What are you Afraid of?

In my counseling ministry, I would say fear is one of the biggest problems I see. It is at the root of many deep-seated problems like depression and anxiety, and definitely at the heart of many relationship struggles. When I talk to most people, they do not even realize they struggle with fear, but when they are going to great links to control something, it is usually because they are trying to avoid something that makes them afraid. Scripture tells us the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I believe that is because whatever we fear will control us, and we will do just about anything to control our lives so that the things we fear will not come upon us.

Fear and control are inexorably linked. Are you doing what I call the dance of fear; this is, trying to force circumstances and people to line up with your demands– all to avoid something you fear?  If so, the answer lies in learning to trust the One who loves you most. His perfect love can surely cast out fear, as you let go of the reins and surrender everything to Him, you can experience the peace the passes human comprehension. 

In my own life, fear was a dominant factor until I finally learned to refuse it during one of the greatest trials of my life. If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or even relational conflict, fear could very well be at the heart of the problem. When you have time, I have written an article outlining my own battle and victory over fear. It is posted below and will probably take some time to read, so feel free to come back later. I hope  it will be helpful to you. Always feel free to message me with any questions or comments. Many blessings!

 

Replacing Fear with Faith                                                          

 By Joy Forrest

Over my years as a Christian, I have come to realize that my greatest periods of growth have occurred during times of crisis. Yet, in spite of this truth, I had never really learned to face my trials with joy until a few years ago when problems in my marriage became the catalyst for one of the most profound lessons of my spiritual life. A year prior to our crisis, I would have told anyone who asked me that I had a wonderful marriage and family. Even though we have a blended family, we had managed to avoid many of the pitfalls common to these marriages. However, this particular year, a problem with one of the children caused a disagreement that nearly ended our marriage. We were unable to agree and both resorted to sinful patterns from our pasts. He shut down and I went into a panic. Eventually, my husband moved out of the house leaving me stunned and confused.

When I first realized that our marriage was in serious trouble, I responded with pure, unadulterated fear. I spent hours crying to the Lord and begging Him to “fix” us.  Not so coincidentally, I happened to be in the middle of my second year in seminary, and had signed up for a class on crisis counseling. While the class covered specific responses to crisis situations, there seemed to be a few dominant spiritual themes. We were reminded that God is sovereign, and as such, He often allows tragedies to occur in our lives. However, He doesn’t merely allow these unpleasant circumstances; He promises to use them for good.

I was not unaware of either of these truths; however, our professor made a statement that seemed to reverberate in my ears. He said that Christians in crisis situations should ask God what He wanted to teach them through their experience. That was something I had not considered in the midst of my pain. We also learned that sinful patterns within our lives often lead to crisis, and I realized that I needed to examine my own heart. One night, while I was praying I realized that fear had become the driving force in my life. I also recognized that this fear revealed a lack of trust in God. Perhaps it had even been a contributing factor in the failure of my marriage. I asked Him to show me how to overcome fear. Proverbs says that fear of man is a snare, but the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I realized that my own life did not meet His standards on either count. I needed to figure out how fear had become such a powerful force in my life.

Some of my earliest memories are related to fear. I remember lying awake many nights staring at shadows in the corner of my room. Sometimes I would get up enough nerve to run to my parents’ room and get in bed with them. Other times I would lie awake till morning light poured through my window revealing the source of my imagined fiend to be the shadow from a piece of furniture or a tree outside my window. Even though morning light may have proven a particular fear to be without basis, daylight was also filled with things to dread.

During my early childhood, my father was the pastor of several small town churches. He preached a liberal gospel, and did not believe in the authority of scripture. His beliefs suggested that God was uninvolved in the affairs of people. Like most children, I admired my dad and naturally absorbed his beliefs. In his thinking, Jesus merely came to promote social justice. Our family was run out of town by the KKK after my dad preached a pro civil rights sermon to a small town Southern congregation, and I learned that people were to be feared. My father seemed to worry an awful lot about the deacon boards. They had a great deal of power in his life, and it did not take me long to figure out that keeping up appearances was very important. Eventually, the constant power struggles with these boards resulted in my dad leaving the ministry altogether.

My father stopped attending church with us, and his apparent bitterness towards the church spilled over into my life. Within five years, I was in full-blown rebellion and practicing witchcraft. My life was spinning out of control, and my fears were greatly intensified.Only an encounter with God’s grace could set me free from my all-consuming fear. When I poured out my heart to Him in repentance, I received peace like I had never known. Fear was no longer the defining characteristic of my life. However, something so deeply entrenched would not be so easily conquered. Overcoming fear would be a long-term process for someone in such great bondage, and fear of man would be the greatest challenge.

