Digging in Deeper: Psalms 34:4

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and rescued me from all my fears.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

What do you do when you are afraid? I don’t think many people actually have a strategy for that. Fear isn’t exactly something we count on. As a result, we are far more likely to be reactive than proactive in those times. And, when we are being reactive, we don’t tend to make the best decisions. Some people shut down when they are afraid. They are functionally incapacitated until the fear passes. Others take the path of the ostrich, hiding their eyes from it and pretending nothing is wrong. Some get angry and lash out at those around them to cover up the fact that they are afraid. Still others handle it in more productive ways. Perhaps a better question here is how you get out of a fearful situation. David offers one option here that is worth considering. Let’s talk about what it is and why it works.

Before we jump right in to talking about how to get out of fear, let’s reflect for just a minute on why we fear in the first place. Why is it that you are afraid in a given situation? I guess some of it depends on the nature of the situation we are in and the actual object of our fear. Some fears we have are irrational. There’s no particular reason for our fear, but something in our past has become associated with whatever it is, and we are triggered to fear whenever we encounter it. Clinical phobias can take this form. But in most cases, I would argue the reason we are afraid has less to do with the exact object of the fear and a great deal more to do with our perceived loss of control in the situation.

We like to be in control. Our at least, we like to feel like we are in control. When we are in control, we trust ourselves to be able to handle whatever comes our way. If a situation begins to go south, we can take active steps to rectify the matter in some way. But, you might be wondering, what about thrill rides at amusement parks or extreme sports? Part of the fun of those is feeling for a moment like we are out of control. I disagree. In most cases we are fully in control the entire time. Except in cases where someone is addicted to the adrenaline rush associated with those things, the perception of danger is fun, but our ability to have the perception of danger, but to have that in a fully controlled situation is what makes those situations so enjoyable. On thrill rides, we are buckled in to rides that are regularly inspected and have great safety records. Without those, fewer people ride. And the best extreme sports participants are highly skilled in their activities, and do what they do because they trust in their ability to do them without dying.

When we feel like we are not in control, though, fear begins to eat at the edges of our minds, slowly pushing toward the center until it takes over the whole thing. That fear is not without purpose, though. It is an effort to regain control of the situation. When we are afraid, we go into a state of hyper-awareness. Our reflexes become more acute. Our senses are heightened. We are ready to react much more quickly to situations than we normally do. All of these are subconscious ways to remain in control. What we are really afraid of, then, is that we won’t be able to handle something that comes our way. To put that another way, what we are really afraid of is the unknown. Because of this, all of our strategies for dealing with fear tend to fall into one of two camps: Denying our lack of control, or attempting to feel like we have control once again.

As a pure survival mechanism, fear has historically been a pretty handy thing to have in our bag of tricks. Wariness of unfamiliar situations has prevented a great number of tragedies along the road of life. Caution in the face of the unknown is often wise. But, if we are not careful, fear can quickly become our go-to reaction in any unknown situation. Well, given that life is full of unknown situations, this means fear can quickly overwhelm our entire lives. That’s no way to live.

David here offers us another way. When he was afraid, David sought the Lord and placed his trust in Him. That sounds very spiritual, but how does that actually help us? How is trusting in the Lord meaningfully different from fear as a strategy for dealing with the unknown? Let me frame it like this: Imagine yourself all alone in an unfamiliar situation. You are probably nervous. You’re sweating in various inconvenient and uncomfortable places. Your stomach is in knots. You are not very pleasant social company. You’re constantly on edge and looking for a quick exit if you should need one. In short, you’re miserable. Now, imagine yourself in an unfamiliar situation, but this time you are with someone you trust explicitly and who is perfectly comfortable in the situation. How are you feeling now? I suspect you are a great deal more at ease. What is the difference between these two situations? That other person. That other person and your trust in them. You are the same in both scenarios. But having someone with you who knows the situation well, who isn’t at all afraid, and whom you trust, is an enormous source of comfort. You may not feel like you are in control, but your trust in them allows you to relax because they are in control.

If we could take someone like that into every unknown situation we face in life, we would probably have a whole lot less fear. Well, in Christ, we can. When we place our trust in Jesus, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts. What that means is that we have the God of the universe with us all the time. The thing about this God is that He is bigger than us. He’s more powerful than we are. He’s smarter than we are. He can handle anything the world might throw at us because He created the world. There are no situations in which He is not fully God. Nothing surprises Him. He can see the whole timeline of history at once, so He always knows what to do. When we are with Him, we can be at ease, because if we’ll just do what He says, we’ll always be okay. In other words, trust in the Lord is the antidote to fear.

If you want to live a life free from fear, trusting in the Lord is how you can accomplish that. Also, there isn’t any other way to accomplish it. There are a couple of ironies here worth considering. For starters, on its face, the idea that we can overcome our fear of the unknown and need to stay in control by giving over control of our lives to someone else seems ridiculous. We are to satisfy our fear of being out of control by giving up our control? Really? The thing is, though, in our efforts to keep control for ourselves, we are at a greater risk of feeling like we don’t have it. We can train and prepare for every situation we can imagine, but life has a way of putting us in situations we didn’t imagine and couldn’t have planned for. No matter how much we try to do things to keep control of our lives fully within our grasp, we are eventually going to find ourselves in a place where it is sliding through our hands and there’s nothing we can do about it. This is the irony: The harder we try to hold it for ourselves, the likelier we are to lose it.

When we place our trust in Him, on the other hand, all of that goes away. The more we are able to rest ourselves in the hands of our infinitely capable and competent God, the less we have to worry about ourselves. There is an inverse relationship, then, between the amount of trust we are willing to place in the Lord and the amount of fear we experience in our lives. The more we put in Him, the less fear we will have. Now, this isn’t necessarily going to be an instant fix. Giving Him control of our hearts is a process and the sin naturally in us will fight us all the way down. But if we start small and work on doing it consistently, our ability to let go will gradually grow over time. You can live without fear. Start taking steps in that direction today.

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