Chance are you’ve never heard the name Alex Honnold. This young man accomplished one of the most amazing feats in history- in 2017 Alex free-climbed the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. He climbed 3200 feet of sheer rock face WITHOUT A ROPE. If you’re interested, his climb is featured in the movie “Free Solo.”
Even if I had Honnold’s technical climbing skills, there’s no way I would ever attempt a climb like that. There’s a one-word reason: fear. Get me anywhere near the edge of a cliff, and I become paralyzed.
Fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a useful emotion to protect us from harm. But too often, fear becomes the motivation for living instead of the behind the scenes protector. Have you seen people who allow fear to rule their lives? Theirs is a life of defeat.
The Bible talks quite a lot about fear. In fact, a repeated theme emerges that encourages people not to be afraid. When Joshua was chosen to be the leader of the Israelites, God encouraged him to be strong and courageous. When angels appear to humans, their first words are “Fear not.”
When God tells us not to be afraid, I believe He’s doing more than encouraging us not to worry. I believe it’s a gentle warning, because being controlled by fear causes undesired dynamics in our lives. For instance:
Fear breeds doubt, which in turn negates faith. Fear is actually the opposite of faith. When we’re motivated by fear, nothing is certain. Doubt creeps in. In our minds, the worst case scenario becomes the most likely event. And before we know it, our faith shrinks.
Fear keeps us from taking the next step in life. If you want a different life, then you have to do things differently, which involves taking a step in a new direction. Fear makes it impossible to take a new step. Fear paralyzes us. It takes away our willingness to change.
Fear prevents us from praying specific prayers. Fear produces general, non-specific prayers. Why? Because fear rejects risk, and praying specifically is risky business. Specific prayers lay it out there in stark reality, and God will either say yes or no. Fear dreads failure, so it discourages us from any activity or situation where failure is an option.
Fear stunts our spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is all about moving forward into new places and giving God control of new parts of our lives. That’s one of the foundational principles of relating to God: He takes you right where you are, but He never allows you to stay there. He’s always moving you forward, asking for trust and for gestures of faith. Unfortunately, fear and faith are antagonists. People who walk by faith have learned to let go of fear. It’s not that they are never afraid. It’s just that fear does not rule. Faith does.
You don’t have to free solo El Capitan to reject fear and live by faith. You just have to decide that God is God, that He knows what He’s doing, and the best things in life happen when His way wins out. There are times when you will be very afraid, and you won’t understand all the whys and whens and wherefores. The people who reach the top of the mountain are the people who climb through their fear and are motivated by faith.