Fear in the Darkness

Fear is a wilderness where the wild things live.  Creatures hide in the forests of our trials, watching, waiting.  They are our untamed thoughts teamed up with awful circumstances and attacking us savagely. We might question God, his Word, his character, our ability to hear from Him and our own mental status.  The ferocious beasts which assault us from within and without are lasered onto one goal- steal, kill and destroy.

Whenever your God-given joy, peace and power are at stake, you know you’re in a dogfight with the enemy. Any time I’m being driven by a fear-related emotion it’s going to be a tough trip.  A journey through a dark time is painful enough.  Allowing fear to be my guide makes it worse.  In my last post I shared a couple strategies to help you re-establish yourself when you sense fear is controlling you to any degree.  Here’s a couple more I hope will help.

  • Discern whether you should fight or take flight.

Physically, fear triggers our God-given “fight or flight” response so that we may survive dangerous circumstances.  Chemicals are released that enable us to run or to stay and launch a counter attack.  The problem is, most of our modern-day battles are not with an enemy soldier or a wild animal. Our conflicts consist of things like family dysfunction, joblessness, divorce, church strife, sickness and disease and other circumstances that create a fear response in us.

 

Although we might like to use our fear-induced energy to pop someone in the nose or blow something up, those options aren’t usually available to us.  Consequently, we make a habit of stuffing down everything we feel inside when we are frightened. Physical problems like ulcers, jaw pain, muscle cramps, headaches and other physical symptoms you might not associate with fear, start to manifest.

 

Rather than stifling your response, cry out to God and ask him whether this is someplace you stand and wage war or leave it behind in the dust.  What that looks like depends on your personality and need. At times, during a panic attack, saying verses out loud and singing worship songs only agitated me further.  I needed to go into a quiet place with God and mentally escape the frightening circumstances.  In a traffic jam, for example, I took deep breaths in and out saying something like “I’m breathing in all the fruit of the Holy Spirit and breathing out all the work of the flesh and my enemy.”  On rocky airplane rides, I’d disappear into a land of peaceful instrumental worship songs via digital devices and headphones.  These techniques slowed my heartbeat and other physical responses and I basically flew away and filled my mind with good things.

 

There are other situations though, when I stand and fight.  I march around, dance, shout and sing praise songs, clap my hands and let the enemy know that I’m pushing back hard against the fear stronghold he’s trying to establish in my life.  I call up memorized verses and songs to fling back at him.  After a time, I end up, emotionally, in a completely different place than where I started.

 

If you’re in a long-term challenge, ask God to give you specific techniques to execute your fight or flight response.  Don’t ignore it, use it.

 

“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.”  Psalm 94:19

 

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you, he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deut. 31:6

 

  • Guard your tongue

How does Satan know what you’re afraid of?  He watches your actions and listens to your words.  I could kick myself for all the years I created to do lists for my enemy by repeatedly stating all the things that scared me, made me anxious, etc.  He takes note every time we say something like “I’m so afraid that….   I’m so stressed about……  I can’t sleep at night because I’m so worried about….”

 

Don’t shove feelings down and pretend you aren’t afraid. Instead, be genuine about what you’re feeling, framed by what is true about God and your relationship with Him.  Nowadays, I say things like, “I’m so tempted to be fearful about_____________ but I know God is good, and His hand is good towards me.  He will keep me, provide for me, heal me and comfort me.”  I make very specific statements based on what I’m up against and using scriptures as my talking points. I stole the idea from Psalm 43:5 “Why, my soul, are you so downcast?”  I’m talking to my soul, the seat of my mind, will and emotions, and leading it back to a place of peaceful faith. Frankly, I’m just getting too old to keep burning up organs in my body with unresolved emotional stuff and wasting my years on earth out of step with God.

 

Some days, you might need to do a come to Jesus with your soul a hundred times.  Do it.  It’s worth it.

 

Changing a fearful mind to a peaceful one is laborious but it is God’s best will for us.  There are so many anointed Christian books that share numerous strategies for this war.  Get online and find one that’s right for you.  Here are two of my favorites:

 

The Battlefield of the Mind” by Joyce Meyer- this is one of her older books but a true powerhouse in lining up your thoughts with God’s character and word.

 

Hinds Feet on High Places” by Hannah Hurnard- a beautiful allegory about a little lamb named “Much-afraid” and her journey with the Good Shepherd.

