Growing Through Your Fears
By LeRoy Redding
I’ve come to believe that procrastination and fear are married emotions. A lot of fear is actually hidden. You can hide fear in procrastination. It may look something like this: “I don’t really want to talk to this person, confront this person, so I’ll put it off. If I don’t talk to then about it maybe they’ll forget or the problem will just sort of disappear.” So we put it off to deal with later…maybe.
If you’re like me, procrastination leads to fear. You procrastinate for a long time and then all of a sudden when something is due you kind of get fearful that you’re going to get in trouble. Remember junior high or high school the day the science project was due? “Oh, no! It’s due today! I’ve had nine months to work on it and I did nothing.” Some of you know what I’m talking about, right?
Procrastination and fear grips everybody to some degree or another. Everyone has fears. One author wrote this about fear: “All of us are born with this set of instinctive fears. The fear of falling. The fear of the dark. The fear of lobsters. The fear of falling on lobsters in the dark. And the fear of the words: Some Assembly Required.”
We’re all afraid of something…of failure, of loss, of rejection, of the future. We all have them. We’re afraid of public speaking (#1 fear of most people). Or we’re afraid of what people will say about us.
We all have fears. You have fears. I have fears. You know what? God is not surprised by our fears. The #1 instruction from God to humanity is: “Fear not!” If you scour the Bible, that is the number one message 366 times it says it in the Bible: “Fear not!” One for every day + leap year! Isn’t that great? I would have thought it would have been something like: “Love one another.” But instead, it’s “Fear not!” God was very thoughtful there, wasn’t He? He wants us to get it. God wants His people to not live in fear. I love the challenge God gives to Joshua in Joshua 1:9 (NLT): “I command you be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
It’s easy for us to read or hear “Do not be afraid or discouraged” but it’s tough to live out, isn’t it? That’s what I want to talk about today –
…the fears that keep us from living life to its fullest.
…the fears that keep us from being fully alive.
…the fears that keep us from being the person God created us to be.
If we don’t deal with some of these fears, what happens?
They turn into phobias.
Did you know there’s a website called “phobialist.com”? Turns out this website lists about 600 phobias. I had heard of some – acrophobia (the fear of spiders), claustrophobia (the fear of enclosed or small places). Did you know there is actually a phobia, phobia? It’s a fear of phobias!
There’s actually a fear of sermons – Homilophobia!
On this website this is what it said, “Please don’t ask me about curing phobias because I know nothing about them. My interest is in the names only.”
My interest is very different this morning My interest is in helping those of us here today grow spiritually through our fears and because of our fears. I’ve identified a couple action steps I’ve found from a passage in the Bible that I want us to take a look at today…
Matthew 14:26-33 (Turn there please)
It’s really a fear passage. Jesus puts His disciples on a boat. They had just fed thousands of people with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread. Jesus wanted to withdraw and be by Himself. He puts them on the boat. Let’s pick it up at v. 22… [Read Matthew 14:22-33]
How do we grow spiritually as a result of our fears? I want to talk about how you grow closer to God. How do you have a deeper relationship with the God of the universe? I believe that one way to grow closer to God is to actually “Grow Through our Fears.”
But, how do we do it? How DO we grow through our fears?
1. ADMIT YOUR FEARS (v. 26)
This is very basic. You have to admit your fears. I put an “s” there – it’s plural. Fears. Admitting fears is tough, isn’t it? Any other men in here who would like to give an “amen” to that? A lot of us guys our natural response is not to say, “I’m afraid!” Our natural response is to lie. “Afraid? No, she is, but I’m not. I’m ok with that.” We want to conquer our fears, but when you admit it that’s where it all begins.
The disciples did this. It says in verse 26: When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. Before we go any further let me ask you: What are you afraid of? What are your fears? What are the fears that are holding you back from living life the way God intended for it to be lived? What are the fears that you have keeping you from being fully alive? What are your fears? What are your fears about what God might be doing in your life and the life of this church?
What are your fears? What’s holding you back from going to deeper more intimate places in your relationship with God? What is that fear? Is it a fear about joining the church? You don’t want to belong to something. Maybe it’s a fear of getting involved in serving somewhere, getting involved in a ministry. Maybe your fear is about sharing with a friend or family member what God has done in your life. Is it a fear of rejection? Is it a fear of not being accepted? Maybe you fear that you might be fully known. What are those fears? Take some time to allow God to reveal them to you right now… Whatever they are when you admit them there is freedom in that. Did you hear me? There is freedom when you admit your fears!
