All posts tagged Fear

The Fear of the Lord & the Art of Persuasion

“Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” 2 Cor. 5:11

What is the fear of the Lord? That is a question that is larger than can be addressed in a blog post, but I would like to examine one characteristic of fear that may help us experience more of the fear of the Lord (a good thing).

Fear Feature: We tend to focus on and look for what we fear. If someone has a fear of snakes and they walk in the woods, they are looking fervently for snakes. If someone fears rejection, they will listen in every conversation for a negative comment, gesture, or omitted compliment (often hearing one whether it was there or not). If someone fears failure, then each moment is braced against it, asking for some skill or knowledge they do not have (often being paralyzed from doing things they are perfectly capable of doing).

Living in the fear of the Lord then, means to live with a constant awareness of God. What is He doing? What is His will for this situation? How can I express His character in this relationship? How could I please Him in this moment? In this regard, we might say that the opposite of the fear of the Lord is casualness/forgetfulness towards God.

In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul draws a connection between someone’s fear of the Lord and their level of persuasiveness. As we will see in just a moment, Paul was not trying to create the latest, greatest sales technique. Paul was merely putting a reality into words.

The fear of the Lord is the only fear that is not self-centered.  All other fears are necessarily self-centered because their ultimate goal is self-preservation.  The fear of the Lord begins with denying ourselves and dying to our desires (Luke 9:23-24).

This influences our ability to be persuasive in three ways:

  1. People are more apt to listen to someone who is not out for what they can gain in a situation.  Paul had modeled this in his early preaching in Corinth (1 Cor 9:9-12). He would not allow the Corinthians to give him money for his ministry so that they would know of the sincerity of his message. One good question for measuring trust is, “How much does this person fear God?”
  2. We are more able to interpret a situation correctly when the lenses of self are not distorting our motives. We tend to see what we fear/trust.  If we fear/trust money, we see a profit margin. If we fear/trust acceptance, we see rejection. If we fear/trust power, we see opportunities to get ahead. When we actively fear/trust God, we see things as they really are (rather than through the distortion of our fears). When we do not see things accurately people are confused and turned off by the sense that our words are “off.”
  3. Finally, when we fear the Lord we do not require a certain response from the other person as personal validation. Their acceptance or rejection of our message (i.e., the Gospel, a biblical way to resolve a particular conflict, a character quality we ask of our children, etc…) is not personal acceptance or rejection. We can then model a kind of social freedom that is sorely lacking in our insecure culture that hyper-personalizes differences.

God’s Words for “Bouncy” Anxiety

Jill would begin by worrying about finances. Things were tight and the economy was down. Being a Christian and knowing she should trust God (Matt 6:25-34) caused her fear to be replaced by guilt. Guilt did a good, short-term job of replacing fear, but it made her feel far from God.

The distance from God left her weak to other fears. “What if the kids get made fun of at school because we don’t get them the cool shoes… What if something goes wrong with the car… What if my fear makes me less attractive to my husband… What if…?” These fears created a new onslaught of guilt for not trusting God. Much of her life was a tennis match between anxiety and guilt over anxiety. It took one to interrupt the other.

She never realized how much God could relate to her experience. She thought that because God had nothing to fear that He was aloof to her struggle. One day a friend walked her through Psalm 121.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come (v. 1)?”

The psalm begins with David in battle. When the war is intense he looks to the hills for reinforcements. He begins to doubt. Will help make it in time? Which hill will they come over? Do I just want to believe their coming? David’s fears begin to sound like Jill’s.

“My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth (v. 2).”

David reminds himself of the truth he needed to hear. His fear made him quick to forget that the very hills he scanned for help were craftsmanship of the God who was for him. Jill can rest in the fact that David also had to remind himself of these kinds of truths. More than this, Jill can rest in the fact that God inspired David to pen these words and include them in Scripture for His anxious children.

“He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber (v. 3).”

David anticipates the next round of fears that will assault him and his men. Will God keep his feet strong for the journey ahead? Will God take care of him when he is asleep near the battle field? David is not living poetry; he is living a battle. The poetry came later. David remembers these things because they were hard to cling to during the battle. Jill can relate to how remembering God’s faithfulness can easily devolve into focusing on the bad situation in which God must be faithful.

“Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep (v. 4).”

David again reminds himself of truth about God. David may sleep near his enemies, but God never sleeps on David’s enemies. David was being forced to live that “God’s strength was made perfect in his weakness (2 Cor. 12:9)” and he was easily distracted. Jill was amazed to see that she shared so much in common with “a man’s after God’s own heart” even in the moments she felt distant from God.

“The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night (v. 5-6).”

David anticipated another round of fears. What if we grow weak in the oppressive heat of the sun? How can we keep this up all day? Or, what will we do when night comes and we can no longer see our enemy? I know God doesn’t have limits, but I do. What happens then? Jill began to smile as she realized how much God could understand the way she thought. It was amazing to think that God have her shameless words like Psalm 121 to speak-sing back to Him in her moments of fear.

