. But how do we stop it all? Winston Churchill supposedly said, “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.”
I agree. Fear seems to pounce without warning, giving the impression that we have no option but to submit and let it maul us. Courage, however, is a choice to defy fear—act the opposite. Rarely, if ever, do I feel courageous. So, I can’t count on my feelings to come around. It was the cold decision to get out of bed this morning that challenged my paralyzing thoughts. In the same way I must actively choose to fight any fear that would try to dominate me during this season.
What’s the Choice?
The Bible is sprinkled with phrases like, “fear not” or “be not overcome by fear.” It’s usually stated by God or His representative when someone is facing bleak or evil circumstances. It also often precedes an announcement from God or one of His angels. God’s words, when rightly heard, often can cause us to shake with uneasiness. Take Luke 1:30 for example. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to inform her that she had been selected to give birth to God’s Son, his words, “Do not be afraid, Mary,” were necessary. Why?
Besides the shock of a heavenly (possibly glowing) being suddenly standing before her, the weight and implications of God’s plan for her life surely were overwhelming. It’s unlikely an unwed pregnancy is what she had in mind for herself. But in a simple phrase, Gabriel revealed something important we must remember about fear. She had a choice (we always do). The angel was simply telling Mary what the best one was.
But I don’t believe she was being told to not feel fear. Human emotions don’t seem to turn off or on at the bidding of our will. Feelings come and go regardless whether we want them or not. Yet there still always is a choice. She could decide how she was going to respond to the angel’s presence and crazy-sounding words, even though they filled her with anxiety and confusion. Her faith in God’s goodness, however, allowed her to say, “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38). A brave response. Her feelings of fear did not determine her actions. She chose courage.
Know the Difference
There are situations when fear can be healthy. My reaction to it reveals what I respect, what I give honor to and what I revere. The reason I do not play ultimate frisbee in the freeway is because I have a deep respect for Mack trucks traveling 70 miles per hour. This, I believe, is an appropriate attitude. No one would consider me courageous for playing games on Interstate 94. When rightly placed, fear also has the ability to teach me reverence and honor for that which is truly honorable and powerful—our almighty God. He is worthy.
Yet most of our fears are not healthy and rob us of the life Jesus came to give. When I worry over not having enough money, or fear losing control of my daily schedule, or live in anxiety over the unknown future of my family, ministry and community, I am exalting the wrong thing. Though a vital part of my life, they are not worthy of my fear. For when I choose to act on these kinds of apprehensions, I am led to not trust in God’s goodness. I’m revering and honoring something above Him.
What Am I Bowing To?
One of the meanings of a Hebrew word (yare’) translated into English as “fear” is “to stand in awe.” The word “awe” describes reverence or an attitude of worship in which we are overcome by the greatness or strength of something. When we act on our feelings of fear, we stand in awe of circumstances as if they are bigger and more worthy of honor than God. Ultimately, to focus and meditate on the things that bring up fear and anxiety within us is to worship them. From this perspective, they then expand while God shrinks.
Psalm 91:5 says, “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.” Jeff’s translation: Choose not to worship the worries that keep you awake at night nor bow down to all the “what if’s” that might come at you during the day. They are not your God. Rather, worship the Lord.
In this season of uncertainty with COVID-19, quarantine, social isolation as well as economic pain and ruin, what are you focusing your fear on? What are you worshiping in your heart? Remember, courage is not an emotion. We exercise it when we choose to do something other than what our fearful emotions are urging on us. Now is the time to declare our trust in God with increased praise, worship and obedience. And while you’re at it, get out of bed and make someone a cup of coffee!
“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Psalm 56:3). It’s an act of courage!