The Christian living site of Pastor Jim Piper, Jr.

The Problem With Fear

January 29, 2013 :: Jim Piper, Jr.

We are afraid. We struggle with fear. We feel threatened. Scripture tells us this is true if we have yet to be perfected by love.

Sometimes it’s obvious when we are afraid. Something bad has happened and we fear the worst. We hear of layoffs and we just know it’s our turn to be out there looking for a job. Our phone rings late at night and once again our minds run to the faces we know and love. We are awaiting the test results from the lab while bracing ourselves for the worst possible news.

But most of the time fear is not so obvious. As in the context of these words written to a young pastor, there is sometimes a chronic fear controlling our lives. This fear is more dangerous than you might think because we simply don’t understand it. Understanding our problems is the first step to overcoming them.

Overcoming chronic fear starts with understanding.

The first problem with fear is that it does not come from God. "God gave us a spirit not of fear" so when we are noticing a consistent cowardice within us, we can say: "Wait a second, this spirit about me is not of God." In other words, by igniting the mind and will God has gifted in each of us, we can confront this attitude of fear and dismiss it from our lives. After all, do you want to be united with anything that does not come from the Creator?

You might say, "But I can’t seem to do it. I can’t seem to find the power to confront my fear!" Fortunately, Scripture provides direction and insight. It tells us that fear is removed from our lives by exercising the love that God has given us. Look at 1 John 4:18: There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. This text clearly explains two contrasting choices: live by the law of love or the law of fear.

You know what love really is? It’s doing something. When you choose to do something, you are moving forward. You are investing. You are building. You are touching. The last thing you are thinking about is you.

Picture this: I see a neighbor who started to build a tree house and after awhile it is clear it is not going well. It’s obvious. His kids know it; he knows it. I decide I might be able to help. I walk over with my tool-belt and say, "no one should try to build a tree house alone! It’s too much fun and too important to hog all by yourself!" And the building begins. Camaraderie is established through discussion, fact-finding, working, and after awhile, progress is made. Progress fuels progress; the project is finished. That’s what love does. It builds things. It builds people and the things people need.

You know what fear really is? It’s doing nothing of value. When you choose to do nothing, you are either standing still, or worse, going backwards. You are thinking of all the reasons it won’t work. You are thinking about all the things that could go wrong. You are thinking about what might happen if you’re right. You are thinking about you.

Picture this: I see a neighbor who started to build a tree house and after awhile it is clear it is not going well. It’s obvious. His kids know; he knows. I think to myself: "I know how to build tree houses but if I go over there, he might think I'm 'a know it all' or he might be embarrassed. If I go over there I might get sucked in and then get behind on my own responsibilities. I'm not going over there; I'm going to mind my own business." That's what fear does. It wastes opportunities and creates really bad habits.

The second problem with fear is that it robs us of three spiritual essentials: Power, Love, and Self-discipline. When we allow ourselves to be captivated by fear, we literally begin to decay from the inside out. We choose to live by our own strength instead of experiencing how a partnership with God renews the inner man day-by-day.

I see this all the time. Abraham Lincoln once said that we must have faith that right makes might. In other words: power, love, and self-discipline come only by living for what is right, not what is easy or safe. The American Dream, as we call it, was never about attaining a level of comfort, it was about having a vision worth pursuing. Comfort decays; exercise strengthens.

The third problem with fear is that it has clever disguises.We have a better chance overcoming fear if we can recognize it!

I felt so bad for him. My son was an outstanding high school wrestler. He was winning a close and tough match and then it happened. As he made a move on his opponent, he was accidentally but violently poked in both eyes. Down he went! The referee stopped the match as a trainer came running out unto the mat. Once injury time ran out he had to make a decision even though he was still in severe pain and could not open either eye. He had to try and finish the last two minutes with eyes closed or forfeit the match.

He decided to press on. It was an amazing two minutes to witness. His eyes were closed shut; he tried his best, but fell short losing the match by just a point.

For many of us fear is an opponent much like my son's situation. The problem is less about the opponent and more about the fact that he could not see him. The most difficult enemy to conquer is the one you cannot see.

For many of us, chronic fear is the enemy we do not see. It is what lies below the surface of our lives. The one we need to understand and bring out into the light so we can confront him with courage.

Let's look at a few examples of how fear disguises itself.

A State of Paralysis: Some call it depression; some call it paralysis of analysis. Often it is caused by failures of the past. You don't want that to happen again so you are protecting yourself from those kinds of feelings to ever visit you again.

A "Circle the Wagons" Mentality: You know this one. Remember the cowboy movies where those heading west in covered wagons would be attacked in the middle of a prairie? They would see the enemy approaching and protect themselves by circling the wagons creating a barrier between them and their enemy. What's the problem with that strategy?

Though they felt there was no other choice, they were a sitting duck. They had a limited amount of resources: weapons, ammunition, shelter, food, and water. The enemy could refuel and attack in shifts as long as they wanted. It was a just a matter of time. Truly, all that was left was "hoping" the Calvary would stumble upon them in their time of need.

A "Circle the Wagons" mentality is in play when we are thinking only about self and those who are closest to us. It is another disguise for fear and often caused by wounds of the past; the kind of wounds where you feel you or those you loved were mistreated. This mentality fools you into believing you can protect yourself from the ability of others to hurt you.

A "Busy-Productive" Life-style: This is perhaps one of fear's most effective disguises. Be busy, look busy, get things done; these are the silent slogans of productivity. But in many cases we are staying busy because it makes us feel important. It makes us feel good about ourselves. But what is often true is that we are afraid to face ourselves. We keep moving so we don’t have to think about the deeper issues of the heart. We are trading a life of power, love, and self-discipline for a life of fear.

It's something to think about. The purpose of this short article is to encourage you to be honest with yourself. Are you holding on in fear of losing what you have? Or are you using what you have to lay hold of the treasures awaiting you in the next life?

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