The Underbelly of Fear

My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and the horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “Oh that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah.
I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest.” — King David (Psa 55:4-7)

What is the first thing you do when you’re afraid? Do you crawl into a corner? Do you get mad?

When I’m afraid I want to run away. It’s gut instinct for me to want to throw some stuff in my car and just drive until I don’t feel afraid any more. Preferably someplace where there are few people and lots of mountains. Like David, I find rest in the wilderness and peace among the mighty peaks of God’s Creation. In my spirit there is a longing to find rest on this earth and one place I know is away from the city and into the geographical marvels of Creation. When fear comes calling, that longing is intensified.

But is running away a solution for fear? Is it the cure for what ails me? No, it is not. Problems don’t go away by running away. Even the most sly of fugitives get apprehended eventually. Butch and Sundance are surrounded in South America, Bonnie and Clyde get gunned down in Louisiana. Gangster Whitey Bulger survived on the run for 50 years but, you know what? He got caught. Running away is no solution for fear. It may delay confronting a situation but that situation will emerge again some day.

Pastor Mike Messerli said this morning that when fear comes, your next response is the most important choice you’ll make. It is a choice that is vital to your walk with the Lord, too. What is the first thing you do when you’re afraid?

This morning Mike talked about Elijah, considered the greatest of Israel’s prophets, and a situation that saw the solid saint turn into a ball of goo. Fear was at its center. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah has a major showdown with 450 prophets of the Canaanite god Baal. The prophets fail, Elijah wins thanks to God’s fiery blast from heaven, and the prophets are executed for their false teaching. Elijah must’ve been on cloud nine! But the next day a telegram came from the queen of Israel. “Tomorrow, at this time, I will personally make sure you are deader than dead. With love, Jezebel.” Why does bad news always have to spoil spiritual highs? For me, it seems that every time I’m feeling good about God, life, and where the two intersect something bad comes to my attention. I wonder if Jezebel sent Eli a singing telegram. You know, three guys dressed up in top hats and striped vests, carrying canes and performing a carefully choreographed dance routine? Now THAT would’ve made an impression!

Anyway, Elijah took a page out of my play book (which I stole from King David) and bolted out of Israel, leaving dust trails behind him. He went to Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai, called the “mountain of God.” God assisted him along the way when Elijah became weak with hunger and then appeared to Elijah when he hid in a mountain cave. The great prophet was SO distressed and SO afraid that he just wanted to die. Prophet on a ledge — look out below!

Mike pointed out that an improper response to fear leads people to run away, which causes isolation and depression and they end up wallowing in self-pity and making really strange choices. They’re often blind to God’s presence and love and paralyzed by their fear. Elijah ran away, hid in isolation, then responded to God’s voice with self-pity. “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts (aka I’ve done everything you asked of me). For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” See how Elijah’s fear led him down a slippery slope? He went from proud gold medalist to religious refugee in 24 hours. That’s quite a makeover! God, of course, knows that Elijah’s not the only good guy left. So He tells the prophet this truth and then nominates a successor.

When we’re faced with fear, the proper response is to turn to God and pray — not run and hide. We need to be like King Jehoshaphat, who answered his own fear by turning to God and laying his life and future (and that of the entire nation — no pressure!) in God’s hands. “We turn our eyes to you,” he ended his prayer (2 Chr 20:11-12). In times of fear we are wise to remember who God is (tell him what you know about him), recall what he has done for you in the past (personally or for your family), and lay your request at his feet. Remember, his throne is one of grace and mercy, a place where we can find help in time of need (read Heb. 4:15-16).

Don’t run. Fight the urge. And pray. God is more powerful than any situation you may face, no matter how grave it seems. And His love knows no end.

Be God’s!

— John “Running Shoes” Newton

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