Freedom From Fear, prt. 2
Freedom From... prt. 8
Wildwind Community Church
October 25, 2009
Last week I spoke to you about fear. Fear is what I call a primary emotion. When something is a primary emotion, that means it’s not a mask to hide other emotions. Anger, for example, is not a primary emotion. Anger is secondary, because behind the emotion of anger you will always find the emotion of frustration, or fear, or hurt. There would be no anger if it weren’t for frustration, fear, and hurt. But fear isn’t that way. Fear is primary. It doesn’t owe its existence to other emotions. Love, anger, hurt, frustration, disappointment, jealousy, and pretty much all other human emotions could disappear tomorrow and fear would remain.
Not only is fear a primary emotion, fear, I believe, is one of the number one motivators of human behavior. It is one of the main reasons we do things we should not do, and one of the main reasons we do not do the things we should do. Some of us are having serious problems in our marriages at this moment, and deep down we know we need counseling, but we have not approached our spouse about it because of fear of what they might say. We have made an appointment for ourselves because of fear of what counseling will be like. Some of us need to lay down some guidelines with our children, but we are afraid of driving them away. Some of us need to get into the gym, but we’re afraid of failure. Some of us need to stop drinking, but we’re afraid we won’t be able to if we really try. Some of us need to break off a bad relationship, but we are afraid of being alone. Some of us need to confront someone about something, but we are afraid of how they’ll respond. Some of us need to tell a boss that they are requesting things of us that violate our conscience and we will not do those things anymore, but we’re afraid of losing our jobs. Some of us need to sit down and have an honest talk with a spouse, but we’re afraid of making things worse. Some of us need to pull the trigger on an important decision, but we’re afraid the decision might be wrong. Some of us need to stop procrastinating, but we are afraid of the accountability we’d face if we became known for being a go-to person. Fear is what motivates Islamic extremists, and they retaliate by doing things that create similar fears in others. I could go on forever. Fear is behind a great deal of our refusal to do what we should do, and our willingness to do what we should not do.
As I work with couples, I nearly always find that it is fear that is keeping each of them stuck in the rut they are in. He’s afraid to be vulnerable to his wife and just tell her how he feels, so he blusters and yells. She’s afraid to trust him to make good decisions, so she micromanages and tries to control his whole life. When I find this I like pointing out to couples what they have in common – “See, you are both struggling with fear. You have the same root problem! You’re afraid of being real with each other!!” And it’s not only married couples that have fear in common. Fear is common to all members of the human race, and to most of the animal kingdom! And of course fear can be healthy. It can alert us to danger so we take steps to preserve ourselves. (In the fallen world we live in, we would not survive long without fear!) The problem is that in humans, fear combines with our imagination and becomes worry and anxiety. Fear ceases playing its useful role of alerting us to problems in the present moment, and goes out of control in an excessive focus on moments that have not come – and that well may never come.
Proverbs 28:1 (NASB)
1 The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, But the righteous are bold as a lion.
That’s fear, isn’t it? A feeling that we’re always running from things that are not real – from people who are not pursuing, trying to avoid events that have not happened, and probably will not happen.
Now that I’ve mentioned that worry and anxiety are what result when fear combines with the imagination, I want to begin dealing with approaches to fear – ways of steeping ourselves in God. And since we’re talking about the imagination, about the mind, I want to start right there, by dealing with the important role meditation can play in bringing anxiety and fear under control. Anxiety and worry can exist only in the mind that is focused, through imagination, somewhere other than the present moment. Thoughts of doom and gloom. Thoughts of despair. Thoughts of terrible things to come. Thoughts and pictures of death and destruction and devastation. Thoughts of loneliness and sadness and insecurity. Thoughts of defeat. Thoughts of the very worst that could happen, and then thoughts of the worst getting even worse. This is the pattern of anxiety and worry. They exist in the mind. Without the cooperation of the mind, they cannot take root and grow into those monsters that so deeply trouble our emotions. Take your mind out of the picture – get your mind into a place where it is no longer available for imagining, focus it entirely on the present moment, and anxiety begins to wither. You cannot chop down a tree at the base and expect the tree to remain standing.
But how do you do that? How do you get your mind out of the picture? There are many techniques that can help you think better thoughts and use your mind in better ways, but as far as I know, there’s only one way to train your mind to shut up and go away for a while, and that’s meditation.
