This month at South Side we are doing a sermon series entitled “Haunted House” where we are talking about fears we deal with as a church in an ever-changing culture. Each week we are taking a look at as specific fears that keep us from impacting others with the message of Christ. This week we will be talking about facing the fears of being ambassadors for Christ.
Today, psychologists break down fear into five major categories—animal type, natural environment type, situational type, blood-injected-injury type, and “other” type. The Anxiety Disorders Association of America say the most common specific phobias are of closed-in places, heights, escalators, tunnels, highway driving, water, flying, dogs, animals, insects, thunder, public transportation, injuries involving blood, and dental and medical procedures. Nearly everyone has memories of childhood fears. Perhaps you needed a night light to keep the bogeymen at bay. Maybe there was a house in your neighborhood where you were sure a witch kept children locked in her basement. Fears that spring from an active imagination are a common part of growing up.
As we mature, we develop a better understanding of the world and its dangers. We learn to discern real threats from imagined ones. When fear comes, we do our best to think rationally and manage our emotions until the menacing situation passes. Worry, which is a type of fear, could be our daily companion if we let it. Family problems, job stress, economic uncertainty, crime, global conflict, environmental disaster – there is no shortage of things to fret about. Normally, we manage to keep all of these things in perspective and don’t allow them to dominate our lives. However, sometimes a personal crisis can make the normal concerns of life seem more burdensome, even overwhelming. Struggling with a family conflict, or some other dilemma, can weaken our normal defenses against fear to the point that rational thinking goes out the window. Then fear takes control. Fear can suddenly overwhelm or gradually paralyze. It can make just leaving the house seem unbearable. People who live with uncontrolled fear are susceptible to broken relationships, missed opportunities, illness, guilt, depression and loneliness. If you are struggling with fear, you know how it can control you and turn you into someone you don’t want to be.
God has designed human beings (and all other living creatures) with an internal mechanism for coping with danger. The threat of physical or emotional discomfort motivates us to avoid, change or prepare to face a threatening situation. The fear that compels you to avoid a barking dog is a normal reaction to a potential danger. Your body prepares you to handle stress by exhibiting what physiologist Walter Cannon called the “fight or flight response.” Fear is the trigger for this sudden physical readiness. Anxiety is another word for fear. It is a general term that incorporates a wide range of emotions. Worry, apprehension and uneasiness are mild forms of anxiety; dread, distress and panic are more intense manifestations. Anxiety may result from either real or imaginary threats. Unhealthy anxiety starts with irrational thinking that magnifies a threat of danger beyond reality or creates an imaginary threat. Do you tell yourself statements like: “I just know everyone will hate my idea,” or “With my luck I’ll make a fool of myself”? Do you create negative mental scenarios that may or may not happen and then tell yourself they will happen?
This kind of irrational thinking often leads to worry, dread and other forms of unhealthy anxiety. Left unchecked, this destructive sort of self-talk will produce a negative outlook on life in general. You may find that you are always afraid, worried or uneasy for no apparent reason. Regardless of the cause, fear that controls or limits your life can rob you of all that God has for you. That’s why He has so much to say about it in the Bible. And that’s where to begin looking for ways to achieve victory over fear. Scripture tells us to fear God. Rather than fright, this sort of fear is better understood as an attitude of reverence and awe toward God Almighty. Believers are admonished to acknowledge God’s power by being obedient and humble. Scripture likewise makes it clear that those who oppose or disobey God have good reason to fear His wrath.
The Bible also addresses another kind of fear – the destructive kind. God has a lot to say about unhealthy anxiety and what to do about it. As our creator, He knows better than anyone how worry can stifle our faith and damage our relationship with Him. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, the message is the same: do not fear; be anxious for nothing. Trusting in God is our ultimate remedy for fear. Yet, that sometimes seems easier said than done. In fact, the more consumed with fear we become, the more distant God seems to be. That’s why, when anxiety grips your heart, you should make a concerted effort to stand on the promises of the Bible and claim them as pledges from God to you personally.
If you are dealing with fear on any level I’d like to encourage you to meditate on God’s Word daily. Receive the promises in the Bible as God’s personal pledges to you. Try memorizing verses that speak to your heart. Here are some worth considering: Jeremiah 29:11, Hebrew 13:5; Isaiah 43:1,2; Psalm 34:4; Romans 8:15,16; Proverbs 1:33; 1 Peter 5:7; Philippians 4:13,19; Romans 8:28. I also want to encourage you to pray about your fears. Prayer is the pathway to the peace of God which passes all understanding (Philippians 4:6,7). Ask God to help you overcome fear. He wants you to be free from its shackles so that you can enjoy the abundant life He has for you. This Sunday at South Side we will unpack how to face our fears in week two of our sermon series “Haunted House.” Come early, and enjoy a fresh cup of coffee and a snack at our Café Connect. If you have children we have childcare for all ages. Worship begins at 10:45, and we would love to have you come grow with us!
Pastor Barry Pettit
South Side Church of Christ