“Fear that does not take you to God, will take you away from God.”
2016 is just days away. If you’re like most, you already have a few habits that you plan to change during the coming year. There’s one habit though that you probably overlooked, yet if you change this one habit – it will have a domino effect on many other negative life patterns in your life from bad sleeping patters to eating habits. What’s the habit? Fear.
Most counselors will tell you that “fear is natural.” It’s not. Fear is alien to our original design. We are made in the image of God and the one human emotion that God does not have that we have is fear. Fear came as a result of sin. Adam’s first words after the Fall were, “I was afraid” (Genesis 3:10). Afraid of what – God and everything else.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Fear can be helpful but it is not natural. Fear is a sometimes necessary emotional response to physical and emotional danger that’s vital to our existence. If we didn't feel fear, we wouldn't be able to protect ourselves from harmful threats.
So what are Americans afraid of? The second annual Chapman University Survey of American Fears sought to answer that question and reveals some interesting trends about what people in the U.S. find most threatening. Personally, I was very surprised at our number one fear. Are you ready?
The top fear Americans reported in the 2015 survey is the corruption of government officials. In fact, 58% of respondents reported being "afraid" or "very afraid" of a corrupt government. The researchers also asked participants if they had engaged in particular actions because of their fears. They found that nearly a fourth of Americans reported having voted for a particular candidate because of their fears and more than 10% have purchased a gun due to fear.
According to this survey, the other top fears are fear that your personal information will be tracked by corporations. There is a growing fear of “big brother” type issues. 44% of Americans reported being very afraid of terrorist attacks. Some 40% are terrified of identity theft. And then over 39% fear an economic collapse.
Fear is a real problem…even for the people of God who should be the most fearless. Other surveys might come up with a different list of top fears, yet fear continually contaminates our lives and poisons our relationship with God and others. For too many of us in a society addicted to fear, we have allowed unhealthy fear to be a habit. So what can we do?
Stop feeding it. For me, that means limiting my intake of the media. Sadly, the media today, for the most part, does not encourage us to use our mental faculties but rather appeals to our emotions. It thrives on sensationalism and exaggerates situations and probabilities. For example, the media reports that the average American has a 1 in 250 chance of being robbed, assaulted, raped, or murdered each year. That sounds somewhat probable, but what they fail to report is that most violent crime occurs late at night in known high crime neighborhoods. In other words, when most of us are sleeping and will only venture in to one of those neighborhoods if our GPS would go psychotic. Yet, watching the media, you’d conclude that there was a serial murderer behind every tree. Add to that, the old saying is true, birds of a feather hang together. Some of us need new friends or less portions of some of our old ones. If you have a tendency to anxiety, hanging out with fear-mongers is unhealthy for you.
Be realistic. Much of our anxiety comes from unrealistic fear. There’s even a word for it – catastrophise – that’s the process of taking an everyday event and turning it into a major catastrophe and catastrophic thinking is a major cause of anxiety. A tool to reduce anxiety is to stop catastrophising and instead see things in perspective. The ruler method is a good way to assist you in stopping your unrealistic thoughts. Here’s how it works – when you feel stressed about something, are you looking at the facts? On one end of the ruler is number 1, which is the number depicting a situation that is not at all life threatening such as a mild headache from eye strain…at the other end is number 10, depicting situations which are life-threatening such as a headache caused by a brain tumor. Whenever a situation arises and you feel you’re becoming panicky as if you’re in mortal danger, use this tool. Imagine the ruler in your minds-eye and ask yourself: “On a scale from 1 to 10, how realistic is this?”
Replace your fears. Long before psychology was invented, God said our thoughts determine our feelings and our feelings determine our actions. If you want to change your life, you have to control the way you think. “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts” (Proverbs 4:23 Good News Bible). Our minds are amazing! It would take a computer the size of a small city just to carry out the basic functions of our brains. The brain contains more than 100 billion nerve cells. Each individual cell is connected with 10,000 other neurons. We’re also constantly talking to ourselves. Research indicates that most people speak at a rate of 150 to 200 words per minute, yet the mind can process about 500 to 600 words a minute. The problem is that if you’re typical, you’re your biggest source of fear and paranoia. We walk into a room. A couple of our friends are whispering and then chuckling about something. Most of us will assume that they’re talking about us.
So how do you eliminate this mental fear cycle? The Bible teaches the principle of replacement. “Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right…think about all you can thank God for and be glad about” (Philippians 4:8 TLB). Instead of thinking about what could go wrong or things that you’re afraid of, focus on what you know is true and God’s blessings in your life (most of us are going to need to do some work here).
The greatest antidote for the poison of fear is God’s Book of faith. The reason so many of us struggle with fear is that we don’t take the medicine God has provided. It’s a New Year. Determine to read God's Word every day — study it, memorize it, meditate on it, and apply it in your life. As you’re consistently in the Book, you’ll be amazed as feelings of fear begin to shrink. Let God replace your fears and renew your mind with His Word.Remember that we’re all going to get Home before dark. Most of us struggle with fear at some level. Fear has a tendency to curtail the radical, offensive and glorious message we have been called by God to proclaim and live. One wise African American Bishop said to a gathering of Christian leaders: “I have a message from God for you guys. God says that if you get over your fear, you’re going to be dangerous!” I don’t know about you but I want to be dangerous for Jesus. Steve Brown is one of my favorite preachers and often says something that’s stuck with me through the years, “We’re all going to get Home before dark.” That means no matter how horrible this world is, even if we face death, every child of God will wake up in Glory. “We’re all going to get Home before dark!"
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