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By Margaret Feinberg
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Margaret Feinberg
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOutside My Comfort Zone
"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."
2 Timothy 1:7
Almost everyone feels a little uneasy from time to time-especially when we are pushed outside our comfort zones. Such anxiety is often characterized by a fearful uncertainty or a sense of dread. You may feel anxiety about public speaking, taking tests, flying, confined spaces, or discovering a spider in your bed!
Those moments of anxiety can actually become phobias when they take root in our lives in the form of intense and irrational fears. For example, a person with apiphobia has a fear of bees. Now lots of people experience a sense of apprehension around bees-and for good reason, since no one wants to get stung! Some people are even radically allergic to bees and for medical reasons need to avoid them at all cost. But even mention bees to a person with apiphobia, and you can trigger a physical response as strong as if they were being stung. It's a good example of healthy apprehension becoming a paralyzing phobia. From time to time one fear that keeps resurfacing in my own life is the fear of flying. Both my husband and I spend a lot oftime traveling for work, and for whatever reason, every so often I will find myself gripped by a paralyzing fear. On a recent flight, as we began our descent, I felt a sudden sharp fear that something was wrong with the aircraft. Though I hadn't heard any strange noises or felt any turbulence, I felt my chest tighten and breath quicken. I could barely move.
I began to pray, Dear God, please help.
I looked over at the passenger next to me, and he was completely relaxed, even peaceful. I compared his demeanor to my own and realized the fear I was experiencing was irrational. Simply by looking at someone who wasn't gripped by fear, I realized that I didn't need to be fearful either. I took a deep breath. Through the calming presence of a stranger, God answered my prayer.
Our loving Father does not want us to be controlled by anxiety, fear, or phobias. He wants us to be set free from all types of unhealthy fears no matter how large and looming or small and subtle.
The truth is that everyone wrestles with some type of fear-no matter how perfect or put together they may seem on the outside. Whatever fears you face, you are not alone. With God's help, you can overcome your fears and live by faith.
1. As we begin this study, what are some fears you remember from childhood that you now consider silly or have grown out of? What was the source of those fears? How did you get past them?
2. As you've grown older, what new fears have manifested themselves in your life? How are these fears different from the ones you faced as a child?
3. Take a moment to read Psalm 91:5-10. Reflecting on this passage, make a list of the types of fears mentioned. What would be the modern equivalent of these fears for you?
4. As you study Psalm 91:5-10, it's important to note that God never promises that fears and even real danger will not come. What does he promise instead? Why is it so important to put your faith in God?
Not only does fear limit your ability to place your faith in God, but if left unchecked, fear can also actually cause you to pull back from your relationship with God, choose to sin, and miss out on God's best for your life.
5. Read Genesis 3:1-13. Fear plays a significant role in the story of the fall of man. What does fear compel Adam to do in Genesis 3:10? How does fear shape Adam's response to God in Genesis 3:12? Can you think of any situations where you've been tempted to respond as Adam does?
6. Read Genesis 18:1-15. In this passage, three visitors deliver an important prophetic message to Abraham and Sarah: Despite her age, within a year Sarah will have a child. Yet fear caused Sarah to sin. According to Genesis 18:15, what sin did Sarah commit? Can you think of a sin that fear has either tempted or caused you to commit?
7. Read Numbers 14:5-9. Joshua and Caleb spied out the incredibly rich and abundant land into which God wanted to lead the Israelites. Reflecting on this passage, why was it so important that the people not fall prey to fear? Why is it so important that you don't fall prey to fear in your own life?
The biblical accounts of Adam, Sarah, and the Israelites reveal just how much fear can affect your faith. Unhealthy fear causes you to hide from God, engage in sinful behavior, and can hold you back from all that God has for you.
8. Spend a few minutes in prayer, and ask God to reveal any fears that have a grip on you. Make a list below. Take a few minutes to pray about each one, asking God for forgiveness, freedom, and redemption.