A few years after my salvation, my father left our family and eventually married a former secretary. This move shook me to the core. Nothing my mother and I could say or do would move him, and our prayers for his return remained unanswered. There was a point when I did not see or hear from my father for over a year, and bitterness began to fill my heart. I eventually forgave my dad, but this period of bitterness left lasting effects on my life. My father did not approve of the young man I had been dating, and so, with all the wisdom of youth, I decided to prove him wrong by marrying the fellow.

Unfortunately, my father’s instincts about him were correct. Within the first month of our marriage, he was waking me in the middle of the night and screaming at me for hours. By the time we reached our thirteenth year of marriage, screams were accompanied by threats and physical violence. I also learned that my husband had been unfaithful numerous times. No amount of counseling was able to fix what was broken in our relationship. Fear was my constant companion as I jumped through hoops to please a man who changed the rules every day. I reached out to pastor after pastor, and got the same response again and again. Maybe if I would be a better wife, keep a cleaner house, or boost his ego more things would improve. Things finally got so violent that I was forced to take our two girls and flee.

I had left for “cooling off” periods many times over the years, but this time was different. My husband went through our house intent on destroying everything I owned. He chopped up and burned most of the beautiful antiques I had inherited from my grandmother. He then bagged up all my clothes and personal items, and took them to the town dumpster. He called my mother to tell her that all my things were going there. We had left home with the only the clothes on our backs, so I set out to retrieve what I could from the dumpster.  Some ladies from my bible study volunteered their husbands to accompany me. It was dusk when I climbed down into the rubbish. So many of my precious belongings were strewn over mounds and mounds of garbage. I recovered antique silver, plates, trays, jewelry, books, my bible, clothes, shoes, and so much more. Some items were in trash bags, so I opened bags as I went and handed items up to the men outside. Some bags contained my things; others just had garbage.

Before long I was knee deep in dirty diapers and rotten food. Suddenly I heard screaming outside. My husband was back and yelling at the men helping me. It had gotten dark, so I turned off my flashlight and prayed that he would not see me. He didn’t, but began throwing items back into the dumpster. First he threw a lamp, and then a large bag that knocked me over into the filth below. I just sat there and prayed until he left. I found myself saying, “Lord, nobody has ever been through this before! Nobody knows what I’m going through.” No sooner had I uttered those words than it seemed as if Jesus Himself was there right beside me saying, “I have. I know your pain.” Suddenly my heart understood that He really knew the betrayal I was experiencing. He had been betrayed by an intimate friend, and was beaten and shamed by those He loved. Although I had known Him for over twenty years, I had never experienced the depths of His love like I did at that moment. He endured the cross because he knew my sin would cause me to suffer, and He chose to share in my suffering. I never would have chosen such pain.

I often tell people that that day was both the worst and best of my life, because my eyes were opened wider to His great love for me. That day was a huge victory in my battle against fear, because perfect love casts out fear and I saw His perfect love more clearly than ever before. I stood in that dumpster and thanked Him, because I knew that such a great love would never let me go. Paul’s words seemed to sum up my feelings perfectly; “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3:8)

In the years since that experience, I have never doubted the Lord’s love and care for me. However, I have still struggled with the fear of what men might do. Even though I know Him to be completely faithful, the experiences I had with my father and my first husband showed me that men are not. Therefore, the fear of being hurt by another man had remained deep inside my heart. I had failed to believe God, and failed to heed Jesus’ command to fear God rather than man (Matt. 10:28.) Hebrews 11:6 says, “…without faith, it is impossible to please Him,” and Romans 14:23 says that “…whatever is not born of faith is sin.” My heart had chosen to fear rather than believe, and that had lead to unbiblical actions within my second marriage.

As I began to examine what had gone wrong in our marriage, I realized that fear had often controlled my behavior. I had never been very good at speaking the truth in love, and knew that I should have done that in every aspect of my marriage; but I didn’t. If something my husband did bothered me, I rarely found the courage to tell him. It was always agonizing for me to speak truth when I disagreed, because something in me cringes at the thought of confrontation. I guess deep down I was afraid that upsetting him might lead to losing him. There were a few issues that we never agreed on, so I decided that withholding information was better than speaking the truth. Basically, this secrecy amounted to nothing more than sanitized lies, and every once and a while I even told “little white lies” to protect my interests. Our Lord desires truth in the innermost being (Ps. 51:6) and my actions fell short of His desire.

Once these sinful actions became ingrained in my life, I was left with a multitude of negative feelings. As I allowed vain imaginations to flourish in my mind, I became depressed and panic-ridden. When I yielded to fear, rather than faith, my emotions became more and more unstable. My actions and reactions were based on emotion rather than truth. I went to great links to try and make circumstances and my husband line up with my desires. Sinful words and lies were the natural result, and these sinful actions only aggravated the problems between us. My intention was to control the situation, but instead I made things worse. In the end, my husband found out about my lies and used them to justify his departure. “The thing I greatly feared [came] upon me.” (Job 3:25) Our marriage came to an abrupt halt, and just like when my father left; nothing I could do or say was enough to change my husband’s heart. I had to decide whether I would respond with fear or faith. The path of fear had been a downward spiral for too long, and I realized that I needed to make some changes.

