What is your fear doing?

no fearWhat does fear look like in your life?

Zombies, ghosts, vampires, and evil witches (as opposed to the good ones) — only get to me when I read stories or watch movies containing them. My solution? Avoidance. No matter how much I tell myself (and truly believe) they aren’t real, I still get nightmares. So while I’m not exactly afraid of them (seriously, I know they’re not real) they somehow get to me on a subconscious level. But these fears really don’t affect the way I live my life much.

But many fears do affect daily living and life choices to varying degrees. For example, those afraid of heights avoid skydiving and climbing ladders, and a fear of spiders causes entertaining reactions from many people. These fears are manageable though, and not usually significantly life-altering.

Then there are the fears that keep us from progressing in life.

Fear of failure makes us not even try. Fear of what others think leads to dangerous conformity. Fear of rejection prevents relationships from blossoming. Fear of the future causes staunch routine and vehement resistance to change. Fear of what might happen motivates many to seek relationship-damaging control. These fears I know well either through observation and/or personal experience. How about you?

To some extent, every fear holds the potential to limit life and keep us from following God’s will, but some fears certainly seem to have more power for doing so than others. So what can we do when fear grips us, and we simply want to hole up somewhere and live a safe, comfortable life?

The Bible says numerous times — someone counted 365 times, one for every day of the year — to not be afraid. God obviously knew fear would be a stumbling block, so he gave an abundance of encouragement for overcoming it.

Overcoming Fear

For me, overcoming fear lies with the examples found in God’s word of how others handled fear. These stories help change how I think about fear.

My favorite example is when Joshua became the leader of the Israelites and then faced the daunting task of leading God’s people into the Promised Land. God encourages Joshua by telling him to “not fear” and “be of good courage” multiple times (Deuteronomy 31 & Joshua 1:5-9).

The same God who encouraged Joshua and promised to never abandon him — and Scripture  shows God followed through on that promise — is the same God who will do the same for me today. That gives me courage to keep moving in spite of my fears.

Benaiah is another example of courage in the face of fear (2 Samuel 23:20-23 & 1 Chronicles 11:22-25). He faced a lion, two great warriors, and a man with a spear when he himself had only a club, and he came out victorious. In fact, his bravery (as well as many other positive characteristics) moved him up the ranks in both David’s and Solomon’s armies. Benaiah must have felt fear (who wouldn’t?), but he still did what was necessary to achieve victory.

We can’t stop fear. We will face it, and it will grip us. And while we may not be able to control the circumstances surrounding our fear or often even our reactions to what we fear, we can choose to pursue freedom from all fear (Matthew 6:25-34 & John 11:25-26).

Remember that focus determines reality, and with the power of God working in and through us, we can face our fears and push through to accomplish the will of God. We can focus on the fear itself or on the one who conquered sin, death and the grave. That choice determines the impact fear has on our lives.

DISCUSSION: Ask yourself what you’re afraid of. How does that fear shape your life? Are you focusing on the fear or on the one who calms all fears?

It’s Not Fair!

Competition & Comparison

FairEveryone has some degree of competitiveness in them. For some, the competitiveness shows through during sports or card games. For others, in grades, awards and recognition. Still others through the way they drive and even “fight” for the best parking spot at the grocery store.

In that competitiveness inherent in our human nature, we also usually see comparisons at work. It’s the idea that we did something that someone else didn’t, or vise versa, which resulted in the recognition or victory.

We like to get what we think we deserve, and often we determine this based on what we think others deserve (or don’t deserve). If the result fails to reflect what we feel fits our expectations and assessment of the situation, we feel cheated or slighted and say (or at least think) those infamous words, “It’s not fair!”

Fairness Mentality

The story of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20 shows how this fairness mentality really involves a worldly way of thinking. It’s the idea that we should get something simply based on time served (seniority). But God considers quality over quantity. When we fall short, His grace steps in to more than make up the difference.

When we begin to compare and make assessments based on our views, this story can help us remember that…

  • Salvation is all about grace.

“…even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for ALL those who believe; for there is no distinction; for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-24)

  • Expectations kill attitudes.

“When those hired earlier came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested…” (Matthew 20:10-11)

  • Fairness mentality robs joy.

“He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take it and go. I wanted to pay the last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my own money? Should you be angry because I am kind?’” (Matthew 20:13-16)

Without comparisons, we often would be perfectly content with what we received. But because we compare and calculate based on our finite knowledge, we too often discover dissatisfaction and lose joy. Oh, and we end up steeling other people’s joy along the way when we crab about their generosity.

