That’s it. Article over. Full stop. But that’s not how most of us live. And can you blame us? Our world seems chock-full of things that any reasonable person should be more than a little terrified of: spiders and snakes, bankruptcy, heights, kidnappings, murders, terrorism, and that Tupperware of mystery food in the back of the refrigerator that may require a hazmat suit when we finally work up the nerve to throw it out. Fear seems like such an appropriate response to the very real dangers in this world. We’ve been told things like, “God has not given us a spirit of fear” (2 Timothy 1:7), and yet fear seems to be a default response. Half the time, it feels like an unconscious response. It’s not as if I’ve taken the time to think through the situation and made a decision to choose fear; it just seems to happen, and I’m just experiencing it, and there’s nothing I can do. What if that wasn’t true? What if that wasn’t the way it was supposed to be? What if God had something different in mind? I came across the following passage while reading Free to Live by John Eldredge: "Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27). Wait—do not let your heart be troubled? I thought to myself, We have a choice? We let our hearts be troubled? I’ve always assumed it was the other way around—that trouble strikes in some form or other, and our hearts simply respond by being troubled. I’ll bet this is how you look at it, too. Trouble descends upon you: your house is robbed, your daughter gets pregnant, you lose your job. In that moment are you thinking, “This doesn’t have to take me out. I’m not going to let my heart be troubled. No way." We think “troubled heart” is unavoidable, appropriate even. But Jesus is talking about his coming torture, his death, and, following that, his departure from them. On a scale of personal crises, this is a ten. Yet he says, don’t let your hearts be troubled. Friends, this is important. You have a say in what your heart gives way to." I don’t know about you, but this was horribly disruptive the first time I saw it. Fear is a choice? I don’t have to be afraid - even when it seems so very, very logical? Is this even allowed?! I have so readily accepted fear as a default reaction for so much of my life. I wouldn’t necessarily go hide under the bed per se, but I would definitely worry…which is really just a much kinder way of saying I was terrified of what might be coming next and was desperately trying to figure out what to do. Yes, “worry” definitely sounds much better, but let’s call it what it is: it’s fear. About two months ago, we got a flat tire. Default response? Worry (which again is really just fear). Do I remember how to put the spare on? Can we afford to buy a new tire? Am I going to put the spare on incorrectly and have the tire fall off while on the highway doing 65 and be the cause of a horrific 10-car pile-up? “Do not let your heart be troubled…” There is another way. There is a choice. There is a question that needs to be asked. “God, what do You have to say about this?” Do you feel the peace that begins to descend even as you utter those words? Do you feel the shift happening in you as you wrench your gaze away from this swirling inner vortex of fear and lift your eyes up to the loving gaze of the One who has everything well in hand and is using even this moment for your good? Okay, Jon. I agree, flipping out about a flat tire doesn’t make nearly as much sense now, and yes, I should definitely be willing to stop and ask God what He has to say. But what about fear of failure? What about fear of rejection or fear of death? What about [insert your worst fear here]? Aren’t we supposed to be afraid of those things? They’re so much worse. Let’s go back to the passage from Free to Live. “But Jesus is talking about his coming torture, his death, and, following that, his departure from them. On a scale of personal crises, this is a ten. Yet he says, don’t let your hearts be troubled.” My friends, there is no such thing as a “good fear” or “bad fear”…with one exception. There is no such thing as a “right fear or a “wrong fear”…with one exception. The one exception is fear of the Lord. And this is not a “hide under the bed” fear, but a realization that He is so much bigger than even our biggest problems and all we can do is stand in reverential awe of Him and of our utter dependence on Him. This fear is allowed. This fear is encouraged. This fear is good. All other fear, when you really get down to the root, is irrational because it assumes that the thing being feared is bigger than God...that fear of the thing is more logical than God’s ability to come through...that self-protection, vigilance, and self-control are a more effective strategy than asking God what He’s doing or what He thinks you should do. Is the spider really bigger than God? Is the lack of money a problem that’s too big for God to solve? Is dying bigger than God when Jesus has already overcome the grave? I’m not trying to make this sound overly simple. I’m not making