Overcoming Fear

Luke 22 tells the story of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was the night of his betrayal. He withdrew from the disciples to pray, and asked, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

The Bible says Jesus was in anguish. In the Greek language, the translation comes from the word agonia. That’s where our word “agony” comes from. It means “great fear or distress.”

Sometimes we focus so much on Jesus being God that we forget He was also fully human. He experienced the same temptations and emotions we experience, and on this night, He felt fear.

Jesus suffered fear because He could identify with us, and because He had the full knowledge of what was going to happen to Him the next day on the cross. But in defeating that fear, He showed us how we can defeat it, too.

We need to learn to overcome fear because anytime we make decisions out of fear, we are acting contrary to God’s will. Fear is always present in our lives because Satan puts it there to keep us from obeying God.

So, how do we beat fear? The first thing to do is to admit our fear without shame. That’s what Jesus did. The Son of God went before His father. His prayer was the admission that He didn’t want to endure the cross. He was afraid.

Fear ends when we expose it as something unnatural—something that comes from the devil rather than from God, who doesn’t give us a spirit of fear (2 Tim. 1:7).

The second thing we must do to overcome fear is to submit it to God. In the Garden, Jesus said, “Not my will, but yours be done.” He gave His fears to God.

Fear is a real emotion, but doesn’t make it right. Mark Twain once said courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of it. As a mature Christian, you have to act above your emotions. Anger, sexual temptation, the desire for revenge—these are things we feel but must be strong enough not to act upon.

That’s why we have to give our fears to God, because in doing so, He gives us the strength and encouragement to avoid acting upon them. It’s only when we act on our fears that we make bad decisions.

The third way we can rise above fear is to focus on God’s presence and love. Psalm 118:6 says, “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid.”

Psalm 16:8 puts it another way: “I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

Almost all of us are familiar with Psalm 23:4. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

Jesus referred to the Psalms often during His ministry. He knew Scripture. Do you think Jesus had these passages in mind when He went to the cross? I do. I believe the devil was telling Jesus He was a failure, and I think Jesus was giving those fears to God.

Fear is reality minus God. Faith is reality plus God. The Lord is always with us, and in His presence there is no fear. Which means fear does not need to control us. Whatever you fear, give it to God today. He’ll help you overcome it.

God’s Definition of Success

The world has a different definition of success than God does. The world says success comes from financial prosperity, popularity, power and influence, relational happiness, intellect and education, giftedness, and strength and security.

Let me be clear: We all want all of those things. Universally, we all strive for those things to some degree. There’s nothing wrong with them.

Any given one of those standards can be used righteously. They’re good things, in and of themselves.

But here’s the problem: You can be a total failure in life and still have all of these things. You can have them all and be a failure in God’s eyes. Look at that list above. What do those standards have to do with your spiritual life? Nothing.

Now, consider Jesus. He didn’t measure up to those standards of success. He wasn’t wealthy. He wasn’t popular or influential (at least within his own time and culture). His ministry ended in crucifixion. In the world’s eyes, He was a failure.

And yet our Savior was the most successful person who ever drew a breath on this earth. Which means we need to question how we view success and failure.

Having the wrong definition of success and failure impacts every aspect of our lives. We hold ourselves to the wrong standards. We model the wrong behavior for our children. We don’t make the right career decisions and end up in jobs that don’t fulfill us. We don’t accomplish God’s best for our lives.

Based on three parables Jesus told in Matthew 25, there are three standards of success in God’s eyes that we need to focus on instead of the world’s definition.

In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, Jesus makes it clear that the first standard of success is a personal relationship with Him. According to the parable, not everyone waiting for the Bridegroom will recognize Him. Those people will have wasted their lives. Teach your children that God comes first.

In the Parable of the Three Stewards, Jesus says that one day we will have to account for how we lived our lives. Did we live for ourselves or for Him? Did we live to accumulate wealth or to accumulate people for God’s kingdom? God values human souls more than anything else.

