(November 10, 2018) Jeff Benson shares from the heart…
Like most people, I have many weaknesses. My greatest weakness by far has been my ‘fear of man.’
Such an inbuilt thing for me… a bit like when it comes to a fear of heights, when you walk up to the edge of a cliff or lean over a guard rail from up on top of a tall building and instantly feel that fear …
The fear of man can be the same. There’s often no conscious thought associated with it, we just feel that fear…it just happens … you just automatically and instantaneously feel that fear.
For me this feeling fear has been a huge issue…
- As a kid I very rarely put up my hand to ask a question in class because I was so fearful of looking stupid.
- If I did something wrong I nearly always covered it up – sometimes even with a lie, because I was fearful of people thinking poorly of me. I was so intimidated by that kind of situation where a person in authority might be angry or disappointed.
- In playing rugby league I had no problems going in hard against the toughest opponent – but the thought of dropping the ball or missing a tackle or doing something else that would have my teammates or my coach think bad of me crippled me.
- Going into my teenage years things really became harder…fear of people’s opinions tended to increase all the more.
- Talking to the more popular or more confident kids at school made me feel really uncomfortable – in fact the more confident they were the more that would intimidate me.
Ultimately, the more significant I perceived someone to be the more I feared their opinion. Particularly my friends, my youth leader or pastor… especially my dad. One word of criticism from my dad would have so much impact. Not just in my teenage years but also well into adult life.
Anyone relate to any of this? If so here’s the good news…
God sets people free from fear!
Personally I haven’t exactly arrived at a place where you’d label me ‘fearless.’ (There’s still times I get up front and feel a little bit like I’m leaning over that guard rail on a tall building).
But my life is a very powerful testimony to the fact that no matter how bound up one is in fear and anxiety, God is very much in the business of setting people free… and he will do that work in us if we allow him, if we are prepared to walk the path he calls us to walk.
For me, that’s been a journey of many years… one where God has taught me what I’ve needed to know and given me what I’ve needed, to come against fear and defeat it. A journey that never really began until I realised that ultimately that’s exactly what God wanted to do in my life!
In fact every Christian’s faith is meant to point us towards a life that is totally free from the bondage of fear! A shift needs to take place in our life. From being resigned to living under fear… and thinking, ‘Oh that’s just me – that’s just the way I am’… to realising and being fully on board with the fact that God wants us to do a work of setting us free.
One great chorus states this: ‘For every fear, there’s an empty grave.’ The reality is that Jesus paid the price to set us free from fear… and in defeating sin and death he took away our shame and judgment and everything that fear tries to enslave us in.
Inspired by others
A part of this journey for us is being inspired by others – throughout scripture we see people in circumstances where there was so much to fear, yet they were fearless, confident! They demonstrated a version of faith and faithfulness to God that provoked in them fearless and heroic living.
A classic example of that is the story of Daniel and his three friends Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego. These guys had every reason to feel insecure… exiled in a foreign land, treated like they didn’t belong, intimidated by governing authorities, regularly pressured to compromise on their faith. Yet over and over again those four stood up and fearlessly did and said what needed to be done and said!
- When Daniel needed to interpret a dream that ultimately spoke of a king’s demise… even when under the threat of death, Daniel would speak it straight.
- When Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego were told that they must bow down and worship a golden statue, and if they didn’t they would be thrown into a fiery furnace, they chose the furnace declaring: ‘The God we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace… but even if he does not, we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up’ (Daniel 3:16-18).
- Later Daniel gets thrown into a lion’s den because a law was passed demanding that for 30 days no one was allowed to pray or worship anyone other than the king. It would’ve been so easy for Daniel to compromise but he wasn’t interested in making any kind of compromise when it came to his relationship with God: ‘When Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before’ (Daniel 6:10).
Other biblical examples…
All throughout the Bible we see similar versions of faith that inspired people to live fearlessly…
- And Jesus himself!
And over and over again we are told not to fear – and are given promises and truths and ways of thinking to cling to when we are confronted by fear.
Security in God, not circumstances!
A great example of that is Psalm 27:1 where David ‘declares, ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?’
In other words, what I cannot see here and now, and cannot know how all this is going to turn out does not matter and will not make me afraid because the Lord is my light – everything he shows me and sheds light on in this is all I need to see, I don’t care about anything else. he is my salvation – he holds the final outcome to all of this in his hand and so I don’t need to fear any of those possible outcomes. I’m choosing to trust and believe in him.’
Then David says: ’The Lord is the stronghold of my life – whom shall I fear? He’s saying: fear doesn’t have a hold of me, and it cannot get a hold on me because God has a hold of me.
