Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Problem with the Fear of Man

As I share this next life lesson I will do my best to write as clearly as possible. However, please bear with me if there are various tense changes in the writing. I am writing from a very “freshly learned” lesson still in progress, and most of what I write comes straight from my journal as I originally wrote it. So I may have trouble keeping up with the tense changes between what I am saying right now as I type and what I wrote in my journal as God spoke to me a in the last three weeks.

Not long ago I was scanning through a book catalog. A particular book recommended in the catalog just stood out to me on that day. It was called When People Are Big and God Is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man by Edward T. Welch. It was the “Overcoming the Fear of Man” part that really poked at me. I wasn’t sure if I “needed” to read the book or not. Although I knew the “fear of man” thing always hounded at me; the fear of being rejected because someone doesn’t like what I said or did or did not say or do. I had to confess to myself that now the problem had grown worse due to some particular events which have taken place in the last 7 years. As I stared at the book’s picture in the catalog I sensed that the fear of man, the fear of rejection, was probably more of a hindrance in my present life than I have been willing to admit. So I decided to check the book out from our local library.

When I began to read the book I contemplated my fears and insecurities. Suddenly, a “Light” (HIS light, HIS wisdom, HIS truth) went on in my heart. I wondered if it was really true that I feared people more than God. I recalled what it took for God to “move me” along few years ago regarding my calling from Him to tell who He is. Oh, that was such an ordeal to get me to be honest with others on where I was in my spiritual walk! But I finally “moved” forward because I became miserable sitting still when God was leading the way and telling me to walk. That is happening now too. I am sensing movement on God’s part; pieces are starting to click together for a motion to occur. The lessons that have come recently, the sudden inspiration from God to begin blogging, my misery in hiding, this book shown to me, my recent dream of fighting the enemy, and a sense of greater determination rising up slowly within me are all part of it. I realize that with this book about fearing man, God may very well be looking me in the face and saying: “You are fearing man more than you are fearing me!!! You say you aren’t, but you are.”

As I read the book, the first “Truth Arrow” that hit its perfect mark on me was in the author’s third chapter titled “People Will Reject Me”. In those pages Edward Welch says, “Closely related to the fear that people will expose us (shame fear) is perhaps the most common reason we are controlled by other people: They can reject, ridicule, or despise us (rejection fear). They don’t invite us to the party. They ignore us. They don’t like us. They aren’t pleased with us. They withhold the acceptance, love or significance we want from them. As a result, we feel worthless…” (pg. 37) Actually, I would have to say that, first and foremost, I feel emotionally devastated; so hurt and broken hearted. Following the hurt emotions I start wondering what kind of “freak” I am that people have to reject me over and over again. I know that is a total lie from Satan, but it still has its day with me when I am rejected.
I read further on in the same chapter mentioned above, and another “Truth Arrow” hit its mark and made me wince. The author was speaking about the Pharisees who believed Jesus to be Messiah but kept it hidden to themselves and quiet. He writes, “…with such a conviction, you would think that these leaders would become disciples immediately and seek to persuade the people to believe. Yet it didn’t happen…Why? They feared confessing their faith because of the possible reactions of those in the synagogue…They felt they needed the praise of people. They feared rejection more than they feared the Lord.” (pg.39) Ouch! Oh yes, I had to face head on that I have a problem with the fear of man.

Those last words quoted, “They feared confessing their faith because of the possible reactions of those in the synagogues”, pressed hard upon me even unto the next day when I was having my quiet time with the Lord and journaling again. They feared rejection; I fear rejection. I want to be loved and accepted by others, and yet…with the same mind I also say that I’ll do anything for the Lord. In the last few years when some things really “blew up” in my life, I did do anything for the Lord, but I also allowed my emotions to get in the way in my effort to be believed and loved instead of rejected. I then had a sin-tainted shame tagged along with my willingness to do anything for God and it compounded my pain of the rejection that did certainly come.
My past experiences have made my fears even greater today. I absolutely cringe at the thought of being rejected again. But when speaking of the thorn in my flesh of my back pain and tendonitis, I’m also proclaiming with the apostle Paul, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) Well, am I being double minded? Or do I really mean it? Am I content and willing facing those things or not? Or am I holding back? What exactly am I doing or saying?

My *lifelong* thorn in the flesh has been the problem of rejection and the fear and dread of not being loved and accepted for who I am and how I am. And it’s doubly awful if it happens because I sinned and caused it to happen. The shame that fills me is unbearable; especially at this point in my life. However, GOD says to me that I CAN most gladly boast in my weakness so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. God says to me that I CAN be content in my weaknesses, with insults from others, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties for Christ’s sake; for when I am so weak in the midst of those things then I am strong in HIM!!! God says to me that I *CANNOT* fear man’s rejection more than HIM!!