 

 

 

 

 

Love versus Fear

“I can’t make it, I can’t make it,” I hollered at Ken.  He lurched our car onto the shoulder of I-80, somewhere in the middle of Iowa.  Thank God, there’s lots of pigs and corn in Iowa cause I sure needed a cornfield that day. Use your imagination.

I’ve previously shared my struggles with almost becoming an agoraphobic, afraid to leave my home unless I could totally control my travel and destination circumstances.  In my case, that became a co-conspirator with a challenged digestive tract, which reacted quickly every time I experienced a panic attack.  Not only did I experience heart attack-like symptoms, I needed to be certain that restrooms could be ready at a moments notice.  Yup, that made traveling worlds of fun for a few years.  Ken became very adept at delivering me to the nearest rest stop, cornfield, restaurant, store and even the homes of strangers a couple times.

In my case, 95% of all my panic attack symptoms were rooted in my biology, not my mind, but they sure did mess with my head and heart for several years.  Fear can do that.  When it overtakes you, shakes you hard and leaves you breathless in a cornfield, it’s hard not to feel like a failure.   Everyone will experience moments like that during their journey on this side of the veil.

I don’t know what kinds of fears you might be tempted by today.  That shaken, breathless feeling can relate to something as ferocious as cancer or as niggling as a friend ignoring your texts.  Honestly, it doesn’t matter what prompts a fear response in you, but if you aren’t armed and ready for it, it’s amazing how fast it can take you down to the mat.

Here’s a few truths about standing up to fear I gathered along the way which I’ll share in this post and the next:

  • God is always in control in your circumstance.

Although the Father will allow us to pass through some wild storms, he is still The Master.  It’s in those moments when I feel unnerved that I’ve recognized I must hunker down in my spirit.  Stating truth from the Word, starts to calm and center me.  Pretty sure life seemed crazy for Job amid losing everything, but heaven’s perspective looked completely different.  The same is true for you and me.  When small winds or large gales of fear start to blow over your soul, it’s time to bring out your Spirit Sword so you can get up in your enemy’s grill and flick his trash talk aside.  Here’s two of my favorites: Psalm 46:1-2, Isaiah 41:10

  • Share your battle with trusted friends and family.

Fear thrives in darkness, so it can be  beneficial to drag it out into the light.  Part of my healing journey included sharing my battles with key individuals and asking them to pray for me.  When you are being whipped around like a chew toy in a dog’s mouth, it’s hard to think straight.  What a wonderful thing it is to hear family members and friends praying Scripture over you when your mind is too rattled to recall a single verse.  Even when I’ve entered tough situations alone, I am strengthened and comforted by the intercession I know is rising on my behalf. I feel more courageous and less intimidated.

One of the most wonderful benefits of our coming heavenly lives is that we will never be afraid again.  How do I know this?  I John 4:18 tells us there is no fear with perfect love.  We will be living in the presence of Perfect Love throughout eternity, therefore fear cannot exist.  God wants us to experience a taste of that part of heaven on earth, here and now.  His all-consuming, fiery love for us wants to burn up the paper walls our enemy is continually trying to construct all around us.

Please do not misunderstand me.  I’m not saying your fears aren’t real or valid, I’m saying God’s love is greater and stronger.  Press into him today and let him talk to you about your anxieties and worries.  He is not only perfect in his love but in wisdom, knowledge and power.  All of it is always available to any child of God, no matter what may come against you today.   

 

Hard Times Part Three

When Ken first entered the insurance field, we went without any incoming salary for five long months.  We drained our savings, racked up credit cards, and I panicked daily.   Novices to such financial lack , we felt a sense of drowning and despair.  He never did make any money with that first company, but unexpectedly, another company granted him an interview, hired him and immediately started him with a generous salary.

I nearly said a permanent, earthly good-bye to Ken at the age of 27.  A rare form of pneumonia reduced a previously healthy man to a condition of total life support, hovering between life and death for several weeks.  Every day I faced the possibility of widowhood and all that meant.  God chose to spare Ken’s life and restore his health, in time.

When you read these two stories of hard times in my life, some of you might be tempted to say, “Well, I’m sorry you experienced those things, but let me tell you about MY hard times.”  Maybe you ARE a widow or widower.  I suspect some of you, in the past or present, experienced much more severe and long-lasting trials than the two above.  There are also countless other challenges and mountains that some of you are living through, which will never touch my life.

