I had so many people ask me about climbing Kilimanjaro that I thought it would be helpful to give you a glimpse of the trip. I want to thank you again for praying for me. During the all-night hike as we pushed toward the summit I thought several times about how many of you were praying for me. It was a huge encouragement. I also thought about the kids who would have classrooms as a result of the money we raised. All-together our group raised $140,000 and that can build quite a few classrooms in Kenya!
Pam and I were incredibly impressed by the ministry in Kenya. It’s one of the most fruitful mission efforts we’ve ever seen. There’s still time to go with our team this summer. I hope you’ll consider it! You can more information at the Connect counter.
In a left-handed way, I also thought that climbing Kilimanjaro might set the stage for what I want to talk about today. This is the final message in our Soul Detox series. Throughout this series we’ve been addressing some of the major things that prevent us from experiencing the full and robust life that God offers us. Thus far, we’ve considered the self-destructive lies that we think about ourselves. We’ve also talked about anger, bitterness and the power of our words to build people up or tear people down. Today I’d like to wrap up this series by considering fear.
Now, to be honest I was never really afraid about climbing Kilimanjaro. I knew it would be hard and I knew that I would be sore for a few weeks afterward. But even so I’d still like for that 19,000 foot mountain to represent for you whatever it is that makes you fearful. We all have things that make out stomach twist. What are those things for you? Do you know what makes me fearful? Let me list four of them for you…
1. Jumping off high places. Dude, I don’t even like jumping off the three meter diving board…that’s how much I don’t like jumping off high places!
2. Public speaking. Now, I know this may surprise you because I speak for a living. But I can’t even begin to tell you how many times my stomach has twisted into knots down in front before I get up to speak.
3. Concern for my adult kids. I have four adult children and at any given time it seems at least one of them is making decisions that can stress me out. As a parent, you never stop loving your kids no matter how old they are…and you never stop aching for them when they make unwise decisions.
4. Will I have enough for retirement? I’m 62 years old and plan to keep serving at Summit for many years. But at this stage of the game, I find myself thinking a lot about how Pam and I will do whenever I step away from being a Lead Pastor. If I let my mind go down the wrong road this concern easily slips into fear.
So, what is it that causes you to be afraid? What is it that keeps you up at night with your mind spinning? Now some kinds of fear are helpful. For example, it can be helpful to be afraid of burning yourself or cutting yourself. But other kinds of fear can be unhelpful. For example, I think some of us have an unhealthy fear of loss. And these fears can paralyze us if we don’t overcome them. Perhaps we fear…
• losing our job
• or we fear losing a child or a friend
• or we fear a financial loss
• or we fear losing control.
Do you have an unhealthy fear about losing something or someone? One way to determine if your fear is unhealthy is if you fixate on it so much that it consumes you. I want you to think about this. Do you have an unhealthy fear about loss?
Other people have an unhealthy fear of failure. And this can keep us from trying new things. I’ve known people who were petrified to start anything new because they were so afraid of coming up short. And I suspect that some of us in this room have a fear of failure that keeps you from experiencing many good things in life. So, I want you to think about this. Do you have unhealthy fear of failure that’s preventing you from stepping out in ways that could honor God?
A third area of fear for some of us is the fear of rejection and abandonment. This fear can be paralyzing in relationships because it makes it nearly impossible to trust people. Some of us have difficulty developing friendships or experiencing intimacy in marriage because we have this deep fear of being rejected…and then this fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when people actually do reject us. But many times we fail to understand that their rejection is caused, in part, by the subtle signals of fear that we send that keep people at an arms distance.
So, I want you to think about this. Do you have an unhealthy fear of rejection?
A fourth area of fear for some of us is the fear of the unknown. I think this is an area of fear that is very prevalent today. People fear the future under a new and untested administration. People fear how fast the world is changing around them. Whatever used to be predictable about history doesn’t seem to work anymore.
Well, since we live during a time when we’re surrounded by so much fear, this can affect us. I was told, for example, that just before the presidential election an unprecedented amount of guns and ammunition were sold throughout the nation. So let me ask you: Do you have an unhealthy fear about the unknown? And in what ways might that fear be keeping you from experiencing all that God has for you?
So, as you think about these things, I hope you’ll be honest. Now, I know we don’t like to admit this…and we certainly don’t like to talk about it. Especially if you’re a guy! For me to admit that I’m fearful almost sounds like I’m admitting to be wimp. But bringing these things into the light is a first step toward gaining victory over them.
Craig Groeschel sharpens our thinking about fear. He writes: “What you fear reveals what you value most.” So, if I have fears about my adult children, it might be a reflection that I value them and I care about them. But if I have fear about having enough money for retirement, it might also be a reflection that I excessively value money. This is something that I’d like you to think about. Does what you fear reveal anything about what you value most?
