Psalm. 55:1 Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; 2 hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught 3 at the voice of the enemy, at the stares of the wicked; for they bring down suffering upon me and revile me in their anger. 4 My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. 5 Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. 6 I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest — 7 I would flee far away and stay in the desert; 8 I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm…16 But I call to God, and the LORD saves me. 17 Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. 18 He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me. 19 God, who is enthroned forever, will hear them and afflict them —men who never change their ways and have no fear of God. 20 My companion attacks his friends; he violates his covenant. 21 His speech is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords. 22 Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. 23 But you, O God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of corruption; bloodthirsty and deceitful men will not live out half their days. But as for me, I trust in you. (NIV)
*What happens to your body when you are afraid?
*Of course it depends on the level of the fear.
*But it doesn’t depend on the level of the actual threat.
*Perceived threat is the real factor in fear.
*For instance a child if given the chance might try to pet a crocodile; but run screaming from a mouse costume at chucky-cheese.
*Perception of threat is what triggers fear, not the facts of whether something is a real threat.
*Anything perceived as a threat trips the amygdala–the brains “hand-wringing sentry.”
*If you scare this sentry…he sounds the alarm.
*This sets in motion the biochemical cascade known as the “fight-or-flight response.”
*Some scientists prefer the term, “Survival stress response.”
*Bruce Siddle an expert in these matters gives my favorite summary of what happens next “You become fast, strong, and dumb.”
*A burst of adrenaline prompts a cortisol dump into the bloodstream.
*This sends the lungs into overdrive to bring in more oxygen, the heart rate doubles or triples to deliver it more swiftly.
*The liver spews glucose, more fuel for the task at hand.
*To get the goods to where the body assumes they are needed, blood vessels in the large muscles of the arms and legs dilate while vessels serving lower priority organs (gut and skin) constrict…see you later fine motor skills and appetite.
*The prefrontal cortex, a major blood guzzler also gets rationed…good-by, reasoning and analysis.
*To make matters worse the adrenaline that primes the muscles also enhances nerve activity…it makes you tremble and shake.
*So for example, the average police officer scores 85-92% on the firing range (no perceived threat there), but in actual firefights hits the target 18% of the time.
*Today we are to going look at fear in the Psalms and in our lives.
*Fear causes a physical response to perceived threats, we have established that.
*But that’s not really fear, that’s the body’s auto response to fear.
*So fear comes from our thinking (and our feeling) about threats and our lack of safety.
*Fear is much more complex than the physical responses to it.
*Suffice it to say that fear can be really bad and it can be really good.
*A person with a persistent response to fear can, over time, degrade their bodies and minds.
*We are not designed to live in an ongoing state of “survival stress response” the chemicals themselves can be toxic over time.
*Living in disorienting fear can also degrade us spiritually and relationally and emotionally.
*Fear can harm us, but not all fear is bad.
*In fact in the physical world fear is essential to survival (its important that children learn to fear not pet crocodiles)
*In the spiritual world a properly oriented fear is also essential, it is part of being oriented to God and the world God has made.
*For instance some level of fear of falling into sin…is good…because sin is a real threat.
*This kind of fear can lead to wise actions…like running from certain situations.
*Flight from temptation is a proper fear response.
*Fear is normal. The person who doesn’t ever experience it isn’t brave or full of faith; they are may be naive or possibly have a mental disorder…or just be apathetic about their lives.
*What makes you afraid?
*What made you afraid last week, today, right now?
*Sometimes our fear is specific, focused on someone or something that is a known threat.
*Sometimes our fear is vague, non-specific…anxiety…its been called the “little fear”
*When you have anxiety, and I have had it, it doesn’t seem all that little.
*Conventional wisdom says there is a direct correlation between increased age and increased fear…old people become of afraid of more things.
*Correlation does not imply causation…just getting older is probably not the cause…its likely more fear follows more experience with life.
*Often people simply swap fears…they are more afraid of certain things and less afraid of others as they get older.
*Worry and fear are cousins and they have this in common, they are responses to things we cannot control. (Or believe we cannot)
*”Fear is provoked when the threat of danger (physical or relational) exposes our inability to preserve what we most deeply cherish.” Longman
*Maybe its fear of losing loved ones, our possessions, our health…we fear the loss and know we cannot control, ultimately, whether we keep them.
*Maybe we fear loss of our self-esteem, our perceived position among people
*We fear being judged, or being alone, or being needy.
*Satan can use fear to enslave us.
Heb. 2:14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
*Of course Satan does not hold our lives in his hands so the “power” of death here is the fear of death.
*We all die, but it is fear that becomes the prison.
*Remember Psalm 90:12? Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
*Paying attention to the reality of death can lead to wisdom…so clearly it is not the reality of death that enslaves but rather the fear of it
*Satan causes us to see death from his perspective and uses it to invoke fear.
