One of the most often repeated commands in Scripture is the command against fear. Over and over again, the people of God are told “fear not.” Over 40 times, in fact, is this command given, many times given in rapid succession to each other. It’s safe to say, then, that God is anti-fear when it comes to the people, things, and circumstances of the world.
Of course, this is not a blanket command to all humanity. Our ability to “fear not” is contingent upon our trust in Jesus; it’s dependent on whether or not God is indeed with us as His children. If He is, then fear not. If He is not, then live in fear. Great fear.
That aside, I’m finding more and more that even for those of us who have been adopted into the family of God, that fear is a daily reality. There always seems to be something to be afraid of. The monsters in the closet graduate to the fear of some unknown future to the fear of economic realities and world conditions. It’s a battle for us to beat down these thoughts and feelings with faith, and it’s a fight that must be waged again and again. How do you know if this fight is being won and fear is being vanquished?
Living in fear is more than just your heart beating quickly and feeling kind of jumpy. It’s more than having that nagging feeling of “what if” always in the back of your mind. There are other more observable effects in your life that might not, at first glance, clue you that you are losing the battle of fear, and yet upon closer examination might reveal their true root. Here, then, are three practical effects of living in fear:
1. You have a lifestyle of self-preservation.
How much of your time, energy and resources do you give to your own self-preservation? I’m not so much talking about doing practical things like having a yearly physical or limiting your intake of red meat; I’m meaning more of the kind of self-preservation whereby you have attained something and are seeking to hold onto it at all costs. Maybe you’ve attained a certain reputation. Perhaps you’ve crafted an image for yourself on social media. Maybe you have a job that allows you to have a certain budget every month. And now, like a pebble in your shoe, there is always the thought in the back of your mind motivating every action, What if I lose this? If you find yourself bent toward this kind of self-preservation, then you have a fear problem that runs deeper.
2. You have a lifestyle of over-commitment.
Take a look at your calendar for this week. How much is on there? How many things have you said yes to even though you don’t really have the desire, time, or energy to do them well? And do you constantly find yourself in this situation – having committed over and over again to things to the point of exhaustion? If so, the problem here is not just your backbone – it’s your fear. You are afraid, at some level, of what would happen if you started saying no. You wonder if people would stop liking you, or if the opportunities would stop coming, or if people would just forget that you are actually a worthwhile and valuable person.
3. You have a lifestyle of extreme privacy.
Privacy is a tricky thing, because you can’t necessarily gauge it any more by what’s in the open. Most of us are sharing details of our lives that we never would have thought of sharing a decade ago – what we are eating, what our routine is for putting on makeup and clothes in the morning, what TV shows we are watching and when. We share these things, and yet we do not share ourselves. We hide behind the image we craft for ourselves of posed brussels sprouts and clean and smiling children, all the while living another existence all to our own. And we don’t let people in there. Why not? Because we are afraid of being rejected or judged or thought less of if people saw the real us.
To these lifestyles the Lord says, “Fear not.” And the root of our courage is not that the things above won’t happen; they surely might. We might lose something we value. The opportunities might indeed stop coming. We might be judged and thought less of. The reason we fear not is because our ultimate fear, the judgment of God, has been taken away by the perfect love of our Father. This is why we can fear not – it’s because the gospel reminds us that what’s truly valuable is secure. That God’s plans and opportunities for us will not be thwarted. And that the only judgment that matters has already been made.