The world is at war… and the war is with fear.
I don’t have to cite Isis, slave trafficking or governments in turmoil to illustrate that fact. We need look no further than the British, Australian, Ugandan and American elections of 2016 to see the effects of full-blown fear on diverse populations.
Fear isn’t unusual. We are all familiar with the ice that chills our hearts, causing our thinking to spiral out of control. We know the rapid acceleration of heartbeat that wakes us suddenly from sleep, threatening to overwhelm us with a tsunami of thoughts, assailing all of our feeble attempts at quieting ourselves. We know the quick rage that startles us when there’s disagreement over politics or some empowerment of the ‘other’. (The ‘other’ being anyone who isn’t ‘us’.)
Fear strikes without warning. It lashes through our thoughts, overriding any good sense we normally have. It finds its strength by invading the narrow corridors riddling our neural pathways and blowing them out of all proportion. In nanoseconds fear furiously explains every terrifying possibility to us in vivid detail.
Depleting our energy and engulfing our strength, fear is a familiar foe. It’s the number one cause of wars, human rights abuses, relationship breakdowns, terrorism, racial hatred, ill health, bullying, murder, parents or children who control their families, the vitriol of politicians and spin doctors, and addictions of every kind.
Fear doesn’t fight fair. Perpetrators and victims work together to form a helix of hatred.
Purveyors of anxiety feed their own and other people’s fears with stinking scraps of carefully selected statistics, and then like cannibals, turn to gorge themselves on that same fear. Fear mongers are dignified, lauded and applauded as they stir up the frenzies that support their own insecurities and exclusionary ideologies. Fear is the weapon of choice for every great empire that has ever taken its turn at ruling the world.
Yet fear has never been exploited and celebrated to the degree it has in recent times. Ours is a civilisation in which fear has been elevated and courted until we have reached saturation point. Healthy fear will keep us from going too near the edge of a cliff, or betting our life savings on a horse in a race, but the fears the human race are experiencing now is pandemic.
Fear has become the primary addiction of Planet Earth in the 21st century. It is our entertainment on the big screens. It’s our go-to when some new opportunity presents itself. It’s our default when we are making plans for our family, our lifestyle, our ministry, our finances and our future. It is the most touted subject of our election campaigns and its use as a vehicle for garnering votes by people who are ostensibly seeking the good of their nation, is incomprehensibly narcissistic and short sighted.
Our world is changing and new technological advances offer wonderful opportunities for growth and change. However, no sooner do we start discussing the options than the what-ifs arise to do their dirty work. For every solution the possibility of a new problem is raised and we are rendered hopeless and disempowered by visions of failure and loss.
The room we give to fear in our regular, up close and personal life is the direct cause of our susceptibility to fear on a national and international scale. What is allowed to grow on the inside of us, in even the very smallest of personal challenges, becomes our normative state. If a person habitually defaults to fear whenever someone is late, or the weather turns bad, or there is pressure on health or finances or politics or family life, then their internal defence system becomes established in fear and anxiety, rather than confidence, faith or potential.
As a result, fear is normalized, and truth and optimism become casualties of the war within. When that happens, our capacity to view a changing world with eyes that see the opportunities for new and even greater things, comes under assault. Sometimes the capacity for hope is destroyed altogether.
Change in society is inevitable. Were it not so, we would still be back in … pick a century… Is that where you want to live? Back to what? To what it used to be? Used to be for whom? For too many communities, ‘back then’ was not a good place.
So what is the answer? How do we deal with the anxieties that clog our brain cells, terrorise us in our sleep, and retard our progress?
How do we deal with our addiction to fear?
Like any other addiction, the first stage to beating it is to acknowledge that the amount of fear we are living in is not normal, and especially not for people whose belief system is built on faith in God. Give yourself room to think through the options without allowing the ‘what-ifs’ to interrupt the flow. Find someone else who is not troubled with fear to help you work your thought processes through more thoroughly, without the internal alarmist propaganda that threatens to overwhelm the procedure.
Uncountable millions of beach goers all around the world have never even seen a shark, much less been attacked by one. Tens of millions of airline passengers arrive at their destination intact. The large majority of mortgage payers who struggle financially at times, do not lose their house. Even though everyone will die at some time, most of the sicknesses we have will not be the one to take us out, and living in fear that they will merely serves to damage our enjoyment of the time we do have.
Most of the things we are anxious about do not happen, but the time we invest into worrying that they might steals from us the joys of living strong and fresh and free, of being effective and making our world a better place.
Hope is a powerful concept and one that, if we grasp it, will cause us to know that whatever good or bad happens in the world, we are not helpless victims. People with hope always give what they have, knowing it will make a difference for good whether they’re in a concentration camp, or a torrid political campaign, or an average run of the mill town where someone could do with a smile and a hand today.
People of hope are in short supply, and if ever there was a time when the world needs people who are not afraid of the future, it is now. When folks are trying to take refuge in political systems and parties, or by hiding their head in the sands, or partying till they drop, we need people who are making the choices to do what is good and right, without fear OR favour.
As soon as fear strikes, stop and think it through. Ask God to help you get insight into what is happening so that you gain His perspective and not that of the people around you. That’s what David did, and as a result, he killed a giant with a slingshot.
There are a lot of giants in the world today, and we need all the Davids we can get.
As much as I hate fear as the enemy of everything life has to offer me, I despise fear- mongering even more. Those who use fear as a weapon are the enemy of grace and courage; they resist the empowerment of the powerless. They stand against all of the beauty and love and freedom of Christ that we are called to represent.
Fear is a liar. Don’t give in to it. Don’t run and hide in the bullying jargon that determines to destroy your life’s capacity for mercy and grace and freedom. Don’t let that ugly thing change your heart and make you sour and bitter and running scared.
Yes, this season in the world’s history feels like we’re caught in ‘the perfect storm’, but anyone who stands strong in hope and faith brings that same hope to the people around them. We are not helpless victims of our circumstances. The perfect love that was poured out for us is the antidote to every fear.
Fear comes to us all, unbidden and unsought. It’s our choice to master it, rather than be mastered by it.
What do you think? Let me know your thoughts on the place fear has in our society in the comments section below.
Bev has been a senior church leader for more than three decades. She speaks internationally for churches and conferences, determining to leave a legacy of strong and effective leadership for generations to come. She has a Masters degree in Global Leadership and is the author of two books – Speak Life and Shut the Hell Up, and Catalysts:You Can Be God’s Agent For Change.
An entrepreneur, Bev has founded a number of initiatives including:
Kyria, an organisation for women in leadership (www.kyrianetwork.com);
Cherish Uganda, an organisation for abandoned HIV+ children (www.cherishuganda.org),
Liberti Magazine, a magazine for Christian women in UK (www.libertimagazine.com)
as well as pastoring churches in Australia and UK, and mentoring and equipping leaders to plant churches across the nations.
Bev would be happy to speak for your church or event, consult with you on leadership issues, and you can contact her for leadership mentoring at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This fantastic graphic comes from Sara Biljana Gaon