A woman went to doctors the office. She was seen by one of the new doctors, but after about 4 minutes in the examination room, she burst out, screaming as she ran down the hall. An older doctor stopped and asked her what the problem was, and she explained. He had her sit down and relax in another room. The older doctor marched back to the first and demanded, “What’s the matter with you? Mrs. Terry is 63 years old, she has four grown children and seven grandchildren, and you told her she was pregnant?” The new doctor smiled smugly as he continued to write on his clipboard. “Cured her hiccups though, didn’t it?”
A psychologist interviewed on the old Steve Allen show announced that the only two instinctive fears in man are the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling. “I have a great fear,” Steve replied without missing a beat, “of making a loud noise while falling.”
Fear is very much a part of our lives. Maybe you’re afraid of losing your job, or your health, or finances. Maybe you’re afraid of not being accepted by others. Or maybe you’re just afraid of growing old. The list could go on and on. All of us have things that cause us to experience the emotion we call “fear.”
As a result, we try to take precautions to protect ourselves. We buy insurance policies to cover those things we consider valuable. We put bars on our windows and doors and buy alarm systems to protect our automobiles. All this because of fear.
Protection works in some cases, but not in so many—because fears are often less tangible than an object an insurance company can cover. In fact, not a single fear in the top ten can be covered. They are: 10. Losing Freedom 9. The Unknown 8. Pain 7. Disappointment 6. Misery 5. Loneliness 4. Ridicule 3. Rejection 2. Death 1. Failure.
These are mostly fears that describe an inner condition, of course, and no way insurance can cover any of these.
And that’s a good thing. You know why? Because the really important stuff should be between you, yourself, and God alone. We do well with our fears or we don’t do well with our fears but no money, no business, no contract, no deal is going to free us or save us. It’s up to us and our faith.
I want to show you a clip from the movie The Tale of Despereaux. As Despereaux grows up, it becomes obvious he’s not like other mice: He isn’t meek and timid, but brave and curious, unnerving his family, friends, and school teachers. He needs a good talking to by the School Superintendent. I believe the relevance to our lives will be readily apparent.
“Nobody is born afraid.”
What is fear? Say you are walking through your house, minding your own beeswax when out of your left eye you see something on the wall. The brain does two things simultaneously: It takes the Low Road—innate and unconscious, and takes a fraction of a second.
The Low Road is when the sensory thalamus receives some sort of a sensory input, like seeing something on the wall. It passes that information to the amygdala. (Your brain isn’t even sure what exactly it’s seeing here. It could be a spider, it could be a random mark on the wall.) The amygdala recognizes that the input is a threat and prepares your body to respond.
The brain also takes the High Road, but unfortunately this takes a few seconds, being both conscious and sort of reasonable.
The High Road is when your sensory thalamus sends information to your cortex (which gives you context to understand what you are seeing). Your cortex says, “Yes, that is a spider. It has eight legs and some species bite people….” This information is sent back to the amygdala, where your fear response takes over—heart rate increases, pupils dilate, and perspiration occurs.
In this case, when someone has more than a natural, amygdala-based fear of spiders, the High Road doesn’t matter. What does this mean? It means your brain is set up to allow fear to take control. As evidence of this, there are a good number of pathways from the amygdala to the neocortex, that is, from the fear or threat center to the neocortex, the decision center. There are far fewer pathways from the neocortex to the amygdala. Your brain doesn’t want your conscious awareness to override your fear responses because fear will help you survive physically.
This is great, right? Great, if every threat we faced is a physical one where we had to decide whether to fight or flee. This same set up is put into play whenever we “spot” something fearful, or feel under threat by anything, real or imagined. Our fear takes over, and we can’t think or respond with better, larger, more hopeful ideas.
As Proverbs 29:25 says, “Our fear lays a trap, but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.”
The context of our scripture reading is written into the start of the psalm, before the poem begins. The short of it is David’s in serious trouble. The longer is he’s been captured by the same people/tribe from which Goliath came.
David’s under lock and key in Gath, the home of the hereditary foes of his own people. His life at this point hangs in the balance. His fear is soaring. But then he remembers something, and he tells us what it is. “O Most High, when I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”
David doesn’t let being afraid turn off his faith in God. I’m sure he had to fight this impulse like we all do. But he shows us the way to do it: He puts his trust in God.
David hands over to God his stuff, his fear, his loss of nerve, the outcome he’s afraid will be the result. He makes a deliberate, effortful choice. He puts some work into it. He knows he can’t keep the fear alive and well in him. It’s too much and it won’t do him any good.
So many people let a sense of foreboding accompany them all the time. They just stew in their own very unpleasant juices of these sense that something bad or wrong is going to happen to them.
We just sit in that pot, and spoon that stuff over us. It’s like we’re turkey in the baking pan, and we take out the baster, stick the nose of the tube in the down and out, the bad is going to turn to worse, the looks like it’s all over juice cooking us already, and then we give the ball a couple of good squeezes, suck up that mess and just take another bath in it.
That’s not David’s way. It just out of that oven as soon as he can. He puts his life back again into God’s care, trusting the Lord with what’s going to happen next, and getting his mind freed and clear to praise and be available for anything good coming his way.
Get ready for the next good thing coming your way. It’s coming. Don’t stay blinded by fear and lack of trust in God.
If we read the next verse, we will see something very interesting happen to David after he tells us he hands his fear stuff over to the Lord. He wrote and sang, “In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I am not afraid.”
What is the result of putting trust in God? What is the result of putting trust in God and then praising God and God’s word to believe in the Lord
and hand on to him when times are tough? The result is freedom from fear. The result is grace enough to give us back our courage, strength, and most importantly, our hope.
Somewhere in all our thinking, all our reacting to what takes away our hope and leaves us feeling abandoned, God has to figure into the equation. As Christians, as believers, as those who want to believe, there must be a reason the Bible tells us hundreds of times in all types of ways and places and people to “fear not.”
Why does the Bible say this? It’s against fear not because fear is a hard emotion to deal with. Our faith doesn’t pick a fight with fear because it’s a bad emotion. It’s definitely necessary at times.
Scripture has a problem with fear for one simple reason: Living fearfully means giving up on God. When we give into thinking and believing and living laced with fear, shrouded in fear, we’re giving no room for the Lord in our minds and hearts. We’re saying the Protector has failed to protect, and will not protect. What’s coming is beyond God’s powers to turn into something blessed.
Don’t give up on God. Stay conscious of where your thoughts are taking you.
And we can’t give up on ourselves! Too often we don’t realize that a little understanding and awareness could help us pull through challenges in seemingly miraculous ways. Or argue with yourself. Disagree that the first thing you should do is react with foreboding and fear. Do this by questioning the basis for your fear. What am I afraid of? What triggered this fear? What is the worst that can happen?
You may think these questions seem silly or obvious, but it’s not about the complexity of the question, it’s about unravelling the fear. It’s about untangling it from our minds so that we can get control of it or relinquish it.
The thing about fear is that it often makes us believe things that just aren’t true. For instance, we say to ourselves, perhaps without knowing it, “I quit that job, therefore I am a quitter.”
But that isn’t true—at least not for sure. You may have quit because you want to believe there’s something better for you. That’s not quitting; that’s trying to find where you belong.
Cut out the constant parasite of fear. Let go of that foreboding sense of feeling that constantly accompanies you. Lift up your heart and life to the Lord. God is doing good things for you and with you. Have faith and trust.
Can anybody say Amen?