So…how do we grow through our fears? We begin by admitting our fears..
The second thing you do is:
2. TAKE THE RISK (v. 29)
This is the classic step. Face your fears. But just like admitting you’re afraid isn’t natural, risk taking isn’t natural either. This just doesn’t come naturally to us, does it? Most of us in here didn’t have moms that when we were going away to school as a little kid say, “Have a risky day! I want you to embrace danger today, son! When you cross the street just look one way.” No! What do they say? “Be careful! It’s a dangerous world out there.”
Risk taking does not come naturally. But spiritual growth involves risk. And risk goes hand in hand with fear. Look at verse 29: Matthew 14:29
29 And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. That was a big step. Can you imagine that? To get out of the boat and walk on water – do something you’ve never done before? That was a risky step! But what did it lead to? It led to intimacy with the Jesus!
With Peter it wasn’t just any old risk. It was Jesus calling. If you do something risky just to be risky that’s called dumb! But if you do something that feels risky to you but you know that God is a part of it that’s called faith!
As I look back at my life there have been times when I’ve said, “God, I’m going to be obedient and I’m going to trust You and I’m going to get out of the boat. I don’t want to and I’m scared. But I’m going to go because You’re calling me and I believe that’s what You want me to do.” And as I step back and as I look at the bumps in my spiritual journey, the times when I’ve gone to deeper, richer, more intimate places with God have been the times when I’ve had to take a risk. It doesn’t mean that the risk has always turned out the way I thought it would, though.
This may disappoint some of you when I tell you this, but my spiritual journey is not a straight line towards growth. It’s not this steady walk up hill to a rose garden. It’s up and down. More of a roller coaster (and I don’t like roller coasters!) As I step back and look over the years that I’ve known Jesus and have walked with Him, the times when it’s got stagnant, when it’s got flat, when my spiritual journey has gotten stale what sent it to the next level is times of risk. You’ve got to take a risk. You’ve got to get out of the boat!!!
A lot of times we look at people who do this and think they’re courageous. I wish I could stand before you and say, I’m a jumper! When Jesus says come, then I’m out on the water! But that’s not me. I wish I could say I’m a jumper, a risk taker. “LeRoy, the risk taker!” Not! I don’t naturally take risks. I like to play it safe. I am not naturally a courageous person. I look at other people who have courage and I hold that up as a character quality. And so do you, right?
But courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is doing the right thing even when you’re afraid. Courage is rejecting comfort & doing the very thing that you fear. And the problem gets worse with lack of action, because:
Lack of action adds fuel to the fear.
If you’re not taking a risk – and I suspect that there’s a lot of fear in this room – when you don’t take a risk with your fear what happens is…It just gets bigger!!!
All of a sudden that mountain seems so much harder to climb because you haven’t done anything with your fear.
Have you ever had a fear and you begin to think about it and you create the worst case scenarios of what could happen? There’s a technical term for that – catastrophizing! You create these catastrophes that never actually happen.
What is the risk that you’ve got to take? Admit it. “I’m scared.” And invite God to be a part of it. “God, I have a fear of the unknown.” Take the risk. Take the risk. Get out of the boat!!!
Some of you need to hear that message today. Today’s the day God is saying to you, “Get out of the boat. Don’t be safe in the boat. Life isn’t meant to be lived safe. Get out. Take a risk.” Every time I’ve ever heard this passage in Matthew 14 taught about Jesus inviting Peter to walk on the water, I’ve heard it taught like this: Most people say that Peter is a failure because when he got out of the boat he had his eyes on Jesus and when he took his eyes off Jesus fear entered and he sank. “Don’t take your eyes off Jesus!” That’s always the way we usually hear it preached, right?
But, you know what? I’m thinking Peter was not a failure here. Peter was the success. What about the guys that never got out of the boat? In my mind they are the failures. At least Peter got out of the boat. At least he took a risk. So, what do you do when you get out of the boat and take a risk?
3. EXPECT THE FEAR TO RETURN (v. 30)
I’d love to have kept this point out. I’d love to have just said, “Take a risk. Go for it!” But the reality is the fear is going to return. It did with Peter. He was afraid. Jesus says “Come!” So what does Peter do? He pops out of the boat and all of a sudden, bam! Fear returns. Look at verse 30: Matthew 14:30 (NASB) But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Fear is going to return.
