*Disclaimer: The following book being reviewed focuses on Christian faith-based concepts and is directed towards a Christian audience*
There’s a lot of glorification centered around the idea of being ‘fearless’. This idea of taking charge of our lives and bulldozing through without even a thought of the repercussions.
However, I find more and more that the emphasis shouldn’t be on the absence of fear. As much as we don’t want to admit it, a lot of us fall victim to–even emotionally paralyzed–by fear. The idea, instead, should revolve around being courageous which means that we press on despite the fear that we’re feeling.
In her most recent bestseller, Do it Afraid, acclaimed minister Joyce Meyer challenges her readers to understand the ‘why’ behind our fears and change our mindset in how we approach them.
Personally, I can say that this was a thought-provoking read for me that made me take a look at how I’ve been viewing my most recent fears and challenges. I didn’t even make it to page 10 before Meyer started coming for my entire life.
Living in Fear is a Choice
Meyer makes it clear from the beginning of the book that she wants her readers to understand this crucial point: It all comes down to a choice. The choice to walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7) or to walk in fear, aka do we go through life in a constant state of worry and fear or do we try to live a life that reflects confidence and assurance.
Developing strong faith is the lifelong practice of a Christian, but sometimes we get caught up in this idea that we can ‘bargain’ our faith. Meyer had this to say:
“Partial obedience is not faith. It is a little faith mixed with a lot of fear and self-reliance, and it doesn’t work”.
Ouch, is all I had to say to that. There have been so many times where I went into things claiming I had faith but would only obey God to the extent that my comfort zone would allow. The end result is almost always a degree of disappointment and self loathing.
She brings up the question: Which seems worse to you: confronting your fears or putting up with them all your life? If we’re not careful, fear will hang around us like a lingering injury. We don’t want to seek out treatment, but we make the decision to live with the nagging, annoying pain. We do this until one day we come to the realization that we have no allowed ourselves to enjoy most of our life.
The reason I can take Meyer seriously in this regard is because she herself has gone through times where she would feel “evil forebodings” (hello, Anxiety). She explains that an evil foreboding is a ‘fearful or threatening feeling that something bad is going to happen at any moment’. For her, this is a direct correlation to her very rough childhood in which she was constantly abused by her father, dismissed by her mother, and ignored by family members.
“I became so accustomed to being disappointed that I just waited quietly for whatever the next painful or disappointing circumstance might be”
I’ve seen too many people take up the philosophy of “if I don’t expect anything, then I’ll never be disappointed”. Personally, I feel like this is a horrible way to live and I never understood why anyone would want to think this way. But as I was reading, it occurred to me that this mentality comes from a mindset of fear: The fear to expect anything good and the fear to want for anything good.
The Things We Think, The Words We Speak
Recently, I went over the the importance of positive self talk. Meyer references Romans 12:2, which states that we cannot be transformed (aka changed) unless our minds are changed first. Make no mistake, renewing your mind takes time and work. We can’t go from speaking/thinking negative for most of our life and then expect positive words and thinking to just stick after a night.
Thoughts are able to build strongholds in our minds; she describes a ‘stronghold’ as a place where Satan hides in order to destroy the good that God has planned for us. In reference to 2 Corinthians 10:4-6, Meyer claims that we “are not captive to our thoughts; we can make them captive to us”.
I had to take some time reflect on the times I’ve let my own negative talk and speech literally scare me into doing something (or not doing something), and the amount of times I’ve believed lives that are further strengthened by my thought life.
To put it simply: it doesn’t make sense to pray for God to do big things in our lives if our thoughts and imaginations are the opposite of what we’ve asked for. A lot of times, we will let fear function as a big enough factor for us not to pursue something. This could be a new job opportunity, an audition, a business venture, artistry, etc. And when we feel fear in decision making, we start to validate that fear by coming up with reasons why something “won’t work”. Meyer is challenging us not to say “I’m afraid” but to understand that even though we feel fear, we can do it afraid.
The ‘Why’ Behind the Fear
One thing should be clear: We are not cowards simply because we experience fear. Cowardice lies in the decision to submit to our fears and let them dictate our actions throughout our life.
Meyer describes fear as a tool that Satan used to take advantage of us, a weapon that he uses against us. A way to conquer this is to be confrontational about it. Unless we confront an evil, it will always have a hold on us. We’ve heard this phrase a lot, especially given the world’s current climate but she reiterates that: If do nothin to stop [evil], then in essence, we are agreeing to it.
Essentially, the enemy banks on us being too fearful to speak or to move. What we must understand is that God has given us power and authority to speak and work against the evils that surround us. We have to remember that all fear (with the exception of reverential fear) derives from Satan.
Obviously, there are fears that help us survive; our common sense that allows us to avoid fatal situations like a long fall, deep waters, or raging fires. However, we are talking about fears that prevent us for doing what we should do, or things that we want to do.
Be clear that we are not “irredeemable sinners” because of our fears. However, when we are more aware of them, it is our responsibility to not be complacent to them, and let them determine how we will conduct our lives (rather than leaning on God). You can’t keep bad or self deprecating attitude and God’s power at the same time.
The Danger of Insecurity
Meyer states this, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard this phrase. Still, it kind of stung to read that because I know from experience that is 100% true. When someone is insecure about themselves, they are too concerned with what others think of them, and they’re likely to feel fearful about many things in their lives. Insecure people also have a hard time keeping good relationships because they’ll stay busy trying to impress other people rather than being good friends to them.
Someone who is insecure will turn down opportunities because they don’t feel adequate enough for the challenge, they make themselves seem undependable to others, they constantly live in a state of self-doubt. Their entire worldview is shaped by their crippling insecurities. The antidote? The unconditional love of God.
