“Do you know what the most frequent command in the Bible turns out to be? What instruction, what order, is given, again and again, by God, by angels, by Jesus, by prophets and apostles? What do you think—‘Be good’? ‘Be holy’? Or ‘Don’t sin’? ‘Don’t be immoral’? No. The most frequent command in the Bible is: ‘Don’t be afraid.’ ‘Fear not.”
I began a wisbit with the above several years ago (quoting N.T. Wright) and then I walked readers through how fear causes us to sin. When we’re afraid, we often use anger to protect ourselves or someone else. In fear, we attempt to manage and control those we love and don’t love, alienating them and proving we don’t trust God. Out of fear, people lie, cheat or steal to get their needs met because they’re afraid God won’t meet those needs. “We cherish fear so closely that we find we can’t shed it even when we’re told to do so,” Wright continues. Fear cuts us off from God because it forces us to stop trusting God.
I keep pondering the effects of fear because it causes us to reject God’s great minute-by-minute invitation: “Trust me” (the positive version of “Do not be afraid”). So many Bible passages could be boiled down to, “Trust me!” If the Bible had a subtitle it would be: Holy Bible: Trust Me!
Recently I’ve noticed how a certain form of fear—dread– particularly damages us. God continually told the Israelites: Dread nothing! The LORD your God, who is present with you, is a great and awesome God. (Deuteronomy 7:21, slightly paraphrased). Their dread of facing the people in the Promised Land caused a 40 year delay. Dread damages us because it’s planning to fear,intending to fear, dwelling in fear. What I dread takes over. If my throat is slightly scratchy, I dread getting a cold and that dread (from my experience) lowers my resistence and the germs are more likely to take hold. If I dread going to the dentist, I’m more likely to be cynical and negative to others. But if I view it as a time where I’m getting practical help that will enhance my life, it’s no big deal and I have more energy to love people and work hard. If I dread talking to you, that dread surfaces in the way I withdraw from you and feel suspicious that you’re going to attack me or ask too much of me. If a dread a certain event, I’m more likely to feel deprived and eat poorly. To dread is to choose to live as a victim, to act as if some terrible thing hovers over me and live without hope.
So I’ve begun employing an “early detection system” against dread. I’m constantly on alert for any hint of dread within myself. As soon as I detect it, I begin asking God to show me how to let whatever I’m dreading be redeemed and defused of fear. I’m amazed that God gives me such great ideas.
For example, I detected dread about an upcoming 18-hour flight to Thailand. What if my knees hurt? What if I couldn’t sleep? What if I got bored? As I asked God for help to dissolve this dread, I got ideas for what would help me prop my legs slightly and sleep better. I bought my first Sudoku book. The trip went well—I relaxed, slept, and was fully occupied—both ways!
This intentional rooting out of dread has helped me live without fear. It’s easier to love God more, avoid sickness and face formerly-intimidating people and situations with equanimity. No wonder God said: Dread nothing! The LORD your God, who is present with you, is a great and awesome God.
Grace and peace,
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