What Are You Afraid Of?

I (Alan) feel like I know a lot about fear because I’ve been afraid a lot. I mean a lot.

I’ve felt afraid most of the way through writing this book. I’ve felt afraid often when I stand to speak or travel to train a group of leaders. I’ve felt afraid often throughout my life.

Fear has often gotten in the way of my trying something that I believe God was inviting me to do. And I feel sad thinking back on that much fear.

But I’ve also often taken my fear with me into my life and work. I’ve said what I felt called to say or wrote what I believed I was supposed to write and others told me it helped.

LOVE BEATS FEAR

I wish I was less often fearful. Sometimes, I feel what John must have meant in his first letter when he says that there is no fear in love, and that perfect love casts out fear. When I’ve known and trusted in the love of God for me, I haven’t been as afraid. When I’ve been living in love toward another, I haven’t been as afraid either.

I needn’t be afraid, but I am. God invites me to live increasingly free of fear, and sometimes I take him up on his invitation. But not always, and not as often as I might.

So of the eight questions this book focuses on, the one I’ve often found hardest has been this question about fear. I am an apprentice who has often needed to be reminded by the mentors in my life that I can work with energy and fire because of the gift of God’s Spirit, which brings power, love, and self-discipline, and not the draining dynamic of timidity (see 2 Timothy 1:6-7).

THE DANGERS OF LISTENING TO FEAR

Fear and anxiety are such a drain of energy if I listen to their threats, warnings, and dire predictions. I could, instead, listen to the voice of the One who seems always to be saying, “Alan, don’t be afraid. You’re not alone in this. I am with you.”

The thing is, the fears and anxieties that rise up in me are usually wrong. I mean, there are things that frighten me, but I’m talking about the fears that bubble up in my thoughts and emotions about imagined dark possibilities in my near future. I’ve imagined myself absolutely bombing in a speaking engagement. Surprisingly, that has never actually happened. I haven’t always hit home runs in every engagement, but if I speak from my life and what I’ve learned from God along the way, it always seems to help.

In my experience as a spiritual director talking with many others, I find that fear just might be one of the hardest issues for many of us in our journey toward transformation. Perhaps that’s why it also seems to be so common in the biblical narrative. Hundreds of times in the story of the Scriptures, God speaks the words “Do not be afraid.” “Fear not” is a word God speaks to us when we face hardship, threat, or danger. And the most common promise God offers us in our places of fear is that he will be with us.

FEAR NOT

Remember God’s words to Joshua as he prepared to enter the Promised Land:

As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:5-9)

Three times God repeats a form of the words “Be strong and courageous.” Often I make the mistake of thinking that courage means feeling no fear. Rather, in God’s counsel to Joshua, courage is the ability to act in keeping with God’s counsel in the face of fearful realities. I may feel strong fear and act with genuine courage.

In fact, courage usually requires the presence of some fear. It doesn’t take great courage to buy dinner at a fast food restaurant (well, it might take a little, depending on the restaurant!). It doesn’t take courage to sit in my recliner and read a book. These do not provoke any fear.

But sitting to do creative work of any kind always seems to require courage, at least for me, because it stirs within me fears of inadequacy, failure, or potential rejection. In such a place, God comes to me and encourages, “Be strong, Alan, and take courage. I am with you. I will be with you wherever you go and whatever you do.”

God also invites Joshua to obedience. He invites Joshua to stay in the good and true place of his counsel. Obedience is not merely dutiful subservience to an arbitrary rule. It is loving allegiance to the true way of a good King. We obey so that we might stay in the place and on the path that is vital, fruitful, and beneficial. In his invitation to obedience, God isn’t just saying, “Keep the rules.”

He is saying, “Live your life in and with me. Don’t wander from me. Don’t turn from me. Stay close. Let’s walk together. Let’s work together.”

BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS

And so we meditate on the Scriptures to settle within ourselves a vision of this loving God and his ways. We come to assume God’s kingdom as the “real world” in the midst of our human realities.

The command to be strong and courageous is one that Joshua would call to mind often. When he was in the battle for the Promised Land and was marching with his whole army, God once again said to him, “Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you” (Joshua 10:8).

While I have never actually gone to war with weapons and soldiers against a foreign army, I am in a battle with enemies like fear, self-doubt, insecurity, or anxiety. Here, God seems to say to me, “Alan, do not be afraid of your enemies. When you go up against them, they will fall into your hands. Nothing will stand against you.” Forces like my own fear, anxiety, self-doubt, or insecurity would hinder me from entering in to all the good the Lord has for me.

I’m sorry to say that this is a familiar struggle. I encounter fear like this just about every time I engage a new piece of my work in ministry. If I let it, fear would hinder me from taking even the first step. But my fears and anxieties have proven to be miserably poor predictors of the future.

THE ULTIMATE REALITY

I wonder what might have been going through Joshua’s mind when he heard God speak these words of strength and courage. Might he have thought, as I do, But I feel weak and fearful? But isn’t this just what the Lord would have been speaking to? If there is no fear, why speak courage? If there is no anxiety, why speak peace? If there is no weakness, why speak strength?

Weakness, insecurity, anxiety, or fear are never the ultimate reality. God’s strength, confidence, peace, and love are.

Transformation is the process of coming to live in these kingdom realities.


Taken from What Does Your Soul Love by Gem and Alan Fadling. Copyright (c) 2019 by Gem and Alan Fadling. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com.

Gem Fadling is a founding partner of Unhurried Living, Inc., a non-profit that resources and trains Christian leaders to rest deeper, live fuller, and lead better. A trained spiritual director, retreat speaker, and podcaster, Gem enjoys serving as a guide, with the intention of helping people encounter God in their very real lives. Gem lives in Mission Viejo, California, with her husband, Alan.

Alan Fadling is president and founder of Unhurried Living, Inc. in Mission Viejo, California, inspiring people to rest deeper, live fuller, and lead better. He speaks and consults internationally with organizations such as Saddleback Church, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Cru, Halftime Institute, Apprentice Institute, and Open Doors International. He is the award-winning author of An Unhurried Leader and An Unhurried Life, which was honored with a Christianity Today Award of Merit in spirituality. He is also a contributing author to Eternal Living: Reflections on Dallas Willard's Teaching on Faith and Formation.