He says to me that I *CANNOT* fear man’s rejection…

…more than I love Him
…more than I acknowledge Him
…more than I know Him
…more than I fear Him
…more than I seek Him
…more than His truth revealed
…more than my obedience to Him
…more than my abandonment to Him
…more than HIM!

What is greater? Rejection or my LORD, the KING of kings? Well, that’s a silly question, but I had to ask it to myself! Because ultimately it is very silly for me to fear rejection or abandonment from others more than following Him with abandonment! The *only* fear I should live in is the fear of God Himself. I cannot fear rejection from man more than I fear my LORD. (Note: when I speak of "fear", I mean standing in complete awe and respect of God and Who He is--greater than any one or any thing.)

Another Truth Arrow hit its mark as I continued to read in the book by Welch. I found the following truth so well expressed: “Sometimes we would prefer to die for Jesus than to live for Him. If someone had the power to kill us for our profession of faith, I imagine that most Christians would say, ‘Yes, I am a believer in Jesus Christ’ even if it meant death. The threat of torture might make people think twice, but I think most Christians would acknowledge Christ. However, if making a decision for Jesus means that we might spend years being unpopular, ignored, poor, or criticized, then there are masses of Christians who temporarily put their faith on the shelf…In other words, kill me, but don’t keep me from being liked, appreciated, or respected.” (pg. 39) “The clear proclamation of the gospel does not make us look good. It doesn’t make us popular.” (pg. 40) Oh my! God is REALLY telling me a thing or two! I know it. He is telling me it’s time to quit fearing people and just walk and speak truth as HE opens the way and makes the opportunity and for me to pay close attention to Him now. He is moving me now. We are to be walking, again.

And yet another arrow hit its mark as the author mentioned that “Paul even indicated to the Galatians that if he were still trying to please men, he would not be a servant of God.” (pg 41)

For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

I had to ask myself, “So Mary Ann, M.A.? Much Afraid?” “Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please man? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ…For I would have you know, bretheren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:10-12)
(I love the book Hinds’ Feet on High Places and have read it more than once. The book is about woman named “Much Afraid” and how she follows the Shepherd (Christ) to the High Places and how her fears and frailties are conquered by His love and her companions, Suffering and Sorrow. So when I am dealing with issues of fear in my own life I sometimes call myself “Much Afraid” since M.A. are my first name initials just like hers.)

God continued to shoot the Truth Arrows towards me. Welch next quoted the apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:19-20, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel…that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should”. This verse has a very special meaning to me, and I even had it as part of my auto signature on my emails maybe a year ago. And here God was putting it all into fresh context for me. It is unmistakable that God has especially focused intentions on speaking all of these things to me at this very season in my life.

“Fear of man is always part of a triad that includes unbelief and disobedience…Fear of man is, indeed, a treacherous snare.” (pg. 43 in the book)

The author went on to talk about us making people our idols. Immediately I thought of how God is “tearing down” my idols of needing to be accepted. “What is the result of people-idolatry? As in all idolatry, the idol we choose to worship soon owns us. The object we fear overcomes us…It tells us how to think, what to feel, and how to act. It tells us what to wear…to be frightened to death that we might have to get up in front of a group…We never expect that using people to meet our desires leaves us enslaved to them.” (pg. 46)

My desires to be loved unconditionally, accepted unconditionally, praised, encouraged, respected, listened to, believed—all of that must be found in HIM ALONE. I still tend to look for those things from people, and it is controlling me and trying to take over my thoughts and heart; allowing fear to wreck havoc within me. In the back of my mind, I am usually waiting for a “bomb” to drop in my relationships; waiting for the “eventual” rejection that will surely come in some form or fashion. Fear, fear, dread, dread…I have it worse and worse since the events of the last few years. It has surely increased all the more. There is a fatalistic attitude within me because I tend to be convinced that the rejection will eventually happen and that it’s just a matter of time before it does. God’s truth is that this is NOT living abundantly in the victory of Christ; this is living in defeat with the approval of man being an idol in my life.
The next day after journaling the above, God’s special word suddenly spoken to me was: “power to demolish strongholds”. I was actually saying a prayer for someone else and these words just popped into my mind from 2 Corinthians 10:4. I turned to that verse and read the Apostle Paul’s words in full context; words that are of great importance at this very moment in my life (so like God!). “Now, I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses…Destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and…taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:1-5)

The LORD was telling me, “Do not wage war according to the flesh. The weapons of true and successful warfare (in spiritual realm) are not of flesh but they are divinely powerful, powerful to God for the pulling down of fortresses or walls of defense.”

