Fear Is Real, But So Is God

John Perkins  and Karen Waddles
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There’s a huge barrier that keeps us from choosing suffering, whether it’s for the advance of the gospel, for the cause of justice, or to identify with others who suffer. That barrier is fear. We’re afraid. Our culture has been carried away by fear of the “other.” People who don’t look like us, or vote like us, or think like us have become demonized. Some of us are afraid of the people at our southern border, or progressive liberals, or violence in our streets. Others of us are afraid of rightwing conservatives, or the police, or hate groups. We’re afraid of the changing demographics of our neighborhoods. We’re afraid. The result is that we are frozen in our fear.

According to the YouVersion Bible App, the most-read Bible verse for 2020 was Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” The app was searched almost six hundred million times, with fear, healing, and justice ranked as the most-searched topics.

Fear Is Real

The Lord knew that one of the enemy’s main weapons would be fear. From the very beginning, Satan used it to convince Adam and Eve to doubt and question whether God really had their best interests at heart. Again and again in Scripture, whenever the Lord’s messenger interacted with a human being his first words were “Fear not!” These words appear more than 365 times throughout Scripture. That lets us know that fear is not uncommon. It’s human to fear.

It’s important to remember that not all fear is bad. Good fear is reverence and awe for God. But when He says, “fear not,” He’s talking about the kind of fear that cripples us and keeps us from obeying His call to love and serve others. Everyone who God used in the Bible had to deal with their fears. I’m grateful that the stories in the Bible left that part in. When I see what the heroes of our faith accomplished, they seem almost superhuman. It helps to know that they had to deal with their own fears too. Just like we do.

Gideon was afraid and put God to the test repeatedly (Judg. 6:17–23). The disciples were afraid when the stormy water of the Sea of Galilee whipped against their boat at night (Mark 4:35–41). Peter made bold claims about dying for Jesus, even if everybody else turned away. And before midnight he had denied knowing Jesus three timesbecause of fear (Luke 22:57–60).

In Love over Fear, Dan White Jr. shares his personal journey through fear. With raw honesty, he talks about taking a leisurely walk through his neighborhood and seeing a black man. Immediately he became afraid. Just the image of a black man in his neighborhood struck fear in his heart. The fear was not based on anything the young man had done. It was based on a prejudgment. Those prejudgments keep us sheltered in our neighborhoods, afraid to cross the tracks where “they” live. We’re afraid to have conversations about justice because we might say the wrong thing. We’re afraid to take a stand because we might lose friendships with people who are in our group. We’re afraid.

His Word for Our Fears

How often I have found shelter and comfort in the strength of His Word in my times of fear and anxiety. There is power in the Word. Here’s how He speaks to our fears:

  • “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).
  • “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper” (Ps. 118:6–7).
  • “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe” (Prov. 29:25).
  • “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them” (Ps. 34:7).
  • “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1)
  • “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Ps.56:3).
  • “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
  • “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6–7).

Let’s meditate on these precious promises. He will keep us when we make up our minds to reach across the divide, to love people who don’t look like us, to cherish the image of God in the face of every person we meet. He will give us courage to break away from that hate group or to speak up when someone makes a racist, ugly statement.

This We Know

When Captain Sullenberger (Sully) landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, he was asked if he was afraid. Almost immediately after the flight took off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport it hit a flock of geese and went down. All of the 155 passengers on the flight were rescued, and very few had serious injuries. Sully had been a trainer, teaching pilots how to land on water if a plane went down. But he didn’t take credit for saving those people on that flight. He managed his fear because of his knowledge. The flight attendants did what they were taught to do. They drew on their knowledge, and everybody survived the miracle landing. But it was what they all knew that controlled their fear.

When we think about suffering with those who are hurting, it’s human to fear. What if I get hurt? What if I get sick? What if something happens to me? What we know should help to keep our fear under control. We know that all things work together for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purposes (Rom. 8:28). We know this. We know that when we suffer, we identify with Him. And we know that He is with us always. This we know.

When we are afraid, we don’t have to pretend that we are not. We can say, “God, I’m afraid.” Courage isn’t the absence of fear. I think courage is propelled by fear. The hero is the one who forgets about himself in the moment and does what needs to be done. Heroes jump into the river to save someone, knowing that they may die, but they also may rescue that person. And they reckon in that split second that it’s a sacrifice worth making.

