Fighting Fear with Truth

Debilitating. Dreadful. Overwhelming. Should I fight it? Do I have it in me to overcome it? Perhaps it’s best to avoid it. These are some thoughts that are commonly associated with fear and anxiety. Fear is a powerful, negative feeling towards a particular object that makes one increasingly distressed and alarmed.

A giant fear that impacts almost all of us in more than one way, is the one we often brush aside without realising how it’s made inroads into our lives. In fact, we are guilty of actively growing it over the years. This one is called the fear of ‘what others will think’. From deciding which course to pursue, what job offer to consider, who I ought to marry, how I groom myself, what brands I choose, to how I will respond to a joke, behave in a specific social setting, or struggle with sharing the gospel, this fear can hold us in its grips, without our even knowing it.

‘What others may think’ often underlies the reason for our desires, (even when the desires themselves are legitimate ones) such as why I want to get married, have a child or even a grandchild. Besides, praying, participating in a worship service and serving God can also be motivated by fear instead of love for God. What’s more, we kid ourselves by using Christian language such as ‘God’s will’ while furthering our own feeling of importance or seeking to be esteemed by others. How hypocritical is this!

From the time of the fall, we have felt nakedness. Experienced shame. The need to cover up came right after that first sin. The dread of being exposed before God and the fear of what others would think crept into the human mind and has stayed put ever since.

From the time we are born, we hear of others’ opinions and judgements and soon imbibe a specific way of thinking and evaluating, based on our upbringing and culture. Media furthers this with its subtle bombardment. And we find that this often shapes our thoughts for us. Conformity to culture is not a bad thing. But are we the elephants that remain fettered to the pole by a feeble twine? The question is, what compels us, constrains us, and motivates us to action? What are we ashamed of and why? What shapes our priorities? None of us, while journeying on the sanctification path is completely free of the fear of others’ evaluations of who we are.

A thinker once said, ‘Man is incurably religious’. The need to worship and fear is innate. God called Israel to be holy and commanded them to worship Him alone. They were commanded to not make any graven images. Had they fully followed his command, they would have indeed been ‘bold as lions’. But they ran after the Baals and Asherahs, becoming as foolish as the gods they lusted after. Growing up, I have wondered why they were so atrociously cuckoo, failing so miserably. In indignation, I stood tall among them in my mind. Perhaps, you have felt this way too. Because at first glance, it appears that we are in no way like them, but are way better. It took deeper studies to reveal how the Israelites’ sinfulness reflected the filth of my own heart.

As a pastor’s kid, I was often told to watch out and consider how I’d come across in the eyes of other churchgoers. Soon this thought grew and consumed me. My main motivation was to fare well in the eyes of others and earn their approval. This eventually led to a downward spiral. Like the proverbial monkey holding on to too many cookies in the jar, I was holding on to things that weighed me down. Such wasted energy! Years later came the realisation that I am chosen to be holy and blameless before Him. Only He can keep me grounded. I am called to fear God and not give His place to another. I ought to live to glorify Him. That alone is my life’s purpose. I was so busy keeping up my image that there was no mental space left to glorify my Maker. People around me were my Baals and Asherahs. I had multiple high places to tear down. I needed to repent. Since then, God has been faithfully training me to look to Him as my Captain and my ever present help.

The fear of others can be powerfully combated and won when we replace the wrong fear with the right one – fearing God. Surely the songwriter experienced this before he wrote ‘twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved’.

– Study the attributes of God and marvel at His unique awesomeness, greatness and perfection. Enjoying His bigness puts all things in perspective.
– Speak scripture to yourself and submit to the truth.
– Do not elevate education, riches, looks or peoples’ words – either positive or negative, above what Christ has done for you on the cross. He alone establishes the worth of His chosen, purely on the basis of what He has done. How dare we re-define that?
– Ask God to shed His light into the unfrequented, dark crannies of your heart; there could be some strongholds He could help you uncover. He is faithful and just to forgive when we cry out to Him in repentance.
– Seek Him to help you occupy yourself with ‘what God thinks’ instead of ‘what others would think’. He is ready to transform our thinking if only we would ask.

Finally, know that transformation is no ‘twirl of the wand’ magic. It is a slow process. With conviction and God’s empowerment, King Josiah invested many months of tireless work to cleanse Israel and usher in reforms. Thoughts hard-wired over years of brooding become second nature. When presented with similar situations, the mind spontaneously responds in set patterns once we’ve shaped it to do so. Hence change and re-wiring takes time. But progress is certain if you allow God to work in you as you constantly cling to scripture, making it your truth. Also, ask God for people with whom you can be vulnerable.

May we grow more joyful and fearless as we fear God and let His Word govern our minds.

Deborah Joel is a Special Education Coordinator at an international school in Bangalore. She is married to Prabhu Dhanaraj. Both of them have served in various capacities in UESI.

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