The phrase “power to demolish strongholds” carried over into the next day in my time with God. It repeated itself in my mind over and over again, and I wrote 2 Corinthians 10:1-5 once again in my journal.
Strongholds…demolish strongholds… I realized clearly that the fear of rejection has a strong hold on my life. I have a stronghold with the dread and fear and God desires to DEMOLISH it—it cannot be demolished with my flesh, by my own efforts. No, that is impossible; the flesh is what created it in the first place and what strongly holds on to it! He wants, in HIS power and by HIS power, to pull down and tear down/tear out this stronghold in my life. He wants to pull down these thought processes that are elevating themselves against the knowledge of Him and to help me to take into captivity these thoughts and ideas in my mind on rejection and have them captive to obedience in Christ. Christ…

JESUS CHRIST – rejected by those He came for—to serve them, to die for them—to love them—to reveal God, the Father, to them—rejected by men, a man of sorrows, we esteemed Him not. “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him nor appearance that we should be attracted to (desire) Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows (sickness) and acquainted with grief (pains); and like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we did not esteem Him (we judge Him of no account)…” (Isaiah 53:2-3) Christ faced ultimate rejection although He was loved to the fullest by God, on mission from God, and in obedience to the Father to reveal Him to mankind.

After soaking all of this in, I cried out to the Lord and invited Him to “tear it down!” I invited Him to tear down this stronghold on my life, however He pleased. I will not die from the rejection of man—I have faced it too many times before—and here I am; I LIVE!! HIS acceptance of me is my very life—not my acceptance by my fellow man.

“Now, working together, we are also entreating you not to receive the grace of God for nothing. For He is saying, ‘In a season acceptable I reply to you, and in a day of salvation I help you.’ Lo! Now is a most acceptable era! Lo! Now is a day of salvation! We are giving no one cause to stumble in anything, lest flaws be found with the service, but in everything we are commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in blows, in jails, in turbulences, in toil, in vigils, in fasts, in pureness, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in holy spirit, in love unfeigned, in the word of truth in the power of God, through the implements of righteousness of the right hand and of the left, through glory and dishonor, through defamation and renown, as deceivers and true, as unknown and recognized, as dying, and lo! we are living, as disciplined and not put to death, as sorrowing, yet ever rejoicing, as poor, yet enriching many, as having nothing, and retaining all.” (2 Corinthians 6:1-10)

Jesus did not run from rejection, He faced it head on and took it all in stride. He stood firm and steadfast in WHOSE He was, His Father’s. He knows my heart, my fears, and my pains, understands them fully, and can FULLY comfort me when I face similar circumstances.

Dear reader and fellow traveler on this journey, can you relate with any of this? Do you find that there are times in your life that you are allowing a fear of man to rule your emotions or thoughts, what you say or don’t say, what you do or don’t do? I believe we all do this to some degree; some of us to a greater extent than others. This lesson is certainly a very direct word from God to me. However, I also certainly believe that there are many others who will also find encouragement and truth spoken to them as I share it. Hang in here with me a little longer because God is about to speak more truth to empower me to be unafraid. Hallelujah!

Further on in When People Are Big and God Is Small, the author says, “When a heart is being filled with the greatness of God, there is less room for the question, ‘What are people going to think of me?’…If you have been in the presence of the almighty God, everything that once controlled you suddenly has less power.” (pg. 119) I had to chuckle to myself as I read these words! You see, when I am alone with God, and it’s just Him and me, and He speaks truths to me, and we have this great time together, I stand firm and strong in His mighty presence and laugh in the face of all fears! Ha ha! I am not afraid! Then I “walk out” into the daily world around me, look around, and all of a sudden I am weak and fearful all over again. The questions begin swirling in my mind, “Am I sure of what God just spoke to me?”, “Did I really hear Him right?”, “Oh boy, what is “so and so” going to say to me or do to me if I do this or that or say this or that?”, “What is “so and so” thinking about me now?”, and on and on. I feel like such a fool when that happens and feel that I must surely be insulting my LORD who has just spent time lovingly and patiently speaking His truths to me.

