The sun was setting in the north woods as I picked my way along the path, mindful not to trip on the exposed roots. The waterfall I was hiking towards roared in the distance and I raced the daylight to reach it.
Just ahead, a teenage boy and his waif of a sister were headed towards me. Albeit slowly. The boy was whimpering while his sister gently shushed and coaxed him along the way. As I approached, I noticed his eyes darting back and forth across the path. He was terrified.
I absentmindedly wondered what he was afraid of as I smiled and made a move to sidestep the pair. Suddenly, the boy pointed to the ground in front of my feet and shrieked, “snake!”
I reflexively screamed and jumped back. The boy’s eyes went wild and he leaped into his sister’s arms sobbing and screaming.
I frantically scanned the ground for a snake but saw nothing. I glanced up at the sister, now trying to awkwardly hold the hulking boy burrowed in her neck. She shifted him over her shoulder and apologetically assured me there was no snake. She told me her brother was disabled and he thought all the tree roots were snakes.
As my mind caught up to my racing heart, I realized my reaction had only affirmed his fear. I apologized over and over again for scaring the boy and helped his sister calm him.
The rest of their family joined us on the path and each one smiled at me, unperturbed by his tantrum. I stood lamely, mumbling my apologies as they ushered him, screaming and bolting at every root, towards the parking lot.
I chastised myself for traumatizing this child. Why hadn’t I noticed that he had special needs? Why did I panic when, even if there had been a snake, I know full well there are no snakes in Minnesota worth screaming over?
The moment the boy pointed and yelled, “snake!” I didn’t stop and think about the truth. Instead, my mind ridiculously conjured up a gargantuan snake underfoot and my subconscious believed it.
Every root mocked me for the rest of that hike. And I spent a lot of time reflecting on fear.
Fear /’fir/ noun: an unpleasant emotion caused by the real or imagined belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
It is human nature to react to fear. We are genetically programed for fight or flight and this response can save lives in the setting of a true and present danger. But unless there is a real threat (say, an axe murderer chasing you or a spider chasing me) a fight or flight response doesn’t do us any favors.
Our everyday experiences of fear look more like:
fear of outcomes of difficult situations
fear of what someone else may think, say or do
fear of something or someone different
fear of uncertainty
fear of change
fear of financial calamity
In most cases, if we don’t reign in our emotional reaction to fear, we usually just hurt ourselves and sometimes even those around us.
A FAMOUS STORY OF REACTING TO FEAR IS FOUND IN GENESIS 12.
In verse 1, God gives clear instructions to Abram:
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
In addition to land, God rings out a litany of promises in verses 2 and 3:
“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Abram sets out for the land as God had instructed him to do. But trouble arrives in the form of a famine. To escape the famine, Abram travels to Egypt. And it is here that he allows fear of an unknown outcome steer him awry.
Abram fears that the Egyptians will find his wife beautiful and kill him. So he cooks up a scheme and directs Sarai, “Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.”
She is take into Pharaoh’s household under this false premise. The lie wreaks havoc on Pharaoh’s household as the Lord rains down plague after plague in His displeasure.
What stands out to me about Abram’s lie is that he didn’t pause and factor in the myriad of promises God had made. Remember, God assured blessings for Abram and his descendants. He even said He would curse whoever so much as dishonored Abram. So Abram could have entered Egypt with confidence in God’s protection.
But Abram wasn’t responding to God’s promise of favor. He reacted to fear of a worst case scenario and hurt Sarai, Pharaoh and his entire family in the process.
WE ARE NOT THAT DIFFERENT FROM ABRAM.
We have assurance of God’s provision, favor and protection of his children spelled out from Genesis to Revelation. But it is human nature to let all manner of fear … real, imagined, irrational and otherwise … steer us to rash decisions, wrong choices and even sin that create chaos around us.
REMEMBER: GOD GIVES COURAGE AND A SOUND MIND.
So often, we imagine a deadly snake on our path and leap before letting our minds catch up to our emotions. But we have to remember that any spirit of fear, any negative emotional reaction to a threat, doesn’t come from the Lord.
Emotions can be deceptive. So God doesn’t want us to leave them unchecked. When we slow down our racing heart and engage our mind, we can remember what is true and avoid letting our emotions lead us astray.
RUN TO THE LORD WITH ALL OF YOUR FEARS.
Be anxious about nothing but with prayer and supplication let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God which transcends understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
When God tells us to be anxious about nothing, it covers both real and imagined threats. Rather than letting fear rule in our hearts, we are called to steadfast prayer (talking with God) and supplication (pouring yourself out or begging) as we lay our concerns before God.
STAY ROOTED IN THE WORD.
Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. Psalm 119:165
In order to remember God’s promises, you have to know them. The more time you spend studying, memorizing and meditating on scripture, the more seeds of truth get planted in your heart. This truth bears fruit in moments of fear as God whispers encouragement and reassurance over you.
When we truly cry out to the Lord, He guards both our hearts and minds with a peace beyond human understanding. We might might still face threats. But we will do so with calmness of heart, clarity of thought and confidence in the promises of God.