The Fear Factor

Four summers ago, I was part of a group visiting the Italian town of Torre Pellice climbing the foothills of the Alpine mountains. This is where you find the community of the Waldenses who were severely and brutally persecuted starting in the 12th century by the Roman Church.

We were bus-driven to a part of the community 3200 feet up one side of the mountain.  We would need to walk the next 2000 feet to our destination. The drive up was all up hill; very narrow roads (compared to most of our roads here) and the drop below was very steep. It was SCARY. Many of us on the bus were quite afraid because if this bus malfunctioned it could mean a horrible end. I could not help thinking of this. Fear prevented me from appreciating the natural and exquisite beauty of the area because I did not feel safe.

Once we disembarked from the bus and climbed the additional 2000 feet, we stopped on an overhanging cliff. At first, I was excited, navigating the narrow ridge to the cliff.  But once on it, I decided to stand up and walk closer to the edge (not right at the edge).  A fresh wave of intense fear consumed me. So much so, that I needed help getting off the cliff. I had developed a fear of heights (acrophobia) unknown to me before. The fear factor was real.

We are programmed to be fearful due to this innate sense of survival that we all experience. It is a sense that we have from birth. As we develop, we evaluate our environment and perceive risks and dangers. Researchers tell us that part of our brain, the amygdala which is part of our limbic system, plays a vital role in our perceptions and decision-making which is where our fear shows its presence. In many cases however, it is our fear of failure or negative outcomes that prevent us from taking certain actions.  Even when the positives may outweigh the negatives. Some people won’t move forward if they can neither control the outcome nor know what these outcomes might be. 

This is true in church life also. Even though most (not all) of what we do may be perceived as low risks, there is still an abundance of fear, fear of failing or not performing well. The activities are not cliff hangers inherently, but our perception can make them so, thus heightening our fear. But should fear so dominate our thoughts and actions?

In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul states that the spirit that God put in us is not one of fear; that what He imbued our minds with is a spirit that produces love, dynamic power and self-control. So, in the beginning fear was not a factor in our makeup or in our brain processes. Where we are now in the church sphere – shyness, silence, non-participation, nervousness, anxiety, sweaty palms and the list goes on are all elements of fear. And in so many cases, they dominate our decision making. So how do we move from all this fear to where God designed us to be, minds that overcome through love, self-control, and powerful actions? I believe that we overcome in the way that is modeled for us.

Jesus spent so much time connecting with His father that his trust factor neutralized his fears. And he had reason to be afraid; the dangers were real. I like this about Jesus! I want this for me! Can it be that we should try talking to God a little more about our fears and asking for His help to overcome? Be honest, be open and desire to overcome the fears. Be uncomfortable with the many fears that we experience and ask God for boldness, for the desire to be and do according to His will, not according to our preferences or comfort level. We will find that this state of constant fear will be neutralized and in some areas of life, vanquished. The mind will behave more in line with God’s desire for it, functioning in power, in steadfast love and self-control. Fear gives way to Trust. It is a daily prayer and resolve, however. A daily “workout” until we experience the results. Let’s try it. It works!

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