Fear, anxiety, and stress are close cousins, preventing the experience of joy, peace, and tranquility. Their cause can be somewhat complicated; however, the Scriptures are clear about the solution.
Over time, fear, anxiety, and stress are very destructive to the soul and body. Doctors are convinced that stress is linked to numerous physical complaints. It can effect, or exacerbate, sleeplessness, eating disorders, ulcers, high blood pressure, strokes, heart disease, and sexual dysfunction, among other things. It definitely affects many people’s philosophies and theology.
Fear tempts people to do regrettable things. For example, it can prompt people to avoid public speaking and witnessing, serving in the military, or suffering loss; to prolong suffering to avoid death; to betray friendships; and to lie, avoid martyrdom, identify with the lowly, perjure themselves, refuse to be seen with certain people, etc.
In counseling, I have identified certain specific fears that seem to stand out among the others. They are as follows (in no particular order):
Fear of Failure
This is a very common fear. It drives people to check and recheck their behaviors. It often motivates people to hide mistakes. It can be the basis of the distortion of financial records, lest a firm fail to make a profit, affecting bonuses, jeopardizing job security, investments, and options-even that firm’s very existence.
The leader of a country better not fail in war. Jesus asked, in Luke 14:31, "Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?" Failure in battle results in loss of territory, men and equipment, prestige, and sometimes even a country’s very existence.
Fear of failure likely causes people to count the cost of their actions, speech, business enterprises. It is also advised for discipleship: "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26-27).
Fear of failure is usually not an end in itself. 1 John 4:18 states, "fear involves punishment (torment), and the one who fears is not perfected in love." In other words, it usually does little good to ask people to stare failure in the face and try to figure out why they fear it. It is better to look elsewhere for the cause. However, I am not averse to helping people see that they are total failures in terms of the modus operandi of their first birth-which, of course, consists of flesh plus law. When we agree to be the total failures that we are under that operating system, the fear of failure can lose its power.
Fear of Rejection
Behind the fear of failure is usually the fear of rejection. However, the fear of rejection becomes powerful because people do not know in an experiential way that they are acceptable. Once a person truly knows that he is acceptable to God, being rejected by men cannot alter that assurance.
But it does little good to tell a person that he is "accepted in the beloved" (Ephesians 1:6), if acceptance is not experienced. And acceptance is not experienced when certain lies keep people working to make themselves acceptable.
What lies would those be? In previous articles, I have used considerable ink to establish the fact that the Galatian error is as prevalent today as it has ever been. And what is the Galatian error? It is that we are saved by grace, but made acceptable by works-thus my oft-repeated assertion that people commonly spend their entire Christian lives trying to become good Christians, in spite of any Scriptures to the contrary.
The lies that accompany such thinking include such teachings (deceptions) as that:
- "I am merely clothed in righteousness." The truth is that, in the new covenant, I am indwelt by righteousness; it is part of who I am (2 Corinthians 5:21).
- "God doesn’t really see me, He sees Christ in me." Baloney!
- "God sees me as if I’m righteous." Why do we say "as if"? Is God pretending that I am when I’m not?
- "I’ll be righteous when I get to heaven." This is true of my behavior, but not of my basic identity.
- "I’ll become more righteous as I age, or as I mature." But righteousness is received, not achieved (Romans 5:17).
- "I’m positionally righteous." But the Bible teaches that righteousness is actual for the believer (Ephesians 1:4).
- "I’m righteous in Christ, but…" You can add anything you want to the last sentence, and it will still be wrong!
Until the believer accepts the righteousness of Christ as his very own by faith in the Word of God, he will forever see himself apart from Christ, unacceptable, unworthy-only a poor, wretched sinner, saved by grace. This system of false beliefs will cause him to struggle for acceptance.
The precious words, "in Christ Jesus," are scattered generously throughout the epistles. Until the Holy Spirit reveals to us who we are "in Christ Jesus"-united to Him, one with Him, joined to Him, immersed in Him, in union with Him-we will forever see ourselves only as ourselves. We will consequently fear failure and rejection.
Why? Because, without that revelation, we have not been "perfected in love" (1 John 4:18), so we will not see ourselves as love! (Compare 1 John 4:8-"God is love"-with 1 John 3:2-"we shall be like Him".) In reality, however, how lovable are we? Just as much as we are acceptable. And how acceptable are we? Being one with Him, if He is acceptable, then we are (I am) acceptable! If we know God, we know love. If we know Christ, we know ourselves. The threats of failure and rejection then lose their power.