Read Genesis 31:22-31. Jacob recognizes that he has lost favor with his father-in-law, Laban, and with God's leading, he packs up his family and children to head back to his homeland. What is Laban's complaint in Genesis 31:26-28? What does Jacob list as the motivating factor for his secret departure in Genesis 31:31? Can you think of any situations where your fear has affected or hurt a particular relationship in your life? What steps do you need to take to bring healing to that relationship?
Ponder and Pray
The opening Scripture for this lesson comes from 2 Timothy 1:7 and it reminds us, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." Think of a moment when God took away a "spirit of fear" in your life and replaced it with his spirit of "power, of love, and of sound mind." How did that experience affect your faith? Your relationships? Your attitude toward God?
Chapter TwoLetting Go of the Past
"Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood."
On a warm, sunny afternoon my mother and I were snorkeling off a small island in the Bahamas. As we floated alongside our dinghy in the outgoing tide, the shallow turquoise waters unveiled underwater gardens of colorful coral, brightly-colored fish, and layers of hidden beauty.
Suddenly, my mother grabbed my arm, removed the snorkel from her mouth, and said, "Get in the dinghy, now!" From the sternness in her voice, I knew something was seriously wrong. I didn't question. I didn't hesitate. I quickly lifted my body over the side of the small boat. She was seconds behind me.
"What was it?" I asked.
An eleven-foot hammerhead shark! My mother explained that she had been enjoying the colorful reef when she felt an unmistakable uneasiness. She looked behind her and saw the enormous shark cruising along less than a body's length behind us. It took her breath away, and she knew we needed to get out of the water-immediately.
At the time, I was only eight years old. Though I never actually saw the shark, the experience has never left me. It opened the doorway for an unhealthy fear in my life. It is a fear that didn't just last for the rest of our time in the Caribbean or even the rest of the summer. The truth is, the fear never really left. That one experience from my childhood has marked me with an irrational fear of sharks.
This fear surfaces every time I am in the ocean. And after all these years, the only way I know how to fight it is through prayer. At times I literally pray for God's protection as I swim and snorkel. I pray for his protection before I ever step foot in the water and thank him for it as I dry off.
Over the years, thanks to God's healing and grace in my life, my fear of sharks has lessened. Now, that doesn't mean I don't feel afraid sometimes, but I've learned to take that fear to God. In response, he reminds me that I am not alone, that the past is just that-the past, and that his protection is all-sufficient. Because of God, I can still spend an afternoon snorkeling in awe of his beautiful underwater creation.
Though you may have never encountered an eleven-foot hammer-head shark (I hope!), you have encountered things in your childhood, in your growing-up years, and elsewhere in your past that have been just as scary and sometimes more scarring. Such incidents can open up the doorway to a lifelong struggle with fear. But God in his love and grace wants you to move beyond the fear of the past so you can move into the hope of your future.
1. Take a moment to reflect on your past. Can you think of an instance like mine with the hammerhead shark when something happened, either to you or to someone you love, that filled your heart with fear? In what ways does that fear affect you today? How have you handled or responded to that fear in your life?
Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." The verse implies that the way a child is trained is crucial to the way he or she will live as an adult. That training should include blessings, wise discipline, and encouragement for the child to become all that he or she can be for God's glory. But unfortunately, not all training is beneficial for children. Sometimes parents inadvertently teach their children things that simply aren't from God-like fear! If a parent has an irrational fear, they can accidentally (or even intentionally) pass their unhealthy fear to their child.
2. Did you learn any unhealthy fears from one or both of your parents? How has that fear affected your life? Your relationships? Your ability to make wise decisions?
3. Reflecting on your own life, have you been tempted to train anyone else-a child, friend, or family member-in the way of an unhealthy fear? What steps do you need to take to stop spreading the anxiety and break the cycle of fear in your own life?
If left unchecked, a fear-filled encounter can become the foundation that you build your life on. One bad experience can shade and shape your future life decisions, yet God does not want your life to be built on anything but him.