Focus on Grace & Mercy

Jesus ends this story in Matthew by saying…

“And so it is, that many who are first now will be last then; and those who are last now will be first then.” (Matthew 20:16)

I realize this indicates a lack of seniority in God’s Kingdom, and I know it also shows that anyone at anytime can enter God’s Kingdom regardless of past history. In other words, man’s idea of ranking and placing and deservedness doesn’t exist in God’s way of thinking. Aren’t you glad too? I mean, I don’t want to be compared to Moses or David or Paul. Do you?

But I also think this statement contains a directive that can reshape our way of thinking. Instead of looking at others and determining what they or you deserve based on comparisons, can we instead focus on the kindness of the giver? Can we look at the grace and mercy at work in the situation?

When we change our focus in this way, I think we can better live in the joy of the Lord. What do you think?

Face Over Hands

Face First

Seeking God’s face means getting to know Him and not only looking to what He gives to and does for us. This involves an honesty of intention in our searching.

Seek 1

Quite a few places in scripture emphasize the idea of seeking God’s face over his hands. Psalm 27:8 tells us God creates a longing in our hearts for connection with Him. Psalm 104:5 and 1 Chronicles 16:11 are duplicate words of David’s seeking God’s presence and his strength continually.

1 Chronicles 28:9 gives us much of what we need to understand the importance of seeking His face:

“And Solomon, my son, get to know the God of your ancestors. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord sees every hear and understands and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him you will find him. But if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.”

How can we apply this directive to know God – to truly see His face over what He does for us – in our lives today?

  1. Sincerely seek God’s face. Reading the Old Testament is a great way to get to know God’s character as he interacts with his people.
  2. Worship him. When he does show is hand, recognize what he has done and be grateful to him for it.
  3. Serve him. Reading the New Testament gives much in the way of how to serve God. Never stop studying this.
  4. Give your whole heart. Continually allow God to show you what you have placed above him on your priority list.
  5. Keep your mind teachable. Turn to God for direction on how to live your life & be open to having your faith challenged.
  6. Don’t neglect God. We get busy so easily. Knowing this, we can build in habits that ensure our regular attention toward him.

Seeking God’s face — his character, who he is as a person — really involves simply choosing to spend regular and consistent time with him. It involves listening to him, talking with him, and caring about his desires.

As we get to know God better and better, we realize the role faith plays in that relationship. We begin to understand that we must trust that he rewards those who honestly seek him…

Seek 2

…and this means seeking him and letting him decide what happens next. We must trust that he’ll do what’s best for us. This growth of trust results in more seeking of him and less asking for his hand to move in our lives.

Now is always the best time to seek God. Don’t wait for a better time because there isn’t one. Putting it off means making any further seeking more difficult because it increases our distance and the stuff we put between us and God. Fortunately, God doesn’t move or hide; he’s always right where he is at this very moment ready for us to seek and find him.

DISCUSSION: What keeps us from truly seeking God’s face, his character? Why do we so easily seek God’s hand, what he does, instead?

The Cure for Loneliness

Psalm 1391Many POWs tell stories about endless nights in dark, dank cells. They tell about discouragement over lack of compassionate human contact. Their stories reek of loneliness.

Most of us might struggle relating to a POW’s story of loneliness. After all, we live surrounded by people and comforts and activity, enough to keep the odor of loneliness far away.

If loneliness plagues you, you realize you don’t need a prison cell to experience it. Loneliness knows no social bounds. It hits in rooms full of opportunity for interaction and satisfaction. In fact, rooms filled with other people often seem more lonely than your own, empty living room.

And if loneliness seems to be your best friend at times, you know the weapon it often becomes in the enemy’s hands. He knows we’re less of a threat when we’re lonely. He knows loneliness brings an inner focus that drives feelings to run over facts. He knows that helplessness, depression and discouragement flourish in the confines of loneliness. If he can keep loneliness prominent, he knows he can keep us from effectiveness.

The Cure for LonelinessPsalm 1393

As with so many maladies that compromise the health of our psyches (the human soul, spirit & mind), understanding loneliness allows us to make tremendous progress toward victory over its, and the enemy’s, impact on the effectiveness of our lives. With that, let’s gain understanding of loneliness with the goal of making progress toward its defeat.

