“Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:6-9).
My college roommates once got into a vicious, personal war – scaring the bajeebies out each other. It started when Dana came home from a late night in the library, opened up his closet, and “Boo!” Kelly jumped out at him. Dana nearly died on the spot. That launched the war. Four days later Kelly’s alarm went off at 6:00 AM and he stumbled out of bed and headed into the bathroom. But when he reached into the shower to turn on the water, Dana’s hand grabbed his arm… “Boo.” Suddenly there was more than water on the floor! We laugh, but the adrenaline rush was deadly real, even though the threat was not. Our fear-emotion can’t tell the different between an imagined threat and real threat.
Actually people can get addicted to the experience of fear – at least to the chemical reaction it creates in our bodies. Why else would we spend $12 to walk through a Halloween frighthouse? We can grow dependent on this rush by repeatedly creating “spookhouses” in our own minds, choosing to imagine again and again the worst scenario for our future. This generates a “state” of fear. If we experience this enough the endorphins create their own dependency: we can’t act without stimulating the reaction of fear!
In this way negative thinking becomes a way a life, a kind of necessity. Unless we’re “thinking” we’re about to lose our job, we don’t work at our best. Unless we’re imagining contracting a deadly disease, we won’t eat right or exercise. Unless we imagine losing our marriage, we don’t communicate. Fear becomes our fuel. The threat may be real or not; the emotion IS real! And that is enough to drive our choices.
But this is no way to live! If we become dependent on fear to do the right thing, what kind of existence are we choosing? Can’t we do better?
Joshua, in the Old Testament found that he could do better. Joshua learned a new energy source – the promises of God! Joshua stood at a turning point in his life. He was afraid. In his case the “threat” was real. He was being asked to take over leadership for Moses – an impossible task. His natural response was, “I can’t do this!”
But God asked for another response. He challenged Joshua to change his thinking and see the situation in a new way. Joshua’s “fear” came with good reason: he did face a daunting task and a job he couldn’t fulfill on his own. God’s answer: “Realize that I will be with you wherever you go. See this different reality, and choose NOT to fear!” God was giving Joshua a chance to override natural perspective with a divine promise. Instead of deriving energy from anxiety, God was giving Joshua a chance to burn the an even more powerful fuel – faith/hope.
How can this happen for us? In the same way it happened for Joshua. God challenged Joshua to “Be strong and very courageous!” It begins with the choice to set aside our addiction to fear and decide we’ll let God create faith in us. Fear is enticing and strangely comforting and thoroughly addicting. But if we’ll begin by taking God at his word, being willing to stop siphoning off the fuel of fear, and instead fill our tanks with the faith/hope that God provides, we can experience genuine transformation. It begins with a simple choice to let loose of fear! Tomorrow I’ll talk more about the practical steps we can take to make this switch. For today, we begin with a simple prayer of willingness:
“God, I have grown familiar and accustomed to fear. I’ve become addicting to this way of seeing the world. The results leave me depleted and hopeless. I want to change. I want to find a new source of life. I want to live by faith in you, and by seeing the future through your eyes. I can’t do this on my own. Like Joshua I face an impossible future. I need you to superimpose your picture of the future over my mine. I need to hear you say, as you said to Joshua, “I will go with you wherever you go.” That will be enough. That will give me a new source of life. Thank you for displacing my fear with YOUR gift of faith and hope!”