Regardless of who wins the “my suffering is greater than yours contest,” some people like to engage in, everybody experiences measures of setbacks, roadblocks and destruction.  We cannot understand fully, the depth of pain and sorrow a problem brings to each unique individual.  Our temperaments, upbringing and past experiences are all different.  Something that might flatten me, you may chug through quite quickly.  Here are some strategies I’ve learned to help me respond more like the mind of Christ than the flesh of Sharon!

  • Assess your behavior. Be honest with self-examination.  There needs to be an admittance of a problem before it can be solved.  I usually get rather snarky and easily irritated when I think I’m handling something, and I’m not.  Run your behavior, over the last week, through the Galatians 5:22 filter.  Quietly before God, ask him what qualities you’ve not been consistently demonstrating.  You may discover you are angrier, more frustrated, fearful, worried, etc. about a situation than you acknowledged.  Recognize the truth of where you are because the truth absolutely does set us free.

 

  • Stop berating yourself for your reactions. I’ll say things to myself like, “I shouldn’t be this upset about this.”   But, I AM that upset.  It’s so much better to acknowledge what your genuine feelings are than to try and pretend they aren’t there because they don’t seem very spiritual!  Then, instead of scolding yourself, repeatedly, for reacting to things in ways you know aren’t right, you can move on to the next step.

 

 

  • Confront root emotions. Lots of times I don’t respond rightly to life’s challenges.  Christ wept over sorrowful situations several times and became quite angry at others, so don’t think we can’t respond with genuine emotion.  We need to!  The problem is when we drift from righteous emotions and responses to unrighteous ones like fear, worry, bitterness, hatred, jealousy, rage, and even desires for revenge.

 

Our souls are like a pot of soup with some burned matter way down at the bottom of the pot.  Often, we don’t realize that stuff is down there until the fire becomes hotter, bringing the taste of the black stuff all the way up through the whole pot of soup.  That’s okay!  We need to figure out what that burnt stuff is down there, so we can deal with it.

 

When we don’t respond in a righteous way to unholy circumstances, there’s usually some junk hiding out in the corners of our hearts.  That’s why God allows the heat to go up, to expose it!

 

  • Realize God desires to purify us through trials.  As much as it pained Job and still bothers us, God is far more concerned about our character than our comfort.  He is unwilling to allow us to remain stagnant or worse, backslide.  The creator is continually sending circumstances and people our way to provoke those parts of our character that are weak and underdeveloped.

 

  • Accept that God allows our trials to advance the kingdom.  Job didn’t possess a clue that his story would inspire, comfort and challenge millions through the centuries.  We can become so immersed in our situation we lose sight of the fact that God will redeem and use our pains and sorrows to help others get through theirs.  Beyond God himself, the best comforters are those who say, “I’ve been in a similar spot, I’m praying for you. Is there anything I can do to help?” You don’t know but that God will use your victories to help keep someone else from totally wrecking their ship on the rocks of hard times.

 

Next time, I’ll share some more strategies for maintaining your joy and peace amidst hellish conditions.  For now, may I encourage you with one more strategy which helps me consistently?  Identify someone in deeper waters than yourself.  When you are tempted to keep rolling the details of your circumstance over and over in your head, stop.  Hand it over to God again and turn your attention to the needs of someone else.  Pray for them fervently every time you are tempted towards a negative emotion stemming from your challenge. It works, and it demonstrates faith to God.  You are trusting him to handle your stuff while you concern yourself with another’s needs.

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” James 5:16

 

 

Faith in God’s Waiting Room

Are there unfulfilled dreams inside you?  Did you picture your life very different from your current one?  Do you ever wonder why you possess certain skills and talents that seem to go unused and unappreciated? I felt that way for years.

From earliest childhood, I forced my younger brothers to be “students” in my pretend school, with me as teacher. Through my school years and college, I dreamed of that only, to be a teacher.  My instructors and professors assured me I possessed the perfect skill set and personality to be an educator.  Score!

After graduating college, I married my husband, and we moved to the Chicago area for graduate school.  I thought that in a large metropolitan area, I’d choose my school system. Hah!  While I lived in the college bubble, the teaching world changed and a tsunami wave of college students with teaching degrees hit the job market.

Many school systems shifted to hiring primarily from their substitute teacher pools.  I couldn’t even get on a substitute teacher list as they were so overcrowded at that time. Instead, I took a job as a music therapist and figured I’d begin my teaching career when we moved to our first ministry position.

