EXIT PLAN: 6 Steps to Freedom from Fear

 When I was in high school I was required to write and perform a dramatic monologue. My teacher suggested I research Joan of Arc and write from her perspective. I did the research, but was overwhelmed by the ensuing task. I didn’t know where to start. Her childhood visions, her battles, her bravery, her martyrs death; I would need far more skill than my ninth-grade pencil could produce. I wrote something else. I later found out Mark Twain accepted the challenge. He spent 12 years researching Joan of Arc, several months in France, and after many failed attempts at plotline, wrote an epic historical novel based on her life. Pretty sure he did a better job than I would have…just a hunch.

However, I am glad I did the research. I never forgot what I learned from the patroness saint of France. She seemed to have no fear. When she was burned at the stake she said, “Hold the cross high so I can see it through the flames.” There is no arguing she was hard-core. But when I studied her, I found she was just a normal girl who had incredible faith. She had things she feared—burning at the stake being the top of the list—but she is remembered for her bravery and lack of fear. Why? She knew where to find courage, and how to wear it like armor. When she said, “I fear nothing; God is with me.” she was quoting Psalm 118:6. She knew God. She knew His purpose for her life. She accepted the challenge and did it with tenacity. If it is indeed true, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers”, then Joan of Arc must have said a lot of prayers.

joan-of-arc.jpg

L`Éternel est pour moi, je ne crains rien.

Listed here are the lessons I have learned from her, and from my personal battle with fear. Please note, I’m not referring to fear that keeps you safe, (i.e. jumping out of airplanes with little to no skydiving experience, etc.) I’m talking about the ugly, evil fear that keeps you up at night. Commonly referred to as anxiety. Fear and anxiety are somewhat interchangeable. Click here for more on that.

KNOW YOUR ENEMY

First and foremost, fear does not come from God. Fear is a feeling that comes from a perceived lack of safety. Fear is a choice we make, whether consciously or not, based on how we view our world. If we feel safe, loved, and well taken care of, we can usually avoid the feelings of fear. Just as evil flourishes when there is a lack of good, fear flourishes in spaces that are void of love. The same is true for dark versus light, and cold versus heat.

1 John 4:8 tells us God is love. It doesn’t say that He loves (which He does), but rather He is love. He is the embodiment of love. The Bible also tells us “Perfect love drives out fear.” Fear stands in enmity to God. We can put God and fear on opposite ends of the spectrum. (As a side note, when the Bible talks about the “fear of God” it is not talking about the “shaking in your boots” scared of God, but rather it refers to an attitude of being careful not to fall away from His love. More on that some other time…) He is such a good and loving father that fear is His enemy simply because it is our enemy. If someone is bullying your child, that bully would not be on your nice list. It is the same way with God. He does not like fear. I’m sure you have heard that “fear not” is in the Bible 365 times—one for every day of the year. Yeah, He knows fear is a big deal. A formidable enemy. And how often do we give fear the credit it deserves? Its effects take center stage, but the playwright behind the spectacle is oh so humble. You hardly notice the hand of fear at work until it has wreaked havoc on your life in the form of broken dreams, wasted time, stunted relationships, anxiety, anger, and depression.

1 Timothy 1:17 says God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind. When fear starts to erode a person’s thinking, they lose those three things: power, love and eventually a sound mind. The Greek word for “sound mind” is Sophronismos.  It means Self-control or moderation. It’s what the Jews refer to as “Shalom”.  It’s not just peace, it’s an active form of trusting that all is right in the universe because God is in all and through all. Fear is anything that robs you of this peace. Identify it.

KNOW YOUR GOD

What do people do when they are scared? Most likely, they pray to God. There is nothing wrong with this. (It has saved a good many sailors!) But if you only pray when the pressure is on, you are missing out. There is peace and freedom to be found even during the storm. In fact, you can avoid the storm altogether. It’s a matter of preparation. Remember, this is a war, not just a battle. Fear is a lifelong enemy. You have to invest time in winning. When you spend time in prayer with God, you start to personally understand who He is and His enormous love for you. Soon, that love will start to permeate your life with the Shalom mentioned above.

Prayer doesn’t have to require making time to sit down with a list of requests. In fact, that can actually be counterproductive. What would you enjoy more: A friend calling you on the phone with a list of things they want to tell you and hanging up when they have finished? Or, your friend coming over and spending time with you, looking you in the eyes, and asking what you thought about the things her or she was telling you? This is how it is, or should be, when we pray. Forget the list. He might take the conversation somewhere else entirely. Just sit with your mind focused on Him and spend time with him. Let there be silence. Just relax in His presence. This will open up more communication than you thought possible. This is how you will get to know Him, and this is how you will understand His great love for you. And a curious thing happens: When you understand that He is God—Sovereign King of the universe—and He LOVES you, you start to feel pretty safe. You start to look at problems that should cause anxiety or even fear as having less and less effect on your spirit and subsequently, your life.

KNOW THE FIELD

We have already talked about how love and fear are in direct opposition, but I must point out they are not of equal power. We know this because of the verse quoted earlier: “Perfect love casts out fear”. So what is perfect love? Perfect love is reciprocated love. When the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts and we accept and return that love, it is the perfection of who we were meant to be: Beloved by God. (John 17:23 and 1 John 4:18) We are able to understand his love and live in it, and as a result, live free from the all-consuming bondage of fear. Perfect love is freedom.

