by Reverend Amanda
Fear is a very powerful emotion. It can and does stop people in their tracks, stops life from moving forward, and freezes one into inaction. As a runner, I have come across snakes, snapping turtles, dogs, and creepy people who followed me for up to 5 minutes at a time. It is in times like that that I have come face to face with fear and my body’s natural way of handling fear. Some people run, others fight, but I tend to freeze which is not helpful when running would be more useful.
One day, when I was home from college, I went out for a run. I did not have a cell phone to bring with me. I told my father where I was going as he was working on replacing a light in the kitchen. I loved running around my hometown. It is rural and just beautiful, portions of the road go from paved to dirt, and the trees line the road just barely hiding the old stonewalls with sticks and leaves piled up against them. I was running along enjoying a beautiful breeze and listening to my headphones and totally in the zone. I was so completely in my head before I heard dogs. I couldn’t see them at first but I heard a vicious barking getting louder and louder.
I quickly looked around before nearly tripping over a growling dog in front of me with teeth bared and tail low. I screeched to a halt desperately looking around for a way around, or out. I looked to my left and there was another dog in the same stance. I look behind me and there was another dog there. My only opening was to my right where there was a stonewall and a barbed wire fence behind it. I could feel my heart pounding in my throat. I could feel the fear and panic in my temples pounding with each heartbeat.
I didn’t know what to do. I was so scared that I just froze not knowing how to best move forward. The only thought going through my mind was “I am going to get mauled today. How will I get help? Will my parents know where I am?” I sent out desperate prayers to God in those moments, not because I was fearless in my faith but because in my fear my only hope seemed to be an intervention from God.
Yes, fear calls us to prayer often. But fear can also bring us to doubt and can stop us in our work for God. I love these scripture passages from Luke because we see a Jesus who is completely dedicated to what he is doing. He stands bravely for the mission, the work, that God called him to do. This didn’t mean that Jesus stood fearlessly. But rather it was his faith and belief in his mission in the world that helped him to overcome his fear and apprehension. George Macdonald writes, “A perfect faith would lift us absolutely above fear”.1
Jesus’ perfect faith gave him courage when the Pharisees warned him that he was in Herod’s land. Herod was the person responsible for the death of his friend, mentor, and cousin John the Baptist and there was nothing stopping a similarly gruesome fate for himself. I can absolutely imagine that for Jesus fear was ignited in him. Jesus was completely human just as he was the embodiment of God in this world. He had to handle all the emotions of human life. He felt that same rise in cortisol levels that we all have that raise blood pressure causing the feelings of stress and fear.
The difference between Jesus and the average person, like you and me, when he felt that fear, his complete trust in God allowed him to move forward not giving into the desires to fight, run, or freeze. But rather he continued on finishing up his work before heading onto Jerusalem where he accepted his fate of going as the prophets before him. He allowed for his confidence in God to help him overcome the fears that threatened to stop him in his tracks.
We are called to do more than to just have faith. We are called to place our trust in God. We are asked to call upon God in our most stressful and frightening experiences in our lives and to seek his protection, seek his inspiration to move forward, trusting that with God he will provide for us what we need in order to continue forward in life. Our reading from Psalm 27 this morning encourages us with these words of wisdom, “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”2 It is natural and normal to still feel fear even when we claim faith. But it is through learning to live with fear that we begin to see the true work of God take hold in our world and in our lives. The day I was hunted by someone’s three German Shepherds was a very frightening day for me. I was absolutely frozen in fear. Yet after a few desperate prayers an old beat up white sedan came barreling down the road stopping and placing itself between me and the dogs. The man kindly drove alongside of me until I could get out of the situation at hand. I, thankfully, got home unharmed that day.
If we all can learn to place our trust in God then God will help us to move from inaction to action, from fleeing to courage, and from the urge to fight to the work that he calls us to in this world. So, this week, seek God in prayer. Ask him for courage; ask him for help; ask him for guidance; ask him to lead you from a life controlled by fears and anxieties to a life that calls us to glorify his name.
1 George Macdonald, 19th century Scottish author, poet and Christian minister.
2 Psalm 27: 14, NRSV.