Friday, March 31, 2006

Handling Fear

Recently watching the National Geographic Channel, I caught an episode on the science of Roller Coasters. “A car moves on a set of rails.” Doesn’t sound like much, right? Throw in things like “height” and “speed” and “force” and “inertia”, even “timing” and you have heart-throbbing, white-knuckled fear. Grown men scream like 11 year-old girls when all these things are put together.

Then there are the 11-year olds who go home after a day at the amusement park and will not go to sleep unless the hall light is on . . .

Fear is a strange thing.

One student said during finals week, “We have nothing to fear but ‘F’ itself.”

G.K. Chesterton describes how fear is often related to perception. “For a man walking down a lane at night can see the conspicuous fact that as long as nature keeps to her own course, she has no power with us at all. As long as a tree is a tree, it is a top-heavy monster with a hundred arms, a thousand tongues, and only one leg. But so long as a tree is a tree, it does not frighten us at all. It begins to be something alien, to be something strange, only when it looks like ourselves. When a tree really looks like a man our knees knock under us. And when the whole universe looks like a man we fall on our faces.”[i]

What scares you? Let’s find out. Rank the following items in terms of how fearful they are to you (1 is “terrifying”; 10 is “no big deal”). [ii]

_____ having to stand and speak to a large gathering
_____ discovering that you have a terminal disease
_____ becoming paralyzed or handicapped
_____ being called by God to do something very difficult (for example, be a missionary overseas)
_____ experiencing financial devastation
_____ dying
_____ failing in your career
_____ losing a loved one
_____ having unbelieving or wayward children
_____ having to face a certain phobia (for example, fear of heights, fear of flying, fear of water, etc.)

John MacArthur asks, “Why do we become so frantic when facing scary situations and so prone to take matters into our own hands rather than trust God?[iii]

That’s a great question. And the answer goes something like, “well, it’s just quicker if I take care of it;” or, “God is just so far removed. He doesn’t really understand.” But what if we were facing our worst fear? What would we do? Prayer and crying out to God would be the knee-jerk reaction, wouldn’t it? That’s why more actually cry out to God on the roller-coaster than when the kid gets into bed without the hall-light on. There are just so many things beyond control and all one can do is go along with the forces at work (I don’t mean that in a New Age sense).

Take it another step further. Let’s say your boss comes in and says, “Why haven’t you checked your messages? What have you been doing?”

Do you lie, make excuses? How do you respond to fear?

Reading 1 Samuel 21-23 we remember that God had rejected Saul and intended to make David king of Israel. Saul was not ready to give up the crown and began this downward journey of hate toward David, even trying to kill him every chance possible. All David did was kill Goliath and play music well. But he was also anointed king. We already saw the faith David had in God’s preservation against his enemies. Would he cave in?

1 Samuel 21, David shows up in Nob and goes to Ahimelech, the priest. Ahimelech looks around and says, “Why are you alone and no one with you?” David responds with something like, “I’m on a secret spy mission for God and country . . . shhhhhhhhh. What’s for supper?”Somewhere nearby was a servant of Saul who saw David talking to Ahimelech. He runs and tells Saul where David is and, well, long story short, all the priests at Nob were killed for harboring David and for providing him arms (they gave him Goliath’s sword).

David runs to Achish, king of Gath (Goliath’s sword at his side) and pretends like he is crazy. Two things to note: First, David is running out of fear away from fear to another fear, and he is certainly running from enemy to enemy. Saul tried so hard to keep distance between himself and the Philistines that Gath is the last place Saul would go after David and David knew this. Second, I have a strong belief that when David was pretending to be mad, he was singing Psalm 34. This is why his Philistine enemies could look at the Goliath-sworded fool and say, ““[Is] this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing of him to one another in dances, saying: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands’?” One thing we don’t see in the English is that Psalm 34 is an acrostic; that is, every line in Hebrew begins with each consecutive letter of the Hebrew alephbet (alphabet). He was singing his A, B, C’s! This is why they thought he was looney!

I think there is a fine line between two things David did. On the one hand, he feared the king of Gath and thought that the best way to stay alive was to be a slobbering idiot. On the other hand, Psalm 34 identifies this to be a “Psalm of David when he feigned madness. . . “ The result is that while David began to react in fear and take matters into his own hands, he did not cave in, but demonstrated faith in God’s preserving him.

Psalm 63 is another song David probably wrote while running from Saul. We don’t know exactly when in his flight he wrote this, but David is without doubt demonstrating faith in God. He makes some very determined and intentional statements—nothing half-hearted: “I will seek You”; “I have looked for You”; “my lips shall praise You”; “I will bless you/lift up my hands”; “my soul shall be satisfied”; ”my mouth shall praise You”; ”I will remember/meditate”; “I will rejoice” ;”my soul follows You”; “the king shall rejoice.”

Oh, and don’t forget. David knew he was spotted in Nob by that servant of Saul, because David wrote a song just for him: Psalm 52. You might say he prayed a prayer with the Edomite in mind.

Where was Jonathan in all this, David’s best friend and son of Saul? 1 Samuel 23:16-18, “Then Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, ‘Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.’ So the two of them made a covenant before the Lord. And David stayed in the woods, and Jonathan went to his own house.”

These passages gives us a look at David, a man of fear and David, a man of faith. When he feared, he stumbled. When he faithed, he recovered his steps and pressed on. In a striking way scripture is certain to give us the full picture of the most weak moments of humanity and the strongest moments of weak humanity depending on God. We cannot rightly say that humanity was strong at all.

So, what do we do? Somehow we need to ensure our responses are more like Psalm 63 than a slobbering idiot. Somehow we need to develop a game-plan to react in faith than simply saving our skin.

Directions for Handling Fear:[iv]

1. Believers need not be slaves to fear.

(Rom. 8:15. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”

2 Tim. 1:7. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.)

2. You need not be afraid if God is your helper. (Heb. 13:5–6. Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”[Deut. 31:6; Ps. 118:6–7].)

3. The Lord is the believer’s light; he need not fear. (Ps. 27:1. The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?)

4. Trust in God casts out fear. (Ps. 56:10–11. In God (I will praise His word), In the Lord (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?)

5. Do not fear those who can kill the body. (Matt. 10:28. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”)

6. Don’t be afraid; God cares for sparrows, and he will surely care for you. (Matt. 10:29–30. “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”)

7. Perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.)

[i] Chesterton, G.K. “Heretics”
[ii]MacArthur, John. 1 Samuel: How One Godly Man Changed a Nation. MacArthur Bible studies, Page 85. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2000.
[iii]MacArthur, Ibid.
[iv]Kruis, John, G. Quick Scripture Reference for Counseling. Includes index. electronic ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1997, c1994.

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