You step out on faith and decide to help teach a Sunday School class. So you get the curriculum, you go to the class. And here you are in front of these 4 year olds and you begin thinking, “I’m not good enough. I don’t know the Bible enough. What if I drop the flannel graph?”
Fear is going to return. You can count on it.
Some of you want to have some courage and you want to invite a friend to coffee at Starbuck’s. You’re finally going to tell them about the change that God has done in your life. You’re all excited. You’re ready to do it. You’re ready to share your story. You see your friend walking through the parking lot. And that fear returns and you just want to change the subject. The fear is going to return.
The fear of rejection. The fear of failure will loom around. Let’s say you fail. Not perceived failure but actual failure. You take a risk and you fail. You tried working with 4-year-olds but every time they cried, you cried.
What do you do when you fail?
What’s the 4th step in growing through your fear? You…
4. EMBRACE THE PRESENCE OF GOD (v. 28, 31)
If you begin to sink like Peter did here’s the good news of the gospel. When you sink God doesn’t. Jesus proves this. Look at verse 31… Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Notice the word “immediately.” Immediately! Instantly! Right then…you can embrace the presence of God when you’ve failed. when you fail God doesn’t! Say this with me, “When I fail, God doesn’t!” Let’s say it again together… What I know about God’s character through His word and through my own experience is this: God’s presence is available 24/7. God doesn’t have a part-time role in the life of a believer. But if you’re anything like me, you might have part-time memory. We have part-time memories when we focus on our fears and we really forget about God’s presence.
As I think about my fears, I realize that one of the battles that looms within me is the fear of rejection. It’s very real. It’s hard to admit, but it’s true. I’ve got fears that are real just like you. Here’s what I’ve found: When I focus on my fear, when I give it a lot of power by thinking about it all the time, I find I lose sight of the presence of God. I find I have a tough time seeing God.
Peter had a tough time, too. But whether it was dark or foggy out there on the water, it doesn’t really matter. Look at what Peter says in verse 28: Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Maybe today in the midst of your fear and the fog that surrounds you, when you’re fearful, it’s tough to see God.
It’s tough to see God when you’re fearful.
But I don’t want you to leave here today without hearing His promise. God’s promise is “I will never leave you.” God’s promise is this: “There’s nothing that you and I can’t do that we can’t do together. There’s nothing you and I can’t handle together.”
What I’ve learned in working with people is that when people get their arms around that truth, their lives are changed. Radically changed.
One of the most powerful statements of this truth is made by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:13…
In Philippians 4:13 he says “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Some of you have been around the church and Christianity along time and you’ve heard this many, many times, right? You might have a bumper sticker; you might have it underlined in your Bible. You might even have a little needlepoint thing in our house – “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” We’ve got a magnet on our refrigerator that has this verse on it.
The problem with this is a lot of us in here we’ve made this kind of a pithy, superficial platitude. What I want to do is give you the context in which he wrote this. As a matter of fact, I want you to transfer yourself into his context. Imagine this is you: You’ve lost your job. You’re isolated from your friends. You’re living in a strange country where you don’t know people. Jealous enemies have trashed your reputation. You’ve been arrested on false charges. You’ve been physically beaten, put in jail and you may be put to death tomorrow. What’s going on in your mind, in your heart? Anybody have fear? I would. And yet what does Paul write? “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
Don’t you wonder: How can he write this – I can do all things through Him who gives me strength. How can he do this? He has experienced the presence of God. And he lives his life in the presence of God. This is the same Paul who wrote earlier in this letter to the Philippians in… Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” This is someone who is living with no fear. “No fear living.” Try to imagine what your day might be like with that kind of attitude. Imagine if we really practiced the presence of God in our lives. Try to unfold your day with me for a second. You wake up in the morning and you face things – good things and you face bad things. All day long you’re breathing in and out – I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. That’s practicing the presence of God! That’s God’s will for us! Slowly what happens over time God takes your fear and He enhances your faith.
What does your prayer look like? Maybe your prayer is something like this:
“God, I’ve been checking You out from a distance. I know I need You to invade my life and be the Lord of my life but I’m afraid. I’m afraid that if I do I’m going to miss out on something. But I’m going to trust Your presence.”
