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Why are you fearful?

“Why are you fearful?” Jesus asked His disciples in Mathew 8:23-27.

“Jesus, You must be kidding . . . we are in a severe storm. The waves are threatening to cover the boat. I really don’t get how you could sleep at a time such as this! How could you not understand the seriousness? We are about to die! Now that you are awake, I was hoping you’d realize it! You are scolding us instead?

What am I missing?” I walked out of the boat wondering! A pounding heart, rapid pulse, tense muscle(s), dry throat and mouth, butterflies in the stomach, feeling nervous, perspiring, trembling, confused, irritable, weak, or even faint… who living on earth, is a stranger to experiencing one or more of these symptoms? We have all experienced what we commonly term ‘fear.’‘I can well imagine a time, or rather many a time when I had been afraid of my own shadow, after something made my blood run cold, when I felt like a bundle of nerves, had butterflies in my stomach, and my heart in my mouth. When suddenly that heart missed a beat and got me quaking in my boots and shaking like a leaf. That was something that scared the daylights out of me before I was scared out of my wits and then reached my wits’ end but still tried to move on whistling in the dark.’ This is my story when I am fearful. Hope the emotive language evoked an emotional connect with the topic we are about to delve into, and hopefully deal with too, ‘fear’!

Please read the disclaimer before proceeding further: This article by no means claims that all fear and anxiety related issues could be resolved by reading this. This is also not an attempt to spiritualize all fears being a result of sin and say ‘Read your Bible, confess and pray it all away.’ I understand some fear and anxiety issues like Anxiety Disorders, Phobias, Panic disorders, some traumas, etc., have deep roots and would need a professional intervention through therapy and / or medicine. If you are battling fear and anxiety that is affecting your normal functioning and you have tried to find a relief for some time with no effect, may I suggest you consider meeting a trained counsellor or psychiatrist. You will no means become a second-class Christian. You will also not be choosing God’s second-best. God continues His healing ministry through physical and mental healthcare professionals. Earlier intervention could help better!
The article aims to help us understand everyday fears, their causes, costs, and combats.

What is fear? “Fear is a basic, intense emotion aroused by the detection of imminent threat, involving an immediate alarm reaction that mobilizes the organism by triggering a set of physiological changes.” (The American Psychological Association’s Dictionary of Psychology)

Causes of fear: From a new-born who fears separation from the mother to a person on death-bed, who fears separation from his/her loved ones, we are haunted with many fears. Larry Crabb in his book “Inside Out” suggests we have three types of needs: casual needs (things primarily), critical needs (relationships), and crucial needs (unconditional love and purpose). Most of our fears are about the meeting of one or more of these needs – Will I be able to meet my needs? How? When? and What if I cannot? Let us list some of our most common needs – Food, clothes, shelter, good grades, job, money, family, life partner, love and a purpose in life. We fear bad news, failure, abandonment, pain and suffering, future, death, judgement etc since it threatens one or more of our needs.

Cost of fear – helpful or harmful? Fear, primarily is an adaptive emotion (that helps us adjust into our own best interest) that facilitates (helps us to progress forward) our defensive resources to protect what’s important to us. Fear primarily keeps us from harm. We don’t touch a snake, tame a tiger or trespass an electric fencing. Fear persuades us to attend school and work on time, pushes us to find and keep a job, prepares us for the future by saving and making wise financial choices. Fear stops us at the red signals, shelters us from trouble and steps us up when confronted by danger.

Fear can turn debilitative (it slows or stops us) or maladaptive (that prevents us from adjusting to our own best interest). This happens when the amount of fear is disproportionate to the degree of threat, when fear is all pervasive, and when fear persists during safer times. These fears can deter our healthy and optimal functioning.

Let us scan through a passage in the Scriptures, Numbers 13 & 14, to look for symptoms and effects of debilitative fear. The Israelites are on the verge of entering the promised land and twelve spies are sent out to scout out the land. Of the 12 spies who went to Canaan, ten returned, with a fearful report.
Debilitative fear swells the fear-factor & shrivels the self-factor: Number 13:25-33 reports that they saw some giants (v.28), the enemies are stronger (v.31), the land devours its inhabitants (v.32) all the people they saw are of great height (v.32) and they conclude “we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (v.33). Everything about their fear is swelled up and this shrivels their self-image. We tend to magnify the objects of our fear and feel insignificant.

