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Most careers in this world don’t involve interacting with people who feel highly motivated to kill you. But police officers and soldiers often find themselves in battlefield situations in which surprise attacks and premeditated strikes are a reality. While there are general ways to psychologically gear up for such stressful situations, the Christian soldier and law enforcement officer should not be content to settle for the generic prep that the world offers them. As a Christian, you have access to far more effective tools for combating and managing intense fear in the midst of life threatening situations.
Now there are good fears and there are bad fears. Why don’t you stick your hand into a fire? Because you are afraid of being burned. In this scenario, fear is serving a positive purpose in your life.
Good fears help us embrace truths which keep us in alignment with God’s will. Human beings are very fragile creatures who are easily injured and utterly dependent on God for all things. Fears which help us keep in touch with these truths are useful fears. As a general rule, God doesn’t want you to stick your hand into a fire. He wants you to teach your child not to stick his finger into electrical outlets and not to walk out in front of moving traffic. We’re supposed to embrace our frailty in life, not deny it. Recognizing our limitations and vulnerabilities helps us embrace our dependency on God. Pretending we are invincible and unlimited causes us to reject our dependency on God, and this leads to all sorts of trouble.
Now as a frail human being, God has instilled you with a healthy fear of being shot. You recognize that your soft tissues don’t stand a chance against metal projectiles which are flying at you at blinding speeds, so you are highly motivated to avoid putting yourself in a situation where bullets will have easy access to you. So far so good. God wants you to acknowledge and respect the limitations He has put on you as a frail human being. Most people are never going to be called on by God to voluntarily enter a battlefield situation. For these people, the guidelines are simple: let your good fears steer you away from harm.
But for others, things are not so simple. When you feel strongly called by God to join a police force or to join the military, He is changing the rules of the game. Once He instructs you to put yourself in situations which go against your better judgment, all of those fears which used to help you in life suddenly become a problem. Good fears are only good as long as they are helping us stay in alignment with God’s will. It used to be God’s will for you to avoid putting yourself in situations where you might get shot at. Now He is telling you to do just the opposite. Suddenly those natural fears of yours are giving you a strong desire to disobey God. He is telling you to stay in this dangerous field, but your fears are telling you to get out. Those fears which used to help you have now become hindrances which are discouraging you from carrying out your clear convictions from God.
Notice how we keep mentioning this element of clear conviction—it has to be there before you can continue. In the absence of clear conviction, we need to respect the natural wisdom God has wired into us. But there are many times in life when the conviction to act will suddenly come upon us. Maybe you see your buddy lying wounded out in the open and God is pressing you to run out into the line of fire in order to help him. Maybe someone is trapped inside a car that is on fire and you don’t know how long you have to attempt a rescue operation before the whole thing explodes in your face. Maybe you’ve been selected to be the first guy through the door and you have no idea what’s waiting for you inside. As a Christian, you need to remember that the Holy Spirit is intimately involved in your life and He can be counted on to guide you in the critical moment. Sometimes He’ll tell you to rush in, other times He’ll have you stay back. If He tells you to rush in, your brain is going to start screaming at you not to be foolish, because your brain is part of your physical body, and your body’s top priority is self-preservation.
Whenever God has you pinned in some frightening situation, realize that you’re in good company. God has been intentionally leading His people into life-threatening situations for thousands of years. It was no picnic for Noah to be pitching back and forth in that ark for forty days and nights waiting for the thing to spring a leak. When Yahweh parted the Red Sea for the Israelites, He set up “a wall of water on their right and on their left” so that everyone could feel the threat of death looming over them the whole time they were crossing (Ex. 14:22). How scary is it to imagine some huge tidal wave suddenly crashing down on your head without warning? Yahweh could have made the water disappear entirely, but He didn’t. He didn’t make the lions disappear the night Daniel was trapped in their den. He didn’t calm the choppy sea when He saw Peter bravely climbing out of the boat to attempt to walk on water. He didn’t snuff out the fire in the roaring furnace when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were being dragged over to it for refusing to bow down to another god. God has a long history of leading and trapping His people in terrifying situations which would cause any normal human to melt with fear. So how do we manage our terror in these moments? Where does God want our focus to be? God always wants us to focus on truth, but there are many truths to choose from and some are more helpful than others depending on our situation. When it comes to facing life-threatening situations, there is one truth which is particularly useful in calming our fears.