“The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore (v. 7-8).”

David reminds himself of the far-reaching truths of God’s protection. They cover all of life; from when he leaves his door until he returns home and from this moment as far as time or his imagination can extend. God’s faithfulness is found not only in his power and sovereignty but also his loving understanding. Walking with God in His Word through her “bouncy” fears gave Jill great confidence that she could cast her cares on God because He really did care for her (I Pet. 5:7).

How to Respond to Things We Don’t Understand

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon on Jesus and the Holy Spirit from Luke/Acts preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday March 10-11, 2012.

This sermon is an excellent case study in a vital life skill – responding to things we don’t understand and/or make us uncomfortable. It is hard to preach on the Holy Spirit in a way that will make everyone comfortable – strange since one of His titles is “the Comforter.”

Stranger still is the strong human tendency to listen poorly and react quickly when we don’t understand something. When we don’t understand our fears become the filter for what we hear and preemptively start trying to take the conversation back to where we’re comfortable before we know where it’s starting.

Think about your last several conflicts or times you felt misunderstood. What were your fears and how did they become the filter for what the other person was saying? How did you try harder to move the conversation to your comfort zone than understand what the other person was saying?

Think about the last several times you heard someone debate politics. Can you find those same themes of listening through a fear-filter and moving the conversation to home turf?

Now, think about having a conversation about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian. Think about having that conversation with someone who may not agree with you. Think about worshipping in the same church or being in the same small group.

What are your fears? How do they shape the way that you see this person (who right now only exists in your imagination)? What caricatures have you already placed on them? What emotional responses or demeanors do you “know” they are going to have?

You have just articulated your fear filter.

What is your home turf? Do you seek to change the subject because you don’t know what you believe? What phrases start the conversation or get repeated most frequently in your mental dialogue? What passages of Scripture are defining and which ones get explained away? When do you realize you don’t care what the other person says?

You have just defined your home turf or comfort zone.

Are you still talking to a “friend” or have they become an opponent in your imagination?

What is my point? One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to bring unity (Eph 4:3). Another role is to calm fear and give the love/self-control necessary to listen well (2 Tim 1:7). The place where we should most effectively learn this vital life skill is when we are studying the One who enables us to learn it.

My encouragement to you is to begin to learn to listen well to things that you don’t understand and make you uncomfortable. Use this sermon as an opportunity to learn this skill by the Spirit, in the Spirit, and about the Spirit.

After that demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit by blessing your family, friends, and co-workers with what God is doing in your life. Begin to be like the Holy Spirit as you listen to people well enough to translate their hearts to the Father in prayer (Rom 8:26).

As you do this, I believe you will find that your relationships and emotions begin to be marked by the kind of peace that Scripture repeatedly says is a mark of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:31, Rom 8:6, Gal 5:22).

Courage and Illogical Fear

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“The bad psychological material is not a sin but a disease. It does not need to be repented of, but to be cured. And by the way, this is very important. Human beings judge one another by their moral choices. When a neurotic who has a pathological horror of cats forces himself to pick up a cat for some good reason, it is quite possible that in God’s eyes he has shown more courage than a healthy man may have shown in winning the V.C. (p. 91).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Let’s forego the disease-model (addiction, depression, etc…) debate for a moment and focus on Lewis’ main point. God evaluates us on the basis of what we have to work with. This is the point of Luke 12:48,

“But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”

With this in mind, it makes sense that God would be more pleased with the slight expression of other-minded compassion from someone with Autism than He would be with large compassion from someone who writes Hallmark cards for a living.

In the same way, we get really excited when a toddler takes three steps without falling, but are disappointed when an Olympian takes a half step when landing a triple-backflip-summersault with a half twist (I have no idea if that is even possible).

I think even those of us who are skeptical of the disease-model can get closer to what Lewis is saying. We believe that every person is born with a flesh nature and that these sinful natures are unique. We would also agree that each person is born is a unique personality, intelligence, set of social skills, and interests. These things can be developed with practice and shaped through life experience, but we all start with a unique “base package.”

Every person’s “base package” set them up for some life struggles. This is what it means to be a fallen person in a broken world. This distribution is not “fair” (if by fair we mean equal). Therefore, some people naturally struggle more than others.

It goes beyond the scope of this reflection to try to define what does and does not fit into the category of a biological disease. For those interested in exploring that subject further, I would recommend Ed Welch’s book Blame It On the Brain?

The ultimate goal of this reflection is to draw on Lewis’s call to look beyond (but not over) our choices. Looking over choices harms everyone. Even “a neurotic who has a pathological horror of cats” needs to be led towards truth. It would be unloving to be a silent people as others suffer with irrational fears or self-destructive behaviors even if they are biological.

