Recently my husband overheard me talking to my friend on the phone, and he laughed out loud when I told her I was feeling anxious about an upcoming talk I am giving at an event. He laughed because after confessing my fear I told her the theme for the evening: "Be Not Afraid."
It made me laugh too. It's a funny irony that I feel scared to talk about fear. What is not funny, however, is the fact that fear has been a companion of mine for most of my life. And I know I'm not alone.
We struggle with general anxieties, phobias, catastrophic thinking (I'm especially gifted at this one), fear of rejection, fear of failure, and fear of the future. We fear change, and sometimes we fear that things will never change.
Fear is that voice that is always asking, "What if..."
And for all of our fears, the Bible says there is one answer. There is one force that is stronger than all our fears, and its presence is so powerful, it chases fear away.
1 John 4:18: "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear."
In other words, when love moves in, fear moves out. The two are opposing forces and incompatible roommates.
Clearly, he is not talking about human love. The text says "perfect love." Human love can be wonderful, beautiful, and tender. But perfect? No way. God's love is the only love that is perfect. His love is unchanging, never-failing, limitless, unconditional, and primary. He loved us before we could do anything worthy of being loved, before we could earn it or deserve it.
I love the apostle Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3:16-19:
"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge..."
His love for you and for me is boundless, without limits, and beyond what we can grasp. We need the help of the Holy Spirit to even begin to comprehend the length and depth and expanse of his love for us. The Message says it like this:
"And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God."
When love moves in, fear moves out.
So the question for each of us is this: What is keeping me from trusting, receiving, and living securely in this love?
Is it shame? Bad theology? A jaded perception of love because we have been hurt? Sometimes we see God's love through the lens of our circumstances. If God really loved me, he wouldn't have allowed ___________ to happen. If God loves me, he will ________, or he won't allow _____________. We make his love conditional based on our flawed human experiences, and fear moves in and takes up residence in our hearts. Fear whispers to us that we will be rejected and find ourselves alone. It tells us that we will not be loved if we fail.
But God says:
"Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)
"Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:39)
"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:22-23)
Prayer is my word for 2018. And this prayer from Ephesians is working its way into my mind and my heart, into my dreams and my waking moments. I am practicing the discipline, when I feel afraid, of stopping and asking myself a couple of questions: Where do I need God's love to displace my fear? What is keeping me from being rooted and established in his love?
May the perfect love of God fill our hearts and drive away all our fears. May we grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ for us. And may we live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
Where do you need God's perfect love to displace your fear?