GOD IS IN CONTROL
We often hear the phrase “God is in control” being tossed around in Christian circles, but there are very few Christians who really understand the full import of this truth. At bottom, most Christians believe that God is only partially in control. They believe His level of control in any given moment can be compromised by the will of humans, the power of demons, or a mysterious force which they call Sin. Ever hear a Christian try to explain why the world is so messed up by saying that “It’s because Sin has entered the world.” What on earth does this mean? Is Sin an entity? Does Sin have an agenda? Does Sin outrank God? Many Christians talk as though it does. They say the world wouldn’t be so full of suffering if Sin hadn’t gotten involved. Well, this is nothing more than superstitious foolishness. To believe in some cognizant force called Sin is as ridiculous as believing in Mother Nature. Such concepts are merely people’s way of trying to deny the absolute sovereignty of our three glorious Creators. Yet the reality is that Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit do not share Their Authority with any other party. They rule together, and Their rule is absolute. This means that not a single molecule can vibrate in this entire universe without Their approval and help. This means that nothing happens in this Creation which our Creators do not want to happen, and once They decide that They want something to happen, nothing will prevent Them from causing it. As Yahweh once said:
“I kill, and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.” (Deut. 32:39)
What does this mean for you? It means that the whole notion of being accidentally shot is utter rubbish. Nothing happens by accident in God’s universe. No one gets fatally wounded because of human decisions or the cleverness of demons or some bit of bad luck. Everything that happens in this world happens for a reason. Everything that happens in this world happens because God wants and causes it to be. God’s sovereignty is an essential truth of the Christian faith. It is a truth He hammers over and over again in the Bible, yet it is one that is grossly denied by the mainstream Church. It is our rejection of God’s absolute control over everything He creates which makes room for these paralyzing fears to seize us. We become like Israel entering the Promised Land. Yahweh told the Jews He would grant them victory over their enemies, but when twelve spies went out and sized up the obstacles and calculated the odds with their human logic, ten of them concluded that the task was doomed to fail. God is no match for statistics: this is what we believe today. When you ponder the idea of running into live fire to rescue your buddy, your brain tells you the odds are stacked against you therefore failure is certain. But what is God telling you to do? If He’s telling you to haul yourself out there, then that’s what He wants you to do. It is God who controls the path of every bullet. There is no such thing as luck or a “near miss”. If God wants you to get shot, the bullet won’t miss its target. If He doesn’t want you to get shot, it doesn’t matter how many trained snipers have you caught in their crosshairs: you aren’t going to go down. You see, we can listen to the Bible stories all day long at church, but if we’re going to grow closer to God in our personal lives, the day comes when we have to stop treating those accounts like mere stories and realize that they actually happened. God did part the waters. He did seal the mouths of starving lions. He did cause Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to walk around unscathed in the midst of a superheated furnace. Bending the laws of physics is not hard for God because they are His physics and His laws. Breaking His own patterns is super basic and God thoroughly enjoys making a mockery out of our probability calculations. Lazarus walking out of his grave after four days of being dead. The Israelites walking through the Red Sea on dry ground. The walls of Jericho collapsing right in front of Joshua and his army. Darkness swamping the entire nation of Egypt except for the place where the Hebrew slaves lived. The sun standing still in the sky so Joshua could finish his battle. The fish that swallowed Jonah delivering him onto the right coastline. Ravens carrying food to the prophet Elijah. Fire falling down from the sky and consuming Elijah’s offering on Mount Carmel. It’s all so jaw-dropping awesome to us, yet it’s super basic to God because He owns this place. He controls every atom, every particle, and every breath.
No one does anything in this world that God doesn’t want them to do. No one dies early and no one dies late. You have no say in how, when or where you’re going to die. God has already decided all of these things without asking you and nothing you say is going to alter His plans. So when God traps you in some life-threatening situation, are you really as vulnerable as you feel? No, you’re not. The whole situation is being controlled by God. No one is going to do anything that He doesn’t want them to do, and anything that He causes to happen to you is going to be about strengthening your relationship with Him.
Your life is about you and God. Your partner’s life is about him and God. But you’re not responsible for anyone else’s life or for the choices that they make. You’re just responsible for you. God wants you to be open to Him telling you to do absolutely anything. God has scores of Christians who are always trying to boss Him about while they maintain long lists of all the things they aren’t willing to do for Him. This isn’t obedience, it’s just attitudinal defiance.
God doesn’t expect you to be brave on your own. He doesn’t expect you to be fearless or strong or wise. He takes full responsibility for giving you what you need to do what He wants you to do in a given moment. All He requires of you is a willing heart. “Lord, I want You to have Your total way in my life.” This is the invitation He wants from you: no limits, no conditions, no bargaining. Just a willingness to obey. Then, when He puts you in the midst of some stressful situation, He wants you to try and focus on the fact that He is in control, that He loves you, and that everything He’s putting you through is about strengthening your personal relationship with Him. Will you be perfect at it? No, at first you’ll be lousy at it. But this is where practice comes in.
To get a strong grip on truth, we need to practice dwelling on it before the crisis moment comes. We need to be pondering God’s love for us, His sovereignty, and His goodness. The Holy Spirit is who we need to look to for help in doing this and He will help us. He will keep bringing His truths to our minds and the more we think about them, the better prepared we will be when the stressful moment comes. Fear is weakened by confidence in God’s absolute control, His goodness, and His deep love for you. The terrifying thought of “If I do what He’s saying, I know I’ll get hurt,” will begin to fade into the background as new thought patterns form which are grounded in truth, such as:
“God is with me and He is for me. He is intimately involved in every area of my life. I am not going to miss out on His best for me by refusing to obey Him in this moment. Instead, I’m going to trust in His love for me and follow His leading in my life.”
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