“Never take counsel of your fears.” – Stonewall Jackson
This past Sunday, our pastor delivered his final sermon of 2016, “Four Fears Banished by Christmas.” In this message, he detailed four times in the Christmas story where people encountered fear:
- Luke 1:12 – Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who is overcome by fear when an angel visits him to give the news he will soon have a son.
- Matthew 1:20– Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, also encounters fear as he ponders the situation of he and Mary.
- Luke 1:29-30– Mary experiences fear as she encounters the angel Gabriel.
- Luke 2:9– The shepherds were filled with fear as the angel visited them and the glory of the Lord shone around them.
Our pastor pointed out that fear is a God-given emotion, so experiencing fear is not always sinful. But like anger, fear can either be used sinfully or righteously. For example, it is appropriate to fear the Lord and we are told that experiencing this is the beginning of knowledge. In the four examples above, the people experienced fear, but they are given perspective through their encounters with the angels. This new perspective includes a reminder of where they are in God’s plans and thus their fear is transformed into faith. Accordingly, it is very important how we process fear.
To be clear, the sermon wasn’t about “how to deal with fear,” like some sort of self-help seminar. It was about the gospel. Jesus Christ has come and He is coming again. But living in Christ is supposed to change everything, and that includes how we view things. Accordingly, it changes how we handle fear.
That’s where this intersects with me. You see, for me, 2016 has been the year of living in fear. And to be clear, I haven’t handled it very well. Sleepless nights, gut-churning with acid, mind-racing. All the good stuff related to not processing fear properly. That’s been my year.
On the surface, it’s easy to say, “You’re not trusting God. Trust God and do not fear.” But in reality, it’s a lot harder to process. As I’ve told Sweet Wife over the last several weeks, it’s like my insides are shaking all of the time with because of the stress and fear. As a Christian, I know that this response has been wrong, but it’s just been hard to constantly regain perspective when you have to battle the fear and anxiety all of the waking hours.
But over the last few weeks, several things have happened that have really helped me. First — and this is an easy one — some time has passed. As time moves by the events that create fear also pass. If they pass and nothing takes their place in the fear line, then things tend to get better. My improvement has been somewhat because of this.
But on the other hand, there always seems to be something lining up to cause fear. During 2016, it has been a seemingly daily, weekly and monthly thing. If that sort of pace is always at play, then fear is always something that has to be handled. And that brings me to the quote from above, “Never take counsel of your fears.“
When I heard this, it immediately clicked with me because I have been taking counsel from my fears. My fears have been giving me my marching orders. In my line of work, I have to make a lot of decisions and I have to plan for things. For most of the year I have just “hoped” that 2016 would be better because time is passing, yet I also realized recently that as things continue to pop up and go wrong that I am making decisions from a place of panic and fear, rather than from solid data and experience. When I heard this quote, I realized what I was doing wrong and realized that I needed to stop this practice immediately. And so I am trying.
The reality is also that some of the problems that have occurred in 2016 have also happened because of arrogance. For a long time, things have gone really well and when that happens one tends to think that everything they touch will turn to gold. And when that happens, the fundamentals of decision making can go out the window. I can recall one specific situation where I simply made a bad decision in 2014 (out of arrogance) and now that chicken has come home to roost. So instead of dealing with a situation back in 2014, I arrogantly proceeded with my own plans and this year I’ve been fearfully dealing with the problem.
There has also been one other major game-changer for me in relation to processing fear, but I hope to touch on that before this last week of the year is finished.
So as I ponder 2017, I am looking forward in hope. I know that Jesus has saved me and that an eternity with Him awaits. All other things offer no comparison at all. This should be my all-time perspective. We are reminded in 1 John 4:18 that perfect love casts out fear. Ultimately, this world and its fears and trials and struggles will pass away. For those in Christ, a new world and an eternity away. Those struggles of today won’t be in that future perfect eternity.
As I stand in the present and make decisions, those decisions need to be made with a clear head and a pure heart. That cannot be done when taking counsel from fear. And that cannot be done when standing before the mirror of arrogance.