How I Got Free From Fear

By Kevin Howell

photo by criggchef via compfight

photo by criggchef via compfight

For much of my life, I’ve dealt with fear. Fear of the dark, fear of rejection, fear of hell, fear of failure. It wasn’t just a part of my life, it was a part of my personality. It was as much a characteristic of mine as my height, skin color, and blood type.

I didn’t have an anxiety disorder, but I worried a lot. Even as I got older, and the little boy fears of the dark faded, the fear of judgment, rejection, and failure remained. Though the three seem like distinct phobias, they are actually intertwined.

Judgment

I feared judgment from God. I feared hell. I feared not living up to the standard of righteousness. I had a relationship with God, a true encounter with Him, and served in ministry. But fear drove the relationship. I spent each day trying to figure out how I sinned so I could repent. Anytime I sinned, I would spend anywhere from a couple of hours to a week wallowed in guilt and condemnation for screwing up the umpteenth time. I knew God was love, but surely I had to live worthy of that love in some way. I knew the life God expected of me, so I focused on how I wasn’t living up to the standard so I could rectify it and please Him.

Rejection

I feared rejection from people. I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to be liked, so much so that I was haunted by insecurity. I needed to make a positive impression on people — at work, at church, or just hanging out around town — so they would think highly of me. When I walked into a room, my first thought was what people thought of me and who noticed me. Was I good enough for them? Was I cool enough? Was I spiritual enough? Do they think I’m smart, attractive, intriguing? I was a prisoner to the perception of others.

Failure

I was afraid of failing, therefore, I was afraid to take risks… afraid I’d fall flat on my face and embarrass myself. So I didn’t ask the girl out, didn’t fight for the promotion, and didn’t start the business. I pretty much played it safe as much as possible, swimming in shallow waters because heading to the deep was too risky.

Love & Freedom

Freedom from these fears was a process, but it seems like it happened instantaneously. It seemed like in a moment, an epiphany caused them all to loosen their grip on my psyche. That epiphany was understanding the love of God, though it happened gradually. I heard plenty about God’s love and grace, but it never sunk in. Maybe because I couldn’t accept it — it seemed too good to be true. I had been a Christian for more than 10 years, and a true understanding of grace just began to hit me. God truly loved me, before I even accepted Him. His love is exclusive of my actions. No prerequisites required. Understanding and accepting that love freed me from all fears.

I no longer fear judgment because I know I’m loved not based on my actions, but His will. I know I still sin, but I’m no longer sin-focused; I’m grace-focused. I focus on His goodness, not my mistakes. I don’t sit and think of what I did wrong and how to rectify it; I think of how He loves me and I live and act in gratitude of it.

I no longer fear rejection because I know I’m fully accepted by God. I’m secure in my relationship with Him, so what others may think no longer matters. Finding security in my relationship with Him brought security in every other relationship. Understanding the love of God brings a new level of confidence that permeates all areas of life.

I no longer fear failure because, as author Don Miller says, “Failure is an education, not a judgment.” Love gives lenience. It allows us to take risks because it is a safety net. It reminds us failure is not final, it’s just a setback. If we fail When we fail, it doesn’t make us failures. We are still loved.

Hopefully this helps free you from fear. You may not have the specific fears I had, but His love conquers them all. It brings peace, security, and freedom. When I say I got an understanding of God’s love, realize it is a limited understanding. God’s love is way too deep, complex, and unfathomable to fully grasp. I just have grabbed hold of a portion of it, and it has changed my life.

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Lessen the Distance

By Yodit Kifle

photo by Sky Noir via compfight

photo by Sky Noir via compfight

I don’t know how many of you grew up with siblings, but for those of you who have, I’m sure you can attest to making your youngest sibling always go to ask your parents for things you knew they wouldn’t approve if you had asked. So you would bribe your naïve little brother or sister to ask in hopes of getting what you wanted. More often than not, it worked!

I happened to be that naïve young sibling who would go on behalf of my brothers anytime they were afraid to approach my parents. And, of course, because my parents favored me, my brothers always got what they wanted.

