For God has not given us a spirit of fear or timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.1 Timothy 1: 7 (NLT)
You sit down for a job review. Your supervisor goes over a list of nine things you do well and one thing you need to work on. Which one do you remember? What is your overall feeling about the review? Was it “good” or “bad?” A “positive” or a “negative” one? I could begin this next sentence with a line like, “Psychologists tell us that …,” and include a long list of footnotes from peer-reviewed studies that talk about how we tend to remember the negative and to be motivated out of fear rather than comfort or confidence. But you don’t need me to, do you? We know how this works firsthand. We know how we tend to focus on what we don’t have or don’t do well enough. We know how we tell others that we do this positively out of a desire for constant self improvement. And yet we also know ourselves and how we tend to experience these moments negatively as the desire to avoid failure, embarrassment, or shame.
Why do we do this?
I heard someone recently explain this phenomenon as a matter of cost versus reward. He said, “If your ancestor imagined there was a tiger hiding behind a bush and there wasn’t, what was the cost to them? Nothing except a little unnecessary anxiety. But if your ancestor imagined there wasn’t a tiger hiding behind a bush and there was? Well, you would have no ancestor. We learned very early on that the potential cost of being afraid more than we should be is less than not being afraid enough. So we learned to be afraid.”
But we didn’t just learn this in our far distant pasts. We learned this in our very near presents. We learned it in school when we were called on for an answer we weren’t prepared to give and we were embarrassed for it. We learned it at work when a supervisor showed up on our break and berated us for not working hard enough. We learned it in our finances when a crisis hit and we didn’t know how or if we could ever meet it. We learned it in our families and relationships when we thought everything was okay and then that other person lashed out at or rejected us and hurt us so badly. So we tell ourselves we won’t let it happen again. That we won’t be caught off guard. That we will always be prepared. Which is another way of saying that we will always be afraid.
But the effects of this fear can be crippling. It can be crippling to us personally as we experience the physical and emotional consequences of living in a constant state of fear that will not let us physically relax. It can be crippling to us relationally as we find ourselves feeling unable to drop our guards and feel safe and secure that we are loved and that we can love the other person fully, albeit imperfectly. And it can be crippling to us spiritually as we find ourselves constantly aware of how far short we are failing to measure up and, in anger, we beat ourselves up over it rather than, in love, responding with joy and wonder.
But we have been promised that “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity.” But instead, a spirit of power, knowing we don’t need to be afraid of whatever might be lurking behind that physical or emotional or relational or spiritual “bush” because God is stronger than whatever it may be. And He has given us a spirit of love, knowing that perfect love drives out all fear and gives us a far more secure standing and confidence than whatever our own performance might earn us. And a spirit of self-discipline, knowing that we do not need to be afraid that we are being asked to do something that we are unable to do because He has given us the strength to meet all this and more.
So how about you? Do you know this fear? Would you know this power and love and self-discipline that is ours even more?