I walked into my daughter Anne's back yard yesterday and counted five tall pine trees that could possibly--who knows--drop loose limbs on the unsuspecting heads of my granddaughters. Will I lie awake during the next strong wind and quake at the thought? I hope not. But I will encourage a watchful eye and expert opinions on those trees from time to time.
Fear can paralyze (so could a falling limb?) and, if left unchecked and unrepented of, will cripple faith like a cankor worm gnawing away at the inside of an apparently healthy tree. When the challenging winds blow, it's fall is certain. So is the life more motivated by fear than faith.
At a critical moment during WWII, FDR bolstered the flagging spirits of the Allied troops with a stirring speech from which this sentence is often quoted: "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." For many, fear becomes a way of life, habituated to the point that it impels our behavior in areas that may surprise us if we dare explore our true motivations. Show me a bitter, whining woman and, without digging deeply at all, I will show you a woman filled with fear rather than faith. Listen to the domineering, spiteful husband and father and you will find a man mastered by his fears rather than his faith in a caring heavenly Father Who has a perfect plan for his life despite all that he perceives is going wrong. Look at Peter. When Peter kept his eyes on Jesus, the Lord of the winds and the waves, he walked on water! Imagine that! But when he looked at the waves and sensed his inability to save himself from impending doom, he sank beneath them. Only the strong hand of his Lord could pull him from the vortex of fear in which he was literally drowning.
Have you ever been afraid, really afraid? Not just startled with momentary heart-thumping results, but the kind of deep-seated fear that is accompanied by dread and gut-wrenching anguish. Childish fears, fears that are ungrounded in reality, are fears easily overcome as we mature. Perhaps childhood fears that are left unattended nourish fears in us as adults. But maybe your fears are rooted in your failings or those of someone else. Perhaps you have learned to live above the surface of your worst fears, only allowing them into your conscious thinking during 'weak' moments. Whatever shape the monster assumes in your mind, all fear is born of the same 'mother.' William Gurnall, a great Puritan preacher, said, "We fear men so much because we fear God so little." What then is the remedy for our fears? In the Biblical sense, fear God.
Dr. George Robertson, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia, reminded us last Sunday morning that adversity--situations that tend to engender a spirit of faithless fear--will peel back our layers and expose what really motivates us. We may be able to show ourselves full of faith until the storms hit; but our faith must be nourished by the means of grace God provides us -- consistent Bible study and sound preaching, the fellowship of the saints, earnest prayer, putting to death sin in our lives on a consistent, daily basis, prostrating our plans and thoughts before a holy God, consistently putting others before ourselves -- otherwise we will find ourselves weak and unable to withstand our natural and sinful fears.
Why is fear such a common factor in our failures? Perhaps because we find it easier to fear the unknown or the too well-known than to trust our lives and the lives and well-being of those we love to God's sovereign purposes. Humility is perhaps the most difficult virtue to obtain because pride is it's antithetical vice and we are all born with the cankor worm of pride ready to destroy us.
The fruit of fear destroys us while the fruit of faith -- contentment, submission to our sovereign, loving God shown in us as women by a quiet and joyful spirit -- conquers fear and sets us free to live lives of gratitude, free from bitterness and anxiety. Fear God and all other fears will fade into unimportance as the peace that passes all understanding fills your heart and mind.
Peace be unto you!