In Mercer Mayor’s fun book There’s an Alligator Under My Bed, the main character is scared and doesn’t want to go to sleep, because he just knows there’s an alligator lurking under his bed. He devises an elaborate scheme to escape the alligator and returns to lure it out with food he raids from the fridge. When the alligator is finally locked in the garage, the boy goes back to bed, safe and happy.
What’s really not-so-fun is that in real life, so many people live with delusional fears. This alligator story reminds me of a verse in Psalm 10:9.
he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
This verse is talking about wicked people, but it sounds an awful lot like fear, too! I hear this lurking fear often. People talk, and fears fog the room as they talk about Muslims killing off the world, the economy crash that is bound to happen, the conspiracy in the medical community, the corrupt government, the tyrannical men who are oppressing the people and the feminist women who are wrecking leadership, and generally the terrible state of affairs.
The problem with fear is that it is never true. Yes, there may be elements of truth playing into the fears; but fear, by nature, is distorting. Fear fastens onto a small grain of fact, and blows it up into something unrecognizable. It distracts us from the real world problems, and the real solutions. It makes us waste huge reserves of time and energy over the alligator under the bed–something that isn’t even there.
For instance, it’s true that ISIS is doing terrible things. But fear doesn’t tell you the other side of the story–that Muslims are turning to Christ in unprecedented numbers. We grouch about arrogant men and controlling women, but don’t celebrate the many men and women being equipped to use their God-given gifts well. Fear makes us tense about finances; when in fact, we are among the richest in the world. We’re sure the medical community is thinking up snarky ways to kill us off and get paid for it, and forget to thank the doctor for setting a broken bone. We don’t like the government, while ignoring the benefits we reap from our government.
Why do we fear? Fear is a natural response to being hurt deeply. You jerk back from the hot stove so you don’t burn your finger again. We need to protect ourselves–it’s a survival instinct.
Fear is also a form of spiritual oppression. Satan loves to play on our weak places and scare the guts out of us, because it makes us ineffective in God’s Kingdom. Several times I’ve seen a church on the verge of exciting new territory retreat because of fears. It makes me sad, because I know that isn’t what God wants for His church.
Regardless what fear we experience, there’s a turning point where we are faced with the choice to either trust God to take care of us, or to trust fear to take care of us. It’s no joke that in these last days, people are going stark raving crazy with fears just when we need to be clear-headed for the battle.
What do we do? I feel like I don’t know a lot about how to solve the problem of fear, but I can share a couple of things that helped me.
Sometimes all it takes for me is to decide not to be afraid, to reject the spirit of fear. Fear is a lousy protector, an inaccurate educator, and a ruthless master. So when fear whispers in ominous tones, I just have to say, “No!” This sounds kind of harsh, but it actually helps me to think about where the fear is coming from and reject it.
I don’t mean we should just ignore our fearful feelings and pretend we don’t have them. Let me tell you a story.
Several years ago, I realized that I had a constant fear of driving in a car (whether I was the driver or passenger). Rushing down the highway, I felt like I was inches from death all the time. Ok, I know this sounds funny, but it wasn’t funny to me! Even driving a few miles to church made me nervous. (There is fear’s distortion for you–what are the statistical possibilities of being killed by driving a few miles in the country to church? And how would fear change the statistics in my favor?)
I didn’t even realize I was so fearful about driving until one day Will was getting ready to leave for a four-hour trip to see a friend in prison. Without warning, I fell apart. I was deathly scared that he was going to have a wreck and wouldn’t return alive.
Will was sensitive enough to see I wasn’t doing well, and managed to get my fear story out of me. He asked me, “Why don’t you tell God you’re sorry for not trusting Him and for being afraid?”
I wasn’t too impressed with the idea–apologize to God for being scared? But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I was not putting my faith in God, I was putting my faith in fear, and that was wrong. So I (timidly) prayed and confessed my fear and told God I would trust Him. I left it at that.
About a month later, we were driving to church when I realized to my surprise that I wasn’t afraid of driving anymore! The spirit of fear was completely gone.
for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)
I have also been delivered from fear when God healed pain from my past. This can be a longer, harder journey, but seeing God heal those wounded places is wonderfully life-changing. For example, my irrational fear of my husband and family dying without me finally left when God healed the pain of loneliness I felt as a deaf child.
Verbalizing my fears to a trusted person often deflates the fear. When I tell Will or another close friend what I’m scared of, I watch those fears shrink at least ten sizes! Telling a spiritual advisor is very different from going around and infecting the world with your fear because a mentor won’t feed the fear, he will help you take it to Jesus. This is God’s heart for us, to turn to Him to be freed from fear.
O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.
(Psalm 10:17-18 ESV)
How we relate to others in an atmosphere of fear can vary, too, and we need always to keep our ears open to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes a good-natured laugh and “bah, humbug!” will clear the smoggy air. Other times we need to gently ask, “What hurt you that makes you fearful about this?” Always, we need to pray aggressively against the spirit of fear. God will lead us in the battle–the spirit of fear does not come from Him and directly wars against His purposes.
Walking in faith, rejecting our fear of the alligator under the bed, enables us to be protected by the Lion of Judah. And He is real!
Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered…
Revelation 5:5 (ESV)
He is our refuge and strength!
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
Psalm 46:1-3 (ESV)
How has God helped you with your fears? What is He calling you to do that you are afraid to do?