Fear Free

rollercoaster

Try to imagine a life without fear.

I’m not just talking about the kind of fear that comes with taking showers at the Bates Motel, I’m talking about the fear of any intrusion into our carefully-insulated lives. We wrap ourselves in the security blanket of insurances, education, friends and family, the best doctors, the wisest mentors, the safest cars, schools and neighborhoods.

But what if the San Andreas Fault watches its own movie and gets the wrong idea? What if a teenager gets a little drunk and starts down the freeway in your direction? What if you eat the wrong piece of meat, or walk down the wrong alley at the wrong time of night, or choose the wrong babysitter for your kids?

You might say that God wouldn’t let any of those things happen. He loves us. He works all things together for our good. He makes our paths straight. He plans to prosper us. He wants to expand our borders. Just like Jabez. But we all know that bad things happen to good people. Just ask Steven Curtis Chapman, a God-serving, family-loving Christian artist whose biological son ran over one of his adopted daughters while the rest of the family was watching.

This is not a post about why a loving, sovereign God would let something like that happen. We’ve explored that question before, and will continue to explore it. This post is about fear. And if God can’t be trusted to defend us from the Goliaths of this life, then some of us will relegate him to the role of backup slingshot as we work hard to strap on Saul’s armor.

Very few Christians would admit that God is their backup slingshot, but in my experience, very few trust him enough to truly step to the front of the battle line without a stitch of armor. As long as our faith is not secure, we will be trembling and huddling with the rest of Israel whenever some Goliath steps forward and opens its mouth.

So what are you saying, John? Are you saying that if I go to the doctor I’m not trusting God with my body? Are you saying that if I work hard to earn a degree that I’m not really trusting God with my future? Are you saying that God might be offended if I go online to find a job or a date or directions to the nearest health food store?

Only you can answer that. Fear is unique to each person. We should be honest with ourselves. Especially when it comes to faith.

At this very moment I am sitting in a living room full of moving boxes. It’s been this way for over a year now—no pictures on the walls, no shelves of books, limited games and clothing and kitchen appliances. We’ve been renting from a friend who is trying to get rid of the house through a deed in lieu. While we wait for the paperwork to go through, we continue to ask God for clear direction, talking about possible life trajectories, doing the best we can in the part time jobs we have, and feeling grateful for this little island paradise called Mississippi.

Why am I not afraid? Four years ago God clearly called me out of my job in California and moved me to the Deep South. In those early months of living in a new environment with no job, no credit cards and an extended family that was struggling with their own financial challenges, we were forced to rest in the reality of a God that wouldn’t call us if he didn’t have a plan. At that point we decided to follow the example of George Muller and trust God for the details. We wouldn’t ask for help. Just pray and wait.

Not to brag, but I consider myself a pretty capable person. I set goals and work hard to accomplish those goals. But in late April, 2011, before Mississippi was even on the radar, I was called into a meeting with my superintendent and presented with the reality that, based on a dwindling Fine Arts budget, I was going to have to quickly find another job to replace my salary. I only had a bachelors degree. My house was almost $200,000 upside down. I owed $15,000 on a credit card. I was burned out, had no motivation to continue in my profession, but had to think of something to support my wife and three kids.

The very next day I went to a writers conference near Santa Cruz. At the conference a stranger came up to me and told me that God wanted me to surrender my strengths. It was a bizarre thing to say, but I knew exactly what she meant. I had been strategizing, running job scenarios over and over in my mind. God wanted me to stop. He wanted to take charge.

A few months later, after the Lord steered my family about 2,000 miles east of LA, I was sitting in a rental house with rainwater pouring through the roof wondering what ride I was on. I had no money in the bank, and found that plugging into a closed culture like Mississippi was pretty much impossible, especially with full-time school clogging my availability. But one miracle after another began to strip away my fear. 

By the end of February, 2012, God had disentangled me from all my debt, provided just enough income to cover our basic needs, and had even made it possible for me to join a team on an archaeological trip to Israel. I wasn’t standing on stable ground by any means, but I was starting to learn an important lesson: There is a big difference between getting on a roller coaster and starting down a ski slope. One requires skill and practice to avoid catastrophe. The other can be enjoyed with hands in the air.

I will never own another credit card. It’s not a philosophy of faith. It’s just a personal decision based on a relational reality. For me, getting a credit card would disrespect the past four years of God showing me that I don’t need one. Sort of like Israel watching God work his wonders in Egypt, then being too scared to pick a fight with the people in Canaan when he told them to take the land.

God wants our hands in the air, trusting the track, turn by turn.

I am confident that humans were never meant to live with fear. To lose fear is to lose stress and worry. That means more smiles, better health and happier relationships. To lose fear is to turn disappointment and failure into opportunities for change or growth. To lose fear is to see even pain and death through the eyes of hope.

But faith is personal. And you can only learn it one life experience at a time. You can’t just claim verses and expect to be free of fear. That’s like watching Pumping Iron and expecting to lift a refrigerator when the movie’s over. If you want freedom, I mean the joy-and-peace-in-your-bones kind of freedom, do not just cut up your credit cards. First tell God that you’re ready to be free, then do whatever he says.

Sure, you might end up in Mississippi with no job and a hole in your roof, but that’s part of the fun. I can’t wait to see why God sent my family to seminary. As of now, I have no particular eagerness to fill a pulpit or head overseas, though I would be willing. I just know that I love this adventure and am ready for the next turn. I mean, hey, my boxes are already packed.

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