One day my sister and I took my nephew who was about 3 or 4 at the time to the Potawotimi Zoo in South Bend, Indiana. I pushed my nephew’s stroller into an exhibit and stood before a glass display which looked to me like a black empty wall.
I kept asking “what is this, I don’t see anything” and then all of a sudden my eyes kind of re-focused and I realized that it wasn’t an empty wall because the entire wall was moving. It was a wall of bats.
When I realized this the hair on the back of my neck stood straight out, I broke out into a cold sweat and just started backing up. I literally backed right out of the display building dragging my nephew’s stroller with me. I could hear my sister reading the display board, but I was out of there. And thus began my fear of bats. I actually thought about showing a video of bats in an attic that I found and it was just 40 seconds long, but as I watched it after about 10 seconds I got kind of freaked out so I chose not to do that today.
Now this fear of bats is completely irrational. I have never been attacked by a bat or bitten by a bat. I have never had a bat in any house I have ever lived in (that I know of) and I know that bats are really good for the environment because they eat lots of mosquitoes, but I can’t stand them. I had friends in Lewisburg whose attic was filled with hundreds and hundreds of bats. I was at their home for a cook-out and at dusk when the bats started coming out I had to leave. They all laughed as I drove away – but I still drove away. It is a completely irrational fear – but it is a fear none the less.
What are your greatest fears? Fear of the dark? Fear of needles? I used to laugh at Chris Ramish who would volunteer to help at the blood drives but couldn’t get near any of the tables or the people donating blood because he would faint at the sight of needles. Maybe it is a fear of snakes like my Mom or a fear of that monster that as kids we knew lived under the bed or in the closet.
Two of the most common fears people experience are the fear of flying and the fear of public speaking. I think I have the public speaking thing taken care of, and just to assure all of you, my discomfort with international travel is not a fear of flying, but it is a fear of the unknown and fear of not being in control. Anyone have those fears? Now fear itself is not always a bad thing. Fear can be healthy because it can work to keep us safe. A few years ago I was hiking and while I don’t have a fear of heights or looking over cliffs, I was a little freaked out by this one man who kept going closer and closer to the edge of a waterfall. The rocks were smooth and slick but he had no fear of slipping and falling, for him maybe some healthy fear would have been a good thing. I know if he had some healthy fear of falling over the edge it would have been good for the rest of us.
So sometimes fear can keep us safe. My fear of bats has kept me safe from getting rabies or worse yet, being turned into a vampire. All kidding aside, fear can help keep us safe, but when fear takes over or when it is irrational and we can’t overcome it, it becomes toxic and has the ability to destroy us and the life God wants for us. For example, we teach our children to fear a hot stove and busy streets and strangers, but if we never overcome these fears and they become toxic in our lives, we will never learn to cook, drive a car or make new friends. So fear can be healthy but toxic fear can destroy us.
In his book Soul Detox, Craig Groeschel says that many of our fears can be placed into four categories:
fear of loss,
fear of failure,
fear of rejection
fear of the unknown.
I don’t know about you, but there are times I can relate to each one of these fears. The fear of loss can be the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job. That loss of a job can lead to new fears because we start thinking about losing our financial security. This has been a real fear we have wrestled with recently because of the economic situation we have seen in our community. With all the issues of Penn State these past few years there has been some real fear about the loss of the football program which in so many ways is important to our community. This past week when scholarships were returned to the program, those fears were eased a bit which meant the fear of loss was a very real fear to begin with.
The fear of failure is destructive because it can hold us back from experiencing many good things in life. Answer this question, what things would you try today if you weren’t afraid you’d fail? If you are a student, would you try out for the basketball team or district band? What jobs have you not applied for because you just didn’t think you could do them? Many times these fears come from toxic words we have heard our entire lives, like “you aren’t good enough to make the team”, or “you aren’t smart enough for to go for that job.” Those toxic words need to be overcome first if we are going to overcome the fears those words bring.
The fear of rejection is really a fear of failure in a relationship because the most painful rejections are those that are personal. This fear keeps many of us from life giving relationships and experiences God may want for us. This might seem trivial, but when I was in high school I didn’t go to my senior prom because I was afraid of rejection. I actually did ask a girl to the prom… but it was the day of the prom! Yeah, I know – not cool right, but you see I was afraid she would have said no so I didn’t ask her earlier. If I had, she would have gone with me. Rejection is a powerful fear that keeps us from stepping out not only in relationships but in many different ways in our lives. It’s a toxic fear that holds us back so we need to learn to overcome it.
And then there is the fear of the unknown. In many ways this fear ties into the other three because when we experience any kind of loss it opens the door to an unknown future. What will life be like if I lose my job or lose my spouse? And failure leads to the unknown. If I try something and fail will it open the door to greater ridicule or pain? Will it lead to deeper failure? And rejection can lead to the unknown. Will we be able to survive the pain and hurt of people not loving us in return?
Fear of the unknown can hold us back in many ways. When I shared my fear about international travel, what I was talking about was this fear of the unknown. What happens when I’m in different country or culture and need to go to the bathroom? What do I say? What do I do? Where do I go? I know it seems silly, but it is these kinds of fears that hold us back in life. If this kind of fear takes over, if it becomes toxic, it keeps us from the life we want to live and the life God wants for us. So let’s talk about how to overcome these fears.
