When my son Noah was much younger, one of his favorite sayings was “Too scary!” There was much in his world that was new and unknown, often causing him fear and anxiety. We don’t have to look very far these days to find things to be afraid about. The current financial crisis has many on edge, wondering about their shrinking investments and retirement savings. Some are concerned about the possible loss of their jobs while others are unemployed in a tough job market. In addition, the upcoming presidential election has generated anxiety and fears what a new president and administration will bring. Add to these concerns about the wars, nuclear weapons, hunger, poverty, the hurricanes and other natural disasters, and it is a wonder we all get out of bed!
We need to recognize that some fear is healthy. It (hopefully) keeps us from touching hot stoves, feeding bears in the Smokies and crossing the street without looking both ways. Fear can also be unhealthy and cause us to behave irrationally. One acronym for fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. It is wise to thoroughly investigate that which we fear. We may find out our fears are based on false evidence. Paul writes, “God did not give us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline" (I Timothy 2:7 NLT).
Let’s unpack this. We are told God has given us a spirit of power even when external conditions work to make us feel powerless. We have this spirit because we know, as the old hymn says, “Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” This power comes not from within ourselves but instead from our faith in God, who loves us and will sustain us (Matthew 6:25-34). Paul also writes that we are to have a spirit of love. Fear and anxiety can lead us away from love toward hostility or even outright hatred. In times of crisis we continue to respond with love--loving God with heart, soul, mind, and strength while also loving our neighbors as ourselves. We remember to share not only God’s love but also our worldly resources—James reminds us Jesus’ command was not either/or but both/and (James 2:15-16). Finally, we exhibit a spirit of self-discipline. Self-discipline means that we maintain control of ourselves and our reactions. Our faith in God keeps us from reacting in fear when we hear “the sky is falling” and see others panicking. Self-discipline means our faith in God steadies us and keeps us working, praying, and giving for the spread of God’s kingdom--in both good economic times and bad, both when disasters strike and when the skies are sunny and clear, both when things look bleak and when things look hopeful.
A search of the biblical word ‘fear’ reveals that most often it is used in the context “fear of God.” The intent of the biblical writers was not to portray God as “too scary!” but to remind us of the importance of maintaining a healthy level of respect for the Lord. One way to manage our fears is to keep praising God, knowing that ultimately all things work together for good (Romans 8:28). Many of the psalms end with praise, even when a complaint has been lifted up to God. Remember the example of the tea kettle that, although up to its neck in hot water, continues to sing! So lets sing praise to God, knowing that, “…as we live in God, our love grows more perfect [and] such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear” (I John 4:17-18).