To defeat loneliness, we must understand that…

  1. Some parts of life are meant to be lived alone. Jacob’s transformation (Genesis 32:23-30). Joseph’s weeping (Genesis 43:30, 31). Jeremiah’s witnessing (Jeremiah 15:17). Nehemiah’s vigil for direction (Nehemiah 2:12-16). All give examples of situations a person often must walk through alone.
  2. God consistently addresses loneliness with companionships. God made Eve for Adam because it wasn’t good that he was alone (Genesis 2:18). God gave Elisha to Elijah to dispel the loneliness of depression (1 Kings 19:14-18). And God creates families to help overcome loneliness (Psalm 68:6). With unmistakable consistency, God dispels loneliness by creating opportunity for companionship.
  3. Companionship provides the greatest offensive for loneliness.  Companionship gives significant advantages, not the least of which involves ridding our lives of loneliness. Ecclesiastes 4:7-11 lists the benefits of companionship, including encouragement and increased effectiveness. Even Christ desired companionship during the greatest trial of his life. Though he failed to receive it, Matthew 26:36-45 clearly shows his longing for companionship as a source of encouragement as he walked a very lonely path.
  4. No matter how we feel, we’re never truly alone. The words of Matthew 28:20 likely sound somewhat familiar to most Christians… “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Many find great comfort in this statement. The words of David in Psalm 139 describe the depth of this reality in every Christian’s life… “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (v. 7) The more this truth fuels a person’s faith, the less room that exists for loneliness.

Psalm 1397Even with a scriptural understanding of loneliness, many (myself included) still struggle with feeling lonely on a regular basis. How can this be true when God so clearly shows us his heart’s desire for our lives to remain absent of loneliness? The answer, perhaps, likes with understanding true companionship.

Understanding Companionship

When I feel lonely, even when sitting in the middle of a group of people, the reason usually lies with feeling disconnected. You see, loneliness goes well beyond a physical state and instead exists as a state of the mind. Only true companionship (affiliation, camaraderie, togetherness, union) truly dispels loneliness, not being in the physical presence of others. Consider the antonyms for loneliness to help understand this truth:

Together. Adopted. Cherished. Defended. Maintained. Supported.

Companionship, not simply proximity to others, provides the solution to loneliness by creating true connection that brings encouragement through valuing, accepting and protecting another. Only when we feel a togetherness and a belonging that creates a knowledge of encouragement and support do we truly see loneliness running off into the distance.

Psalm 13918The word fellowship, which also defines companionship, takes this reality to yet another depth by giving the idea of actually traveling together. There’s a reason we fellowship with one another and gather in fellowship halls. This idea of companionship as a way to travel through life together exists as a need at the core of our existence. When we truly experience companionship, when that deep need within us gets met, only then does loneliness become a distant memory.

DISCUSSION: How do we create or find the type of companionship that dispels loneliness?

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The Way Things Appear

As I look at different houses lining the path of my day, I sometimes wonder about the lives lived within them. Why is the house so run down? Why don’t they take care of their yard? How can they afford that? How much money does he make?

When I see people face-to-face at the store or coffee shop or library, I make more internal inquiries based on appearances. Why doesn’t she care enough to style her hair? How could he wear such sloppy clothes in public? Can she really afford that? Why don’t they discipline their child?

I also imagine what people determine based on my appearance. More so in previous years but still some today, I adjust my appearance to try and direct their imaginations. But then I think, maybe they don’t even consider me much at all.

When others do judge me based on appearance, or at least I think they do, I am offended, angry even. Why? Because they don’t know me. They don’t know my story. And they certainly don’t know my heart, my intentions.

Appearances 1

When I realize I’m judging others based merely on appearances, I have to stop and think and deliberately tell myself that there’s more to the story than I know… more than I could ever know on my own. Rarely are things exactly as they appear.

For certain with passing people as I go about my day and certainly to a great extent with the people ingrained within my life, never will I fully know their intentions, their heart. Appearances will always play some role in my thinking about others and their thinking about me. Knowing this, I must let myself be guided past appearances.

Going Beyond Appearances

We certainly don’t want to be like the Israelites who wanted a king based on what others around them had (1 Samuel 8:4-5). We don’t want to be like the pharisees obsessed with following rules to appear holy (Matthew 23). And we don’t want to live like the Ephesians, simply going through the motions of religion (Revelation 2:2-5).

Instead, we want to defy our human nature and go beyond mere appearances. We want to be like Samuel who let God lead him beyond what initially appeared to be the right choice.

Appearances 2

When God told Samuel to look beyond appearances in the search for the next king, He guided Samuel to the right person. David defied appearances. He did not look like the right choice for a king. (His own father didn’t even bring him up at first.) Several of David’s brothers better fit the stereotype of a king. Yet Samuel followed God’s directing, which led him to the person who would go down in Biblical history as the “man after God’s own heart.”

How do we take our vision beyond mere appearances?

On our own, we can’t. While we can look at appearances and behavior and make determinations based on a person’s whole body of works, we cannot know everything about a person. Plus, people don’t (and shouldn’t) disclose every detail about themselves. Also, some will outright deceive, pretend and mislead to hide reality. We’ve all done it.

Yet, God wants us to develop relationships built on trust and love, which necessitates going past what we see and discovering what lies beyond appearances. How can we do this in a way that encourages truth and nurtures growth?

