God, Life and Fear

I’m on a journey with God, traveling through fear and into life.

I believe that God exists and that He actively works in His creation. But, that hasn’t automatically translated into a fearless life.

God and fear

I grew up going to church. I have numerous memories of being in our Baptist Church in Irwin, PA. It was our family’s home away from home. The people were kind and friendly. But, what about God?

God was terrifying. I heard about His “Second Coming”. He was going to return for his believers and leave everyone else behind. I was horrified that my family would leave me.

One Sunday night we watched the movie, “A Thief in the Night“. The movie was about Jesus coming back and a woman being left behind. By the time the movie ended I was shaking all over. I walked down that red carpeted aisle to the welcoming arms of our pastor. My face was covered in tears. Tears of fear.

So, that’s it, right?

So, the fear was gone, right? Wrong! I’d hear a train whistle in the middle of the night and think that God had blown his trumpet and left me behind.

Around this same time I was approached by our youth pastor and he asked if I was ‘growing’ in my relationship with God. I didn’t understand what he meant by that and frankly it fed my fears. Maybe I’m still not saying, or doing the right things and God is going to punish me!

First breakthrough

Years passed without significant progress. In college I began attending a Bible study group sponsored by the Navigators. The leader of the group was taking us through the book of John. I hadn’t read or studied the Bible before and I found the experience to be like opening a window and feeling a fresh spring breeze blow into the room.

My breakthrough occurred as we went through the 10th chapter of John. Jesus compares himself to a shepherd and people to sheep. He talks about using his voice to guide his sheep to a place of safety and that everyone else wants to harm us. And then the 10th verse hit me like a brick in the face: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”.

What? God wants me to have life? He wants my life to be full? I had thought He was a demanding, angry taskmaster! I began to cry as this realization blew through my mind. These weren’t tears of fear, they were the tears of understanding that I was loved unconditionally.

Second breakthrough

I wish I could say that I lived happily ever after and never felt fear or anxiety, but that is far from the truth. I graduated college, got a job, met a beautiful woman and had two fantastic kids. And I was an anxious, fearful mess.

I had heart palpitations. They terrified me. Looking back, I guess I felt the pressure of being a young father in a new job. I didn’t want to let anybody down and felt that everyone depended on me.

Night time was the worst. Everything would quiet down and I could hear or feel every heartbeat. I’d freak out with each skip and stutter.

One evening I read Psalm 46 before going to bed. As I lay in bed, the words bounced around in my head. “God is our refuge and strength,  an ever-present help in trouble.” Ok, I know that. “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,…”

What? I won’t fear. Not even if I see a mountain fall into the sea. That’s a massive disaster and I can just look at it and say, “This is terrible, but God has me in His hands. I’m going to be ok.”. I felt like a soldier who’s been going through the worst firefight of their life who’s just made it to the safety of base camp. I’m safe. God’s desires for my life cannot be overcome by external events.

All good?

I still had to work through the idea that the palpitations might never go away. I thought, “Maybe I’ll die, but then I’ll be with God and free of troubles. But, until then, I am living in His impenetrable refuge.” (Sounds a bit morbid, I know, but once I gave in to that idea I had immense freedom.)

This is not a once done, always done experience. I still wrangle with fear and have to remind myself that God wants me to have an abundant life and that He is my refuge and strength.

He’s always there in times of need, so I don’t need to fear. You don’t need to fear! He’s got this!

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