Why God says “Don’t Be Afraid”

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.

The Answer I Was Looking For

I’ve felt a little discouraged lately.  You know what I’m talking about, right?  It’s nothing earth-shattering, but when reality fails to meet expectations, discouragement isn’t far behind.  My wife suggested I take a look in the Bible at the 11th Chapter of Hebrews.  I’m not sure how many times I’ve read this chapter, but as I began, I ran across four words that have never stood out to me before.  They’ve been there all along. I’ve read them plenty of times, but today I really read them.  They are found in verse 3:

By faith we understand…

If you’re like me, you long for answers to the problems of life.  No clarity means no sleep.  No answers means confusion and discouragement.  And as I read these words, I wondered if perhaps they might hold the key.

The word that caught my eye was the word “understand.”  That’s the real issue, isn’t it?  Life bombards us with trials and challenges for reasons we don’t understand.  We didn’t ask for trouble, but here it is anyway.

Here’s the general idea of this phrase in the original language: by faith, we can interpret life with our minds instead of our feelings.  We don’t have to face our challenges wishing for something to happen.   We don’t have to summon a certain level of positive thoughts or feelings or energy to deal with trials.  Because of our faith, we can face our circumstances by understanding what’s true.

So the question becomes this: What can I understand by interpreting life through faith?  Two things come to mind.

First, by faith we understand that our trials are rarely random, isolated events.  They usually have a larger context.  God has never had an accident.  He’s never slipped or goofed up.  And because He directs our lives, our circumstances are not random events.  I know random things happen to us from time to time, like tripping over the rug or burning our fingers on the stove.  I’m talking about the real challenges of life, like being rejected or hurt by people we love, or losing our jobs, or difficult circumstances that are beyond our control.  How many times in the Bible do unexpected challenging circumstances happen to people, and in the background God is right in the middle of everything, dealing with multiple people in multiple ways all at the same time?   A good example is the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis.  Joseph’s life was a series of difficult circumstances, of which none turned out to be random.  There was a larger context to the events of Joseph’s life that included his brothers, his fellow jail mates, his father, and the Egyptian people.  By allowing faith into the circumstances of our lives, we begin to understand that although our feelings tell us our circumstances are random and without reason, our minds tell us that God is at work in multiple areas and multiple ways, and He knows what He’s doing.

Second, by faith we understand that God knows how to connect the dots.  If it’s true that the trials of our lives have a larger context, then faith helps us understand that God knows how to bring everything to the perfect ending in the perfect timing in the perfect way.  Joseph was taken prisoner and sold into slavery by his brothers at a young age, which began a dizzying chain of events spanning decades.  But in the end, God connected every dot, brought together every detail, and worked out every detail to perfection.  This is what Paul is talking about when he writes, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for good…”  By faith we understand that not only are the circumstances of our lives not random, but God knows how to synthesize every detail and connect every dot so that all things work together for good.

By faith we understand.  Those four words have changed the trajectory of my entire day.  I hope they do the same for you.

Making Your Life Count

If Bill Mazeroski’s 9th inning walk off homer to win the World Series wasn’t the greatest home run in history, it was certainly the most timely.  It was the 7th game, the score was tied 9-9, and when Ralph Tenney threw him a high curve ball, Mazeroski took advantage of a once in a lifetime opportunity and knocked it out of the park.

Seldom do we think of our  lives from the same perspective, but I think the principle is the same.  Our time on this earth is fleeting. While we are alive, we have one chance to make the right choice, to do the right thing, and to make a lasting mark on the world.

How can we make this one and only life count?  What can we do to ensure that we don’t miss the important opportunities and live with regret?  Let me suggest 5 ways you can make your life count.

1. Take A Chance

When I was in college, I had a secret dream of being a physician.  Although I ultimately ended up in a medical career, I didn’t become a doctor.  Why?  Because I didn’t have confidence in myself to pass the entry tests.  I was afraid to take a chance, so I settled for something less.

Although I’ve moved on and done well in life, I frequently wondered what might have been had I been brave enough to take a chance.  I learned that the long term feelings of regret is worse than the short term pain of failure.

2. Choose Faith Over Fear

Fear comes in many forms: fear of failure, fear of disappointing others, and fear of the unknown.  Fear produces the paralysis of the analysis, where decision making and forward motion in life come to a standstill.  Until every eventuality can be understood, there can be no progress.  Before we know it, the opportunity has come and gone, and life has passed us by.

We have a choice in life- we can act out of fear, or we can act out of confident faith.  How sad it is to miss out on the best in life because we were afraid to walk without fear.

3. Learn How To Play

I was listening to a podcast this week that offered some stunning research findings: One hour of playing video games was more effective in treating chronic depression than medication or therapy.  Play provides a shot of dopamine into our brains, which we interpret as pleasure.  I’m not necessarily advocating quitting your job and becoming a video gamer, but there are measurable benefits to those who carve out some regular chances to have fun.

4. Offer Forgiveness

Hurt can be difficult to move past.  Yet refusing to let go of anger and bitterness can ruin your life.  Unfortunately, many people misunderstand what forgiveness is all about.  Forgiveness is not about excusing or minimizing the offense.  It’s not about forgetting what happened.  Forgiveness is an empowering, freeing decision to move forward with life without allowing past hurts to affect the present or future.  The past no longer has power.  That’s when freedom is born.

5. Nourish Your Spirit

So many people spend their lives caring for their physical bodies while ignoring their spirits.  We watch our diets, exercise, read, learn, work, play, and sleep with the purpose of maximizing our health.  Yet few people go to the same lengths to care for their spirits.

Our spirits have needs just as our physical bodies do.  Our spirits need to be fed, to be refreshed, to be challenged, and to learn submission.  Most of all, they need to be reconciled to the God who created them.

When Bill Mazeroski was interviewed in the clubhouse after his heroic home run, he said, “I just wanted to hit the ball hard and put it into play.”  And he did.

Although our lives are not World Series baseball games, we must take advantage of the unique opportunity that is our individual life.  We only have one life.  We get one chance, and there are no do overs.  There is nothing sweeter than making good on a chance of a lifetime.  Just ask Bill Mazeroski.

What can you add to my list?  I hope you’ll write a few lines in the comment section with your own suggestions.