Facing Your Fears
FACING YOUR FEARS
An Arab chief told the story of a spy who was captured and then sentenced to death by a general in the Persian army. This general had the strange custom of giving condemned criminals a choice between the firing squad and the big, black door.
As the moment for execution drew near, the spy was brought to the Persian general, who asked the question, "What will it be: the firing squad or the big, black door?" The spy hesitated for a long time – It was a difficult decision – He chose the firing squad. Moments later shots rang out confirming his execution.
The general turned to his aide and said, "They always prefer the known way to the unknown. It is characteristic of people to be afraid of the undefined. Yet, we gave him a choice." The aide said, "What lies beyond the big, black door?" "Freedom," replied the general. "I've known only a few brave enough to take it."
How brave do you feel this morning? Today God brings to each of us a choice – we can live by fear or by faith. If we choose fear we will live our entire lives never fully experiencing the great satisfaction of taking a risk for God. If we choose to walk in faith we will experience a newfound freedom that will lead to a personal assurance that we are living life to its fullest.
Now I know that some of us here today are still living by fear even though we want to live by faith. I want to try to help you turn your fear into faith today. To begin with it will be helpful for us to understand that:
1. FEAR IS A FORMULA FOR FAILURE
In a few moments I want to give you five steps on how to take risks in faith. But, before I do, I want us to look at an example of people that should have been living by faith, but instead they gave into fear.
The book of Exodus tells us about the Israelite people leaving the bondage of Egypt for the freedom God had planned for them. They have just seen God’s hand work in a mighty way. They have witnessed the ten plagues; they have experienced the first Passover; they have just been released by Pharoah after 400 years of bondage. You would think that they will be filled with faith, but instead they are crippled by fear.
I think you will remember when Charlton Heston, I mean Moses, was leading the people away from Egypt and to get away from Pharoah’s army they would have to cross the Red Sea – that’s where we’re going to pick up the story. We’re going to let the Israelites stand as an example to show us what fear can do to us if we let it replace faith in our lives.
1. IT MAKES US SKEPTICAL
Then they turned against Moses and complained, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt ? - Exodus 14:11a
When we are afraid, we begin to doubt. We doubt ourselves, we doubt God, we doubt other people, we become skeptical. Studies have shown that cynics, at the root, have basically a problem with fear. We often ridicule what we're afraid of.
2. IT MAKES US SELFISH
When I'm afraid, the only thing I can think of is myself. I don't think about you, I don’t think about God, I don't think about anybody else, I'm just focusing in on me.
Let’s look at the rest of v. 11 -- Then they turned against Moses and complained, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt ? Why did you make us leave?
What are they saying? Look what you've done to us!" When we're afraid, we accuse others, we excuse ourselves, we pass the buck, we blame other people, we run from responsibility.
3. IT MAKES US STUBBORN
We resist change when we're afraid. In v. 12a, they said, “Didn’t we tell you to leave us alone while we were still in Egypt ?” In other words, they were saying to Moses, "Don't rock the boat. Don't upset the status quo. We've always done it this way before."
And fear keeps people from growing, it keeps businesses from growing, it keeps churches from growing, because it causes us to be stubborn. God is ready to set them free from 400 years of slavery and the Israelites say, “Leave us alone!”
4. IT MAKES US SHORTSIGHTED
When the Israelites were confronted with the Red Sea , they said, (v. 12b) “Our Egyptian slavery was far better than dying out here in the wilderness.” They wanted to go back to the "good old days" in Egypt. They wanted to return, they wanted to retreat, they wanted to go back. They had so little faith that God would come through for them and grant them freedom that they preferred to return to bondage in Egypt .
And you know what? Many people today are living the exact same way. They would rather live in the bondage of their own sin, rebellion, and guilt, than be set free by risking it all for Jesus Christ.
Actually, I don’t think that they really prefer living in bondage, they are just so afraid to let go and let God that they really don’t know what else to do. Perhaps some of you have been living in fear for so long that you really don’t know what it means to live by faith.
Well, let’s see what we can do to rectify that today – let’s answer the question in point number two of your outline:
2. HOW CAN I REPLACE FEAR WITH FAITH?
Now, how do you take risks in faith rather than caving in to fear? Whether we’re talking about that first step of faith of becoming a Christian, or perhaps you’re already a believer ready to step out in another area of faith, we all need to learn how to move on to the next level.
There are five principles that God teaches us in His word.