Groeschell also says, “What you fear reveals where you trust God the least.” So, when I get fearful about public speaking this may mean that I’m not trusting God. And frankly I would agree with Groeschell on this. Usually, when I become fearful about speaking I know that my eyes are on me—not on the Lord. But I’d like you to also give this some thought. Does what you fear reveal where you trust God the least?
Now, hopefully, as I’ve been talking some of your fears have come to mind. Maybe one or two of your fears are big ones—like Mount Kilimanjaro they loom 19,000 feet over you and they are paralyzing…maybe even crushing. So what can you do about this? How can you begin to overcome?
Well, obviously fear has always been a big to deal…because the Bible mentions 365 times some version of “fear not.” Clearly fear has been something people have wrestled with all through history. God is fully aware of this. That’s why he tells us over and over and over again not to be afraid.
So, I think a very important first step to face down your fear is to focus on God’s promises. The best way to do this, in my opinion, is to commit Scripture to memory. For example, you could focus on Isaiah 41:10. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.” Would you repeat that out loud with me? (Repeat)
I can’t tell you how many times I wake up at night and my mind begins to race down paths that are filled with fear. But I’ve taught myself over the years to immediately bring to mind Scripture that I’ve memorized. And the Scripture always reminds me that I’m not alone, that God is with me, that he is faithful and that I don’t have to worry or be afraid. Friends, this is not theoretical mumbo-jumbo that I’m sharing. This really works!
And this is one reason that I’ve been adamant in recent years at Summit that we provide one memory verse every month. One of the best ways to beat back our fear is to focus on God’s promises that are found in the Bible. But I can’t do this for you…you have to invest the time to memorize the verses for them to be planted in your memory.
Now, in my case, I try to work on the memory verse we’re given all through the month. So that one verse is my primary focus throughout the month. But every few weeks I take out the entire stack of memory cards and I review them. This takes about an hour or so. Sometimes I do this when I’m traveling and I’ll have Pam help me by listening to each verse. Sometimes I do this when I going on a long walk by myself. But the point is I keep reviewing these verses at least once a month so I don’t forget them.
Now, why would I do this? Well, one reason is because I don’t want fear to keep me from experiencing God’s best. And I’ve learned that one of the most effective ways to overcome fear is by focusing on God’s promises by memorizing Scripture.
A second step to face down your fear is to surround yourself with people who breathe courage into you. When I got back from Africa I was bone-weary tired and whenever I’m tired I can become more easily discouraged. I can also become more fearful. So I walked into the office and I was not in a good place emotionally. I’d been gone for almost three weeks and I was worn out.
That’s when I sat down with our Executive Pastor of Operations, Chris Winslow, to review the year-end numbers for Summit. The numbers were all really positive and after we went through them Chris looked me and said, “Steve, this is going to be a fantastic year at Summit! We are poised to have one of the best years’ in our history!” Do you know what he was doing? He was breathing courage into me. But if he had been negative like Eeyore I’m pretty sure it would have pushed me under.
So, if you want to face down your fears you need to surround yourself with people who breathe courage into you. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” This is why coming to church every week is important. This is why showing up at your Life Group matters. We all need strong voices around us that can breathe life and courage into us. If you keep trying to do life all alone, I’m telling you, you won’t get very far! God designed us to be better together. And this is especially true when it comes to facing down our fears.
When we were climbing Kilimanjaro we’d been told that the hardest part was going to be the all-night final ascent. It would take about seven hours to go from 15,000 feet to 18,000 feet to reach the crest of the mountain where we could finally rest.
We left camp at 11:00 PM and finally reached the crest at about 6:00 AM just as the sun was rising off in the distance. All night long we climbed in a single file one step after the other. Everyone in our group had head lamps and we looked like a long white snake slithering up the mountain.
But every so often our guides would break out singing in Swahili and it was amazing how that lifted up our spirits. We didn’t know what the words meant…but we knew they were songs of encouragement, we knew they we cheering us on and we knew they would do everything possible to help us make it to the summit. I will never forget the encouragement of our guides singing that night! It was incredibly empowering.
So, friend, if you want to face down your fears, you need to surround yourself with people like that…people who believe in you, people who won’t let you quit, people who will do everything possible to help you succeed.
A third way to overcome your fear is to take a step of faith. Don’t let your fears hold you hostage. Take a step of faith and trust God to face down your fears. That’s what I do every time my stomach starts churning down in front before I speak. I ask God to help me. And I don’t let fear win. Sometimes it’s really hard…but, so far, every time I’ve been fearful I’ve still stepped out in faith, gotten up on the platform and started speaking.
2 Timothy 1:7 is a great verse for overcoming fear. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” Would you repeat that out loud with me? (Repeat) This teaches that God does not give us a spirit of fear. If we’re afraid about something that fear isn’t coming from God. Unhealthy fear might come from our flesh. It might come from the Devil. But it never comes from God.
I love how the Apostle John puts it. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18) Often when I get fearful I bring this verse to mind. I think about how perfect love, God’s love, drives out fear. Unhealthy fear and God’s love are like oil and water. They don’t mix. So the more I focus on being filled with God’s perfect love the less control unhealthy fear has over me.