Fear of Death
There are people who live every day fearing the walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Some people have good reason to fear death. They have no sure evidence of where they will end up. Garrison Keillor once told a story of a man who had married several times, leaving a trail of women and children behind. Keillor said this man left instructions that, upon his death, his remains be cremated, with his ashes scattered over the ocean. Garrison’s take on this was that the guy wanted to make it hard for God to find him!
Death represents a loss of control. Many people have not lived one day of their lives out of control. Death can only be prevented to a point. For example, we can do things to help prevent heart attacks, but they are not guaranteed to work. We can control diet (my wife can, that is), but we cannot control stray bullets, drunken drivers, mis-diagnoses, 9/11s, school and theater shootings, hurricanes, aneurisms, etc. People have an illusion that they can control their lives, but it terrifies many to think that they need to give up all rights to what happens to them in a presentation of themselves to the Lord (Romans 12:1-2). Implied in such a presentation is the willingness to come under authority to God and His delegated authorities, giving up all rights to what happens to them, and becoming willing to give thanks in all things without figuring out why! Then and only then will Christ reveal Himself as our functional source of life, eliminating the fear of death for all those who, through fear of death, were all their lifetimes subject to bondage, having destroyed (rendered ineffective) him who had the power of death, that is, the devil (Hebrews 2:14). When Christ shows up, there is peace and calm.
The idea that we can control what happens in our lives in such a way as to prevent death is, as I said, is an illusion. It is just because we are not omniscient that we have a need to surrender to the one who is omniscient. He alone can keep us in safety as He pleases. To eliminate the fear of death, the believer must make a conscious decision to trust the God his flesh cannot trust, to violate his natural inclination to keep control of his life, and to refuse to wait until he gets his life under control to abandon himself. To wait until that happens would guarantee that he will never need to make a full surrender.
When the peace comes, the believer will find that God had no desire to control him after all, but merely wanted to set him free from the tyranny of the flesh. God has no desire to make a believer a puppet, but rather to break self’s rule to enable the Christian to become obedient to the Spirit voluntarily. Only then can God protect us, and only then will we want to obey Him, because our wanters (our desires, our wills) will be radically changed.
Judgment-exempt: John 5:24 has long been a comforting verse to me. "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life."
I find two comforting thoughts in this verse. First, the believer will not be judged (except for good works). We are judgment-exempt, because the perfect track record of Jesus Christ was substituted for our track record when His righteousness became ours.
Second, the only death we will ever experience is past tense. We were dead in Adam. Believers have eternal life. Eternal life cannot and will not die. The life we have His life will always live. We need not fear death, because we don’t die. Our body merely drops off! How good is that?
Fear of Abandonment
This fear too is based on false premises. God will reveal that to us if we are willing to go deep into our abandonment feelings and agree to have them (temporarily). We will never find the lie causing this fear if we do not allow the Holy Spirit to take us through this terrorizing feeling to the ultimate source of the lie’s power. This decision too implies loss of control (i.e. I must make a decision to let abandonment happen), to find out what is on the other side of the fear. When we discover the lie and quit using fleshly means to keep abandonment from happening, Christ will show up as our life source, causing the source of this fear to be exposed.
The fear of abandonment often stems from abandonment by significant people during one’s childhood. It can also arise from growing up in families who threaten to remove love, support, and security if certain conditions are not met. Pride may prevent the person who is threatened from succumbing to such manipulation, but the emotional damage is done, nonetheless. Anger, however, can be a camouflage, hiding the true source of pain. When the anger is dealt with, the source of the fear may be exposed.
Fear of Loss
Loss can come in many forms. It can hit our portfolios, our relationships, our health, our prestige, our position at work. We will see how much power such things have held over us when we observe how we react to their loss.
Those of us who teach the cross and the life see over and over again that loss is the way of the cross. Luke 9:23-25 reads: "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?"
Many times God uses loss to show us our false gods, impure motives, pointless goals, hollow securities and "broken cisterns" (Jeremiah 2:13). How we react to the loss will reveal whether this is true. For example, if the loss of a farm causes an identity crisis, then God has exposed a problem. If the loss of a loved one sends us into a seven-year depression, we’ll know where our treasure was.
An end to the fears
There is a saying many exchanged life counselors use: "Stress plus time will reveal your functional source of life!" When loss is looked at in this perspective, it can be an encouragement in the midst of the pain. When our false source of life is revealed, confessed, and abandoned, Christ will reveal Himself. That is the goal, and it puts an end to the fears!
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