Looking beyond choices would require considering who the person is who is making these choices. What are they working with (experientially, intellectually, dispositionally, physically)? Where are they in their spiritual, emotional, and relational maturity? I think if we heed Lewis’ instruction in this way, it will help us keep from getting ahead of God in one another’s life without condoning immoral or irrational behavior.

God’s Words for Being Lied Against: Psalm 4

Case Study: If there was a word that Amy hated it was “politics.” She wasn’t good at it and didn’t want to be. Falsely she hoped that by never running for public office, she would be able to avoid it. But unfortunately politics is not the exclusive domain of professionals.

Two other women in her office knew what was “best” for the business. They were not the owners, or even the manager, but these women “had the boss’s ear.” Amy didn’t even realize she was setting off an office bomb when she offered to take on a new responsibility in order to gain some extra pay. But later she learned the significance of “by-passing” the “powers that be.”

Her two co-workers, who were peers by position title, were offended that Amy would try to show them up and cheat them out of money. Amy thought everyone knew her husband was a construction worker and that they were facing hard times during the down economy. Their husbands had stable salaried jobs.

The spin was ferocious. Soon Amy was a silent, distant, money-grabbing, power-player who wasn’t interested in the team atmosphere of the office. It was as if the other two women were professional character developers for a sitcom writer. Amy soon had a type-cast role that reinterpreted her every response. Whenever Amy finally spoke up, the other women were indignant that Amy would accuse them of slander “after all Amy had done.” This only made matters worse.

Amy’s first response was fear and her second response was hurt. She woke up at night thinking about losing her job. Then she thought about how miserable it would be to stay at her job now. Her 13 years at the office seemed like they had been thrown away in one innocent request for extra work for extra pay to supplement her family income. For weeks she cried frequently while eating, sleeping, or talking infrequently.

One day she started looking for words for her experience in the Bible (she didn’t know where else to look). She began in the Psalms and didn’t make it to the second page before she reached Psalm 4 and read her story written before she lived it. She returned to this Psalm often and even personalized it in her own words.

Pre-Questions: This case study is meant to challenge you to think biblically about the real struggles of life. These questions will not be answered completely in the sections below. But they do represent the kind of struggles that are being wrestled with in Psalm 4. Use the question to both stir application and to give you new insight into the psalm.

  • What is the hardest part of being blind-sided by consequences that don’t naturally flow from your actions?
  • How does a lie create an “alternative narrative” for your life that reinterprets your every action?
  • How should Amy find the strength and courage to persevere in her difficult work environment?
  • How should Amy respond to the fear and hurt she feels?

Read Psalm 4 in your preferred Bible translation. The “rewrite” of Psalm 4 below is an attempt to capture the words that God would give Amy to pray (Romans 8:26-27). This would be something Amy would need to pray many times as she struggled with insecurity.

A re-write of Psalm 4

1. Lord, I need you now. Please here me when I pray. I was trying to follow You even when this mess got started. You are bigger than this crisis and You offer more peace than a paycheck but I sometimes don’t see that. Be patient with me as I pray through this same thing many times.

2. How long will these two women spin my attempt to work hard as if it was an under-handed action? How long will they enjoy creating scenarios to reframe my words and seek for ways to substantiate their revisionist history?

3. Lord, I know You have saved me and set me apart for Yourself. That is why I can pray to You with confidence. I am Your child long before and long after I am their co-worker. You define me. I am not sure they even know me.

4. Lord, Cause them to be angry for the right reason (at deceit or laziness, not willingness to work hard). If they were angry at the right things they wouldn’t sin like this. Cause them to ponder integrity night and day and with each waking thought.

5. Show them their actions are not right. Show them the type of work and relationships You bless. Cause them to put their trust in You rather than their “pull” within the office.

6. Lord, I am sure they would say, “We think we are doing the right thing. Show us where we are wrong. If God can be against what we are for, we must not know God.” I can’t break through that kind of thinking. Lord, only You can. I give them to You.

7. Lord, I have more joy in You than they do in all their power and clout. I don’t want what they have and they can’t take what You give. When I remember this, I can avoid being drawn into a competition I don’t want to win.

8. This gives me a rest that I haven’t known in weeks. Lord, only You can allow a person to rest well in uncertain times. Keep this perspective impressed in my thoughts as I sleep, when I wake, as I go to work, and when I return home. Safety is neither a place or a dollar amount; it is being with You. Thank You for being ever-present.