One of the things we often hear is that fear is a lack of faith, but Craig Groeschel says that maybe fear isn’t the lack of faith but faith in the wrong things. When we are afraid in any given situation what we are doing is placing more faith in the what-ifthan the God-is. A great example of this is Moses.
Moses had a personal encounter with the living God in the burning bush, actually it wasn’t a burning bush but a bush that looked like it was on fire but actually was not. Now, that’s impressive. If God can make a bush look like it’s on fire when it is not, I think I might do what God asked me to do. While Moses had faith in God, at that moment he had more faith in the “what-if”, look at Exodus 3:13. Here’s the what-if, “God, what if they ask me who you are?” Moses was afraid of failure and rejection and the unknown and while he had faith in God, he had more faith in the what-ifs. Those questions fed his fear.
To help Moses out, God actually gave Moses his name so he could tell the people exactly who it was who sent him. So now Moses has seen the power of God in the burning bush – or the bush that looks like it is on fire but is not – and he has the name of God which in and of itself is powerful so this should have been enough for Moses to move forward, right? Wrong, twice more we see that Moses placed more faith in the what-if, the questions that fed his fears, than the God who was with him. Look at Exodus 4:1 and 4:10
What if they still don’t believe me? What if I don’t say the right things? By focusing on those what-ifs, Moses continues to be tied up in fear and when we focus on the what-ifs we are also allowing our fear of failure, fear of rejection and fear of the unknown to shape our lives. Now before we just toss aside these what-if questions, it is important to look at them because they teach us something about ourselves. If we look at all of Moses’ questions to God we realize that what Moses valued was being seen and accepted as a leader who had the authority and power of God. That’s not bad, Moses really wanted to be successful for God, he wanted to do God’s will but his own insecurity and fear was holding him back. Moses didn’t want to fail. That was his fear. What is our fear
If we examine our what-ifs we might begin to learn what it is that we fear most. When I didn’t ask Cheryl to the prom, it was a fear of being rejected and a fear of being hurt. When I think twice about travelling to Israel or Sierra Leone, it is a fear of the unknown and not being in control. Understanding what it is we fear is important because it shows us where we trust God the least. I didn’t trust God to be there for me in times of rejection and at times I still don’t trust God to be there in unknown situations that are beyond my control.
Being able to name these toxic fears is important because these fears don’t come from God because God does not give us a spirit of fear. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self discipline. So toxic fear is not from and God and in fact it gets in the way of what God wants to do in our lives, so we need to offer these fears to God. This is what King David did so well.
David was called by God to be the king of Israel; the only problem was that there was already a king in Israel, Saul. So for many years as David was rising up in leadership and power, Saul fought against him. Eventually Saul issued a decree that David should be hunted down and killed. Think about it, all the resources of the kingdom of Israel were given over to the extermination of one man, David. This was the reality of David’s life and this caused some real fear for him and we see this identified and recorded in many of David’s writings. Look atPsalm 56:1-6.
Everyone is out for David. Everyone is watching his steps and trying to get him and David clearly states all of this to God but then David doesn’t place his faith in the what-ifs. David doesn’t spend his time saying, “what if they get me” and “what if they kill me”, he offers his fear to God. In God I trust I am not afraid. We hear this again in Psalm 34:4.
What David does so well is identify his fear and offer it to God. Can we name our fears? Can we sit down and say, God, here is what’s happening, I’m afraid to try out for the team because I’m afraid people will laugh at me and tease me. I’m afraid of going for that new job because I just might get it and then might not be able to do the work. God I’m afraid that I will not have enough money for retirement which is why I’m not giving more or trusting you with what I have today. We have to name the fear before we can give it to God, so we need to spend some time thinking about the what-if’s but then offer those fears to God which in turn help us focus on the God who is.
And that is the second thing that helps us overcome our toxic fears, not just focusing on God but actually pursuing God and asking Him for strength. One of the most powerful ways we pursue God is through prayer and worship. When we call out to God, he is there. When we gather to worship God – he is here. Jesus said that where two or more gather in his name he will be there which means that Jesus is here today to take away our fear and fill us with power and peace.
We can also find God and overcome fear by reading God’s word. There are at least 365 fear not passages in the Bible which means that every day we could open the Bible and find a verse that tells us to not be afraid and it is those healthy life giving words that overcome toxic words and toxic fears. When we seek God in prayer, worship and his word we will find him and when we offer him our fears he will deliver us from them. So this week let’s explore what it is that causes us the most fear and let’s explore those what-ifs that keep us from God. Once we can name those fears, we can offer them to God and then with open hands we can receive the fullness of what God has to offer us which is a spirit of power and strength and peace. Fear not, for God is. God is with us.
Soul Detox ~ Toxic Fear
1. What are the fears you struggle with the most?
· Fear of Loss
· Fear of Failure
· Fear of Rejection
· Fear of the Unknown
How have you experienced these fears in the past?
In what specific ways do struggle with these fears today?
Can you name the fear that holds you back the most?
2. What the “what-ifs” that terrorize your heart and mind?
What do these questions reveal about what you value the most and where you trust God the least?
3. What are you not trusting God with today?
4. What specific tool can you use this week to deepen your faith and trust in God?
· Reading the Bible
· Becoming part of a small group or Bible study
· Sharing with other Christians
5. Commit to memory Psalm 34:4