I started my career as a high school teacher 20 years later and I only landed my initial job because I added an English degree to my portfolio and, more importantly, the teacher I replaced left in the middle of the year due to a nervous breakdown.

During those twenty years I worked other careers, I continued to dream of teaching.  Many times, I thought I’d never see that vision come to pass.  I questioned the skills, passion and calling God placed in me in the hard light of many closed doors.

It’s easy to lose faith in something we felt so sure God placed in our hearts when its fulfillment is deferred. God’s waiting room can be a place where we allow our dreams to die instead of entrusting them to His perfect timing.  A vision delayed often reflects God’s desire to prepare our character and skills for a specific assignment.  He also needs to prepare a situation and the people within it, to receive us.

Joseph’s promotion from boy dreamer to Egypt’s second in command wound its way through 14 years of slavery and prison. (Genesis 37-50) David’s waiting period between his teenaged anointing and throne, we approximate to be fifteen years. (I Samuel 16- 2 Samuel 10)

Far eclipsing Joseph and David, Bible historians estimate Noah worked on the Ark for about 100 years.  One of the highest callings ever placed on a life endured a century of mockery and derision from the inhabitants of a land where flooding rains never existed before.  Matthew 24:38-39 indicate the world’s inhabitants continued to eat, drink and be merry until the moment Noah entered the ark.

Scriptures recount Joseph’s and David’s discouragements during their waiting times.  Moses’ leadership calling became encrusted over with desert dust. In Acts 7 Stephen recounts that when Moses was 40 and chose to step away from privileged palace life he was “powerful in speech and action,” and thought that “his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them.”  40 years later, God miraculously inflames a desert bush to call 80-year-old Moses up for front line duty.  Our hero’s response is to protest that he is no one to whom Pharaoh or Israel will listen, and that he’s a lousy speaker.  What happened?  I think Moses may not have understood that his 40 years of obscurity as a priest in the Midian desert served only as preparation for his ultimate destiny, not the destiny itself.   No judgements here because I’ve done the same exact thing with some of my dreams.

How do we hold on to our faith tenaciously when it comes to deferred dreams?  From man’s beginning, Satan continues to insinuate that humans can’t hear well from God.  Doubting the relationship between Shepherd and sheep can be one of the first casualties in God’s waiting rooms.  Bitterness and despair can erupt when others are promoted, and we continue to be overlooked.  Sometimes, like Moses, we just assume a calling never belonged to us in the first place.

Here’s a few ideas to help keep us in a state of readiness so that when He calls us up we are prepared for action.

  • Recognize waiting periods as your school of preparation and character development.

God kept Christ himself hidden away in a nothing little town for 30 years. During that time, Jesus became the exceptional human revealed in the Gospels.  God knows the demands that our destinies will place on our character and resources.  We don’t need any more public failures in the body of Christ where everyone discovers that a character couldn’t keep up with a calling.

  • Understand that God works to prepare situations and people to receive you.

God brought Jacob’s family and the entire nation of Egypt to places of desperation to enable them to receive Joseph’s leadership gladly.  I like to operate where I am celebrated, not tolerated, don’t you?  Give God time to create that environment for you.

  • Our current state is our proving ground for our coming promotion.

Joseph came to Pharaoh’s attention because he acted with kindness and wisdom in prison.  David fought many valiant battles and treated crazy King Saul with respect, which earned him the admiration of his people before he became their king. We might feel shelved, overlooked and left behind but God is watching carefully to see how we treat the people he sends our way and how we conduct ourselves outside of our dream lives. Be excruciatingly faithful with whatever He gives you to do right now.  Obey quickly when He gives direction.  God wants to be sure we won’t act like we’re too big for our britches when he does promote us.

  • Enjoy the life God gives you today.

You may be in a job, relationship, church, neighborhood or country that is far outside your dreams.  Some places are hard and unwelcoming like Moses’ desert.  Faith enables us to believe that our dreams are still in God’s hands for safe keeping.  All of God’s promises for grace, peace, joy and purpose are for us today.

During the month of March, we’ll develop some ideas about thriving in hard places because, frankly, that’s where a lot of life is lived.  See you then!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illogical Faith

“Hang on…. isn’t that Sharon Skinkle?”

“Didn’t she just graduate a couple years ago?”