1. INFORMATION: GET THE FACTS
If you're going to take risks, God wants you to get the facts. Anything that requires faith is going to have some element of risk in it, but God says, "There's a right way and there's a wrong way." God doesn't want you taking foolish risks, that's not faith. So He says, "First off, get the facts. Find out all you can first.
Every prudent man acts out of knowledge, but a fool exposes his folly. - Proverbs 13:16
Get the facts at any price, and hold on tightly to all the good sense you can get. - Proverbs 23:23
When you're going to make a major decision that involves a risk in your life, talk to people who've already done it. Get the facts at any price. Read a book. Attend a seminar. Listen to a tape. Find out who's already been there and get the facts at any price.
Now, once you've got the facts, you have to go to step two.
2. EVALUATION: COUNT THE COST
Find out why you're doing what you're doing and what the risk is involved in it. You find out what the costs are – What it's going to cost in time – What it's going to cost in money – What it's going to cost in reputation and emotional energy.
Once Jesus was talking to a crowd and He was telling them that if they were going to become one of His followers they needed to count the cost before they took that step of faith. He illustrated His point with the following words from Luke 14:28, 31:
"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?…"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?
He says, if you're going to build a building, you better go out and plan a budget first – and evaluate the cost. If you're going to go to war, you'd better figure out what the strength of your army compared to the strength of the enemy's. If you’re going to step out on faith and believe in Jesus Christ for your deliverance from bondage, you need to evaluate, count the cost, analyze the risk. It is not a lack of faith to evaluate, it is an encouragement to faith.
It is foolish and rash to make a promise to the Lord before counting the cost. - Proverbs 20:25
Every decision has a price tag and you'd better know what the price is before you take the risk.
3. PREPARATION: PLAN YOUR STEPS
… The prudent carefully consider their steps. - Proverbs 14:15
The prudent person of faith thinks about where they’re going. This person understands that you don't go charging into battle without a plan. Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with faith, with taking risks. Consider Proverbs 16:9 -- We should make plans--counting on God to direct us.
Notice there are two parts to this verse: man's part and God's part. We should make our plans – That's our part – Counting on God to direct us – That's God's part – And they both go together.
As you plan, you pray and you ask God to direct you. What am I saying? I'm saying that prayer and preparation go together. When you prepare without prayer, you're going to have problems. When you have prayer without preparing, you're going to have problems. One without the other is insufficient – You need them both. The Bible says to plan out your life, to think where you're going, to be intelligent in the direction of your life.
Now I've heard people say, "Well Barry, you know, I don't make any plans. I don't organize. I don't set any goals. Because I just live by faith. Who needs any plans? I just live by faith." Folks, that's not faith, that's presumption – and there's a big difference. The Bible says we should make our plans, counting on God to direct us.
4. DECLARATION: ANNOUNCE YOUR GOAL
You need to tell the world about your intention. You need to make a public statement. Announce where you're going.
Why should I make an announcement? Why can't I just go out there and take the risk and not tell anybody about it, and then if I fail it doesn't look bad?
Because goals are statements of faith. They're saying, "I believe God wants to do this in my life, by such and such a date." And here's how you do it – the Bible's very clear about this.
What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you will be boasting about your own plans and all such boasting is evil. - James 4:15-16
That's how you make the goal statement – If the Lord's willing, we'll do this or that. You don't do it presumptuously, you don't say, "It's going to happen no matter what." If it's the Lord's will, God willing, we're going to do this by this time.
Now, why should I announce the risk that I'm about to take? Why should I tell other people about the thing that I'm about to do, my dream, my goal, my ambition? In the first place, it builds your faith when you announce it publicly.
As a church we have publicly stated that we were buying some land in Andover to build a new church facility on – we have stated that in a number of ways – not least of which was a large majority of this congregation willing to count the cost and be willing to take the risk involved in faith. But the very act of saying this has given us the faith to start out.
And on top of that, it attracts support. When you say, "This is what I think God wants me to do." Other people say, "Well, I want to go along too. I'm going to get on board with that." And so publicly announcing your decision, your goal, your ambition, the risk you're about to take, will attract other support.
Now these are the four steps that get you right up to what I call the moment of truth, which is point five.
5. INITIATION: LET GO AND LAUNCH OUT
You've got to let go and launch out if you're going to be a person of faith. You've heard the saying, "Turtles only make progress when they stick their necks out." Well, it's true about human beings, too.
