Thursday, April 1, 2010

April, 2010 -- Overcoming the fear of loss

"I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you."
Isaiah 46:4

This fear may be more prevalent now than in quite some time. So many of us or those we know are fearing a loss of a job or a home or the life we’ve led before. It’s easy to panic and worry and practically stop any building of any kind. But we don’t have to let this fear knock us off the ladder, because we can rest instead in this opportunity for grace to surround us like sunshine when there’s much work to do.

Sometimes the fear of a loss -- not even the loss itself -- can confuse our thinking and cause us to make poor choices. We can retreat, second-guess ourselves, refuse to trust God, and lose all faith in His provision and care. We forget the grace He supplies to meet this fear.

Fearing a loss won’t stop the loss -- unless of course it causes us to address and change some damaging behavior. Decide if that’s possible in your case and put a plan into effect to help yourself [for example, if you’re habitually late for work and afraid you’ll lose your job because of it, don’t be late. I know that may be a silly example, but you get the idea.], and it can work because of God’s grace that surrounds us like sunshine and energy when the to-do list is long and time is short.

Whether we’re afraid of losing something as real as a job or as hard to grasp as someone’s approval, too often -- before we rest in God’s grace -- we can be untrue to who we are. We might do something that’s stupid or a waste of time when we could do something else – build.

God’s presence and grace gives us a strategy to grip the ladder when we’re staring a loss in the face and wondering how to deal with it. We can honestly assess the situation before us, make smart choices, and continue to live as God’s directing us. He may not reveal the whole building plan to us all at once, but He’ll guide us with work to do today and then tomorrow. Our work that’s true to Him will replace the fear. Let’s take a quick look at each part of the strategy.

*We can honestly assess the situation before us. Often we fear what we don’t know, so it’s important to get as much information about the situation you’re afraid of that you can. Over-reaction, quick moves, careless words – all that just makes things worse. Ignoring a potentially serious situation with a head-in-the-sand attitude isn’t being honest about your life either. Know as much as you can about what you fear, then deal with it—smartly—and securely because you know you’re not alone.

*We can make smart choices. We can do the getting-to-work-on-time thing. We can do the work that’s required of us. We can keep promises or commitments. But perhaps more important than any of that, we can keep our minds focused on who we are in God’s plan -- not worry about what He’s no doubt already figured out anyway. I know that sounds simplistic and even patronizing, but the point is that the first smart choice we make every day when we’re fearing a loss is to choose God over the fear we feel, to receive His grace for that day, even for that moment, and reflect Him in the next thing we do.

*We can continue to live as God’s directing us -- doing as Peter himself advised: Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you [1 Peter 5:7]. We can build on the wall in front of us, one brick at a time. We can talk to Him frequently and listen to His guidance. We can remember everything He’s taught us, draw on the strength His presence provides, and we can walk through each day in trust -- that’s really all He asks. And if we do that, trust and obey without fear, we will build with His provision and care —- just like He planned all along ~~
because this opportunity for grace to surround us like sunshine when there’s much work to do is an opportunity we don’t want to miss.

- What are you afraid you’ll lose – a job, financial security, career opportunities, love, esteem? How have you faced any of those losses in the past and overcome them?
- How has the fear affected your relationship with God?
- What about your potential loss frightens you so? Is it because you feel alone or forgotten by God? How do you think God sees your fear?

o ~ o ~o

Please visit April's Partner Blogger: Tammy at My Heart . . . His words and join her as well as we explore this topic.

You can read below or download the study of Peter for yourself or your group.

Thanks for being part of our tour . . . please post your comments and stories for all our readers. See you soon! God bless you.

From the book . . .

Chapter 15

Now and later

We read about Moses leading the Israelites of his time (our story’s ancestors) out of Egypt and all the challenges they encountered. They were free! Released from the bonds of a tyrant, free to travel to a land promised by their God! How could they be anything but courageous and joyful! Oh, how indeed.

When everything didn’t go to suit them or wasn’t particularly comfortable, they fed off each other’s complaints, squeezed God out of their hearts, and gave in to the fear of the unknown. As the Hebrews were running from their Egyptian masters, the pursuers got close. The pursued got scared.

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.
Exodus 14:10

Now that crying out part make sense to us, and their action -- their turning to God for help -- must have even pleased Him. He could understand a momentary heart-stop because they had been captive a long time, and they didn’t have a Power Point presentation or website to tell them what lay ahead in the land of freedom. But it’s the next verse that’s so funny -- and so telling about our human nature that hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. When has our own sarcastic streak ridden in on a racehorse of fear? Wonder if God smiled?

The Israelites speak to Moses: “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” (Exodus 14:11)

Well, there’s a Mt. Sinai’s worth of negative thinking and a heart empty of trust and worship. Apparently, they made the right appeal but didn’t listen to God’s answer or even give Him a chance to comfort them. Their fear turned them hard and cold, bitter and defeated. The children of Israel, God’s chosen, focused on a place to die instead of a life to live, too scared to remember the promises of their Lord.

But perhaps I should temper my criticism. Isn’t that me when God is leading me somewhere new, somewhere a little scary, somewhere I can't see?
When we see the pursuers of whatever form getting close to us, despite what assurances we’ve been given, we can sometimes lapse into desperate fear too. Unstable because we stand on trust as visible as bandwidth, we still wish for the life of a secure disciple at work, and wonder behind a closed curtain when our time will come.