4. Read Isaiah 44:6-8. What words does God use to describe himself? How do these words affect the way you think of God?
5. Why do you think God describes himself as a "Rock"? What comes to mind when you think of a rock? Why should you choose God, rather than an experience from your past, as your foundation?
The Bible teaches that experiences from your past do not have to bind you in fear. Not only can you be set free from them, but you can use those experiences as reminders of God's power and protection. They can be used to help you face the challenges in your life today. Take a moment and reflect on this passage from the life of David found in 1 Samuel 17:32-37.
6. How did God use David's encounter with the lion and bear to instill faith, rather than fear, into David's heart?
7. As in the life of David, God often uses little experiences to prepare us for big encounters. What experiences from your own past does God want you to view as a source of faith rather than fear?
8. How can overcoming fear in your own life help others overcome their fears? What specific experience from your past does God want to use to help you encourage others?
Digging Deeper When faced with an irrational fear, Scripture can help remind us that our foundation is in God. Romans 12:2 challenges us, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will." God's Word is a powerful tool in renewing your mind and reminding you that he is your foundation. Take a moment to reflect on the Bible passages mentioned so far in this study as well as any others you know. What Scripture can you commit to memory as a reminder that God is your Rock, the foundation of your life?
Ponder and Pray The opening Scripture for this lesson comes from Isaiah 54:4, and it reminds us, "Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood." Sometimes fears from our past are accompanied by feelings of shame, disgrace, and humiliation. Yet God wants to restore us and make us new. He wants us to "remember no more the reproach." If you have asked for God's forgiveness, he is faithful to forgive! But sometimes the hardest person to forgive is yourself. Is there anything holding you back from forgiving yourself for something that happened in the past?
Chapter ThreeRunning Toward the Future
"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze." Isaiah 43:2
We move a lot. I'm not sure I've ever talked to a woman who hasn't had to move at least once. The process of leaving always includes packing up countless boxes, filling up a giant U-Haul or at least several truck loads and discovering that you have a lot more stuff than you ever imagined!
Generally, the greater the distance of the move, the greater the unknown. A big move may include a new job, a new town, a new school, a new church, or even a new set of friends. It may include a new climate or a new culture! All that newness can stir up feelings of uncertainty.
Even little "moves" in life, like the move to a new career or promotion at work, the move to a new, deeper level of friendship, or the move to a new responsibility at church can raise the question What's going to happen? Any transition-no matter how big or small-is usually accompanied by a fear of uncertainty. If left unchecked, that fear can take root in your life and eventually make you want to avoid change. You can become resistant to new things, and worse, resistant to the change God wants to do in your life, family, or community.
Whether you're entering a new stage in life, trying a new activity, meeting new people, moving to a new town, or starting a new job, there's probably a little fear that tugs at your heart strings. Though fear often accompanies the journey into the unknown, the truth is that God is bigger than any fear-including fear of failure.
Throughout the Bible, we read of men and women who responded to God's call on their lives. From Noah to Abraham to Mary, we read of men and women who were told to follow God into the unknown. They had to take risks in order to be obedient, but they never stepped forward alone. And when you step out in obedience, neither will you be alone. There will always be lots of "what ifs" in life, but God promises to be with you through every one.
1. What new "moves" or transitions has God recently led you through? What new "moves" or transitions do you feel God is calling you to right now?
2. On a scale of 1 to 10, how strong is the fear of the unknown during a time of transition for you? Does the fear ever slow or stop you from making the changes God is calling you to make in your life? If so, explain.
Throughout the Bible, we read of men and women who were called by God into the unknown. Undoubtedly, fear must have accompanied their journeys, but as we read their stories, we discover that their faith was stronger than any fear.
3. On the chart below, identify God's calling on each person's life and the result of their obedience despite any uncertainty or fear of the unknown.
Excerpted from Overcoming Fear by Margaret Feinberg Copyright © 2007 by Margaret Feinberg. Excerpted by permission.
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