In the decades that I have been following Jesus, I am now just realizing a reoccurring theme in my conversations with my Savior. Quite often the word “fear” makes an appearance in my prayers to God- in our dialogues and, even at times, our debates:
As a 12-year-old determined to preach the Gospel to my 6th grade classmates, much to the ridicule of the school bully, Jesus reassured me with the words, “Fear not.”
As an 18-year-old entering adulthood and moving to Los Angeles with a lot of naivety, a dream, and not much else, Jesus brought me bravery with the whisper, “Take heart.”
As a 23-year old preaching my first Sunday sermon amongst a few peers, but mostly those older and wiser than myself, Jesus steadied my heart with a simple, “Be not afraid.”
As a 25-year-old asked to lay down a passion for a season in order to help meet a need, I was encouraged by Jesus to trust Him with this simple instruction: “Have courage.”
As a 30-year-old heartbroken over an ended relationship and uncertain of what to hope for in the future, Jesus declared over my heart, “Do not be afraid.”
As a 32-year-old certain that doing the right thing would cost me greatly, I was reassured by Jesus with, “Courage, my dear.”
As a 33-year-old starting a new chapter in a new city and new season of ministry, as I stepped into all that was new, Jesus cheered me on with, “Fear not. I am with you.”
“Fear not.” “Be not afraid.” “Take heart.” “Have courage.” These familiar heavenly words of comfort and strength have been repeated so often, I now know them by heart.
The influence of these words is undeniable in my own life and ministry. Quite often my sermons and writings closest and dearest to me in one way or another act as a sounding alarm to the Church to march forward full of faith, in bravery and courage. I suppose it is a natural theme because I am convinced that fear itself is the greatest enemy we will ever face in the battlefield of our hearts, and most certainly the most reoccurring one.
Ironically, I have never seen myself as a “fearful” person. At times, stubborn and impatient? Absolutely. Demanding and direct? Yes. Overly zealous and abrasive? Sadly, guilty as charged. But “fearful” didn’t seem to fit the bill for a tomboy girl turned young leader turned traveling preacher turned ministry builder, ever always the overachiever and at times a bit of a thrill seeker.
What place does fear have in the life of a woman who openly speaks her mind and jumps out of planes and breaks up street fights and visits places in the world where gunfire can be heard and machine guns are visibly seen? (Mom and dad if you are reading this, don’t worry, I was completely safe. Promise.)
It turns out, quite a lot. With age emerges this exposing companion we call hindsight. Hindsight has allowed me to reexamine certain moments of my life, and I now can see just how often I have been the target of fear’s war tactics. An expert at guerrilla warfare and espionage, fear has both hunted me in the shadows and sabotaged my advances in the guise of a loyal ally. I knew at a very early age that fear was a worthy adversary, but no one every prepared me for how cunning and deceitful it would be. Fear has no code of honor, and refuses to play by the rules. And perhaps even more ironic, fear is no coward. It will not back down without a fight.
And its most sly strategic move of all is to allow its opponent certain victories. While the opponent celebrates a battle won on one field, fear plans a surprise attack on another. It’s a bold move, and one that more often than not is quite successful. One may win a battle or two against fear, but by underestimating the adversary, they ultimately lose the war.
I can honestly say that today by God’s grace, I am not losing the war. The Holy Spirit is a far greater Warrior than a spirit of fear could ever be, and His invited presence to advise me, train me and show up to each battle with me has given me an assurance of victory, the same victory that Jesus died and rose from the dead to make my own. I’m not fighting in my own strength much these days, and I must admit, that change of tactics turned a lost war into victory and peacetime in my soul. Nor will I falsely boast of complete triumph. I do lose every now again against fear, but those are always the times I stubbornly chose to march to the beat of my own drum and not the leading of the Spirit of God. The losses I suffer in the battlefield of the mind are not a reflection of a limited power on God’s part, but a limited surrender to His leading on my part. Thankfully, a momentary defeat is always met by an invitation of grace from the Savior. He is always there to lift my head, stand me back on my feet and take my hand as He leads me to abide once again in His love. With each of these rescues from my Redeemer, I gain even more strength for the battles to come.
I am not losing the war, but at one point I was. Many different times in my life while celebrating the spoils of victory on one front, I was oblivious to the advancement of fear in other parts of my life. And it came with a cost.
Fear for too long kept me wearing masks in front of others who were trustworthy, who only wanted to know and love me.
Fear for a full decade of my life convinced me that I needed to work myself to the point of exhaustion because if I didn’t I would lose respect and love from those who praised me for my ‘high capacity’.
Fear periodically kept me from trying new things, promising me that I would fail if I even tried.
Fear kept me from getting help and support in some of the very moments I needed it the most.
Fear once caused me to prematurely end a new relationship with a great man, selling me the lie that if I opened my heart, it would only hurt me in the end.
Fear also once tethered me to a relationship longer than I needed to be, convincing me I didn’t deserve any better.
Fear in my early twenties, kept me from opening up about my dreams and desires from those who only wanted to cheer me on.
Fear kept me comparing myself in ministry to other ministers, reassuring me I would never measure up to those I admired most.
Fear for far too long criticized both my looks and my personality, forcing me to strive for an image and persona that was unattainable and a slap in the face to the wonderful child of God I was created to be.
Fear would often overburden me with stress and worries, robbing me of joy, laughter, and well, just good ole fun.
I do not share fear’s past victories in my life with any remnant of guilt, shame, or regret. Because of the endless and boundless love of God, those useless voices no longer get to spout commentary over my past.
No, I share these small and large defeats because perhaps the greatest victory fear could ever have in our lives is that it intimidates us to remain silent. We don’t speak up and speak out against fear, and because of our silence we fail to find the support and love we need from one another to become the bold and brave followers of Jesus we were destined to become.
When we call fear out for what it is, fear automatically becomes weakened. It loses its ability to isolate us, to shame us, and to paralyze us from moving forward in faith.
And when we are brave enough to admit the strength fear once had and perhaps even still maintains, then we are ready to change the narrative being written in our hearts about our lives. When fear advances and takes ground, it is not something to be concealed but to be exposed. It is not a dark spot in our own personal histories to be breezed over in the retelling of our story, but a treasured space for Jesus to open our eyes to a deeper understanding of the power of His perfect love.
Simply put, to gain great victory over fear, one must first become boldly honest.
I pray, friend, that you will not be bullied and silenced by fear. I pray you call fear out as the foe that it really is. I pray you invite the Holy Spirit to shine light on the places and times fear has won, so that fear would not become a repeat victor. I pray a spark of tenacity and resilience is ignited within you, refusing to hand over another inch of the soil of your heart to fear. I pray you let Jesus lead you in every battle against fear you find yourself in. I pray that you would experience firsthand, by the power of Jesus’ perfect love, what it means to send fear running away from the fight in utter and complete defeat. I pray that more and more, fear loses, and more and more, friend, you win. That love wins. That Perfect Love would triumph every single day of your life. Amen.