Despite Christians hearing that God loves us, too many of us aren’t listening or don’t truly understand the power of his love. We’re constantly told about the love of God and yet we still allow ourselves to be filled with fear and doubt.
“Religion has taught us so much about being sinners that we may fail to remember that we are also forgiven and made new in Christ”.
The bottom line is, if we don’t prioritize creating a healthy relationship with ourselves we will never truly enjoy our lives. To love oneself is to receive God’s love. When we receive Him, we are able to love ourselves in a way that is not selfish, nor self-centered.
Furthermore, when we are able to overcome insecurity, it trickles down into other fears. Do you think someone who is insecure with themselves will be too fearful to move on to a new career? To start new creative projects? To put on that ‘daring’ outfit that they’ve had sitting in their closet for over a year and have yet to put it on since buying?
Meyer reminds us that we cannot be delivered from anything that we’re not willing to admit is even there. If I can’t admit to myself that I’m fearful about something, how do I expect God to deliver me from it? We have to remove the excuse of being ‘insecure’, ‘nervous’–whatever you want to call it– if we’re ever going to make an impact on our own lives, let alone the lives others.
It is not God’s will for us to be insecure.
I was surprised to find that I was nearly 100 pages in before Meyer starts going into more detail about how we can overcome feelings of fear. My assumption is that most of the work to overcome a fear is to first understand it and why it’s there in the first place.
Maybe you’ve heard this old joke before: How do you eat in elephant? One bite at a time! When we look too far down the road for any project, it’s likely we will experience feelings of overwhelm. But when we look at things step by step, day by day, we are able to believe we can actually do it. It’s the same reason why we aren’t going to dump someone with the fear of deep water into a 12 foot pool.
Another method Meyer goes over is continuing to be in the Word of God. Christians view their relationship with God as an ongoing journey, and that journey includes reading and studying the Bible. The freedom we wish to experience doesn’t happen just because we read the Bible, of course, but as we obey it. As I’ve heard someone say before: the Bible is bread for daily consumption, not cake for occasional indulgence. In order to experience the freedom that is promised to us, we have to take the time to educate ourselves about God and His plans for us.
One fear that we absolutely have to overcome is doubt and double-mindedness. Most Christians are sure that all things are possible with God, and yet we still doubt that he will do the impossible for us. Doubt is simply ‘fear’ going by a different name. Double-mindedness suggests that we are asking God for something, while simultaneously believing that what we ask for won’t come to pass. Imagine if someone came to you for a service, paid you for it, but then went on and on about how they don’t think you’ll actually do a good job on the service. They think that everything will turn out horrible! This is essentially what we do to God when we make a request and then let doubt creep in shortly after.
Self doubt comes in many forms, but a lot of times it is doubt in ourselves to make good decisions. In other words, we fear being wrong or “messing up”. While it’s totally fine to ask God to show us if we are headed in a wrong direction, we can’t be afraid that we will always be wrong about our decisions. While God wants to be involved in all that we do, He still gave us the power of free will. He still wants us to think, plan, and make choices. We must remember and hold on to the fact that, whether or not we make a wrong decision, He is still with us and His love for us does not stop.
Reverential Fear: The ‘Good’ Fear
To be honest, for a while the idea of ‘reverential fear’ was hard for me to grasp. However, Meyer suggests that we can essentially trade our ‘bad’ fears for ‘good’ fear.
The reverntial fear of God is not at all like our regular fears. In fact, we’re talking about the term ‘fear’ in a completely different context. In a nutshell, reverential fear is one that is respectful and awe-inspiring. It is a fear that understands the power of God and that He means what He says.
The emphasis here is on the concept of reverance and awe. When we say ‘the fear of the Lord’, we actually mean that we are more impressed with God’s reactions to our actions than with other people’s reactions.
There is no limit as to how many times a person can be forgiven for a sin. However, we cannot simply continue doing what we know to be wrong, thinking that we can freely do wrong without any real-world consequences. This is outright disrespectful, the antithesis of reverential.
When you understand reverence, you understand that you are in the presence of someone who is great. You’re more careful about what you do or what you say. When you express reverence for someone, you are expressing a level of respect. And when it comes to someone you respect, you’re likely not going to speak to them any kind of way, nor are you going to ignore their opinions on certain issues. We show reverence to Pastors when we show up to service on time, or when we’re dialed into the service instead of texting people. I’ll admit, I haven’t always shown reverential respect to my church leaders in this way.
Meyer goes as far as to say that we should actually have reverential fear of mistreating anyone because we realize that everyone is important to God.
There are so many things that I could say about this piece, but that means I’ll essentially need to write the book all over again! I would suggest this book for any Christian who is constantly battling with fear and doubt. I would also recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand where fear comes from and how to combat it.
Fear is inevitable; we will never be at a point in life where it doesn’t rear its ugly head. Fear is everywhere and it affects everyone, whether rich or poor, whether young or old. While fear is an unescapable concept, it is not something that we have to use to define our lives. There is a big difference between fears that are logical–the ones that keep us safe–and illogical, the ones that keep us trapped or from achieving our full potential.
This book made me ponder all of the times I’ve let fear get in the way of something that I wanted. And then I shudder at the thought that fear almost kept me away from my husband, and that it almost kept me from pursuing writing, my biggest passion.
Life is a gift, that is what I believe. And I feel that allowing fear to take over my life to the point of stagnation is really just a waste of an incredible gift. You can find Joyce Meyer’s Do it Afraid, as well as her other books, on Amazon or her website.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Awkward Penguin,