“What the……? “

I tried to pretend I didn’t hear the student mutterings from the director’s platform on my first day of student teaching in my former high school.  On one hand, I felt solid in this building and this room.  During my junior and senior years, as a student conductor, I directed from this same spot many times.  The seniors, currently speculating about my qualifications, had been lowly freshman the last time I stood before this choir.

When my former director introduced me as “your new student teacher, Miss Skinkle,” I figured some might remember my high school glory days.  They did, but not in the way I imagined.  Even though three years of college preceded my return to my old choral room, a few students behaved as if a sudden, undeserved promotion plopped me in front of them.

During the first couple weeks, a daily tug of war raged.  My seasoned, former director, wisely stayed out of it completely, leaving me alone in the room to discover whether I could excel in classroom management as well as I did in music.  God led me to use various “Love and Logic,” techniques long before that name became common in education circles.

Students learned that I only teach when students behave.  For a while, the goof-off dial climbed until students realized that their well-attended combined Christmas concert, with the high school’s symphonic band, raced towards us on the calendar. With the slow rate we took during rehearsals, due to discipline issues, we daily fell behind on our rehearsal schedule. The fear of looking like chumps, compared to the band, scared them.  We turned a corner and enjoyed a memorable semester together.

When I first showed up on the director’s platform, students doubted whether I had the goods to direct such a large, award winning choir.  I lacked faith in myself, too.  My work would be displayed for the whole community in a few weeks.  Would I measure up? My director expressed full confidence in me consistently, and that kept me lurching forward.

The Hebrews knew and didn’t know Moses.  Surely many of them heard his miraculous story, whispered behind closed doors. They might see him out with his adopted family or in chariot races or other public events.  According to Hebrews 11 he abruptly left his privileged life and threw his lot in with his own people.  I think some probably welcomed him with open arms and others treated him like my students did me.

“Moses?  He knows nothing about us!”

“So, he’s going to slum it with us for awhile till he tucks tail and runs back to the palace?”

“He’s been an Egyptian for 40 years! What does he know about Jehovah?”

Don’t be foolish and think that 2 million slaves rushed to embrace this guy with the strange back story. First, he shows up from the palace and says he wants to do life as a slave. Who does that?  Then, he murders an Egyptian and disappears for 40 years.  When he turns up again, he hits them with an even crazier idea.  “I’m the guy God sent as your leader.  We’re checking out of Egypt and heading to our promised land!”  Come on, you’ve got to know that many Hebrews probably thought him to be a looney.

You know who did support him right from the get go?  His sister Miriam and his brother Aaron, apparently stood with him immediately and helped to promote God’s plan.  Unlike Jesus’ siblings, who questioned their brother’s sanity, Moses’ remaining family recognized God’s call on their Moses’ life and the promise of better days ahead.

I make my faith too logical.  I believe for things when I can figure out how God can make them come to pass.  Miriam and Aaron lived by a wildly illogical faith.  What their recently returned brother said made no sense in the natural. Moses’ declarations about Israel’s deliverance existed light years beyond the imaginations of Hebrew slaves.  Only faith enabled them to step across the chasms between their natural minds and the supernatural workings of God.  They remembered God’s word, spoken through Joseph, centuries before thanks to their parents. “God will surely come to you and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” (Genesis 50:24)

God’s promises provided a framework for Aaron and Miriam to build faith strongholds inside their hearts. From the Hebrews’ point of view, the Egyptians held all the cards of power, otherwise the slave nation could have mounted a rebellion and escaped centuries ago. Just because the story is familiar do not underestimate how insurmountable and impossible the odds were against Moses’ plan working, except for God’s mighty hand of power.

I’m going to continue to expect God to do “infinitely beyond what I can ask or imagine.” (Eph. 3:20 NAS) No longer, though, will I allow myself the fruitlessness of trying to figure out how God is going to do what He’s going to do.  Human reasoning can only lower the ceiling of my faith down to manageable, logical boxes. Moses stumbled into this kind of thinking and faced God’s anger. (Exodus 3,4 particularly 4:14)

I’m diving deeper into his word, expecting that I will be schooled in the ways of faith. The wonders God did through Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Elijah, Nehemiah and so many others, He wants to do through me, and you.  People all around us are still in dire need of salvation, deliverance, healing and restoration.  I want to live in the realm of illogical faith and partnership with God where His presence and power flows unhindered.