Debilitative fear can hold us captive in a freeze-mode. Many precious minutes are wasted speculating, arguing, complaining,
and questioning as fear halts and immobilizes us.

Debilitative fear skips the God-factor & shifts my allegiance-factor: Numbers 13 & 14 tells us that God is not factored in their report. They only refer to God wondering why He’d brought them there to die and wishing He’d let them die in Egypt (v. 2&3). God’s presence, protection, provision, promise, powerful acts are all forgotten: Their memory completely skips God. Their fearful allegiance to the only One who is worthy of it, is shifting speedily to fearing the inhabitants of Canaan, causing them to rebel against the Lord, despise and disbelieve Him (v. 9, 11 &12). We tend to discharge (at least temporarily) God and let our fear take charge.

The symptoms of debilitative fear, therefore looks something like this: object of my fear swells large, my image and resources shrivel, God is skipped and my allegiance shifts towards the object of my fear as if to subside it. In this setting, their system triggers the classic– fight-flight-freeze response. Let us check out the Israelites’ responses:

The freeze-mode: The Israelites were closest to the promised land, but were shaking with their fears. All they needed to do was trust God like they did at the Red Sea and move on. Instead, they wept all night, grumbled, complained, wished they were dead in Egypt (Numbers 14:1-3).

What are the promises of God, your fears are holding you back from? A move out of your comfort zone to a dream destiny, a great course/career, a life-partner outside of your idea?
The flight-mode: The Israelites are now talking about choosing another leader and returning to Egypt (Numbers 14:4). Yeah, you heard me right – to Egypt, a place of slavery from where they cried aloud to be saved (Ex 2:23) and when they were out, celebrated God’s saving grace (Ex 15). They are in a flight-mode right now. Have you ever wondered why Jonah did not stay put in disobedience but rather travelled to Tarshish? He was on a flight mode too!

Debilitative fear can haunt us into a flight-mode. We flee from God and mostly to the wrong place necessitating a return trip. Are you able to identify with the Israelites and Jonah? How many round-trip miles & resources could you have saved in life if you had obeyed and moved forward instead of fleeing?

The fight-mode: Fearing the inhabitants of Canaan they plan to stone the poor minority who voiced their faith (Numbers 14:10). God intervenes, punishes, and sets them on a wandering mode. Now they muster up their courage to transgress God’s command. Despite their leader, Moses, and the ark not accompanying them, they move ahead to fight and conquer the promised land but get chased down (Numbers 14:39-45). I’m sure you can sense that their fear-gears were completely confused by now. Perhaps, you’ve been there and done that too!

Debilitative fear can hustle us into fight-mode. What are the wrong battles you are fighting and striving? God may not help you fight the battles He’s not ordained for you and definitely not even accompany you when you defy His words to move into a fight!
In short, debilitative fear is costly and its responses counterproductive. That mandates us to find ways to combat it.

Combat for fear: To tackle or deal with debilitative fear we need to identify the root cause of such a fear. In Genesis chapter 3 verse 10, it is the first-time ever, humankind experienced fear and shame and for that matter any negative emotion. What exactly happened there? Adam and Eve, trusted the serpent and disobeyed God, shifting the allegiance factor, and ate that forbidden fruit. Now they were on a flight-mode running away from God and hiding in fear. When God comes looking for them, they claim to be afraid. When confronted they play the blame game. I call it the fight-mode!

King David shows us a better way instead. He throws himself at God’s arms pleading guilty. “Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great;” 2 Samuel 24:14. Instead of the classic fight-flight-freeze response modes, David encourages us to fall into the arms of the One who can help. Give God back the charge of your life and shift your allegiance to God, its rightful Owner, and He will help you see your ‘self’ in its rightful image, your ‘fear’ in its rightful size and your resources aplenty because He can provide.

I get back into the boat now and try to decipher the logic behind “Why are you fearful?” The message rings out clear. God Himself is present in the boat and is mighty to save. I see the wind and the waves (a.k.a. the swollen fear-factors) bow at His command provisioning my safety. When I shift my fearful allegiance back to Him, I realize, no waters can shrivel His perfecting work in my life and in the end (by the way it is still not the end), He will take me safe to Shore – His Paradise! And then I wonder, why was I fearful?

Evangeline Rajasekar is a Learning & Development professional at OneGlobe, an IT Consulting firm. She’s a trained Counsellor from Person to Person. She loves the Lord and is passionate about upskilling people through Training and Counselling. You can reach her at evlynraj@gmail.com

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