But too many of us let our fears control us so we limit what we do because we’re afraid.
• So we don’t apply for the new job
• Or we don’t reach out to make a new friend
• Or we don’t travel overseas
• Or we don’t go on the mission trip
• Or we don’t show up at Celebrate Recovery
• Or we don’t try to learn something new
• Or we don’t dream about something more in life…all because we’re afraid.
But I want to challenge you today to not let your fears keep winning! Trust God and take a step of faith! Don’t let your fears keep holding you hostage. Look your fears right in the face, put your trust in God and then do they very thing that scares you to death!
• Apply for the new job!
• Reach out to make a new friend!
• Travel overseas!
• Go on a mission trip!
• Show up at Celebrate Recovery!
• Learn something new!
• Dream about something more for your life!
Many of you know that every summer I compete in a 2.7 mile swim race in Donner Lake. I’ve done it for twelve years in a row and I plan to keep doing it until I die. The guy who first inspired me to swim the race is a retired judge from Tampa Florida. I would see him every summer at Alf Sorenson’s where I swim. His name is Bob and he’s really talkative so we would chat up a storm in the locker room.
Well, at that time Bob was 75 years old…and I was just turning 50. I thought to myself, “If Bob can swim 2.7 miles and he’s 75, then I can surely do it since I’m only 50.” So Bob was my inspiration…and he still is! I saw him this past summer at Donner. He’s now 87 years old and he’s still swimming in the race every year!
Well, the truth is up to that point I had been fearful about open water swimming. I could swim in a pool all day long, but swimming in lakes and in the ocean freaked me out. I never told anyone. It was my little secret. So I just kept to the pool and avoided swimming in lakes and in the ocean. Well, twelve years ago I made a conscious decision to not let that fear hound me until the grave. I decided that if Jesus was my Lord then he could help me face down my fears about open water swimming.
Now I have to tell you, the first couple of years I would get really nervous about the race. But I wasn’t going to let fear win. By God’s grace, I kept entering the Donner race every year and now, twelve years later, I don’t get nervous anymore. I’ve seen God help me each year and I know that he will keep doing that. This was also why a few years ago I swam the race from Alcatraz over to San Francisco. I don’t want to let my fears win out!
So, another vital way to overcome fear is to step out in faith and not let fear keep holding you hostage. With God’s help, you can face down your fears if you step out in faith! What does God’s Word say? “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” Child of God, unhealthy fear is NOT from God! God’s Spirit does not make us timid! Just the opposite…God’s Spirit gives us power, love and self-discipline! So step out in faith!
Now, let me share one more step to overcome fear. This one is more pragmatic…and not necessarily anchored in Scripture. But it’s been helpful for me over the years, so I thought I would pass it along. As you face whatever is causing you to be afraid, think about the worst case that could happen. Now you may wonder why this is helpful. Well, usually when you think about the worst case scenario it really isn’t all that bad.
But until we do this usually our mind spins with what I call fear-fog. We don’t really think about any particular scenario…we’re just overwhelmed with a nebulous sense of fear. That’s why bringing to mind the worst case scenario is helpful. When we look it in the face, usually the worst case is not as frightening as we may have thought.
• So, if we apply for the new job we might get rejected. That might be painful but it’s not fatal.
• Or if we reach out to make a new friend we also might get rejected. And that might also be painful but it’s not the end of the earth.
• Or if we travel overseas we might get sick or the airplane might go down. Now, neither of those things would be pleasant…but whatever happens we always know that we’re in God’s hands and we’ll be fine. So, the worst case for us is that we might see Jesus sooner than we expected…but that’s not such a bad thing, is it?
Do you see what I mean about front-braining the worst case scenario? I’ve used this many times to help me face down my fears. Several years ago a respected church leader in Colombia said that he was invincible as long as God wanted him to be. He courageously spoke out against the drug lords at a time when that was incredibly dangerous. Eventually he was gunned down. But he knew that he would keep on living as long as the Lord wanted him to. Dying for him was a win and standing for Christ was also a win. So whatever happened was win-win. Just like with the Apostle Paul he could say, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1: 21)
Friends, do you want to know what’s worse than dying? Something that’s far worse than dying is never really living! And truth be told I’ve seen far too many people who were so shackled by fear that they never really lived. That’s why it’s so important for you to eliminate the soul toxin of unhealthy fear. You can do this by…
• Focusing on God’s promises by committing Scripture to memory.
• Surrounding yourself with people who breathe courage into you.
• Taking a step of faith and not letting your fears hold you hostage.
• And by thinking about the worst case scenario…because, more than likely, it won’t be as bad as you imagined. Remember….something that’s far worse than dying is never really living!
Now, if you have never asked Jesus to forgive you and become the Lord and King of your life, then that is an all-important step you still need to take. Once you ask Jesus into your life then all of the promises of God become yours…including his promise to never leave you or forsake you.