AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
From our perspective, our fears seem very logical and completely proven. Once you are convinced in your core that something is true, you don’t become unconvinced overnight. At first, you write off every experience that counters your fears as a freak deviation from the norm. Take the man who is convinced that God is disgusted with him because of something he did in the past. What’s really happening here is that the man is convinced that God must think like he does. Since the man can’t forgive himself, he assumes God can’t either. Since the man is disgusted with himself and believes he deserves endless misery in life, he assumes that God thinks the same way. When God says “I love you” to this man’s soul, the man instantly rejects the message as invalid. At first he pretends to not even hear what God said. When he does finally acknowledge the words, he blows them off as his own wishful thinking. Meanwhile, every time something goes wrong in the man’s life, he interprets it as a sign of Divine punishment. When something goes right, he either divorces God from it or he sees it as God setting him up for another round of pain.
So how does God work with such a man? The first goal is to get the man to accept the idea that there is something wrong with his situation. Until the man acknowledges that there’s a problem, he won’t be receptive to any of God’s solutions. This first goal can take years to accomplish, for even though the man is miserable, he has decided that miserable is what he is supposed to be, therefore he refuses to label his situation as flawed. At some point, the man must choose to submit to God as a higher Authority in his life and defer to God’s assessment of his situation. The man says his situation is correct but God says it is incorrect. The man disagrees with God’s assessment, but God is God. At some point, the man must decide that a God trumps a human. Only then will the man be ready to move on to stage two of the healing process.
Once the man has opened his mind up to the possibility that his current perspective is flawed, God will start introducing him to other perspectives which are more correct. The reality is that God does not hang one sin over our heads forevermore. When we repent (and repentance is only needed in cases of willful rebellion), God is ready to move forward. In stage two of the healing process, God will start introducing the man to several concepts that directly counter the man’s core fears. What if God simply isn’t holding some bitter grudge over the past? What if God isn’t as angry as the man thinks He is? What if the man is wrong to assume that all of his trials are forms of Divine spankings? What if God’s approval is far more attainable than the man thinks? What if the man really isn’t fifty miles away from where God wants him to be? What if he’s just one little step away from being in a place where God would be quite pleased with him? During this second stage, God often introduces radical concepts to us in the form of “what if” proposals. We often have to wrestle with these suggestions for quite some time before we are willing to once again submit to God and concede that maybe He has a better grip on truth than we do. We are now ready to move on to stage three of the healing process.
Stage three is about starting to put radical new truths into practice. The next time our man hits a bump in the road, his first thought is to panic and interpret his trial as evidence of how much God hates him. But here God is going to gently remind him of those new, radical truths about how easy God is to please. Under God’s constant coaching, the man will start trying to take abstract principles and apply them to his specific situation. He’ll take the general idea of “Maybe God isn’t really mad at me” and apply it to his specific trial by saying, “This event doesn’t mean God is mad at me.” Of course this claim will sound ridiculous to his own ears at first, but here is where God will remind the man of other truths He has taught him. God doesn’t beat on us about things we can’t change. God’s current view of us is based on how our souls are currently responding to Him. God is going to teach our man to start using a new stream of logic to counter his fears.
“This trial isn’t evidence that God is mad at me. God doesn’t hold grudges about the past towards souls who sincerely care about pleasing Him. I know that I want God to be pleased with me. God says that He is very pleased with those who sincerely want to please Him. God says He is very easy to succeed with and that He uses trials in our lives to help us grow even closer to Him, not just to punish us. Since I know my heart is in the right place, I’m going to try to see to this trial as an invitation to learn some new, positive lesson about God that’s going to strengthen my relationship with Him. This isn’t God punishing me, it’s Him drawing me closer in.”
Is this easy to do? Not hardly. Our man is going to have to practice this over and over again. When he’s tired and frustrated and feeling pounded on by demons, he’s going to revert back to his old fear patterns which felt so logical and correct. But the more he leans into God’s training program, the less correct his old fears will feel until they finally collapse under the weight of countering truths. Fear will then be replaced with confidence that is grounded in truth, and the man will experience a much higher level of core joy and peace in his everyday life.
Submission to God’s Authority and the willingness to try and focus on positive truths are key factors in overcoming fears. But it’s important to realize that this is a process which takes time. Overcoming fear is like driving through a series of hills. When you are heading down into a valley, you feel like you’re going backwards, but you’re actually still moving forward and the next hill of success is getting closer all the time. As a general rule, God doesn’t zap us with some instant healing. God is the One who saddled us with our fears in the first place, and He did it to give us an opportunity to move through the stages of healing with Him.
It is the journey that matters to God, not reaching a particular destination. When do the heart-to-heart conversations happen with traveling companions on earth: during those eternal car rides or when you finally reach your destination? Suppose you and a friend want to visit some scenic place on earth. When you finally arrive at that place, exploring its features will distract the two of you from thinking about anything else. It is on the long car ride that meaningful conversation happens. It’s when the two of you are sitting together in an environment with limited distractions that you start thinking of deeper things. Limitations have a way of focusing us. When God wants to increase our focus on Him, bringing restrictive limitations into our lives is a great way to get us there. The patient in a hospital bed who is engrossed in playing games on his cell phone will ignore the nurse who comes to check up on him. But the patient who is severely injured and strapped down in some immobilized position is going to give the nurse his full attention and want her to stay awhile. In the same way, when we are feeling pinned under the weight of oppressive fears, we suddenly start caring a lot more about what God has to say because we realize that He is the only One who has the power to free us up.
Fears are very useful tools for driving rebellious souls back into submission. But they are equally useful in pushing the obedient on to deeper levels of communion with God. When God boxes you in with fear, it’s like He’s pulling you into a small closet with Him and saying, “There are some important things that I want to discuss with you.” Intense fears act like the limiting space of that closet: they sharpen our focus on God and motivate us to really listen to what He has to say. Often what God wants to teach us are deeper concepts which will take years for us to get a firm grip on. Not because the concepts are complicated, but because fully absorbing them requires a radical change in how we think. God will go over and over the same principles with us and use the pressure of fear to help us stay focused. Once the fears have served their purpose and God has moved us on to a deeper level of communion with Him, He will take them out of our lives. Eventually we’ll be able to look back and see radical shifts in our thought patterns—shifts which seem almost impossible to explain. Concepts which positively terrified us before simply don’t threaten us anymore. We have become free, and we know that it was God who freed us—a God who we now know much better than we did before.
Fears make total sense to us when we are caught in the midst of them, yet they keep us in a state of misery that we eventually get tired of enduring. Fears start off as oppressive burdens, but they morph into golden opportunities for us to develop deeper communion with God. Every negative element that God brings into our lives is like a priceless gift that’s wrapped in very ugly paper. Instead of pushing these things away from us, we need to ask God to unwrap them for us and show us the good gift that He has hidden away inside. It all starts with submitting to Him as the Supreme Authority in our lives and being willing to believe that He really is as good as He claims to be.
Understanding Fear: The Power of Beliefs
Why God Isn’t Fixing You
Why God Isn’t Healing You (Encouragement for Frustrated Christians)
Dealing with Trauma: Protecting Yourself from Bad Counselors