Meditation is a twice-daily practice where you learn to live entirely in the present moment – to stop imagining, wondering, worrying, evaluating, regretting, pondering, mulling things over – you just stop all conscious activities of the mind. Many people are under the impression that it’s impossible to not think about anything, but actually that is not true. With practice, that is exactly what happens in meditation. Over time you learn to actually think much less than you currently do. You will get to where you’ll have times when you don’t think at all. But let me tell you what’s really exciting about meditation. This is an insight I could not give you two months ago when we started this series because I was just beginning my own journey with meditation, but I can already share some cool stuff with you even here at the beginning. What’s really amazing is that you go into meditation, you start repeating your word silently (maranatha), and you eventually reach a point where you realize that you are thinking about other things, but you realize that your word is still being spoken, even with those distracting thoughts going on. In a way, you are learning to say your word through your distractions, but what it actually feels like is that you are no longer saying it and are now hearing it! And your word calls you back to focus again.
Isn’t that what God wants to do in us? Doesn’t God want to run through our heads so that we don’t have to go through life consciously straining to focus on him, but rather he is simply becoming the rhythm of our lives?
Deuteronomy 11:18-20 (NIV)
18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates…
Of course the point here is “Steep yourself in this. Get this into you. Let this become the rhythm of your heart and mind and life.”
As you practice meditation, fear and worry and anxiety will begin to subside, especially if you combine meditation with some other practices I’m going to talk about. When you meditate you are cutting away at the root of the tree of anxiety, and it’s just a matter of time before it falls with a great crash. Fear cannot live in a mind that refuses to entertain it, in a mind that is steeped in God.
Romans 8:7 (MSG)
7 Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing.
Meditation pulls you into the present moment and holds you there – twice a day for 20 or 25 or 30 minutes. The present moment is the place – and the only place – where God is. And when you are truly in the present moment, there is nothing to be afraid of. Anxiety and worry are future-focused. Learn to live in the present moment and your anxiety will die from lack of oxygen. What did Jesus say?
Matthew 6:33-34 (MSG)
33 Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
34 "Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.
Jesus said we gotta learn to live in the present moment – in what God is doing right now!! So I encourage you, if you struggle with anxiety, to practice meditation not just until anxiety gets better but forever. Meditation will be of great help in getting your head straight, and then keeping it straight!
Now – how else do we steep ourselves in God? Meditation is a key way, but it’s not the only way. My suggestion for worriers is that you meditate and also adopt a couple of these other practices I’m going to talk about.
Another way to steep ourselves in God is to let scripture begin breathing in us. Notice I didn’t say “Read your Bible.” I said let scripture begin breathing in you. We believe the Bible was inspired and the word inspired literally means, “God-breathed.” (The word “respiration” contains the same “spir” root meaning to breathe. And the word “Spirit” also means “breath!”) What we want is for God to breathe in us – we want to live in him.
Acts 17:28 (NIV)
28 'For in him we live and move and have our being.'
Colossians 3:3-4 (NIV)
3, …your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
So we must let scripture begin breathing in us. This means we have to find ways to let it come alive. Here’s one way.
Open your Bible to the 23rd Psalm and begin to read it slowly and prayerfully, adding “No matter what” to the end of each phrase.
Psalms 23:1-4 (NIV)
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. No matter what.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, no matter what.
3 he restores my soul, no matter what. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, no matter what for you are with me no matter what; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. No matter what.
Do this daily for a while, until it begins to seem real to you. Let it soak in. Pray this as you think about your fears and worries and concerns. It will help you move beyond simply reading the text, and will begin to get scripture breathing in you.
Another way to let scripture begin breathing in us is to find a meaningful passage, learn it by heart, and then begin repeating it to ourselves throughout the day. Especially, but not just, when we are feeling anxious or fearful.
If you are a visual person, another great way to let scripture come alive in you is to read a passage, such as Christ calming the sea, and in your mind, place yourself there with the disciples. Allow yourself to feel their fear as the wind picks up and the waves get larger and louder. Make yourself the person who finds Jesus sleeping and wakes him, fearing for your life. Hear him as he says to the wind and waves, “Peace, be still.” Repeat those words to yourself. Close your eyes and see Jesus saying those words to you. Ask where you need to let Christ speak those words in you now.
Another way to steep ourselves in God in dealing with fear is to go into prayer and name your fears out loud. Simply start listing them. Oftentimes our fears are the demons without names. They scare us so badly we cannot even speak of them. We see this in Harry Potter, when people are antsy about saying the name Voldemort, using, instead, the phrase “He who must not be named.” We saw it in The Village a few years ago, where these terrible creatures in the woods were referred to as “the ones of whom we do not speak.” But when we name our fears, we rob them of their power, especially when we name them in prayer before the God who is with us no matter what.