When I lived in fear, my focus was on myself. I failed to trust God’s sovereignty and tried to take control of my own life. His Spirit convicted my heart of this sin, and I confessed it. I made a decision to turn from my sin, and also asked the Lord to give me wisdom to overcome my fears. Changing my sinful patterns required casting down imaginations, and focusing on Him rather than myself. It also required choosing to focus on things that were true and honorable, and to worship the only One who is worthy to be feared. Each time fear rolled in; I made a conscious decision not to yield to it and I learned that scripture was an effective weapon against fear.

“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” This passage in Romans (8:15) reminded me that I belonged to Him, and that my heavenly Father was bigger than anything in this world. He had promised to use bad circumstances for my good, and I knew I could trust His promise. I found many scriptures that brought peace to my heart. I even printed out and posted Psalms 27 and 46 in my house. When I was tempted to fear, I read these Psalms out loud. Over the years, I have read Psalm 46 many times, but this time around it seemed to take on new life. “There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved…” (Ps. 46:4-5)  I thought of Jesus’ statement: “He who believes in Me… ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'” (John 7:38)  As I thought of these two scriptures, I realized He was in me and nothing could shake Him. No matter what happened, I did not have to be moved. As the world changed around me, I chose not fear but rather to stand behind the One who never changes.

Consistent time in God’s word was also essential in my battle against fear, and prayer was equally important. After I committed myself to deliberately turn from my fears regarding my marriage, a new fear crept into my life. I believed that God has called me into a teaching ministry. Seminary training was not part of my plan for my life, but a few years earlier, I had felt compelled to go and had no peace until I answered the call. However, from the day I signed up for classes, I realized that my divorce could be an obstacle to ministry, in spite of the fact that God had used that experience to teach me so many things: the freeing power of forgiveness, His faithfulness, and surrender to His will. That is why I had become so compelled to minister to others. Still, it was bad enough when I only had one failed marriage to report, and I feared that a second failure would cause most Christians to see me as entirely useless to minister. Quite frankly I was feeling the same way.

I searched God’s word for an answer to my fears concerning ministry, and was encouraged by the story of David’s life. Even after he committed adultery and murder, scripture called him a man after God’s own heart. I prayed that I would be a woman after His heart. However, I remained afraid that people would never allow me to minister. I poured my heart out to Him in prayer, and He faithfully answered my cry. I decided to visit a friend’s church one Sunday, and the pastor’s sermon was on ministry. It seemed like it was written just for me. The pastor said that many times people feel unworthy to minister because of their pasts, and went on to quote Romans 11:29 which states that His gifts and calling are irrevocable. I cried throughout the whole message, because I understood that His grace is sufficient. It was His ministry; not mine. If He wanted me to minister, He would cause it to happen. He was faithful to hear my prayer and answer my fear directly.

The path to overcoming fear was, and is, filled with choices. I had to choose to obey His word and truth, rather than my emotions and fears. I had to reserve fear and reverence for the only One worthy of it. I also had to choose to commit myself to prayer, and to walk in His Spirit rather than my flesh. I presented myself to Him as a living sacrifice, and refused to conform to the ways of the world (Rom 12:1.) It was my choice- I could have focused on my circumstances, but I chose to focus on His goodness. In the past, I had let my mind dwell on the negatives, totally disregarding His sovereignty. However, now I had chosen to trust that He would even use our separation for good. I found joy in knowing that His loving hands would never let me go. Even joy was a choice. Though my heart was grieving, I was able to rejoice in my faithful God. I found that praising Him lifted me out of the mire of self-centeredness. In His presence there is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11.) Worship reminded me of how big He is, and helped me see how small my problems were in comparison. I found that as long as I continued to choose His ways instead of mine, He blessed me with the peace that passes understanding.

Although I had no guarantee of reconciliation with my husband, I realized that I had to do what the Lord required of me and left the outcome in His hands…. I chose to walk His path to abundant life, and did not let my “…heart be troubled, nor letit be fearful.” (John 14:27)  Though things continued to look dismal for several months, I understood that the things that are seen are temporary, but unseen things are eternal. (II Cor. 4:18) I remembered how my eyes fooled me as child looking at shadows in the darkness. When the morning came, the shadows were gone and there was never anything worthy of my fear. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” There is nothing on this earth to compare with the light of His glory, and every shadow of fear will fade in the light of eternity. As I chose to live in that light, God was faithful to heal and restore our marriage. He was faithful to use a horrible situation to help overcome sinful patterns that that had poisoned my marriage, and to deliver me from a lifetime of fear.

I sought the LORD, and He heard me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces were not ashamed.
Ps. 34:4-5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scripture quotes were taken from the NKJV or NASB versions of the bible.

3 thoughts on “What are you Afraid of?”

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