In my book Dream with Me, I talked about the fear so many parents felt when our children decided they were going to integrate the movie theater in Mendenhall. It was 1964, and our four oldest children were a part of the group. The children all knew that they would likely be taken to jail and beaten up, so they tried their best to keep it a secret from their parents. The parents were not only afraid for their children, they all risked losing their jobs, their homes, and their insurance if their children went to jail for trying to integrate a whites-only facility. In spite of the great risk, I was so proud that our children were willing to give their lives to the cause. As it turned out, the theater owners must have gotten word of the protest because they closed the theater—permanently.

“Love is the hallmark of the children of God.”

I was overwhelmed with fear when I drove my car up to the jail in Brandon in 1970. When I saw the twelve patrolmen rushing from the jail toward us I knew that we had been set up. I never expected them to come out to the car and start beating us without reason. I never expected that. And the fear was immediate and overwhelming. I knew things were going to get bad. But there was nothing I could do to stop what was happening. I had to cry out to the Lord. And He was with me. He kept me in spite of my fears.

I think all of us are afraid at some level about what has been happening in our country recently. The coronavirus took over the entire world and racial strife is getting worse every day. Fires have scorched large parts of the

Western states. And hurricanes seem to be coming faster and fiercer every season. This may be the one time that God is speaking to all of us at the same time. He’s speaking to the rich, the poor, the educated, the uneducated, black, white, Hispanic—every one of us. I think He’s calling us out of the world, calling us to stand for truth, for what is right. Calling us to suffer with those who are hurting and to lay our lives on the line for the cause of justice. We can’t let fear keep us from answering the call.

I agree with the challenge in this message on fear by John Piper:

I call you to recognize that God is greater than your personality. God is greater than your past experiences of timidity. God is greater than your “family of origin.” And God calls you to joyful fearlessness. The crucial factor in your fearless living is not your family but your God. Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God. Believe in God! Trust God! Let God be your God! Your help. Your strength. He will uphold you with his righteous right hand.

They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love

Love is the hallmark of the children of God. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” ( John 13:35). The world will know Him when it sees His children displaying uncommon, sacrificial love. If that is true, then we must learn how to conquer our fears and love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable. And my joy is that I don’t have to strive and try to figure out what this love looks like. It’s His love that He pours out on me. I’m supposed to be a channel of blessing and love to everyone I come in contact with.

This love answers the age-old question: how should we then live? I think that means we should live as the hands and feet of Christ. We should love the people He would love; help the people He would help—and even be willing to die for our enemies—just like Jesus did for us.

The Good Samaritan story challenges each of us with a bold question: will we be a neighbor? Will we be inconvenienced by the pain and suffering of someone else? Will we put our prejudices aside to care about the hurts of someone who doesn’t look like us? Are we willing to suffer loss for the sake of someone else?

In a split second Wesley Autrey made the decision to risk loss for a stranger. Five years after his heroic effort, he said, “I think God has a calling for me.” On that morning Wesley, a black construction worker, and his two daughters were on the 137th Street subway platform in New York waiting for a train. He was taking his girls to school on his way to work. He observed twenty-year-old Cameron Hollopeter having a seizure. He lost his balance and ended up down on the tracks. When Wesley looked up and saw the #1 train approaching and heard the horn blowing, he knew the conductor would not have time to stop the train. He jumped onto the tracks on top of Cameron, pushing him down in the small twelve-inch space between the rails. Just enough to allow the train to pass over them with less than one inch to spare. Both men survived.

I do believe God has a calling on Wesley Autrey’s life. And I believe He has a calling on each of our lives. He calls us to make that split-second sacrifice of life and limb for the sake of others. To make that deliberate choice to love extravagantly and with abandon—to cast fear aside. And He promises that this kind of love destroys fear: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18a).

For Further Reading:

Count It All Joy

by John Perkins with Karen Waddles

Can joy come from suffering? We think of suffering as the worst of all evils. Our culture tells us to avoid it at all costs. But can suffering...

book cover for Count It All Joy