When we feel fear, God understands, because he's the one who made us that way. In many ways, that first response is involuntary. He designed our minds that way so we could react quickly in dangerous situations without being slowed down by the rational thought process, which takes much longer.
Surprise: fear is not a sin—it's a gift.
All throughout Scripture God does talk to his people about fear. As I dug into those verses, two primary phrases appeared. God says, "Do not fear" or "Do not be afraid" almost one hundred times. That may make it seem like fear is a sin. But if you look closely, those phrases are almost always in contexts where the audience God is addressing is already feeling fear.
"Do not be afraid" appears more than any other place in the story of the Israelites going to the Promised Land. God says, "Do not be afraid," and then he gives instructions about what to do next—commands, like going into battle, that he knows will cause even more fear to spring up. In essence, he's telling his people, like a father would tell his kids when they're scared in the dark or about to jump off the high dive for the first time, "Don't be afraid. Go ahead and jump. It will be okay."
I love that the word be is in that phrase. God doesn't say, "Don't feel fear." Because he made us, he understands that would be impossible. Instead he says, "Don't be afraid." In other words, don't live in fear or make it part of your identity.
You will feel fear. More than once. But you don't have to live in fear. You don't have to make that Chihuahua your pet and carry it around in your bag like a socialite. You don't have to pet it, give it treats, and let it sleep in your bed at night.
I mentioned before that fear is a response from the area of our brains called the amygdala that bypasses our rational thought. But after that first surge, the other parts of our brain do kick in, and that's when we have a decision to make.
Our amygdala says, "Ack! A threat! Fear alert!"
Then the rest of our brain starts searching for evidence to support or disprove that initial response. Is the monster we thought we saw in our closet actually the vacuum cleaner? Is the loud noise that sounded like a gunshot actually just a car backfiring?
With examples like those above, it's easy to shoo away the fear with physical evidence. But when it comes to the heart, it becomes much harder. Because most of the time there isn't a black-and-white answer to that fear. We have to respond by faith.
One of my pastors, Matt Newman, likes to say, "When David saw how big Goliath was, he could say either, 'He's too big for me to ever win' or 'He's too big for me to miss—and my God is even bigger.'"
Pick the first option and fear takes over, David runs for the hills, and history changes forever. Pick the second and you get a boy with a slingshot who chooses to stand boldly in faith and goes on to become the most well-known king of Israel.
This is the place where we get to choose obedience or rebellion. It's a myth that all fear is sin, but it's quite true that fear can lead us into sin. We can say no to what God asks of us. We can listen to the lies more than the truth. We can compromise our calling.
Most of us already know that's true. So we say, "Hey, fear might get me in trouble. So I'll avoid anything that makes me afraid." But saying that is a bit like saying, "Hey, water is kind of dangerous—I could drown—so I'll just never go near any kind of water." A better solution? Learn to swim.
The same is true of fear. And unlike avoiding water, which you possibly could do, getting around situations that make you feel afraid is impossible in this life. The cost of doing so is also much too high. If you decide never to feel fear, then in essence you are saying you will not complete God's purpose for your life, because doing so always involves fear in some way. The first step to overcoming fear is to stop avoiding it. If avoidance is your only plan, the Chihuahua of fear will chase you down the street and nip at your heels forever. You will spend all your time and energy trying to escape fear when you could be using it to pursue your dreams instead. Stop and face the fear. Say, "Yes, I'm afraid. But fear isn't going to kill me. It's not even going to maim me. Fear has no power in my life. It's all bark and no bite. I'm going to move forward in faith. Fear may come my way, but I am not going to let it control me."
Adapted from You're Made for a God-Sized Dream. Copyright 2013 by Holley Gerth. Used by permission of Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Holley Gerth has just released a companion devotional, Opening the Door to a God-Sized Dream.