Are You Allowing Fear to Edge God Out?
The capacity to experience fear is a gift from God.
When heeded, fear protects us. Yet what we actually do with fear when we experience it can prevent us from enjoying the good it can bring. So instead of enhancing life, fear has poisoned human relationships ever since man first stepped outside of God’s will.
Consider the consequences of Adam and Eve’s eating the forbidden fruit: they immediately became self-conscious, covered their nakedness, and hid from God in fear. Human beings have been hiding ever since, because we fear that our weaknesses and bad behavior will be found out. The irony is, God already sees those weaknesses and knows all about our bad behavior.
Still, every day we face the risk of contracting toxic fear—that dark force that can color our relationships and permeate our souls. Toxic fear is a complete anti-God state of mind. It is a good thing turned bad.
In both the Old and New Testaments, the fear of God and the fear of man are held up as the extremes of good and evil. We are called to hold God in life-giving, reverent awe as the ultimate source of our security and judge of our worth. At the end of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon made this definitive statement: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
This fear or awe of the holy God is appropriate and even necessary in our faith—and very different from the toxic fear of man. To avoid that toxic fear, we first have to understand its root cause: our addictive dependence on things and others for our security and self-worth.
Identifying Our Addictions
A good definition of addiction is “an ever-increasing desire for something that has an ever-decreasing ability to satisfy.”
Addictions start as voluntary attempts or choices to experience something desirable, but they end up as compulsions that continually grow stronger and can eventually become completely out of control. When we seek refuge from pain and loss of self-esteem in things like our possessions and our positions, we are vulnerable to having anxiety and fear be key drivers of our thoughts and behaviors.
When something we are addicted to is at risk, toxic fear can poison our daily decisions and relationships in a variety of ways. Here are some examples:
- Rob is a workaholic who is afraid to slow down and look at the condition of his life. He feels trapped when his wife or kids ask for help or when he is forced into a period of inactivity due to illness. He keeps up a schedule of late hours and early mornings to avoid the gnawing feeling of emptiness.
- Janet is a control freak who is afraid of failure, so she chooses personal exhaustion rather than training people and delegating tasks. By micromanaging and keeping other people dependent on her for information, she seeks to protect herself from becoming obsolete or losing her source of power.
- Craig is a fitness addict who goes into an emotional and relational tailspin at the first sign of his own illness or aging—or the illness or aging of someone he identifies with.
- Cynthia is an approval addict who fears rejection and broods over a 2 percent negative rating on a feedback form or an overheard bit of unfavorable gossip.
- Tracy is a sixteen-year-old relationship junkie who will do bad things with bad people rather than face being alone.
Each of these examples of toxic fear is a variation on a central theme: looking for approval from everything and everyone except God.
Pause and Reflect
Think of a time when the fear of rejection or failure prevented you from doing or saying something that might have helped someone else avoid an impending mistake. What excuse did you tell yourself to justify letting your fear control your inaction? Was yielding to your fear worth the consequences?
Written by: Phyllis Hennecy Hendry
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