light of your fear. But I’ve been clinging to this false idol of fear for such a long time, and I’ve only recently allowed God to speak to the idea of my fears as a whole. In His gentle way, He’s shown me just how much I resort to worrying instead of to listening to Him, and how, in a strange way, I seek comfort from my worrying. I don’t feel better when I worry, but I feel more in control when I worry…as if my worrying is actually a form of productivity. As if by worrying about my problem or my fear, I’m actually working it out and solving it. Could there possibly be another way? I don’t want to be afraid. I don’t want to worry. But what would it look like to listen rather than fear? Take a look at Jesus' response to a situation in which fear would be a perfectly reasonable reaction. All three Synoptic Gospels tell the story of Jesus in a boat with his disciples. A storm comes up, and the disciples are terrified and hurry to awaken their sleeping teacher so that he can do...something. Jesus wakes, and despite the obvious danger, He doesn’t seem rattled. He understands the Father's will, stands up in the boat, and rebukes the storm. We’ve heard this story so often, though, that I think we've lost the uniqueness of this moment and of Jesus’ response to his surroundings. Raging storm, about to sink and drown, and the correct response is to calmly yell at the wind and the rain? To serenely scold the storm like it's a misbehaving puppy? Where’s the fear?! Jesus chooses to not let His heart be troubled. We know (because He told us) that He only did what His Father told Him to, so in this moment, He is once again choosing to listen and obey. And because Jesus is fully human, His response is one that is replicable for you and me. We can choose to not let our hearts be troubled. We can choose to listen instead of choosing fear. We can choose. Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that we put ourselves in dangerous situations just to prove that we're not afraid and to see if God comes through. I'm saying that we need to ask God what He's saying in the midst of a potentially dangerous situation. If you laid down on train tracks to see if God would show up but were at least willing to listen and obey, He'd probably just say, "Get up off the train tracks...that's not the best thing I have for you." Over the last year, I’ve been slowly learning this lesson of asking before giving way to fear. As my wife and I have learned to live on a single income, I’ve had a hundred or more moments when I legitimately feared we wouldn’t be able to pay our bills. Feared the shame and embarrassment that would come when we would have to ask friends and family for help. Feared the sense of failure that would result if we lost our house. Slowly, patiently, God’s been teaching me to talk to Him in those moments instead of spiraling downward into fear. My favorite question in those moments has become “God, what are You after in this?” And He answers. What He’s shown me is that those fears have a deeper root. They’re based on the fear that I won’t be taken care of…that He won’t take care of me. That I can’t trust His heart for me. That I have to take care of myself. And I’m not the first person to believe those lies. Much like Adam in the Garden after eating the fruit, we’ve all been afraid and so we’ve hidden from God because we didn’t trust His heart. I’ve believed those lies about myself and about God for a long time. Confessing them is a relatively quick process, but learning to live out the truth takes some getting used to. I’ve only ever known fear. What would it be like to live like Jesus did in that moment in the boat…and in every other moment of His life? Do not let your heart be troubled. “For even though I walk through the darkest valley I will not be afraid…because you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff comfort and protect me.” (Psalm 23, NLT). Always. Prayer: Lord, You know my heart. You know my desire to be free from fear. Which of my fears do You want to speak to today? I invite You to bring them to mind, to show me a picture of things that I fear so that I can hear Your truth. What’s at the root of that fear, Lord? What are You after in this? What are the lies related to that fear that I’ve believed about myself and about You? I freely confess that I’ve believed them for a long time, but I now choose to break all agreements with them. Please cleanse me of their effects on my life and tell me Your truth. Lord, where has my fear caused me to turn inward…to seek to self-protect and control instead of turning to You? Once again, Lord, I confess that I’ve done this, and I choose to repent of self-protection. Jesus, what are You doing in the midst of this storm? What do You want me to know? What do You want me to do instead of turning to fear? Jesus, thank You for always being close beside me. Thank You for comforting and protecting me. Thank You for reminding me that I don’t have to fear. Thank You that I don’t have to let my heart be troubled.