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Fear: Staring into the Abyss

I have a love-hate relationship with roller coasters. Really, it’s more like a LOVE (hate) relationship because I keep going back for more and my overall experience of them is exhilaration. But there is a moment of hate which is right at the beginning when the machinery has slowly brought me and the other riders to the top of the first “drop” and then I hang there for what seems like an eternity…and then…we drop. And for the first split second all I can think is “WHY AM I DOING THIS?!” But then my mind kicks in and says “Hey, the wheels are still on the track, this is under control – WOW, THIS IS AMAZING!!” And from that point on the rest is awesome!

Nobody likes to hang suspended over the abyss. Our fears take over and we imagine every possible bad outcome. Unfortunately life is full of moments when we feel like we’re hanging over the abyss: a fight with a friend that feels impossible to fix; a diagnosis that you never imagined; the possibility of losing your job; a task you’re asked to perform that seems completely out of your depth; a course you have to take but you don’t understand….

Fear actually plays an important role in moments like these. It causes us to stop and take stock of what’s in front of us. It can serve as a warning to avoid unnecessary risks (yes, I know some of you are thinking “like roller coasters!”). It would be like going for a walk on the Bruce Trail and hearing a rattling sound coming from the grass in front of you. Fear makes you stop and ask, “is there a rattlesnake that I’m about to step on?” When you stop to look and realize that it’s a local maraca player practicing in the wilderness, you stop worrying (about a snake) and keep walking. But if you see a snake you stop and wait for it to leave!

Here’s the problem with fear: it can take over. You begin to imagine a rattlesnake with every step you take whether you are in rattlesnake-country or not, whether you hear anything or not. You live life perched at the top of the roller coaster, in agony but you never get to feel the exhilaration of living past your fears.

The Bible speaks of fear repeatedly. It addresses the negative fear in the many “fear-not” passages (e.g. Joshua 1:9). It also speaks of a positive fear: “the fear of the Lord.” But the Bible also says that the fear of the Lord is “the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10). It’s the beginning, not the whole thing. The fear of the Lord reminds us of his greatness and holiness and can remind us to humble ourselves before him and to seek to be obedient to him. But God does not ask us to sit perched in fear before him. When we discover that he loves us, has come to forgive us and that he is still in control, he takes us on the ride of our lives -wild and exhilarating all at once. And that can spill over into all other areas of life. If we have experienced God’s loving care and his control over things that could seem out of control, then we can gain courage to face the fears in our own lives. We heed the necessary warnings, but we don’t let them stop us from moving forward on this exhilarating, God-given journey called faith.

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