“‘Now announce to the army, Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’ So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained” (Judges 7:3).
Imagine living in a nation oppressed by enemy forces. An army double the size your your population sweeps through neighborhoods, looting homes and murdering families as if swatting gnats. These soldiers unload warehouses and steal the stock of every local business. They empty silos, barns, and grocery markets. When nothing remains for them to steal, they burn your buildings. And take all the survivors’ resources to their homeland. The army’s departure brings no cheers. You join neighbors to rebuild in disheartened silence. The forlorn glances share what no one says aloud. Whether it’s a matter of weeks or months–as soon as you rebuild, they will come back.
The story rings true in many countries today, and it echoes far into the ancient past where we find a timid revolutionary by the name of Gideon. The sixth through eighth chapters of Judges bring us tales of his transformed identity, counter-cultural attack, and deliverance of his nation from its oppressors. We love the fleece signs and divine victories against impossible odds. His willingness to stand against the dragon-breathing pressure of immoral majority remains impressive throughout the ages. But what strikes us most about Gideon’s story is how it relates to us.
We know vulnerability. Injustice and impossible odds resonate with us. Familiar sentiments appear in the passage in Judges 6:11, where Gideon attempted open-air threshing work in a dank winepress. We often find ourselves in the dark pit of fear, trying to make life work while hiding from it. Many of us have questioned God’s calling and set out our own fleece-like tests.
Gideon’s story reveals how common our struggles with fear truly are. One chapter after reading about this leader’s anxiety issues, we find more than two-thirds of his army “trembled with fear.” Twenty-two thousand fled on the eve of battle. Few of us would blame them under the circumstances. Especially since most of us have felt the same way. When anxiety overwhelms us, our nature drives us to find a way out of danger.
Fear doesn’t attack with new strategies. The pre-battle ambush dates back to ancient times. And it hamstringed its victims with the same defeating thoughts then as it does today. Fear threatens to disable us from God’s victorious purpose in our lives. We don’t have to let it defeat us, however. Gideon and ten thousand of his patriots charged past their fears.
How do we overcome fear like Gideon and his ten thousand courageous men?
As in any battle strategy, we assess the enemy and ourselves. Here are the four most common fears and how to defeat them.
- Failure – People hate the idea of falling short, of not succeeding, of embarrassment. The most common reactions are procrastination and avoidance. Ironically, these tactics give the victory to the enemy. Face the lie of your attacker. True failure is not marching onto the field. Any effort which does not bring the desired result is a step towards the goal if used as a learning opportunity. John Maxwell calls this “failing forward.” So, if you can’t eliminate the “f” word from your vocabulary, at least set out to make the most educational mistakes you can.
- Hurt – We worry about emotional and physical pain through events like rejection or physical harm. Normal concerns help us make wise decisions. Anxiety churns poisonous thoughts into our minds instead of just addressing the best plan we can make. Frequent reactions to fears of hurt are isolation and avoidance. God designs us to receive and carry His blessings by engaging with the community in which He has positioned us. When we isolate from them, fear destroys our ability to function. We ache with loneliness and emptiness, devoid of connection and purpose. If only we could choose another response to our fears, perhaps our lives could overflow with fulfillment instead. The illogical thread holding the fear of hurt together is the assumption that we could live without any pain. Few of us stare the lie down to notice its absurdity. Isolation brings worse hurt–pain without purpose. Living with blessings and impact requires some degree of pain, too. But unlike isolation, a life of obedient adventure brings joy that exceeds the duration or amount of pain. Remind yourself that hurt happens, but you can choose the path upon which it has meaning.
- Unknown – What if? What’s out there? We can’t see the future, and it freaks us out. People squirm about things they don’t understand. Fear of death comes under this heading. Those who expect heaven are less likely to experience anxiety about dying. These believers don’t know everything about eternal life, but their peace isn’t founded on what they know. Faith requires trusting God with what we cannot see (or comprehend). Some things will always exist beyond our understanding. And it’s a good thing to not know it all. God designed us to comprehend a sufficient amount, then trust Him with the unknown.
- Helplessness – We fear oppression, age, and health issues. The notion we could fall prey to circumstances or predators terrifies many of us. Phobias erupt from serious levels of this worry. Most of those fearing helplessness react with attempts to control. Two lies support this brand of anxiety. The first one assumes helplessness equals vulnerability. The second implies self-reliance exists and it renders safety. Only one entity has ever been self-reliant. It isn’t one of us. Our attempts to control what we cannot, to protect ourselves when such a feat remains beyond our power, create an ongoing lifestyle of frustration. Irritable. Miserable. Feeling ever more helpless each time the attempts fail. Anxious thoughts underscore the lie of helplessness rendering deeper vulnerability. And the cycle of exhausting ourselves to accomplish the impossible task of self-protection continues. If we stay on the enemy’s misery-go-round, faith shrivels. And we lose the victory without having begun. Day after futile day. Grab hold of reality and jump off the spinning lie. Acknowledging helplessness leads to true power. Fact is, we ARE helpless. No amount of controlling behavior puts us in control. We’ll never be able to direct our entire environment and all its variables. God alone bears sovereign power over all things. If someone’s going to be in control, it’s really better to let God be the one to run the show. It’s okay to be helpless when in the care of a flawless and all-powerful Father who loves us with unfathomable passion. Trusting a plane, a surgeon, or yourself remains iffy. People make mistakes, let us down. We even disappoint ourselves. Instead of worrying about whether to trust people or control the situation, we can trust the One who governs all people and situations. We must first let go of our fear-falsehoods to receive actual, protective blessings. We have to acknowledge our helplessness and our inability to protect ourselves. Acceptance of this truth brings the opportunity to put ourselves in God’s hands. Not vulnerable, but secure forever.
Fears will continue to attack. The enemy’s ancient strategy remains unchanged. But with prayer and the truth to counter-attack, we can charge past fears. And with God’s help, we can enjoy the peace and blessings of victorious purpose. Courage, though not easily won, is worth the struggle.
Will you join me today in praying to take on the pre-battle preparation like Gideon and his patriots? Let me know how you’re doing on the journey. I look forward to hearing from you.