This is exactly what we see of Daniel and Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego when they were threatened with a furnace and a lion’s den. They too found their security in God, not in people or circumstance.
Want to become a person free from fear?
Three simple things that you are going to need to do, and keep doing…
1. Do what you’re called to do (don’t give in to fear)
When Daniel and his friends were faced with a choice to either obey fear or obey God they choose God every time, they didn’t compromise. In the most fearful of situations, they chose to completely disregard fear, and completely give themselves over to doing and saying what they knew was right to do and say no matter what the consequence.
Now we’re meant to live our faith out that way… but there’s a couple of key reasons why this is an absolutely essential part of our journey towards overcoming fear in our lives.
(a) Our battle against fear is a power struggle
It’s a struggle for who or what has authority over your life. Every time you do what fear calls you to do (and in the process, disregard what God would have you do), you give authority to fear and place yourself deeper and deeper into bondage. You will never experience the freedom from fear that we’re meant to have if you keep giving it authority over your life.
(b) Fear survives on the unknown
What we tend to discover as we persist in doing what we know we should do (despite our fears) … is that there wasn’t really anything to be afraid of in the first place. Fear survives not only on the unknown, but speaking lies into the unknown. It’s why God keeps saying ‘Fear not’ – because ultimately we don’t need to fear. We hear of persecuted Christians become fearless … because the power of fear is broken when the unknown becomes known. And that’s what happens when we persist in doing what we know we should do, despite our fears – we discover that we really didn’t have anything to fear.
2. Seek God’s perspective (not people’s)
Perhaps the top of the list of things that’s been my undoing when it comes to fear is the issue of whose perspective I’m pursuing. Whose opinion I’m listening to? Am I listening to God or man?
It’s a bit like when you can only tune into one station at a time. You can either tune in to God’s word and his truth or you can tune into what other people say – you can’t really do both, it’s ultimately thing of submission.
In John chapter 5 Jesus really nails this! At the time he was being mocked by a bunch of Jewish leaders he said: ‘I’m not interested in crowd approval’ (John 5:41-43 Mge).
He’s simply saying to those Jewish leaders: ‘You can say what you like. But I’m not fazed by your opinions of me (or anyone else’s) – why would I concern myself with the incorrect opinions of human beings when I have access to the perfect opinions of God? Why would I care about seeking your approval when I already have God’s?’
I think Jesus hits the nail on the head here for a lot of us. Especially those of us find ourselves always trying to please people or win their approval … we need to learn to turn our back on that way of thinking – we need to stop tuning in to the radio station of everyone else’s opinions.
As it says in Proverbs 29:25, ‘The fear of human opinion disables you; trusting in God protects you from that.’ For a lot of us it’s a process – and maybe a lengthy process, of constantly re-directing our attention back to God.
3. Continually die to self (lay everything down)
There are no doubt a number of important things that I haven’t mentioned about how to overcome fear –walking in our authority and declaring your faith – and so on. But truth be known … the biggest hurdle for us in this is that sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances in which doing what God calls us to do may well cost us our reputation or our dignity or our health or our wellbeing or even our life.
- Like it was for Shadrach Meshach and Abednego when they said to King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘Even if God does not save us from the flames we still will not worship your gods’
- Or like it was for Paul, who in doing his job of spreading the gospel was frequently thrown in gaol, beaten, whipped, stoned, shipwrecked, naked and forced to go without food or sleep. And eventually… beheaded.
The one thing above all other things that will break the power of fear over your life is dying to self. Fear has no ability to threaten you if you’ve given everything up and you’ve got nothing to lose!
Every time I get up to preach I’ve have do that… if there’s any anxiety in me I know it’s because I’m making it about me instead of him. I need to lay myself down. I need to empty myself of self… and say, ‘Lord, if what happens out of this is that I look foolish, I’m happy with that. Make me a fool for Christ…as Paul put it.’
Fear is always trying to threaten us and stop us from doing what we should do. But in dying to self we discover a freedom from fear that can’t be found anywhere else. A freedom that enables us to thrive and be the powerful men and women of God that we were intended to be.
‘For every fear there is an empty grave!’
Back to that great song… Jesus paid the price to set us free from fear and in defeating sin and death he took away our shame and judgement and everything that fear tries to enslave us in.
And as our risen Saviour he is very much in the business of setting people free from fear and will do that work in us if we allow him.
The question is … is that you? Do you want God to do a work in your heart and your life, of setting you free from fear. Of setting you on a path towards fearlessness.
If that’s you I would ask you to take a stand today and start putting these three things into practice. I’ve shared my hang-ups and can declare that discovering and practising them has made me a better person, especially in following and serving Jesus.