The Bible says that when you and I go to God’s presence He meets us there. When we recognize His presence He’s there. Ephesians 3:12 says “Because of Christ and our faith in Him [not our fear in Him but our faith in Him] we can now come fearlessly into God’s presence assured of His glad welcome.”
And when you and I do come into His presence and our fear diminishes and our faith increases then we see a 5th step to growing through our fears when we…
5. GIVE THE PRAISE TO GOD (vv. 32-33)
A lot of times when we conquer a fear we give the praise to a self-help book or a seminar or someone else. Those may be very wonderful and helpful things but what did the disciples do?
The disciples gave the praise to God. Look at verse 33…And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!” This whole fear event in Matthew 14 ends with worship! It started with fear. It ends with worship. Isn’t that beautiful? When you worship, you don’t have time to worry! When you worship, you focus on God! When you worship, you don’t focus on your fears!
My challenge to all of us, myself included, is this:
Are we living a life of worship? Are we building worship into our lives? Every day? Every moment?
What I’m talking about is celebrating God’s presence in our lives! Have you ever been alone and you’re scared and by yourself then all of a sudden a friend comes over and you see them and say, “Thank you that you’re here.” You know that feeling – “Thank you Lord, I’m not alone.” That’s all I’m suggesting… “Oh, thank You God that You’re here.” And you focus on Him. You give praise to Him. It starts with fear. It ends with worship. Psalms 34:1-4 “I will boast only in the Lord. Let all who are discouraged take heart. Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness. Let us exalt His name together. I prayed to the Lord and He answered me freeing me from all my fears.”
So, let’s recap here. What do we do with our fears? Fears that are very real, very personalize. What do we do with them? We admit them. We identify them.
But our fears must move us to more faith! And having more faith we draw closer to God. And drawing closer to God we worship Him. And worshipping Him we focus on Him and not on our fears. It’s really a beautiful cycle, isn’t it?
Now, I’m not under any false assumption that after hearing a little 30-minute message that you’re walking out of here going, “I’m going to conquer my fears. Now I have all the tools and gifts. Thank you, LeRoy. Now I can do it.” I realize that many of our fears are a lot bigger than what I can offer you. But… I can offer you God’s Word. I can offer you some help, some principles, some steps and a reminder that God is with you and wants to be with you in the midst of your fears to change you through your fears. I believe with all my heart that the Bible teaches that overcoming fear is a joint venture. That you do your role and He does His role. If you’re serious about overcoming fear and you’re serious about being liberated from the choke hold that fear has on your life take a step, even just a little tiny baby step. Say, “Where do I need to start?” And then start there.
Today, we have the privilege of being in a relationship with the Almighty God of the Universe! Imagine! Listen to what God has to say to us in Isaiah 43:1: “Do not be afraid for I have ransomed you. I have saved you. I have called you by name. You are Mine.” It’s my prayer that for some of you today that you would hear those words, the words of Jesus saying, “Come to Me. It’s time. Come. You’ve been under the tyranny of fear way too long! It’s time. It’s time for you to rise up and take the help God makes available to you. It’s time. It’s time to start doing what you’ve longed to do but you haven’t had the courage to do. It’s time to face the things that you’ve always wanted to face but you didn’t know how. It’s time.”
For some of you, the words you need to say to Christ go something like this: “I don’t want to stand on the sideline any more. I want to get in the game. Lord, I admit I am a sinner. Jesus Christ, come into my life. I trust in you and you alone. Thank you for dying on the cross in my place, for my sins. Forgive me of my sins. Take over my life. Guide me. I want to be a member of Your family.”
I encourage you. I plead with you. Take that step and become a member of God’s family!
Now, to those of us already in God’s family, sad to say, what many of us do is that we fear too much because we trust God too little.
Listen to me here: Within every great fear is a great opportunity for God to do something in your life and to enhance your faith. I want to leave you with this challenge: Give God your fears! Allow God to work in your life! Allow God to help you grow through your fears!
As your eyes are closed I want you to hear these words from Psalm 27:
“The LORD is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?”
Is He your Lord? Is He your Savior? Is He your light? Is He your salvation? Then who in the world to you have to fear? Is the Lord the stronghold of your life? Is He your rock? If so, who or what do you have to be afraid of?
If you’ve identified some fears this morning, let me encourage you to admit those fears to the Lord right now. Give them to Him. Open yourself open to God and let Him take full control of your life. Let this be the day you begin the step of growing through your fears.