After reading more of the book and having this all out with God, I began to sense a renewed boldness in me that hasn’t been there in quite a long time. Some other things the Lord has wanted me to comprehend began to become even clearer. I couldn’t help but wonder if God was taking more of my blinders off because He was finally making a progress within me and knows I am more ready to move ahead with whatever He has planned. When I picked up the book a few days later to read further, the words no longer had life in them. The words had stopped “speaking” to me as they had spoken in the days before. I realized at that moment that God had already done the speaking He was going to do through the book. He had pinpointed the problem out to me—exposed it clearly to me and opened my eyes to see and my heart and mind to accept the truth that must be dealt with. So I asked Him, “What now?”

I began to start typing up this lesson so I could post it on the blog and the Discovering God Ministries website. A few days later, all of a sudden, I had an intense panic attack within myself. Fear reared its very ugly head and face straight at me and looked me in the eye. God allowed me to see how afraid I really was; that I am not as “brave” or as “willing to go against the acceptable/the norm” as I have claimed to be. Panic and fear tried to take me over, and I felt like such a wimp. I wondered how God ever accomplishes anything through me at all. I *want* Him to do whatever He wants to do through me, *but* then I am freaking out and filled with such fear; fear of my fellow man, fear of ridicule, attack, rejection, insult. I cried out for His forgiveness and begged Him to take away the dread and fear—to cause me to overcome it and be victorious over it as I walk obediently step by step with Him. I asked that I would be brave IN HIM—strong IN HIM.

On a following day, scanning the book for the last time to be sure there was nothing else there for me, God solidified everything He had been telling me by pointing out the following verse, “…have courage to say, ‘The Lord is my Helper and I shall not be afraid of what man shall be doing to me’” (Hebrews 13:6). That verse thoroughly empowered me. I knew very well that I did not need to go on reading in the book; the task God had for the book was now accomplished.

The verse “…have courage to say, ‘The Lord is my Helper and I shall not be afraid of what man shall be doing to me’” was a key for me that day; a key of strength and freedom against the stronghold. There was such power in those words of God to me that day and their power continues still very strong. I wrote and rewrote those words. I had been overcome with trepidation, fear, and great hesitancy. But then those words, HIS words and His truth, dispersed all those things, renewed me, and re-energized me.

HIS power will demolish all strongholds…
The Lord is my Helper and I shall not be afraid of what man shall be doing to me…
HIS power overcomes and is still overcoming…
I am HIS…

As I worked on typing up all of this lesson Satan began whispering more lies to me, “People are going to think you are crazy! Really crazy!”—“Maybe you really are crazy!” I had to chuckle and admit that my writing is rawfully open and honest, but I am not crazy.

Days later when I spent an afternoon and evening with my prison ministry partner ministering to the women at the prison, I was in awe as God over and over again, through discussions and conversation, confirmed all kinds of bits and pieces of things that I had written already in this Life Lesson. He was confirming and giving reassurance of His truths that He had spoken to me and had me write. These confirmations continued for days afterwards, and I stood in thankfulness of His patience with me. He inspired my dear friend to speak HIS loving words to me and encourage me with words HE knew would mean so much to me confirming much of what I had already journaled and typed.
In addition to all that, He put a song on my mind to tie everything together. The song is called “Brave” by Nichole Nordeman from her 2005 CD titled Brave.

The words are as follows:
The gate is wide

The road is paved in moderation

The crowd is kind and quick to pull you in
Welcome to the middle ground
You're safe and sound and
Until now it's where I've been

'Cause it's been fear that ties me down to everything
But it's been love, Your love, that cuts the strings

So long status quo
I think I just let go
You make me want to be brave
The way it always was
Is no longer good enough
You make me want to be brave
Brave, brave

I am small
And I speak when I'm spoken to
But I am willing to risk it all
I say Your name
Just Your name and I'm ready to jump
Even ready to fall...

Why did I take this vow of compromise?
Why did I try to keep it all inside?

So long status quo
I think I just let go
You make me want to be brave
The way it always was
Is no longer good enough
You make me want to be brave
Brave, brave

I've never known a fire that didn't begin with a flame
Every storm will start with just a drop of rain
But if You believe in me
That changes everything
So long, I'm gone

So long status quo
I think I just let go
You make me want to be brave
I wanna be brave
The way it always was
Is no longer good enough
You make me want to be brave
Brave, brave

Only HE knows how we walk forward from here and which way we are going. I am following and letting Him lead every step of the way. The Great YHWH is my courage.

In HIS strength and for HIS glory…

1 comment:

  1. A prayer
    May you ever be BOLD for CHRIST and continue on the journey and keep telling those who have ears to hear, and eyes to see who HE REALLY IS.
    Thanks! :o)


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