Next, it is important to learn the truth about your anxiety. It’s highly likely that your anxiety is something that might be pointing to something else. Those who frequently have fears that seem to be related to relationships might find that their biggest fear is a fear of abandonment or betrayal. Those who fear taking risks, if they looked a little bit deeper, might discover that their real fear is fear of failure. Others don’t take risks because they fear success – they are afraid of the scrutiny and the criticism that success usually brings. Those who fear natural catastrophes may well have control issues, since natural catastrophes are things that lie beyond our control. Wildwind is about helping people find, face, and follow truth not just because that’s a cool psychotherapeutic thing to do, and not because God knows the truth, or because God has the truth, but because God IS the truth. God IS truth and every time we face a little piece of the truth, we are facing in the direction of God. The journey into spiritual growth is nothing less than a journey into truth. All illusions, all deceptions, all denials, all falsity, and all lies – everything that is not pure truth – is going to have to go. Truth is what defines God.
1 John 1:5-6 (NIV)
5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.
John 1:14 (NIV)
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
So oftentimes part of dealing with our fear is to dig into it and find out where it comes from. We should take for granted that our fears are rooted in something deeper. We need to learn the truth about our fears because the truth about our fears will always point to what is really going on. It will show us the areas where we are holding out on God. If it turns out I have control issues, I do not believe God is in control and looking after me. If I have abandonment issues, I do not really believe God will never leave me or forsake me. If I have fears of failure, or success, chances are good I am looking not to God but to human opinion as the measure of my value. See what I’m saying? There’s truth behind your fear, and truth always points the way to God. Because God IS truth. Come into contact with truth and you are coming into contact with God. A decision not to face your fear is a decision to hold out on God. Of course facing fear is itself a very fearful prospect. That’s why it can be so hard to bring ourselves to deal honestly with our fear, and it’s also why my previous point was that we need to name our fears out loud. Naming fears out loud brings to light not only the fear, but the fact that we have placed ourselves on the opposite side of the aisle from our fear. Rather than aligning with it, and playing into it, we have decided to confront it and deal with it and come to see the truth about it.
I have mentioned this important thing also about anger – that we need to find out where it’s coming from, what is behind it. Now some people would say, “Yeah, Dave does that truth thing at his church because he’s a counselor. He’s always telling people they need counseling and stuff.” But actually I’m not doing the truth thing because I’m a counselor. I’m doing it because I’m tired of how many people who claim to have some deep relationship with God and yet are living with incredible levels of self-deception and denial. When we live with those things, they always show themselves in one way or another. Evidence that God has truly moved into a person is that that person is growing in truth. Now perhaps I recognize this connection because of my counseling background, but if carpenters or plumbers or airline pilots had insights into the connection between knowing God and knowing truth, it would be no less true. Truth is true, period. Thus we must be open to it in whatever ways it may come to us. We must not decide the ways in which God can speak to us and then refuse to listen if truth doesn’t come in the ways we have decided on. It’s a human tendency to do this. Where do you think that universal human tendency comes from?
John 3:20 (MSG)
20 Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won't come near it, fearing a painful exposure.
We are fear truth itself! We need truth in order for worry and anxiety to subside, but we are deeply afraid of the truth. It makes us uncomfortable. It moves our cheese. It sets us on edge. So we sometimes choose to simply not listen to the truth because it’s more comfortable that way. Or so we think. But in refusing to hear truth, we end up living in falsehood, and falsehood brings all its own worries. We run from truth because we are afraid of it, anesthetize ourselves with falsehood, and then experience ongoing worry and anxiety because we are living cut off from God, having isolated ourselves from him in our fear.
Finally, I want to recommend a book to you called The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, by Edmund Bourne. It’s one of the most popular and effective guides available today to dealing with anxiety and worry and their associated issues. Again, a traditional church response to a pastor recommending a psychological workbook to deal with anxiety would be to say that I need to focus more on God and less on worldly ways of dealing with problems. My response would be to talk about truth. This book, though not filled with scripture and references to God, is filled with truth about anxiety and worry and how to deal with it. Get the book and work through it prayerfully, allowing God – in this as in everything – to be your guide. You will find truth in it, thus you can find God in it.