The Fear Factor

It is all around us these days.  It’s in the atmosphere we breathe.  It’s spawned in us by the media, by internet blogs, by declining house values, by declining stock values, by jobs lost, and innumerable stories of hard times, even our President seems daily to remind us of how bad things are…and, worst of all, the prognosticators are telling us it is going to get worse…much worse.  At times, I think I’d prefer eating a tub of worms on Fear Factor – at least I could see when I was getting close to the bottom!  Many of us are running on fear instead of running on faith…myself included at times.

Has God lost control?  Has he decided to take a bit of a vacation from caring about his children…who could blame him, we are so bothersome at times!  Has the truth that he is working out EVERYTHING to conform to the purpose of his will (Eph. 1:11) suddenly been made null and void by the bursting of the housing bubble?  Does the continuing fall of the Dow, even after all our government’s stimulus efforts and mortgage rescue plans, mean that God’s hands are tied and he cannot take care of us until Ben Bernanke and the boys and girls at the Fed get it right?  Very few of us would answer, “Yes” to any of the above questions yet, if our emotions could speak, they might give a different answer!

I am confident that the Lord is still on his throne and He is still at work…even using the current economic crisis to develop and mature his children.  God can speak to us – even through our fears – if we are willing to listen to what He has to say.  Here are a few things that I am hearing as I listen to my fears in the midst of all the uncertainties of life:

Listen to what our fears say about our blessings. It seems often that our fears are proportional to our blessings.  The more God has blessed us with – whether monetary resources, relationships, responsibilities – the greater the temptation to fear. Someone who has worked hard, saved, invested, and has others who depend on him or her (employees, children, etc) will face a greater temptation to give in to fear than one who has not been so richly blessed. So, when my fears rear their ugly heads, I can “listen” to them by allowing them to point out to me the immensity of the blessings from which those fears flow.  I thank the Lord I have a wife and children to care for and that they have never had to beg for bread!  I thank the Lord that I have a retirement account (even if it is half the size it was a year ago)!  I thank the Lord I still have a job even though the future may be uncertain!  I thank the Lord I have been able to provide shelter for my family…even if it is worth 30% less – it still keeps the rain out and the A/C in!  Let’s listen to our fears tell us how much we have to be thankful for and give the Lord praise for all his great gifts!

Listen to what our fears say about our true source of security.  Nothing reveals to us quite so clearly the true source of our allegiance than our fears.  At times the Lord allows our lives to be shaken in order to remove from us the idols that subtly divert our trust from Him.  It is one thing to say we “trust” in the Lord when our financial future seems secure it is quite another altogether when the financial future looks bleak.  If we are deeply shaken by fear when the economic prospects are dim, our fears may be graciously telling us there is an idol in our lives we need to remove.  Edward Welch in his book, Running Scared, calls these idols “functional gods”.  Those “gods” that we really count on to take care of us – despite what we may verbally profess.  In this time of economic shaking, let’s listen to what our fears are saying about what we really worship and, by God’s grace, remove those lesser “functional gods” from our lives.

Listen to what our fears say about what we really love.  As believers we are called to love God supremely (ref.) and make knowing Him the ultimate purpose of our lives (Phil. 3:7-14).  If the Lord is our ultimate love, can economic conditions impede that relationship in any way?  Are materially poor believers in China, Lesotho, or PNG less able to love Jesus and get to know Him?  Just like our fears can reveal what we are looking to for our security, they can also clearly reveal what or who has captured our affections. We tend to minimize the dangers of money in our affluent culture yet, the Word has much to say regarding the importance of not loving money (e.g. Matt. 6:19-34;  I Tim. 6:6-10, 17-19). What do your fears say about your love?  Let’s listen to our fears and allow them to direct us back to our “first love”! (Rev. 2:1-7)

Listen to what our fears tell us about our past decisions.  One of the reasons we may be anxious and fearful is that we are reaping some difficult consequences of poor choices in the past.  We may have ignored what the Scriptures say about debt and lived well beyond our means banking on our homes appreciating 20% annually forever and the stock market never hitting the skids.  Learning to be content with what the Lord has provided usually takes some time and involves some financial pain. (Phil. 4:12&13)  Listen to what your fears reveal about your decision making process and make your decisions differently in the future as the Lord leads.

This process of listening to our fears and examining what they say about us is challenging but it can be very hopeful.  It points out areas in our lives that are out of alignment with God’s will.  It reveals the “functional gods” that can creep into our lives and steal the love and devotion that only the Lord Jesus Christ deserves.  The hope comes as we ponder the gospel that is for fearful people like you and I.  The gospel that allows me to be honest enough to admit my fears and what they reveal about me and bring my sins to the Savior for forgiveness.  The gospel that not only provides forgiveness but the power that will allow me and you to turn from these lesser “functional gods” to live securely trusting in the only one who really knows what will happen tomorrow!