Have you ever watched a circus trapeze artist? The Trapeze artist is a hundred feet high in the air, they swing out on one bar, and the other one's coming out the other way for them to grab. But those things are spaced apart so that they have to let go of this one before they can grab onto that one, and kind of leap for it. And when they leap for it, there is a point in the trapeze act, that that person is suspended a hundred feet above the ground, holding on to thin air, for a split second. For the moment that they let go of this one, and before they actually are able to grab the other one, they're sailing there, a hundred feet above the ground, holding onto nothing.
That's pretty scary isn’t it? It’s a good mental image of what it means to live by faith. God wants to work in your life, but you have to let go of the past before you can grab hold of the future. You've got to let go of security in order to grab opportunity.
This is very important, because the most difficult part of taking the risk is the letting go of the old. We want to hold on to the old job, until the new job is secure. We want to make sure that everything's set up in our new home, before we move out of the old home. It's that letting go, letting go of the independence of being single in order to grab on to the intimate confines of being married.
What am I talking about? I'm talking about throwing away the crutches – throwing away the crutches that you've been using. You've got to let go and launch out – and that's difficult.
In most decisions, there is a point of no return, where you have to face your fear. That's where the children of Israel were at the Red Sea. God had backed them into a corner. There were mountains on either side, there's an ocean in front of them, and the Egyptians and Pharoah were hot in pursuit, waiting to slaughter them all.
They have an opportunity to believe, to have faith, but instead, they responded in fear. And they became skeptical and stubborn and short-sighted. And when all this happened, they said, "Hey! Moses! We should have just stayed in Egypt . Why don't we go back to Egypt ? The good old days."
Now, remember, they've just spent four hundred years in slavery, they've been beaten, they've been mistreated, they've been abused, they've been killed, they've been starved, they've had no rights, they've been overworked for four hundred years and now they're saying, "Let's go back."
Fear always does that – It causes you to retreat, to turn around, to go back. They are preferring slavery to uncertainty. They say, "We know it was bad, but at least we knew what was happening there, and we don't know what's going to happen here. So let's just go back."
Now let's apply that today. Why do we stay in destructive situations? Why do we not step forward in faith? Why do we hold back when God says to launch out? It’s because of the same reason the Israelites wanted to go back to Egypt .
The point is, we are afraid of freedom. Now, what is the solution to that? How do you get the courage to let go and launch out and face your fears?
When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid… - Psalms 56:3-4
Where do I get my courage to face my fears and launch out? I put my confidence in God.
Notice that the Psalmist admits that he is afraid, but when he puts his trust in God, the fear subsides. Courage is not the absence of fear – Courage is moving ahead in spite of your fear.
So what am I saying? I'm saying that when you come to this step, the moment of truth, you not only have to let go, and you not only have to launch out, you have to look up.
Now, if you don't get anything else I've said this morning, I want you to get this: The key to living by faith, the key to overcoming the fears that keep you bound up, and the key to being liberated in life is to move against your fear.
Don't pray about it. Don't think about it. Don't talk about it. Take action! Move against the fear – Do the thing you fear the most.
You notice when the Israelites were at the Red Sea , God didn't take them around the Red Sea , He didn't build a bridge over the Red Sea , He took them through it. And they could have stood on the sidelines for the rest of their lives, saying, "We believe God's going to save us." But it wasn't until they stepped into the water that it started happening.
Now look at this verse, Then the Lord said to Moses, "Quit praying and get the people moving! Forward, march! - Exodus 14:15 LB
Now let's just get real personal. What is your personal Red Sea this morning? What is it that scares you to death, that frightens you? What is it that's got you worried? That seems an impossible barrier? That looks unpredictable? That seems overwhelming? That's your Red Sea .
What is God saying to you today? He's saying, "Quit running and face the issue. Face it in faith. Move against your fear. Do the thing you fear the most."
God told Moses, "Quit praying and get the people moving!" What is it you need to stop praying about and start doing? You say, “I’ll get around to it one of these days.” But you and I both know, that "one of these days" is none of these days.
You say, "One of these days, I'm really going to get serious for God. And really put Him number one in every area of my life." When are you going to do it? Move against the fear that says, "You'll be a fanatic. It won't work. You'll regret it." Move against the fear.
"One of these days, I'm going to find a church family I'm going to join." When are you going to do it? What are you waiting on? Move against your fear.
One of these days I'm going to develop my talents that God's given me and I'm going to go after the dream I know He's put in my heart." Why not now? Move against your fear.
Quit praying – Start acting. Please, that thing that's out there, that has you most afraid, in Christ's name, go for it. You’ll never want to turn back again.