Fear and the Christian


Munch's 'The Scream'One of the hardest confessions to wring out of most Christians regards what we fear. We don’t talk about fear in the Church, in part, because we have created a culture in Christianity that is often afraid (ironically enough) of appearing incompetent in some aspect of the Faith.

Take evangelism, for instance. I think the reason evangelism in this country has practically gone extinct is that many people are scared to death to look incompetent while sharing Christ in any way that borders on apologetics. The reasons for this would probably fill a month’s full of posts here, but needless to say, I think fear is a major reason why American Christians avoid evangelism like the plague.

I think the homogenization that has swept over our churches is largely due to fear. While the Bible equates Christians to sheep, we too often seek out bland flocks, as if the lack of anything distinguishing will somehow allow us to tick a mark off our spirituality checklist while avoiding being too contrarian or countercultural. I mean, the wolves go looking for the oddballs, don’t they?

Beyond competency issues and a desire to not attract too much attention, we still struggle with fear of the future, despite verses like these

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.
—Deuteronomy 31:6

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
—Psalms 91:1-7

The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
—Psalms 118:6

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
—Luke 12:32

…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
—2 Timothy 1:7

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
—Hebrews 13:5-6

and this verse (which we often make into a competency issue)

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
—1 John 4:18

I wish I could say that I’m perfected in love, but I’m not. Each day, I pray that I will get closer to that mark by Christ living out more of His life in me, but I am not there quite yet.

I have written much about the times we live in. I think they are scary times, not only because we cannot see what each of us will walk through in the coming days, but also because our leaders (political, intellectual, and spiritual) are increasingly failing us. Too much of the world appears to be coming apart at the seams, and who are we to halt the seam-ripping?

I confess that I am fearful that I will not be able to juggle all the demands that keep hitting my household. One needs almost to be a genius to navigate the twists and turns of the countless little bureaucracies that grip us, and the number of people waiting to jump at us with “Gotcha!” seems infinite. (Honestly, I fear the mailman; he never seems to bring good news, and each letter opens to reveal another “Gotcha!”)

Also, I have long believed that the Church is called by God to be the thick pillow that softens the fall of those who encounter hard times. Sadly, too many in the Church don’t want to rise up to be that pillow. (Let’s be honest: We buy life insurance policies because we don’t believe the Church will take care of our families after we die.) I know that some of my own fears exist for that reason.

Yet, I keep reminding myself of what is true. And Christ is truer than all truths, even the hard ones. So, I keep going back to this verse:

When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
—Psalms 34:17-19

What fears do you struggle with? And how can we pray for the alleviation of those fears?



Yesterday, my pastor preached on believing God for the impossible.

For most of my life, I’ve been the kind of person who has believed God for the impossible. I believe that God can do anything. I put no limits on His ability to do anything.

Where I stumble is when I find that fellow Christians around me don’t believe as I do. Then I question whether I’m the nut and they’re the ones making sense.

And I look at the waves.

And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
—Matthew 14:25-31

In Hebrews it says that bad company ruins good morals. But what about faithless company ruining good faith?

We’re in a tough situation right now that calls for the impossible. As much as many Christians around me will nod their heads and say that God can do the impossible, the second I start laying out our situation here, out come the naysayers.

What happened to God doing the impossible?

I’m not sure I understand that phenomenon. Evangelicalism seems rife with supposedly faithful people who backpedal the second they hear of a really tough case.

Most times, the advice starts flying. Forget faith, here’s what’s got to be done to address the situation. You better roll up the sleeve on that arm of flesh, son! It’s as if God got the boot because you and I are better equipped to deal with the intractable.

That makes no sense to me, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that I’m wrong on my position of believing for the impossible when everyone starts giving me advice—and none of it is “Believe God for the impossible. And we’ll join with you in believing for it!”

That betrays something about us: We really don’t believe God.

It goes back to last week’s post about prosperity. We don’t want to believe that God can prosper someone materially because then we have to face the truth of those folks who don’t prosper materially. What then? So we spiritualize the promises of God. Better that we put those promises outside our physical plane of existence where no one can spot the results. A wave-looker and his oppositeThat way if there are no immediate results, we can make excuses about them being “invisible.”

Isn’t that the fallback position in most of the American Church?

Is that faith?

Our super-rationalism has gotten the better of us, hasn’t it? As bad as it was for fisherman Peter when he tried to walk on those waves, it’s a million times worse for us post-Enlightenment Americans. We run screaming into the arms of whatever earthly answer comes our way, but the last thing we’ll do is stand on God’s promise to do the impossible.

Several years ago, I was walking through a mall when a shoe salesman corralled me. I knew right away where his insistence would take us: nowhere.

I wear a ridiculously hard-to-find shoe size. Over in Europe, I can find my size easily, but here in the States, fat-footed people reign and I’m lucky to find anything, especially non-dress shoes.

Politely, I said, “You won’t have anything in my size.”

He grinned, stared at my feet, and said, “We’ve got every size they make. Come inside and I’ll set you up.”

Waving him off, I countered, “No, you don’t have my size.”

“Try me.” He folded his arms and leaned back, pummeling the ether with waves of confidence.

“Okay,” I said, ready to deliver the blow, “how about 13AA?”

“Sheesh,” the guy said, laughing and turning aside to arrange a pile of shoes on a table, “we don’t have that!”

We reek of the same sort of confidence as the cocky salesman. We tend to place our faith in what we have in stock, and that stock, in America at least, isn’t quite as deep as we think it is. We encounter someone with a real problem and we end up sheepishly arranging shoes.

But that “far-off country” has a solution. And the fact that few of us get there means we never discover what it has in stock. We’ll exhaust our local reserves, but we won’t go to that far country to get what we need.

Even in the Church, we put too much faith in man-made answers. We’ll push those answers without a thought because we’ve been indoctrinated to believe they can solve problems. But they don’t. In fact, they fail more often than not. That’s when we start getting serious about prayer, isn’t it? As the last resort. Even then, we’re afflicted by the nagging doubt that our man-made answers didn’t work, so how can God’s?

Is God a fairy tale? Then why do we treat Him like one? Knowing adults wink at each other when surrounded by children who believe in Santa Claus, and sadly, it seems we do the same to people who believe that God is the resolver of the impossible. We’ve made the Lord of All into just another figment of the imagination.

Is it pride? It seems like it to me. We don’t want to have to explain why our involving God in a situation didn’t work for some untold reason. It might make us look stupid. And we all know the worst thing that can befall a self-respecting American, Christian or not, is to look stupid.

Me? I’d rather look stupid than be faithless. Still, even that’s tough to do when everyone else is looking at the waves.

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
—Matthew 19:26