In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus illustrates that we must treat people with love and compassion. We must live for a higher purpose than ourselves. We must feed and clothe and love the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40).

How do you view success?

I don’t know how much money you have. I don’t know who likes you or doesn’t like you. I don’t know what your position in life is.

But if you know Jesus, and you’re living for Him, and you treat people with love, then you are living a successful life.

You may not look as good as Hollywood says you ought to look. You may not have the intellectual or educational pedigree people say you need to have. You may not be getting any kind of recognition in your career or the business world.

But if you are following Him and living according to His standards of success, you’re doing it right. You are successful in His eyes. That’s the only thing that matters.

Changing Insecurity

We deal with our insecurities in different ways. As individuals, both Karen and I were insecure early in our marriage. The more insecure I felt, the more macho I acted. If you made me feel insecure, I’d puff out my chest and challenge you.

But when Karen felt insecure, she’d almost try to disappear. She cowered and became shy when someone intimidated her.

While we may handle it differently, all of us feel insecure from time to time. The important thing is not whether it exists, but how we deal with it. Some people turn to money to comfort their insecurities. Some people focus on appearance, or alcohol and drugs, or unhealthy relationships.

Wherever you turn in times of insecurity and problems, that is your place of security. The only true place of security is in a personal relationship with God.

That’s why the world is always insecure: they don’t know where to find security. When the Bible says “do not be conformed to this world” in Romans 12:2, it’s saying not to solve your problems—and deal with your insecurities—the same way the world does.

There are three important steps to overcoming your insecurities.

First, turn to God. David describes God as a refuge and fortress. Paul describes turning to God when he experienced a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). When we encounter insecurity, we should turn to our Father before anything else. When the world feels insecure, it runs to something. We run to Someone.

Second, embrace your weakness. That doesn’t mean stop trying to improve or grow stronger. We don’t have to accept everything that comes into our lives. But the fact that we can’t easily change things about ourselves is proof that we need God. We are sheep who depend on a Shepherd to take care of us.

When we give our weakness to God, it becomes strength. Why? Because, together, God and I are a perfect team. I’m not that smart, but He knows everything. I don’t know where I’m going, but He has an eternal perspective.

We must say, “I need you, Lord.” This confession leads to strength. It leads to security. We can’t find God until we admit our need for Him.

Third, put faith in God’s grace. This means we have to let go of worrying about whether we deserve His love or acceptance. We don’t have to “deserve” anything. Paul said it himself in 2 Cor. 12:9—His grace is sufficient for me, for His power is made perfect in my weakness.

Generally, the times when we need God the most are the times when we deserve Him the least. We need Him because we’re a mess.

I have grandchildren, and I love them, but sometimes they are a mess. They might have a dirty diaper, or a bad attitude because they didn’t get a nap. They might have food all over their faces or in their hair.

But I still let them climb up into my lap. They are always welcome in my arms, no matter how bad they smell.

God loves us far more than even I love my grandchildren. He says, “Come, jump up in Daddy’s lap.” We can’t get our act together until we’re in His presence. That’s when His grace will get us all fixed up.

Changing Your Attitude

Few things determine success or failure in life like our personal attitude—our perspective, our way of thinking, and how it’s represented in our behavior. Attitudes are not isolated. They run in groups. Families have attitudes. Sports teams have attitudes. Even churches can have particular attitudes.

In Romans 12, the apostle Paul wrote, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

He says not to be conformed to the way the world thinks. A believer should not react to the world or behave in the world just like everyone else.

So do you have a godly attitude or a worldly attitude?

Author and speaker John Maxwell describes attitude as “the advance man of our true selves.” Your attitude goes before you. Its roots are inward but its fruits are outward. Our attitude can be more honest and consistent than our words.

Our attitude is what draws people toward us…and what repels them.

I like to describe attitude as the librarian of our past. When we go into our past and retrieve past events, our attitude will either categorize an event as good and make us grateful, or cause us to think about the bad, making us bitter.