Fear has no place when love is present. They cannot both occupy the same space. Where there is love, there is no room for fear. Identify fear and replace it with love. Rejecting fear opens the way for love. Remember when there seems to be no way out it is because fear is standing at the exit. When you invite love to the equation fear has to leave and you can clearly see the door. The miracle you’ve been waiting for appears; you find your exit. Jesus said He is the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6) He is love incarnate. Do you understand? He makes a way by being the way.

KNOW YOUR COMRADES

This is an important one. You will never win if you are fighting the wrong enemy. The people in your life—even the ones who cause you fear—are not the enemy. No matter how nasty people get, they are NOT THE ENEMY. This gets tricky because it is usually the people who cause us the most anxiety who deal with the most fear themselves. They artfully disguise it with rough exteriors and hostile attitudes. They perpetuate the fear by instilling it in others. These people are desperate for “power, love, and a sound mind”. Proverbs 29:25 states clearly “Fear of man is a snare, but those who trust God are safe.” We were not made to fear each other. In fact, trouble lies there. It’s actually a trap.

Here’s the truth: just as love fights fear in ourselves, it also fights fear in others. We were made to comfort and help each other. Receiving God’s perfect love and giving it to yourself and others in the form of grace will eliminate fear—both yours and theirs. With every person you interact with you have a chance to either feed their fear, or show them love. God’s love for us leads to freedom, so when we love others, we give them freedom from fear. This is accomplished by the compassion of God propagated in us. We see with different eyes. We see ourselves in others. We recognize how we used to be, or most likely still are, and we have compassion. We realize we aren’t wrestling flesh and blood but against principalities and darkness (Ephesians 6:12). The battles are won when we rally together against our common enemy and realize God’s love in our hearts for ourselves and others is the most effective, most valuable weapon in the arsenal. So live and love courageously even in the face of fear in yourself and others.

DECIDE TO FIGHT

I remember a recurring dream I had when I was a child: I was in the basement of our house. It was dark and the lights wouldn’t come on. In my dream I would run up the stairs feeling like the devil himself was chasing me. I always woke up terrified. I’m sure it was a pretty normal dream for a small child, however one night it was different. Instead of running up the stairs, I ran toward the back room of the basement and I yelled. I yelled at the dark. I decided in my dream that I would no longer be afraid of the dark. I would make the dark afraid of me. I stood in that room in my dream by myself and yelled at the dark. And then the fear was gone. The blackness became soft and I slept. I never had the dream again. I think I had just got tired of being scared.

As a child I knew how to be brave, I look back on my life today and wonder when did I forget? How much more joy could I have lived with? Without fear? And looking toward the future, how much longer do I want to live like this? So many times, in so many situations I am timid and afraid when I should be bold and stand. I’m not just talking about obvious things like sticking up for someone in a bad situation. I’m thinking of the mind battles. The fear that spreads itself thin as ice and permeates all aspects of life. The silent anxiety you hardly notice is sharing the room with you until you can barely function. I started making a list last week of things that give me anxiety. The list didn’t end. Big things, small things. I sat in a coffee shop yesterday and a song came on that instantly took me to a dark place. Anxiety. I am a prisoner. How long have I been jailed? How long have I willing sat in this cell while the door hangs open? And why? Why do I accept it? What am I afraid of? I made a decision right then and there to go home and listen to that song as loud as I could. I might even yell. If the darkness is going to push on me, I’m going to start pushing back. You can too.

KNOW THE PLAN

This is the crux of the task; the moment we put all our training and knowledge into action. This is what we do when in combat. If love in your heart is your most valuable weapon as was stated earlier, it is of utmost importance to guard your heart. Proverbs 4:23 tells us the same thing: “guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” Guarding your heart determines what kind of life you have. The moment you identify the fear feelings is when you step into action. Decide what to do with fear before it decides what to do with you. This is where you play offense. Stop being passive when it comes to fear and anxiety. Don’t allow negative thoughts to permeate. Stop them. Hold them captive. The bible encourages us to “take captive every thought” and in the same place, Paul says, “We are not waging war according to the flesh. The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” He is specifically talking about strongholds in your mind. And there is power to destroy them. But you must choose to. It is possible. This is guarding your heart. Remember who your God is. Dwell on how much he loves you, recognize the negative emotions of fear and refuse to let them take hold in your heart. I have read when you have a thought—any thought—it takes 30 seconds to a minute for it to make its way into your heart. Your heart becomes the person you are. Decide whether or not you want certain things in your heart. You can.

Part of the armor of God is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. The Bible. It is the only piece of armor that is considered offense. Use it.  It is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. If you reject fear thoughts and instead focus on a bible verse you will win. I promise. Test it. It works. If you don’t have any verses memorized, find some and write them down. Keep them handy until they are memorized. You can win, but only if you choose to fight. Keep your heart and mind on him “and the peace of God which passes all understand will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Put all of this into action and you will start walking away from a life of fear. You will set new patterns in your mind, and you will start experiencing freedom. Don’t look back. Just keep walking.

One final thought: It’s interesting to note her name wasn’t actually Joan “of Arc”. It was Joan d’Arc. Her parents were Jacques and Isabelle d’Arc and they lived in Domremy, France. She really wasn’t from a place called “Arc”. D’Arc translated from French means “of the bow”. I guess over the past four or five hundred years some things became a bit muddled. But think of that—even her name was courageous. It’s time to stop being fearful. It’s time to love recklessly. And let the world carry the weight of it. It’s time to be brave.

 

And speaking of listening to music loud….turn this one up.

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