Passages for Further Study: Psalm 55:19-23; Proverbs 26:4-5, 23-28; Jeremiah 9:7-9; Matthew 5:2-12; Mark 7:14-23

Post Questions: Now that you have read Psalm 4, examined how Amy might rewrite it for her situation, and studied several other passages, consider the following questions:

  • In what ways does the action of being lied about tempt Amy to take her focus off of God? How does this affect the things she thinks about and what she feels?
  • How does the “effectiveness” of lying shape the way we define “success” in life?
  • How would your answers to the “pre-questions” have changed as a result of reflecting on Psalm 4?
  • For what instances of being lied about or relational betrayal do you need to re-write your own version of Psalm 4?

When We Believe Suffering’s Lies

Suffering is simply the difficulty in life that we experience which is not the result of our personal sin.  It is the fall out of living in a broken world with fallen people.

One problem (among many) with suffering is that it is such an intense experience. It is the epitome of “UNFAIR!”  While we are wrestling with what to say and do in the midst of what should not be, we miss the messages that we are learning.  We miss the messages, because most often those messages are being taught implicitly (like a child learns whether a stranger is safe by monitoring the mood of his/her parents) not explicitly (like recognizing the letters of the alphabet or multiplication tables).

In some way we begin to assume that “what is” is “what will always be.”  From this we adapt our expectations (both of self and others), our level of hope or pessimism, our accepted social practices, and even God.

We don’t really assess these beliefs, because in the midst of suffering one is more concerned with surviving than evaluating.  The few times we did dare to speak up we were likely “put in our place” and the few times we girded up the hope to think about what should be it only made the suffering more difficult.

Yet this becomes its own trap.  Once we quit assessing life and merely accept suffering, we begin to accept lies (i.e., you deserve this, there is no need to try, no one can be trusted, if you ever show weakness you will be taken advantage of, it is always better to be quiet, fairness is a fairy tale, etc…) as truth.

After we accept these lies as truth, we (by default) surrender to their influence on our life.  The only responses left are cynicism, anxiety, depression, or bitterness.  These dispositions are so entrapping that we miss the significance of changing life events (moving out of a home with abusive parents) or new life opportunities (going back to school, the perspective of a new friend).

Eventually we even begin to fear that our lies might be proven false, because then we would have to learn a whole new way of life.  All of the ways we have made sense of things would be taken from us.  That almost seems worse than the suffering.

These thoughts are not meant to multiply despair, but I hope they do make the following points of application make more sense.

  1. The road out of suffering can be as scary as the road into suffering for the person walking it.
  2. It is hard to put the lies of suffering into words because they were not taught that way.
  3. Great faith is required to denounce the lies of suffering because they have often been a means of survival.
  4. Patience is required for those who will help people coming out of suffering.  The freedom of being able to walk at their own pace is part of getting their voice back and learning to trust their new found freedom.
  5. Resistance is not always rebellion in the aftermath of great suffering.  Often it is merely the mustering of courage to step out into this “new” truth.

These five points will not fit every situation, but I think they are worth considering for Christians who are befriending, pastoring, or counseling those who are experiencing or coming out of significant suffering.  As you reflect on these points it might be good to read Exodus, Job, the grief/depression Psalms, and I Peter – books that address the subject of suffering, oppression, change, and endurance.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Suffering” post which address other facets of this subject.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Suffering” post which address other facets of this subject.

Fear as Entertainment and the Fear of the Lord

Have you noticed our culture’s infatuation with entertaining itself with fear?  There are countless books, movies, thrill rides, bungee jumps, and for some people their regular driving habits.  This post is not going to condemn those with an appetite for fear as violating Philippians 4:6’s command to be anxious for nothing.  Rather, instead of seeking to reduce fear this post will seek to increase fear.

There is a general axiom in Christian circles that the more spiritually mature one becomes the more sinful one will realize they are.  Or stated differently, the more you get to know God the more you realize how far your character is from His.  When Isaiah saw God he responded, “Woe is me!  I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty (Isa 6:6).”

I would advocate that those who seek a thrill, seek the biggest thrill of all – getting to know God for who He really is.  This would beat tightrope walking the Grand Canyon without a net.  It is living life in light of this fear that is the very beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7).  When you view all of life in light of the majesty of God, foolishness does not just seem dumb; it also seems tame (boring).

Consider one other passage in light of this reflection:  Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  What an amazing contrast between the words “throne of grace” and “approach with confidence.”

At a throne of grace from which we hope (with certainty) to receive mercy, we have no right to be there.  If we are wrong about our invitation as children of the King, we would be killed immediately for our audacity to enter such a regal (holy) place.  It is this realization (fear) that makes the grace we receive all the sweeter and prevents it from becoming a matter of pride, entitlement, or boredom.

It is this eternal peaceful thrill that will stimulate, satisfy, and calm our hearts for all eternity.  Therefore, let us seek the greatest of thrills. Let us rightly entertain ourselves with the most intense of fears, but not for the sake of self-indulgence or trivial story-telling but to honor the Lord Almighty and to more accurately share his glory with a world longing to be thrilled!

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Anxiety” post which address other facets of this subject.