I shot eye darts at the van driver in the rearview mirror from my seat behind him. We were traveling down a treacherous East African road booby trapped with deep potholes, and the speedometer reflected that we were going well over 70 kilometers an hour. I clutched at my nonexistent seatbelt and stared at the metal bars placed at forehead level in front of our seats.
But when the driver flippantly began to play chicken with other drivers who were headed toward us at equally insane speeds, I snapped. I pointedly shared a few choice reflections with him regarding his fatalistic driving choices. Our native host cleared his throat awkwardly, and a couple of passengers glared at me. It didn’t matter in the moment.
Fear was in my driver’s seat, and it was taking me for a ride.
Fear Reveals Our Trust
We live in a broken world where really bad things really do happen, even (and sometimes especially) to people who really love Jesus. Fear exists because sin has broken this world and distorted it, leaving much beyond our control. We are finite creatures, and fear has become part of our makeup. We can’t avoid fearful feelings in our dependent state.
But there is hope; the story of our fear is the story of who is in control. And for believers in Jesus, this story always has a happy ending.
It is not wrong to feel afraid, but it is a problem when we open the door to fear, allowing it to dwell in our hearts and homes, controlling our thought life, decisions, relationships, and parenting. What we do with our fears affects our testimony to a watching world.
When Fear Comes Knocking
Often, in our attempts to manage fear, we find ourselves grasping for control, thinking that this is the antidote for our fearful feelings. We research what could go wrong, analyze statistics, assess probabilities, and consider possibilities so that we can manage our fear, avoid it (or its sources), or control what might cause it.
But what if, instead of settling for mere fear management, we decided to fight it? What if we took our hands off the steering wheel of fear and said, “I’m not in control, and that’s okay, because my heavenly Father is in control.”
1. Identify It
When the masked man of fear shows up at our doorstep, we need to acknowledge his presence.
Let’s say, for example, that as I lather my kids up in PABA-free sunscreen, about to add wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved shirts, I come to realize that I am scared of them going without sunscreen. This sounds like a small step, but it’s not. It is possible to go through life with the bedfellow of fear and not once look at him, talk to him, or identify his existence. This doesn’t mean that fear isn’t in control. It simply means that the driver of the car is never acknowledged.
Facing our fear can take courage, which God can give us if we ask him. So I notice my fear, and I admit, “I’m afraid.”
2. Name It
Once we’ve looked the fear in the face, we identify what is driving it.
Usually, we are not actually afraid of the thing we think we’re afraid of (going without sunscreen), but rather of a possibility that something might happen to us as a result. In the example above, the driving fear behind not lathering the kids in sunscreen might be that they will develop skin cancer, or perhaps that they will develop another form of cancer due to chemicals in a non-PABA free sunscreen.
Here is where a group dynamic to fear sometimes enters. One person names such a fear among a group of mom friends at the beach. Another friend chimes in, voicing a similar fear. All of a sudden, the woman in the group who has never feared using PABA-filled sunscreen begins to wonder if she should. And fear is born, and reborn.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t share wisdom, give caution, or attempt to protect one another from potential dangers. But the way in which we do so matters; let’s be as confident in God as we are wise in the stewardship of our children.
3. Pull Its Mask Off
We reveal fear as a liar, and fight back, by believing and declaring Jesus to be more powerful than the thing we are afraid of.
Cancer is a horrible result of living in a fallen, broken world, but Scripture is clear that God governs the details of my life (Luke 12:7), and that he causes all things in my life, including cancer, to work together for my ultimate good (Romans 8:28). God can protect my kids from skin cancer (Psalm 91:3), but if he chooses not to, he will walk with us through that experience (Hebrews 13:5).
I could spend my whole life fearing skin cancer and never have to confront it, wasting my mental energy on something Christ has already conquered, rather than on the mission to which he has called me (2 Corinthians 10:5). And so we preach to ourselves about Jesus, time after time, until we slay the fear.
Jesus took on our flesh and blood “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14–15).
Jesus pulled the mask off of fear, for you and for me, and here is how he did it: He used the driving fear of death, which holds all humanity captive, as a vehicle by which he would defeat its power.
Since death empowers the fear that drives the human race, Jesus killed death’s power, defeating it by dying himself, and then rising as Victor over it. He is the ultimate Conqueror. He did so to “deliver all those who through fear or death were subject to lifelong slavery” — you and me.
It doesn’t mean we’ll never fight the battle of fear again, but it does mean that we’re staying the course in our fight for faith as we declare him a trustworthy champion over our enemy, Satan, and the fearful darts that he throws. The fight is in our souls, and it matters. Our neighbors and children are watching. Our friends are following our lead. And most of all, our Father is delighted as we put our trust in him.