What do you do when the bad guys are chasing you? What do you do when your efforts to grow fruit (John 15:5) meet criticism and greed from those you seek to help? What do you do when the relationship you expected by now hasn’t come and you feel alone? What do you do when resources you counted on in the past are gone?

Fear comes, no doubt about it, but it never comes alone. It brings courage or collapse on its heals. We have to choose quickly, because fear and collapse can make us do strange things, like stand wet-legged in the very river that would carry us closer to God while we complain about the scenery. Courage says build a boat.

~ ~ ~

Hard Hat Zone

Building in the moments

Your temple -- your life -- is not like one of those super-compressed towels you place in water that expands fifty-fold in three seconds. It’s the daily weaving of all the threads together to form something that more closely resembles Christ, made from the pattern He’s drawn for us. So the building we do in those moments of fear make more or less of our temples.

In the moment when fear threatens to overtake you, remember to grip the ladder tighter and focus only on the rung immediately ahead of you. Say yes to the part that says “I believe I can keep building,” and do what is within your reach at that moment. God will supply the courage you need for that moment and the rest to come -- if your focus remains on Him instead of the rubble or horizon around you. That’s His department.

At that fearful moment -- the worrisome diagnosis from the doctor, a damaging secret revealed in your marriage, a friend’s betrayal -- whatever shakes your ladder:

* pray first and don’t stop
* rest your body and mind
* thank God for His grace to bear this situation
* be where you need to be
* let go of minor thoughts
* take care of your basic needs
* gather your facts and check your resources
* focus on God’s control
* listen for your immediate guidance—nothing more
* do what you see—nothing more
* trust God to see what you don’t.

All of this behavior in trust prepares you to combat the stifling fear and handle well the situation you’re facing. One step at a time is the only way to work through these especially frightful times, and it’s all God asks. Build in these moments a lifetime of trust.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Read below or download the study of Peter for yourself or your group.

A brief study of Peter

When we think of Peter, we think of someone strong and noble, born to lead and led by his own heart. That’s true, but there’s always something more we can learn from a peek into Peter’s life.

Peter might seem an unlikely person to take a look at regarding any fears, because we know him as “the rock” Jesus would build His church on [Matthew 16:18], but Peter was not without weaknesses. He was afraid of losing something one time too, perhaps his place in a group or acceptance among those in power, but what he learned was that our faith must rest in God because only from there can we build anything.

Despite Peter’s claims of loyalty, Jesus told him, “I tell you the truth, Peter—before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” [John 13:38] And of course, that’s what happened. Among soldiers, guards and even slaves of the high priest after Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied being one of Christ’s disciples. Was it the fear of being identified with Jesus and losing the comfort and ease he was used to that caused Peter to make such poor choices?

Sometimes we do that. The fear of losing something transient in this life can make us behave poorly because we’re trusting more in what we have here [security, power, position] than what we have in God. We see something slipping away, or the potential for that to happen, and we grab on tighter and speak or behave contrary to our true feelings.

Of course Peter loved Jesus, but fear kept him from building right then when he had the opportunity and caused him to tear down instead. And we can learn much from him when we’re faced with a similar situation, when we’re afraid to be true to who we are. When Peter realized what he’d done, he cried, aware of his betrayal [Matthew 26:75].

He knew that nothing was worth denying his Savior because everything comes from God and we can trust His provision and care—and His forgiveness. No matter what we have or what we may lose, it doesn’t change God’s grasp of our lives.

Peter wrote to Jewish Christians who were in a tight spot—facing trials and persecutions from those who didn’t agree with their faith. No doubt they feared the loss of everything including their lives. Peter talked to them about enduring those fears with grace and faith.

These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. [1 Peter 1:7]

Peter is saying that no matter what the world threatens us with, God is still God, still in charge of all our building and completely understanding of our human fears and weaknesses. The best response is simple trust.

Humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. [1 Peter 5:6-7], Peter says.

God planned it, he built it.

Loss or potential loss seems be around us all the time, but we can choose to trust in God’s provision and care and build anyway. We can learn from our mistakes and live up to the life Jesus set aside for us as surely as He chose Peter to build upon. Despite his stumbles and mistakes, the build continued just as God planned. So will ours if we’ll learn from our mistakes as well and make ourselves available again to God, whether we face a loss or not. Doesn’t really make any difference—trust is what matters.

I know we both understand the fear of loss. It’s terrifying and paralyzing in some cases, but God doesn’t change because our circumstances might. If what we counted on in the past is gone, God will replace it with something else, and we will see that what we need to count on the most is Him and His care and provision, despite our own “rooster crowing” moments. The jobsite remains.

So lets strap on our toolbelt despite our fear, leave our misjudgments and mis-thinking in the past, and focus only on what our Architect puts in front of us to build. We can carry on unafraid when we build with faith in God’s provision and care. He didn’t give up on Peter, and He’ll never give us on us either.

May God bless your building . . . .

o ~ o ~o

How have you let the fear of loss dictate your actions in the past?

How have your fear-driven decisions helped you—or have you seen that they’ve interfered with your building along God’s plan instead?

As losses have come and gone in your life, how have you gotten better at dealing with that fear and trusting God’s provision and care?

o ~ o ~o

Download this study of Peter in pdf for easy printing for yourself or your group: Go here.

Thanks for being part of our tour . . . please post your comments and stories for all our readers. See you soon! God bless you.