Appearances 3

DISCUSSION: How do we let our minds become controlled by the Holy Spirit? How do we let God change the way we think? And, how does doing so change the impact of appearances on our vision?

Virtual Influences

InfluenceFor the month of April, Struggle to Victory is focusing on my virtual influences by featuring guest posts, by guest posting on other sites, and by highlighting some of the regular visitors to this blog. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged, strengthened & challenged by these people as much as I have on a regular basis, people I am proud to say have an impact on my thinking in ways that matter eternally.

With that in mind, the following is a list of individuals with whom I interact with on a regular basis on this blog, on their own blogs, and/or on other blogs. Please take the time to visit some (or all) of them over the next few days, and I think you’ll soon realize why they are part of my virtual influences.

There are others for sure, but these are the ones who not only do I read their blogs regularly, but they are regular participants on Struggle to Victory over the last few months. Many of these individuals are also people I email periodically, some more than others, for advice, prayer, etc. I truly am blessed to have these godly individuals in at the core of my virtual influences.

DISCUSSION: Who are the individuals at the core of your virtual influence? Give kudos to anyone on this list, or add to the list with some of your favorites!

What We All Have in Common with Serial Killers

If you’ve ever watched Criminal Minds, you probably understand the basics of profiling. The habits and history of the “unsub” (unidentified subject) get uncovered as a way to identify this person, usually a serial killer, and to ultimately stop them from killing. The key to finally discovering the killer’s identity usually lies with victimology. Who are this person’s victims and why? What do the victims have in common with each other?

This idea of victimology can also serve to help us non-serial killers discover more about ourselves in a way that can help us better “make the most of every opportunity” as we pursue holiness in that we can better learn to “love others as we love ourselves” (Matthew 22:39By considering who our victims are and why, we can discover some significant truths about ourselves.

To fully benefit from the following points, first consider those individuals with whom you struggle. Who easily and consistently annoys, frustrates and/or angers you? (I know someone immediately came to mind. Did for me.) Now ask yourself what specifically triggers these reactions. For example, is a person’s arrogance, failure to listen or disorganization what bothers you? Or, perhaps bossiness or refusing to admit mistakes really gets you going. Maybe their over-confidence or constant dramatization of life bothers you. Once you’ve completed this evaluation, proceed with an open mind.

WARNING: This process may get a little uncomfortable. Proceed only with a teachable heart and a willingness to let the Holy Spirit get into some dark and dirty corners.

Now ask yourself if that which bothers you most in others lies at the heart of your own personal struggles. In other words, do the victims of your dislike indicate something you need to work on or come to terms with or accept as weaknesses within you?

Consider the following questions:

  1. Do you project & magnify? We sometimes project (or see) our own weaknesses and then magnify them (see them bigger than they really are) in others. We do this so much so that we no longer see those same weaknesses, bad habits, fears and insecurities in ourselves.
  2. Do you distract yourself? Dealing with insecurities, fears, weaknesses and bad habits can be so painful and uncomfortable that we avoid dealing with them through busyness, focusing on the problems of others, and outright self-deception. After all, if we don’t admit we have these issues, we don’t have to deal with them, right? (Wrong! We’ll deal with them one way or another, but that’s another topic for another time.) In distracting ourselves, we create our own version of reality that all too quickly becomes complete truth in our own minds thus seemingly justifying our actions.

This idea is somewhat at work in 2 Samuel 12 when the prophet Nathan rebukes David for killing Uriah and taking his wife for his own. Nathan first tells David a story to which David “burned with anger” and immediately wanted to take vengeance when all the while the story was about David. Fortunately, Nathan’s pointing out of David’s wrongdoing met a repentant heart (Psalm 51), but clearly David’s initial reaction showed that he had projected and magnified his own wrongdoing when he heard the story. He had also somehow distracted himself to the point of not initially seeing a correlation between the story and his adulterous actions.

So what do we DO after profiling our own victimology?

In Criminal Minds, the information is used to detect patterns in the unsub’s behavior. This can be a useful first step, especially if we allow the Holy Spirit to reveal those patterns to us and lead us to a place of repentance. A second step comes again from David in that he moved on with His life, seemingly trying to not repeat this same mistake. That’s not to say David didn’t make more mistakes, but a study of his life shows that he continually sought to please God.

When I watch Criminal Minds, I sometimes wonder what an official FBI profile of me would include. Maybe I don’t really want to find out. What I do know is the more I can self-assess, which really means the more I allow the Holy Spirit to show me areas on which I need to work, the better able I am to truly “make the most of every opportunity” that God gives me for serving and glorifying Him.

Related Posts:

How to… Put Your Behind in the Past

Stain Free

DISCUSSION: “The more pride we have, the more other people’s pride irritates us.” (C.S. Lewis) How does this quote connect with our study of victimology?

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