Fear has this way of making us feel weak and small. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter what we are afraid of, the emotional turmoil and stress can affect us in really powerful ways.
My daughter’s name means Brave and Courageous, and we often try to affirm these things in her identity. But when she was four years old, she came running into the living room one evening, screaming as if someone had cut off her arm. Once I got her to calm down, we discovered that a spider was in the bathroom. I steeled myself, and off we went to “clean” the spider out of the bathroom.
Even though my daughter had been crying only moments before, she followed me into the bathroom to “help.” As I discovered the location of the spider behind the trash can, my daughter was attentive, brave, standing at a distance, but able to face her fear because she was with me.
This reminds me of a story from the the book of Numbers in the Old Testament. The people of God have been rescued out of slavery, and now they’ve arrived at the borders of the Promised Land. Moses is told by God to send in some spies to bring back a report, so he does.
“They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.”(Numbers 13:1-3, 26-28)
One of the Israelites who completed the reconnaissance mission, Caleb, tries to calm the fears of those listening and encourages his peers that they will be able to take possession of the land. Unfortunately, his plan is shot down by the fearful response of the others that saw the land.
“But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”(Numbers 13:31-33)
FEAR VS COURAGE
God had given them clear instructions to take the Promised Land. They had seen him work wonders and lead the way, and yet, fear makes you feel small and weak. Caleb wanted to push forward with God’s plan to take the land, but the others were scared: “We CAN’T do that!”
And then, they started to spread a bad report among the rest of the people, building up the fear and ensuring their version of the story emphasized all the aspects that would deter forward motion.
Fear can motivate us to do a lot of things, but mostly, we get motivated to protect ourselves. We run and hide. Or we stand up and fight. Or we do whatever it takes to avoid moving forward.
Why rush forward INTO fear? No, it would be better to stay here, even if we have to lie to others in order to make our case.
The problem is that this whole line of reasoning is based on the faulty assumption that the Israelites would be entering the land on their own power. “WE can’t attack those people; they are stronger than WE are.”
This is what happens when we rely on our own power: we become much more prone to change our entire approach based on how we FEEL in that given moment. It doesn’t matter how many times you have been the last one to turn off all the lights. If you are feeling a little on edge, it will transform a normal activity into an adrenaline-fueled race to safety.
But when we let our fears lead the way, we can find ourselves trying to talk our way out of following God’s will. At that point, fear changes from a protection measure to an impediment to the will of God.
WHO IS LEADING THE WAY?
If I was blindfolded and walking along a path by myself, I would most definitely be walking slowly. I would be a little afraid, a little timid, a little uncertain. If I thought there was a drop-off in front of me, or some kind of hole or trap, I would most likely just stop. It’s better to not move forward because I can’t guarantee what my next step will involve.
But if I was blindfolded for some team-building exercise, and I had a large, strong friend guiding me by offering me their strong arm to hold on while they coached me along the path, that would be a whole different experience. I might still have some fear because I can’t see, but I would be relying on my friend’s strength and wisdom and will to be able for us both to move forward.
When my daughter was accompanied by her dad, the fear of the spider was less, and she was able to be a part of the solution.
The real question we must ask ourselves in the face of fear is: Do I trust the one who is leading me?
HOW TO MOVE FORWARD PAST FEAR
Fear is a natural response when met with a threat, but our reaction to the fear is all based on whether or not we are facing the fear alone or with support. The Israelites saw the large, fortified cities, and the fearsome warriors and imagined the path forward as insurmountable and doomed to fail because they felt alone and weak
Caleb knew that God had given the plan, and that God had proven himself to always be going before them, creating the way for them to follow. Caleb placed his trust in God, growing in courage because he had faith in God’s leading.
And even though the people disobeyed God and chose not to enter the land, Caleb and Joshua were the only two to live long enough to see the Promised Land again when God led his people back there 40 years later.
So how can you move forward past fear? You’ve got to trust the one who is leading you. Look at how God has proved his faithfulness, both in the stories found in Scripture, as well as in your own life. When we see how God has acted trustworthy in the past, it helps the current fears and problems we are facing seem less big and intimidating.
If you would like to recite a prayer, here’s one from a prayer book that I have often used:
God on the move, teach me how a reckless disobedience originates in your lack of trust. Forgive my unbelief that I prefer to call prudence, my fear that’s often masked as good sense. You call your church on a world-transforming mission; give me the eyes of Faith to trust you and follow in fearless obedience. In Jesus’ name, amen.Seeking God’s Face