When I think about these memories, I think about Moses and how he experienced the same thing. You can consider him to be that young sibling who would go on behalf of the Israelites to speak to God. There was a time on Mount Sinai when God spoke the 10 Commandments over His people and Moses was down the mountain with the people rather than up on the mountain top with God. After they heard God, scripture says:

“All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes, and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen, but let not God speak to us, or we will die” (Exodus 20:18-19).

As I read this story, I sensed God’s heart become sad. Here was God attempting to show intimacy with His people by speaking to them rather than having Moses speak on His behalf, and instead of responding to God’s intimacy with a step forward, they took a step back. They became so afraid that they rather Moses to speak to them than God Himself. They had chosen to stay at a distance when God wanted a relationship. They thought their sins were too much for God, so staying seemed better off.

Moses, in order to help them understand God’s move toward intimacy, responded, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:20). He wanted them to see God’s desire to draw closer to them is so they could be purified and transformed by His presence.

Unfortunately, some of us have taken the same position the Israelites did then. In fear, we would rather give distant respect than come into a personal relationship with a God who desires us more than anything.  We have unknowingly given our sin more weight than God’s mercy.

Consequently, we give man more power to speak to us than God. We have allowed our pastors and our leaders to get in the way of our closeness to God when we rather have their words of wisdom than God’s word of life spoken to us. We have let church and all of its ministries get in the way of forming a genuine relationship with God because we have become afraid. Afraid of what God might think if He really knew what was going on in our hearts. Afraid of what God may do if He found out we were still doing what we knew was wrong.

So fear paralyzes us and we hesitate to pursue the kind of relationship Moses had with Him. The kind of relationship that was built on one- on-one time with Him, seeking His face and declaring that if His presence didn’t go with him than he didn’t want to take a step.

All along God is trying to show us that distant respect is not what He wants. He wants us to draw closer. He wants our hearts. He wants our time. He wants our attention. He wants our life. He doesn’t want man to stand in the way of that. He doesn’t even want church to stand in the way.

God is not content with humanity staying at a distance. That is why He sent His only begotten Son to reconcile us back to His presence. That is why there is now no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus. That is why God tells us we can confidently approach His throne of grace so we can receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

We no longer have to be afraid of God to speak to Him. We no longer have to stand at a distance. He promises as we draw close to Him, He will draw close to us (James 4:8). While we may have our pastors and church guide us in the right direction, we no longer have to be afraid to approach our Father in Heaven. We don’t have to send another person to get His attention. We as His children have captured His heart and He is always willing to be found when we seek Him.

So how will you respond when God draws closer? Will you stand at a distance or will you do what Moses did: “So the people stood at a distance while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.” (Exodus 20:21)

 

Yodit Kifle is a young woman passionate about God and the things of God. She started a ministry called WITHIN — www.thewithingroup.ning.com — focused on connecting young women to embrace sisterhood and encouraging them to become all that they are called to be.

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Relax, God Already Knows

By Yodit KifleGod knows

You ever have that person in your life that you wanted to impress? You wanted to show them how perfect and capable you were? You didn’t want to let them down. You always put your best foot forward and never thought about showing your vulnerabilities? It may have been a teacher. A boss. A professor. Or even your parents.

I came across a verse in Psalm 103 that quickly showed me how we could often take this approach with our relationship with God.

As I read these words, “For He Himself knows our frame. He is mindful that we are but dust,” (Ps. 103:14) I laughed. I laughed because these words humbly reminded me of who God is and who we are and why a relationship with Him is so perfect. It showed me the foolishness that we tamper with when we strive to be perfect in God’s eyes.

He knows.

He knows our frame. He is mindful of our sinful nature. He is well aware of our hang ups.  He isn’t intimidated by our fears. He knows our deepest secrets.

He simply knows. Nothing can catch Him by surprise. So why do I find myself trying so hard sometimes? Why do I try to hide sometimes? Where can I hide from His presence? (Psalm 139)

You see, God is not who He is so we can feel bad about who we are. No. He reminds us we are dust so He can remind us of Who He is. He is our loving Father who is intimately acquainted with our frame because He created us — fearfully and wonderfully. And if we actually believed Him to be who He says He is, and we are who He says we are, then we would be humbled of how mindful He is of us! If we didn’t live our lives like everything we did was a shocker to Him, I’m sure we would receive His grace and mercy easier.