When you think about the past, do you tend to dwell on positive or negative things? That could tell you a great deal about your overall attitude. Here are a few truths you should know about our attitudes:

First, attitudes are a choice. You can decide to have a good attitude or a negative attitude. They are not caused by circumstances, but by perspective.

A great example of this is the successful motivational speaker, author, and psychologist Viktor Frankl. His family and wife were killed by Nazis in World War II concentration camps.

Frankl was put into forced labor, but he deliberately chose to suffer with dignity. He chose not to hate. Though the Nazi regime defeated him physically, he was never defeated spiritually. He chose to go through life with a good attitude. People who are happy are happy because they have chosen that outlook in life.

Second, God rewards good attitudes and disciplines bad attitudes. Successful parents do the same thing. With children, you don’t wait until a negative mindset turns into negative behavior. You discipline the attitude.

Consider James 4:6—”God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Pride and humility are both attitudes. We chose them, and they begin to dictate our actions. That’s why God opposes our bad attitudes. He loves us too much not to fight us when we’re going the wrong direction.

Third, good attitudes predict success, and bad attitudes predict failure. In the Psalms, when David was struggling, he chose to focus on God. He worshiped and trusted God despite his doubts or frustrations. That tenacity is what leads a person to success. It predicts whether he or she escapes the bad times or not.

Take a look at your own attitude. Is it positive or negative? Is it godly or worldly? If you find yourself going through life with a bad attitude, then I have good news: You can change. Make that decision today. The choice is up to you.

Changing Worry & Anxiety

Did you know that the number-one reason for sickness and disease in America today is stress? That the number-one reason for prescribed medications is anxiety? That stress and anxiety lead to more doctor’s office visits than anything else? Stress is literally killing us.

Stress is everywhere. It is the pattern of the world we live in.

In Romans 12: 2, Paul writes, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Being transformed and having renewed minds means we think differently than the world thinks, especially as it relates to the things that cause stress—worry, anxiety, and fear. All of these are related.

Fear is a negative emotion caused by a real or perceived threat to our well-being. Anxiety is unease and nervousness about an event, person, or problem we can’t control. Worry is to dwell mentally on difficulty or trouble with chronic concern.

Worry can turn into anxiety. Anxiety can turn into fear. They’re all the same emotion, just at different levels. But in Scripture, we’re commanded not to fear, not to be anxious, and not to worry.

“Do not fear, for I am with you,” the Lord said in Isaiah 41:10. In fact, do not fear or fear not is the most common command in the Bible.

“Do not worry about your life,” Jesus said in Matthew 6:25.

“Do not be anxious about anything,” Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6.

I believe God would never command us not to do something if we didn’t have the ability not to do it.

The root of all fear and anxiety and worry is an orphan spirit—it means we don’t know our Father. We are disconnected from God, our heavenly Father. It’s because we don’t realize that Someone is taking care of us.

But we must remember that God’s love for us is stronger than our love for our own children. It’s stronger than my own love for my grandchildren. He knows everything we’re facing, every circumstance in our lives, and what He loves the most is to “daddy” us through these difficulties.

Our Father tells us that the way we overcome worry and anxiety is by focusing on Him. When we focus on Him, we realize that worry and anxiety aren’t the default. They may be common, but they aren’t the default. Jesus is our default. We need to keep our eye on Him or worry will rob us of our joy.

We overcome worry by treating worry and anxiety as an enemy. We don’t indulge these negative emotions, but we get rid of them by focusing on God. One way to do so is to turn every anxious and worrisome thought into a prayer.

Are you anxious about something? Pray about it. In Paul’s words, “present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Then, by faith, believe and confess that God is our loving Father who cares for us. Our Daddy will attend to us and father us throughout our lives. He holds us in His hands and is the answer to our every problem. With Him, we don’t have to worry.

That’s not the world’s way of thinking. That’s why it transforms our minds.