To fear or not to fear, that is the question

“Fear God” is a commandment, not a suggestion. So fear in itself can’t be all that bad, can it? Well, that depends.

“Fear not” is usually the first thing an angel spoke to a human, for good reason no doubt.

“There is nothing to fear but fear itself,” said President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first Inauguration speech, March 4, 1933. I had thought he was talking about war, but he was actually speaking of the Great Depression then afflicting the United States and much of the world.

Winston Churchill said this about fear — and courage:

“Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.”
“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it has been said, it is the quality which guarantees all others.”
“Without courage, all other virtues lose their meaning.”

Nearly all places in the Old and New Testaments, the English word fear comes from root words that mean fright, terror; being afraid; also to be in awe of someone, primarily of God.

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, however, fear is from the Greek word deilia, which means cowardice; timidity: being so afraid of what might happen, that you don’t do what you know you should do. It’s a powerful temptation, to cave in to fear.

However, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

Considering what had happened to Paul for preaching the gospel and the assignment he was giving Timothy — to do the same things Paul had been doing — I can understand why Paul needed to encourage Timothy.

There is definitely an answer to both Fear and Cowardice: Courage.

After Moses died, Joshua needed courage. (Read Joshua Chapter 1.) God came and spoke directly to Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed (broken down in fear), for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

David and his men returned home one day and found their wives and children gone and everything they owned burned to the ground by their enemy. His men were ready to stone David but David “encouraged himself in the Lord.” Instead of being dismayed, he went to God for instructions, and received them: pursue the enemy and recover all. Which he did. (See I Samuel 30:6 ff.)

Two questions:

First, what is courage? To be hardened, determined, resolute; holding fast to your faith, carrying out your assignment despite the circumstances. It’s a decision, not feeling.

Then, how do you get it? From God himself, through His indwelling spirit and His word.

“Be strong in the Lord – be empowered through your union with Him; draw your strength from Him – that strength which his boundless might provides.” (Ephesians 6:10, Amplified Version)

The spirit of fear is real. He’s a thief. If he can frighten us into doing nothing, we’ll be useless to anyone. He comes only to steal, kill, and destroy, if he can. (John 10:10) Make sure he can’t. He has only whatever power people give him. Let’s don’t give him any.

God has given us His own spirit, providing his own ability and courage to use that ability.

Fear of their faces

“You can do it, he said. The Holy Spirit said, You can do it.” Quoted from my last post… This is a story about the first time I heard him say that, although he used a friend as his mouthpiece.

I was a member of Parkwood Presbyterian Church in the early 1970’s, playing the organ for services and attending the adult Sunday School. I have loved Sunday School all my life, studying the lessons ahead of time, soaking in the discussions and enjoying the fellowship.

Our class at Parkwood was small, only a dozen or so of us who sat around a long conference table. In that small circle there was a freedom to ask questions and express opinions without fear of rejection. As long as I was just one of the circle, I was okay. No “fear of their faces” (see Jeremiah 1:8-9).

Everywhere else, however, was a different story. For years I’d been painfully shy, unable to speak in public even to store clerks. In those days there were small stores on just about every corner, selling milk and bread, soft drinks and candy. You didn’t just help yourself, you walked to the counter and told the clerk what you wanted.

But I couldn’t do that. I had to write out a list and hand it over, I could not bring myself to actually speak to the clerk. That was true in dime stores, drug stores, grocery stores, department stores, everywhere.

If I was forced to speak in public, my heart would pound, my hands would shake, I’d get nauseated and break out in a sweat. I’d be almost physically sick from this unnatural fear. Piano recitals made me nervous but since I didn’t have to talk to anyone, just sit down and play, I got through them. Oral book reports? Forget it. I was probably the only junior in high school who was allowed to write down my “oral” book report — the teacher was aware of my painful problem and had mercy on me.

Then after class one eventful Sunday morning, our teacher who was also the Sunday School Superintendent, asked me to take over the class. He wanted to step down from teaching and thought that since I studied the lessons and asked intelligent questions in class, I would be the logical next teacher. “You can do it,” he said.

I stammered, hemmed and hawed and said I couldn’t, no way, never, not me, about a dozen times. “Why not?” he asked. That stopped me in my tracks.

We had been studying about Jesus healing and delivering people from their problems, and I had a problem, no doubt about it. A devastating, hindering, restricting problem, fear of their faces. Could Jesus heal me? Deliver me from this fear? Or had He stopped doing that 2000 years ago?

As the teacher stood there waiting for my answer, I knew I had to find out. With a horrible premonition of disaster, I said I would try the following Sunday and we’d have to see after that.

That entire week I worked on the lesson. I read the student’s book, the teacher’s book, I looked up every Bible reference, made a poster, did an outline, prepared handouts, wrote out Bible verses, illustrations and quotations to use, everything I could think of to make the lesson a success.

I would stand at the end of the conference table with my poster on an easel, distribute the handouts and read from my notes. If I kept my head down and my eyes on the notes I wouldn’t have to look at their faces, and maybe the fear wouldn’t get me. That was my plan.

God’s plan was something else. I arrived early the next Sunday morning, unfolded the easel and propped up my poster, laid the handouts around the table, flipped my Bible open to the first passage and my notebook to my outline, then sat down to wait.

My classmates came into the room as usual, chatting with each other and catching up on news from the week. They took their usual seats around the table and it was time to start.

The Superintendent introduced me as the new teacher, everyone smiled a welcome, my heart pounded and I opened my mouth. For the next hour I taught the lesson, asked questions and directed the discussion — without any memory of it afterward, whatsoever!

The Lord had done it! In an instant He had delivered me from the fear that had tormented me for years. Everyone thanked me, said they looked forward to me being the teacher and headed into the sanctuary for the morning worship.

As I gathered up my materials, I just said “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” over and over. My eyes were full of tears and my heart full of amazement and gratitude.

No-one else in that room knew the struggle I’d had. A grown woman afraid to speak to a store clerk? How ridiculous. That’s what would they have said, I thought, and so for a long time I kept this testimony to myself.

In recent years I have shared this story several times. Sometimes folks who didn’t know me back then are amazed; they think I’ve always “had it all together.” As we talk I’ve learned that many people are tormented and hindered by fear of various kinds, and they need to be delivered too.

I’ve had the privilege of praying with a number of them over the years, affirming that the Lord is both able and willing to deliver us from fear.

(Originally titled Testimony, part three, reprinted from 4 March 2011)