Turning Points Magazine & Devotional

March 2021 Issue

Putting Fear in Its Place

From the Current Issue

Putting Fear in Its Place

Putting Fear in Its Place

Just five months ago (in America) we were in the heat of the battle for the election of the President of the United States and tens of thousands of other leaders at the national, state, and local levels. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on campaign ads that flooded into our lives like a tsunami. From where I sit, most of those campaigns were advertising one thing above all others: fear—fear of what will happen if you elect “the other guy.”

I’m old enough to remember when this four-year cycle was less strident. Candidates talked more about what they intended to do rather than stoking the flames of fear by talking about their opponents. Sadly, for some reason, campaigns turned a corner.

Satan knows our propensity for fear and is more than willing to create scenarios that have a question mark at the end.

But it’s not just political rhetoric that capitalizes on fear. There is a time-tested adage in the media business that says, “If it bleeds, it leads.” A story of death or disaster or destruction will be the lead story in the newspaper or news broadcast. Bad news travels faster, and sells more, than good news.

We live in a culture of fear. Marketing strategies are often designed to convince you that something bad might happen if you don’t buy “Product XYZ.” Whether prescription medicines, insurance, safety features on cars, vitamins and supplements—the list goes on. That’s not to say those marketing messages are wrong; sometimes bad things can happen if we don’t take precautions.

But the idea is this: Humans are quick to succumb to fear. The fact that Hollywood continues to crank out horror films proves that people allow fear to occupy a place in their life. They’ll scream and cover their eyes in a theater and leave hoping nothing like that ever happens to them. Satan knows our propensity for fear and is more than willing to create scenarios that have a question mark at the end: How are you going to manage? What if you don’t get well? How will you find a new job? What if your child doesn’t return to the Lord? Can you save your marriage?

Such questions are real and legitimate; life is filled with unknowns. We can’t silence the questions, but what we can do is silence the fear. We can’t stop circumstances from interrupting the path of our life, but we can stop being frozen in our path with fear.

To keep fear in its place, we need to know what it is and what its place should be.

Why would you store fear in your heart of hearts? It can do nothing except get in the way of what God wants to do in your life. Fear is not one of the fruit of the Spirit. Think about how out of place fear would be in that list: love, joy peace, longsuffering, FEAR, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

 

Defining Fear

Defining fear is not hard: It’s an emotion. And an emotion, believe it or not, is the result of waves of chemicals that flow throughout your body as a result of a particular stimulus. For instance, when you sense danger in your path, the well-known “fight or flight” response kicks in. (There’s also a third option: hide. And a fourth: faith.)

When you feel threatened, two almond-sized glands in the mid-brain, the amygdalas, stimulate a cascade of chemicals via the autonomic (automatic) nervous system. Those chemicals prepare you to fight, flee, or hide. Blood is immediately routed to your arms and legs and away from your digestive system. (There’s no time for eating when we’re in danger.) Your heartrate accelerates, your eyes dilate, and you suddenly realize you’re afraid. This happens in seconds. No one plans to be afraid. It happens automatically—suddenly we realize we’re afraid.

And that’s a good thing. When we experience the fight or flight symptoms in our body, they’re like messengers telling us we’re in the presence of a threat. We can either run, hide, or fight to try to defeat the danger, or we can do something else: Put fear in its place by faith. When we feel afraid, it’s time to recognize the feeling for what it is and respond with the fourth option: faith. We put fear in its place by faith that is built on God’s Word, past experiences with God, and practical steps.

 

Describing Fear

The Bible is filled with examples of how people respond to fear. When Moses was a young man in Egypt, he murdered an Egyptian soldier and was afraid he would be killed. So he fled Egypt and took up residence in Midian (Exodus 2). There was nothing particularly noble or faithful about Moses’ reaction—it was an automatic response.

When Paul was being transported to Rome for trial, and his ship was caught in a ferocious storm in the Mediterranean, the crew was so afraid that they didn’t eat for fourteen days. But Paul put fear in its place based on words from God—assurance that the ship and its 276 occupants would all be saved (which they were in spite of a shipwreck). Paul stood in their midst and was a force of faith and courage in the face of fear (Acts 27).

When the Philistine giant, Goliath, was terrorizing the army of Saul in Israel, the army didn’t flee or fight—they hid behind their own lines and failed to engage. It fell to a teenager named David to put fear in its place and defeat the giant (1 Samuel 17).

When it was time for Jesus to be arrested and killed by the officials in Jerusalem, He didn’t flee, fight, or hide. “He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

Were any of these individuals (or many more we could name), feeling fearful? Of course! All of them were. They were not afflicted with Urbach-Wiethe disease, first reported in 1929—a kind of genetic disorder in which the amygdalas do not produce the chemicals of fear. There are very few people with this condition who experience no fear. But the rest of us do!

I’ve often been asked whether I was fearful of my own diagnosis of cancer years ago. My answer has always been honest: Yes, I was afraid! Who wouldn’t be? But as I entered what became a long process of treatment, I had to keep putting fear in its place. I needed the emotions (chemicals) of courage, joy, gratitude, and hope flowing throughout my body, not the chemicals of fear. When I return for periodic checkups and enter the clinic where I was treated, those same feelings rise up again. But I am able to keep them in their place.

You have your own way to describe fear: health, finances, family matters, vocation . . . it doesn’t matter what the cause of fear is—a giant, a storm at sea, persecution by religious authorities, or a performance evaluation at your job—fear is the same. It’s a cascade of chemicals that alerts you to your options: fight, flee, hide—or have faith.

 

Designating Fear

Where do you keep your toothbrush? Your keychain? Your important legal papers? Your household tools? Your kitchen appliances? Your clothes and shoes? Your laundry detergent? It is normal for us to have a place for things that are important to us for two reasons: One, so we can locate them when we need them. And two, so they don’t get in the way when we need something else.

Think about it: Would you store your food processor in your clothes dryer? Of course not. The food processor would disrupt your routines. You would have to remove it when it came time to dry your clothes. That’s the value of having a place for everything.

Think again: Why would you store fear in your heart of hearts? It can do nothing except get in the way of what God wants to do in your life. Fear is not one of the fruit of the Spirit. Think about how out of place fear would be in that list: love, joy peace, longsuffering, FEAR, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The fruit of the Spirit is a list of those Christ-like traits the Spirit wants to create in our lives. Fear is most definitely out of place in the believer’s heart.

So where is the place for fear? Because fear is not from God (Romans 8:15; 2 Timothy 1:7), its place is not in the heart of the Christian. Its place is the same as the place for all other negative or carnal emotions: greed, envy, lust, jealousy, and the like. Our plan of action is resistance: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). We resist, deny, set aside, and choose not to embrace what we know is not of God.

With the psalmist we agree, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear” (Psalm 118:6).

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