*While the Psalmist encourages us to reflect on death in light of the goodness and power of God (read Ps 90) and uses that perspective to invoke wise lifestyles.
*This doesn’t imply that we are more spiritual if we don’t fear death…because there are believers who struggle with fear of death (even though they are confident of the gospel) and atheists who do not.
*The point is, fear, not death itself is the enemy’s tool of enslavement.
*For some the thought of losing face is more fearful than losing their lives.
*Fear and anger are responses to threats, threats to our ability to control outcomes.
*Anger is the fight response, Fear is the flight response.
*Anger attacks, fear withdraws
*Let’s look at Psalm 55 and 4 things we learn from David’s response to fear.
- David’s heart was full of fear…and he admitted it.
4 My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. 5 Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.
*He is suffering severe anxiety…his heart is in anguish.
*His fear is showing up physically and mental/emotionally…fear, trembling, horror
*It is challenging for me that David admitted to this level of fear.
*He was a combat veteran, a King…yet he was willing to admit to fear.
*This “man after God’s own heart” is not afraid of looking unspiritual.
*Neither should we be.
*Honesty…strikes me as a good and important starting point in thinking about fear.
- He wants to run
*Fear is the “flight” response…David literally wants to fly.
6 I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest — 7 I would flee far away and stay in the desert; 8 I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.
*Doves, well-known birds in Israel would fly from the chaos of urban areas and nest in the crevices of cliffs outside of the city.
*David is no doubt reflecting on times of being outdoors in storms, tending his sheep, drenched in rain and seeing the doves safe, dry, warm…high up on the cliff faces, sheltered in the crevices…envying their ability to fly from the stress of life.
*Now in his fear…he would love to be like one of those doves.
*He just wants out of the stressful, anxiety inducing situation.
*Do you want to flee from situations that produce fear, anxiety?
*That seems to be a normal, sane approach to me…flight from fear is not irrational…its just not always helpful.
*Certainly the desire, the emotion…to flee is normal…but what are we to do with that emotion?
*By all means get out of threatening conditions if you can…but most often fear is regards the future…how do you flee from the future?
*You don’t…look at what David did.
- He continually cries out to God
17 Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.
*Throughout all three shifts he cries out to God… the idea…he is TRAINING full time at trusting God…24/7.
*His fear is round the clock and so is his turning towards God.
*He is not merely “trying not to be afraid” he is “training to trust God with his future”
*Sometimes, for a period of time (who knows how long)…this is our only solution for fear.
*”No, that is not a solution…turning to God…a solution would be no more fear feelings or the removal of the cause for fear…crying out to God is a request for a solution not a solution in itself.”
*Actually, often it is.
*Sure we ask God to remove the fear and/or the cause of fear…but he may just give you what you need minute by minute.
*This is not a favorite solution of mine…but it is a solution.
*For us the continual crying out to God is the key part of the solution because it is our turning towards him that matters most.
*By all means ask him to remove threats…but unless our hearts are being reoriented to him…he cannot remove all threats because we can turn anything into a threat.
*Tomorrow becomes our threat…and drives our fear.
*Matt 6:34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
*How do we do that? the verse before… 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
*What are all these things he is referring to that we will be given?
*In context it was all the things people spend today worrying about…will I have what I need tomorrow.
*Jesus said we are to spend today seeking to be faithful rather than trying not to fear tomorrow.
*Our reorientation to God is not when God “fixes all of our problems” but it happens as we continually turn our attention and affection back to him.
*Our goal, most often and understandable so…is for God to “fix this.”
*And it is okay to ask him “Fix this.”
*Our response, most often when the threat is removed…
*Is initial gratitude followed by growing spiritual apathy.
*Much of the time when there is no perceived threat, we have no perceived need for God…because life is back under our control.
*Crying out to God is the ongoing solution to our largest threat…attempting to live lives independent of God.
- His confidence is in the Objective reality of God not the subjective feelings about his situation
19 God, who is enthroned forever, will hear them and afflict them —men who never change their ways and have no fear of God.
*His fear is derived from enemies who want to destroy him and his confidence is in the eternal God.
*Whatever the cause of your fear, the reason for your confidence is the same as his…God.
*The goal must be to grow in confidence in God not merely to eliminate the cause or the feelings of fear.
David models here:
- Honesty with his fear (not afraid of looking “unspiritual”)
- A normal desire to run from his fears (which he doesn’t do… that would be running from faithfulness with what God has put in front of him)
- A continually turning to God (a solution in and of itself)
- A confidence rooted in objective realities of God (not the subjective experience of his emotions.)
Fear & Wicked Problems
*A wicked problem is not an evil problem but a complex problem that is resistant to simple solutions.