But that’s not what happens with us.

We live our lives forgetting that we are but dust, mere humans who are known and loved by a sovereign God. We set these lofty expectations on ourselves that breed condemnation. We think we have to walk on egg shells with God as if we have to be careful whether or not He can see our humanity.

Then we read a verse like Psalm 103:14, reminding us that there are no expectations with God. There is no such thing as letting God down (tweet this). Why? Because we were never holding Him up to begin with. So why think we can do it now?

God empathizes with our humanity (Hebrews 6). That’s why He extends His divine grace. He fills our path with grace pits.

He simply knows.

Condemnation doesn’t need a front seat in our lives. Rather, conviction can and should lead us to the front row of His throne room of grace — seeking Him more.

Why don’t we let go of the fear of disappointing God and latch on to the hope and truth that our lives are a delight to Him. He desires that we get so comfortable with Him that we don’t run from Him when we’ve fallen short but instead run to Him because we’ve chosen to fall into His grace and redemption. We are but dust.

He simply knows.

 

Yodit Kifle is a young woman passionate about God and the things of God. She started a ministry called WITHIN — www.thewithingroup.ning.com — focused on connecting young women to embrace sisterhood and encouraging them to become all that they are called to be. Connect with her: withinministry@gmail.com

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Canceling Guilt Trips

guilt tripBy Kevin B. Howell

Family gatherings can be dangerous. Yeah it’s great to get together to share laughs and love, but sooner or later, people start to tell stories of yesteryear. Sure it’s fun to travel down memory lane of your childhood and reminisce with your siblings about all the crazy stuff you guys used to do. But, there are also plenty of embarrassing stories. Mine is the infamous “spaghetti tale.” And apparently, no talk of my childhood is complete without it. Here’s what went down:

One night, when I was about 5, mom cooked spaghetti for dinner (by the way, mom makes the best spaghetti this side of Sicily). Later that night, around the witching hour, when everyone was sleep, I crept to the kitchen for another, unauthorized helping of the aforementioned spaghetti…actually, I stuck my head in the fridge and hand-fed myself some of the meat sauce. As soon as I was satiated and closed the fridge, the kitchen light came on and my dad was standing there, looking rather menacing in his PJs. Then he asked: “Kevin, have you been eating the spaghetti?” Trap question. If I told the truth, then I would be in trouble…yet if I lied, would he really buy it? Of course this dilemma was too daunting for a 5-year-old, so I instinctively responded “no.” Not a bad response…if there hadn’t been pasta sauce dripping down the front of my white T-shirt! Needless to say, what proceeded was the worst beating of my life.

Fessing up has never been easy. It’s like surrendering your fate without a fight. Maybe honesty brought leniency, but I wouldn’t know since I didn’t choose that path too much. It just seemed like admitting a wrong brought inevitable punishment, not to mention humiliation and shame. Concealment seems easier than confession. At least that’s what comes natural to us (see: Adam & Eve, circa the beginning of time). I guess old habits die hard, because I brought that same mind-set into my relationship with Christ. In a faith built on forgiveness, I still find it hard sometimes to face my (heavenly) Father.

It’s not that I’m trying to hide something from God—and really, has anyone ever been successful doing that?—it’s more of a guilt complex. I’m flawed. And I’m perpetually in the process of trying to fix my flaws. But some of them persists, and therein lies the problem. How can I be forgiven for this…again? How can I admit to this…again? So I don’t. I live with this complex, knowing that He knows that I screwed up, but not coming to Him. So the relationship is severed, not because of my sin, but because of my shame.

These guilt trips are a trip, because the longer I stay on them, the farther I get from God. If I’d come to Him with my fault right away, I’d start fresh right away. Instead, I wallow in regret for a week, wishing the weight could lift off me. It’s a rather silly predicament when you think about it, but it’s all too common, because we perceive God the wrong way. We tend to think of Him in human terms, so it’s hard for us to comprehend someone accepting us after we screw up so many times. But God knows who He’s dealing with, and for some reason, He delights in us coming to Him to get cleaned up. So this year, I vowed to get off the guilt trips, and go straight to God. That’s what He’s always wanted anyway.

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