Fear can be a very paralyzing thing. The very idea of something or someone possibly inflicting harm on us keeps us from approaching life with all the zest that should be ours. The fear of failure often keeps us from exploring new horizons, from challenging ourselves to accomplish more in these fragile lives of ours.
Fear can, however, be a tool to help us live an abundant life. It's all in how we handle the emotion of fear.
In his book "Building Materials for Life," Millard Fuller, the founder and president of Habitat for Humanity, details many of the events of Koinonia Farm in south Georgia during those days of great civil unrest. Fuller tells of the nights of fear at Koinonia and, particularly, of how author Clarence Jordan dealt with fear:
"Clarence Jordan and others at Koinonia had plenty of experience with fear. They were subjected to shootings, burnings, bombings, and beatings because of their witness against racism and discrimination. ... Bullets from night riders would often rip through their houses, waking up and filling the residents with fear. When Koinonia people went to town in nearby Americus, they would be cursed, threatened, and, on occasion, beaten.
"So Clarence Jordan had abundant experience with fear. He also had keen insights into how to deal with it. He said that fear is good in the sense that it helps us preserve life. Our adrenaline flows stronger and faster. Our senses are awakened and put on highest alert. ... A healthy dose of fear helps preserve our life; too much fear demoralizes and stops us from functioning in our daily lives.
"Clarence said that faith and fear, like light and dark, are opposites. The more fear one has, the less room there is for faith. Conversely, the more faith one has, the less room there is for fear. Fear, Clarence went on to say, is the polio of the soul, which prevents our walking by faith."
There is a lesson there, very simple in its concept but very difficult in its practice: that we must face our fears, but not run away from them. The more we face our fears, the more opportunities we have for our faith to grow.
The words found in Isaiah (51:12-16), while not as comforting as many beautiful scriptural passages, serve as clear instructions to people of faith who struggle with fear:
I, I am he who comforts you; why then are you afraid of a mere mortal who must die, a human being who fades like grass?
You have forgotten the Lord, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth.
You fear continually all day long because of the fury of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction. But where is the fury of the oppressor?
The oppressed shall speedily be released; they shall not die and go down to the Pit, nor shall they lack bread.
For I am the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar - the lord of hosts is his name.
I have put my words in your mouth, and hidden you in the shadow of my hand, stretching out the heavens and laying the foundations of the earth, and saying to Zion, "You are my people."