*Some characteristics of wicked problems are:
-Every one is essentially unique
-There is no immediate test of a solution
-Every wicked problem can be assumed to be the symptom of another problems.
*So lets look at fear as a “wicked problem”
*What we most want when we experience this fear…is relief…and we want relief as soon as possible…like yesterday.
*Some things work in terms of giving relief from fear…but the unintended consequence of pursuing relief can be more harmful than the fear itself..
*For example: “I am no longer afraid of death…I no longer care about life.”
*Or: “I am no longer anxious around people…I don’t go around people…or I don’t care about people.”
*Some of our problems resist easy, quick solutions…they are wicked problems.
*I hope that we learn to see our problems not merely as things to be solved so that we can move on in life.
*Because “Move on in life” very often means getting back to a life where we do not need God.
*We must learn to see problems (like fear) as pathways that God intends to use to get deeper into our hearts.
*Not that we shouldn’t try to become less fearful…but the solutions need to be real solutions.
*We desire to move through life unencumbered by anything that gets in the way of our own satisfaction.
*This is how God…can become a means to our own greater ends.
*God, instead of being the end of our desire…becomes the means to our desire.
*That desire is often a life more fully under our own command and control
*We want God to use his power to fixe things such that we really don’t need him anymore.
*We don’t think of it that way…but in my heart at least…that’s what it seems I’m after.
*”I am afraid, I desperately need you…take this fear or this fear causing thing…so I can handle life on my own again…I am uncomfortable with my lack of control right now, I am deeply uncomfortable with how much I feel I need you right now.”
*We are okay with a God who has power enough to help us…we are just not okay with really needing him…with him having command and control of our lives.
*In the Bible there are two fears:
Ps 147:11 the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love
Psa. 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.
But look in the NT…
1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
*So are we to fear God or not?…yes, but not a fear that causes flight or fight from him and his will and ways.
*Look at a Heb 12
Heb. 12:18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
*He is talking about the Sinai event…where God visited his people and delivered his law.
*The mood here is one of terror…a mountain so holy because of God’s presence that to touch it is to die.
*Even Moses, the one invited up was terrified, trembling with fear.
*This is God’s presence, power…unmediated by a Savior.
*His power, his glory, his goodness, his holiness…are all so unspeakable and unthinkably beyond us that if we could get a glimpse…the response would be terror.
*But let’s move on.
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
*”But” here is a strong adversative…a word that introduces an opposite or contrast.
*As Christians we do not experience Sinai…”the law giving, fear inducing, don’t touch”
*We have come to Mount Zion (symbol of the home of God’s people.)
*We are have to come to God through a mediator…Jesus.
*To Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant…not the law of Sinai…but the covenant of grace…by his sprinkled blood.
*What is that about Jesus’ blood speaking a better word than Abel’s blood…kinda weird.
*Abel was murdered by his brother…fresh out of the garden of Eden…separated from God…a man murdered his own brother.
*Abel’s blood cried out from the ground for vengeance on his killer…his blood shut out the wicked…this is symbolic of sin…all of our sin that shuts us off from God.
*Jesus’ blood speaks a better word…”Not judgment…but Grace”
*The better word is Gospel…good news.
*His death opens the way to God for the wicked…for all of us.
*We do not come to with a fear that creates separation, fear of terror, and law and potential death…the perfect love of Christ has driven away that fear.
*Our fear now is reverence, awe, respect, love.
*Now his holiness, his power…is something that draws and attracts…we don’t flee in terror…we are drawn to God in love.
*Our love for God moves us out in love for others.
*This is always the process we see in Scripture.
*Love for God first…then moving out into live in love for others.
*We move into the world being as faithful as we can to express God’s love…even though it is dangerous and difficult world.
*We move out of comfort zones…because we are learning to love God.
*But I still feel afraid…Okay…what does the feeling tell you and what will you allow it do to you or for you?
*What is the solution? Run from fear? Hide it, mask it, fear the fear?
*No, the solution is movement towards God and others.
*Running from fear is trying…movement towards God is training.
*You must do what at times feels impossible to do…act against your fears and move in love towards God by moving in love towards others.
*Will the fear go away if I do?
*Fear as the feeling may or may not continue to rise up in us…but fear as an animating force in our life will be losing it grip…a different power will drive our lives.
*Remember you are not moving out in love for God and others…in order to not fear…God is the end not the means to life.
*Do not measure too soon…its very difficult to tell whether growth is happening day by day or not…it is a life-long process.
*Do not measure based on your current mood or feeling…it is trajectory…direction now, perfection then.
*Fear is driven by real and imagined future threats.
*We cant live our lives “trying not be afraid”
*We must live training to trust God
*Training to trust is being faithful with what God has put in front of you right now…most often is being faithful with “who” God has put in front of you to love right now.