Fear is the peanut gallery in your head heckling you when you balk and momentarily second-guess yourself. It points its finger at you and whispers to itself under its own breath just loud enough for you to hear, but just soft enough to make it hard for you to understand exactly what is being said. Fear smirks when you make a decision like it knows something you don’t and coughs a couple times to let you know it takes issue with your decision. Everything inside of you turns toward the cough. Once fear gets your attention, it starts muttering something to itself again mostly because it rarely has anything to actually say.
Fear might seem like a little blowfly that keeps bouncing around in your head slamming into mirrors and windowpanes, but it isn’t as stupid and clumsy as it puts on. It fakes ignorance so you ignore it and let it take up more real estate in between your ears and underneath your sternum. The more space you give it, the more blowflies it reproduces or simply invites over for a “conspiracy theory” convention. Before you know it blowflies are bouncing off everything and they get loud as they dive-bomb your every idle thought like kamikaze killers. You come to find out that these aren’t stupid blowflies at all; they are intelligent special ops that used the “stupid suit” to slip past your defenses and get on the inside.
When I was growing up, I wasn’t a fearful kid. I was daring and defied all voices of doubt, every lie of insecurity and anxiety. I put myself in harm’s way and cheated death for kicks. I challenged myself to do things that were scary for others just for the rush of danger. But I learned, this is not the “fear factors” that are most debilitating. Dare devil stunts and death defying antics are child’s play compared to the fears I nursed when “I became a man and put away childish things”.
As I grew (and grow older) fear has grown older and wiser right along with me. It has stalked me and studied me all my life. It has come to see my impenetrable places and my vulnerable places. Where I once thought myself above the anxieties so common to man, I now feel the pangs of paranoia heating up my blood stream and chasing my racing heart. Fight or flight instincts over things that may or may not even be real inside my crowded head. Panic attacks over imminent disaster or impending doom that may or may not be connected to reality. Anxiety that can’t be traced to a source, but coils around me like a boa constrictor choking out my joy and my ability to see the good that is 2 feet in front of my face. So to put it bluntly, fear is not longer someone else’s unfortunate problem that they could get over if they trusted God like I do…no, no…fear is near, fear is here, even as I type this out.
But I would be amiss if I didn’t turn my heart back to the Shepherd, for he is the protagonist of this story, this psalm. This passage talks about being “fearless” not because you tell yourself in the mirror everyday: “I’m confident, I’m handsome and dagnabbit people like me”. It has nothing to do with the power of positive thinking, or purchasing the newest book suggested by Oprah that gets you in touch with the hero inside yourself…nope. The key to overcoming fear is to know that the Shepherd is with you and that he is bigger than your fear.
When you get in a pinch or a bind, he doesn’t ditch you and leave you Shepherdless, he walks through the darkness with you, he sleeps with your stress along side you, he carries your burdens as a loyal yokefellow. You cannot overcome fear…you can only overcome fear in Christ. You cannot stare down stress and outlast it, you can only find relief in Christ. The presence of fear never goes away, it is always walking along side you reminding you of your incompetence and failures and shortcomings and incapability. The thing that you have to do with fear is to acknowledge that what it is saying is actually true, if God were not present. We already know from John 15 that without him we can do nothing.
Just tell fear that though you have every reason to doubt yourself and shrivel into the fetal position because of your insufficiency…you already know that…it isn’t telling you something that you don’t already know. But assure fear that your trust and your identity and your competency comes from God, not yourself. Tell your fear that you don’t have to lay in bed counting sheep, that's the Shepherd’s job. All you have to do is lie in bed and know the Shepherd is right there with you. He’s not at the end of the valley/tunnel cheering you on to get to the finish line, he’s not on the mountain waiting for you to have another momentary mountaintop experience with him, he’s not standing back where the valley started with his arms crossed wondering why you left him in the dust…not this Shepherd. Where is he?
“Thou art WITH me.”
He is with you. No matter what you’re in the middle of, he is with you. If you are crying, he is crying with you. And if you are crumbling, he is picking up every last piece of you and holding you together in the very moment when you feel like he couldn’t be further away. He is with you. He is with me. Immanuel.
A great way to use fear to your advantage is to finish every sentence it tells you with: “I know that already, but you see, I’m not doing this alone. God is with me.” Fear starts to get the picture that its whispers of condemnation only turn into your reminder of God’s presence and power. Then, and only then, do fears begin to fade.
“I will not fear, for thou art with me.”