Did you know that the most often repeated commandment in the Bible is “Do not fear”? I was reminded of that when reading Donald Miller’s book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” (a remarkably powerful book about living a better story by proactively co-authoring your life with God). That fact seemed to jump off the page, as if reading it for the first time.
I found it surprising, and deeply encouraging.
The different forms of fear
Of course, some fear is healthy. If a Realtor recommends that you buy a house with a mortgage that’ll cost you 50 percent of your monthly income and the thought strikes fear in your heart, follow your heart. And then find a new Realtor.
A lot of fear, however, isn’t as dramatic or helpful as the instant fight or flight experience we have when we sense we’re about to get hit by a car. It’s more subtle, more nagging. And it can do more harm than good.
Many of us have had some scarring experience that left us carrying fear around like the extra pounds brought on by too much holiday pie. Its weight slows us down and holds us back. In the morning, when we tend to be most optimistic, we catch a glimpse of the work we’d prefer to do or the sense of freedom we know is possible.
But by afternoon that old familiar fear is back, telling us it’ll never work out.
Fear is normal
Miller’s first take-away about God’s constant refrain to not fear is this: “It means we’re going to be afraid, and it means we shouldn’t let fear boss us around.”
In other words, it’s natural to experience fear, so don’t beat yourself up about it as if it’s a sign of spiritual immaturity.
As for not letting fear get the best of us, step one is to acknowledge the fear. Step two is to redistribute the load.
Cast all your cares on him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).
A personal example
I wrestle with fear more than I’d like to admit. When I left the seeming security of a well-paid corporate job to write and speak about money full-time, I remember feeling a mixture of excitement and fear. I felt called to this work, and still do. It’s what I believe I was designed to do. But it wasn’t long before I missed the paycheck that showed up every two weeks.
In the five years that I did this work independently, I have to admit that there were too many times when something didn’t work and I went straight to fear or second-guessing.
I’ll never forget a time before I had a publisher for my first book when I was especially down. After many months of writing, there came a day when I thought I might hear some news from a prospective publisher, but the phone never rang.
That night, as my wife, Jude, and I headed toward the home of some friends for dinner, she knew I was discouraged and was wrestling with the fear that I had made a colossal mistake in leaving my corporate job. She quoted from Matthew 7:9-11:
If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better? (MSG)
Those words were a great comfort. They were a well-timed reminder that God loves me, knows our family’s needs, and promises to provide.
How fear can hold us back
Miller’s second take-away about the Bible’s most frequent command is that “fear isn’t only a guide to keep us safe; it’s also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.”
It reminds me of this quote from Mark Twain:
We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it — and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again — and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.
I know that if I had stayed in my corporate job I would have regretted it. God was calling me to a greater adventure. To have said no, or to have given in to fear early in this journey, would have been to settle for far too little.
Miller’s final insight about fear is this: “The great stories go to those who don’t give in to fear.” Amen to that!
The stories I’m drawn to the most are the stories of endurance, overcoming great odds, and heroism. They’re the stories of people who moved through their doubts and fears and how their lives and the lives of many others were forever changed for the better as a result.
Facing our fears with gratitude
One of my favorite Bible verses about fear tells us:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Philippians 4:6).
There are some odd words in that verse – like “anything,” “every,” and especially “with thanksgiving.”
Let’s commit to this: Every time we feel fearful about anything, let’s take our fears to God. And let’s take God up on his counter-intuitive counsel to give thanks in the midst of our circumstances. Then let’s press on, trusting in his provision and looking for his purpose in whatever we’re going through. Amen?
How have you worked through past financial fears? And what fears are you dealing with today? Please leave a comment below.
If you’re not a subscriber to this blog, please sign up. Twice a week, you’ll receive an e-mail with ideas and encouragement for using money well.