Formed by our fears

Fear Bravely as You Are Strengthened with the Courage to Love

Fear is a powerful motivator.  Even the reluctant student might memorize lists of data for fear of failing a class.  Motorists maintain a more conservative driving speed in areas where police regularly patrol. 

Unfortunately, there is also the fear that paralyzes, which leads to irrational decisions and self-protective behaviors.  Fear of God, however,  is the supremely rational fear, because it is a response to God’s power, position, and person, and this God-inspired awe or reverence was Nehemiah’s continual default.  This is evident in his prayer:

“O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name . . .”

Nehemiah 11:1

It is lived out in his beyond-the-call-of-duty generosity:

“The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people . . . but I did not do so, because of the fear of God.”

Nehemiah 5:15

Formed by a Better Fear

Nehemiah was being formed by his fear.  This was a salutary thing in his case because his fear was well-placed.  In fact, Nehemiah’s fear of God prevented him from fearing his enemies and their threats.

Thomas Chalmers might have described this as “the expulsive power” of a better fear.  Exodus 20:20 finds Moses trying to reason with the people of Israel that if they would only fear God [with reverence and awe], they would not need to be afraid of God [with servile terror].

So often, I find myself returning to the prayer of the Southwell Litany:

From fear of men and dread of responsibility, strengthen us with courage to speak the truth in love and in self-control; and alike from the weakness of hasty violence and moral cowardice, save us and help us we humbly beseech thee, O Lord.”

Fear of Men

Fear of God clearly had “expelled”  fear of men from Nehemiah’s leadership style.  He called a spade a spade — and a cheat a cheat, (5:9-11), and an imposter an imposter, (6:12).  He refused serial invitations from neighboring dignitaries and called the local nobility on the carpet for treating people like possessions. 

Dread of Responsibility

It was Nehemiah’s fear of God that enabled him as governor to embrace his duty to love and care for the remnant in Jerusalem, (5:15).  Far from “dreading” this responsibility, he provided for their material needs through days of famine at his own expense, and, recognizing his responsibility to uphold reverence for God before the people, he refused to shut himself into the Holy Place to escape his enemies’ threats. 

As governor, but NOT a priest, his entry into the Holy Place would have desecrated the house of God, causing Israel and the surrounding nations to question his reverence for God — as well as his courage.  Nehemiah feared sin more than he feared death.

“Strengthen my hands,” was Nehemiah’s request in the midst of danger and intrigue.  Sure beats, “Calgon, take me away!”  I am more likely to pray for deliverance from a bad situation than to pray for diligence and mastery of it. 

“Strengthen my hands,” was Nehemiah’s request in the midst of danger and intrigue. Sadly, I am more likely to pray for deliverance from a bad situation than to pray for #diligence and mastery of it.

Throughout my years of mothering, I’ve been drawn to the Southwell Litany because I see the potential dangers that come with the “dread of responsibility, ” such as:
over-using the t.v. as a babysitter;
side-stepping an essential confrontation with the hormonally crazed teen; or
having THAT conversation with the friend who has lapsed into husband bashing.

We, too, are always in the process of being formed by our fears.

Nehemiah prayed, “Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (5:19),  because he was serving an audience of One.  Likewise, may our primary concern be pleasing God, a salutary fear that will crowd out any tendency to play to the crowd.

We are always in the process of being formed by our #fears.

And Now Let’s Talk Books…

Fearing Bravely

A second pandemic is sweeping the globe, more deadly than COVID, simply because no vaccine has been discovered to control its spread. Catherine McNiel writes to immunize her readers against a destructive strain of fear that seeks to control us and keeps us from love. Her work in Fearing Bravely echoes the wise words of Marilynne Robinson: “Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.”

Fear shows up in countless disguises, clouding our judgment and diverting our attention from our mission. We exist to declare and demonstrate God’s love, but McNiel’s research reveals that, sadly, believers are better known for our fear than our love.

Turning our eyes and hearts toward eternal truth, we find that perfect love casts out fear (I John 4:9). This is not at all a call to a Pollyanna-ish denial of the facts, but rather a rallying cry to “confront our fears and step out in love.” It’s a call to fear bravely!

This is a posture that’s God-designed to change how we relate to our neighbors, to strangers, and even to our enemies, and this is the beauty of McNiel’s thesis. With “do not fear” resounding through the pages of our sacred text (frequently addressed, incidentally, to people who had very good reason to fear), it’s our privilege to put the power of resurrection life on display for our quivering, cowering world. Recognized by our love and fearing God above all else, we step into risk with the gospel orientation that grateful service to others is our right response to the grace we have received.

With suggested print and online resources, insightful reflective questions, suggestions for brave follow-up steps, the book invites readers into deeper individual pondering or stimulating group discussion. Too, I was personally enriched by paying attention to Catherine’s footnotes.

Loving our neighbor without fear is Step One. By grace, the God-appointed strangers who come our way, and maybe even a few enemies may become our neighbors as we begin to live from a posture of love in our churches, our homes, and our communities, a love that conquers fear.

To immunize her readers against a strain of fear that seeks to keep us from love, @CatherineMcNiel wrote #FearingBravely in which she echoes the wise words of #MarilynneRobinson: “Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” #NavPress

Cast Your Cares

I am no fisherman, but Peter’s imagery is not lost on me. When he said, “Cast your cares upon the Lord,” he meant for me to send them flying. Am I the only one who sometimes wonders if my cares turn into a boomerang that comes sailing back in my direction?

If you are looking for help in managing anxiety, you are not alone. It’s the number one mental health concern in our country, and Abide, the Christian wellness app, offers resources to help relieve your anxiety. The app is available through GooglePlay or the Apple Store, but recently they’ve created a book of devotions, a forty-day journey toward true soul rest.

In  Cast Your Cares, Stephanie Reeves addresses eight common fears and anxieties with scriptural insights supported by meditation and journaling prompts designed to help you apply truth to your unique situation. Research shows that forty days of focused attention goes a long way in overcoming an unwanted habit and replacing it with a more healthful alternative.

Reflection and release are the key behaviors that form the foundation of this eight-part exercise in trusting God, and with its beautiful hardcover binding and ribbon bookmark, it will make a thoughtful gift or a treasured addition to your own library.

Holding You in the Light,

When Peter said, “Cast your cares upon the Lord,” he meant for me to send them flying. In #CastYourCares, @StephCReeves provides strong support in managing anxiety and finding true soul rest. via @abideisprayer

Many thanks to NavPress and Abide for providing copies of these books to facilitate my review which is, of course, offered freely and with honesty.

And One Last Thing…

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Second, if you are a bookish individual, perhaps you’d appreciate some help in writing book reviews? I’ve created a resource sharing some tried and true tips that have come from writing hundreds of book reviews for Living Our Days and other sites. I have loved pointing my readers toward the good stuff that’s out there, and if that’s your goal, too, I want to help you.

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47 thoughts on “Fear Bravely as You Are Strengthened with the Courage to Love”

  1. Can’t comment on my phone. Great post. I’ve literally been paralyzed by fear. Long story.

    I am so unmotivated to write or blog or anything. I must snap out of it.



  2. “…delight to fear your name…” Now there is wise fear at its finest, sensible fear. That’s the kind I desire…


  3. Very well said. Interesting I have just started a 3 week series on Nehemiah and I open this today and you are talking about him😊 Fear and anxiety are real and challenging things with a need for strong spiritual help and sometimes help to assess if it is also connected to neurotransmitters out of alignment in the brain based on my experience as a retired licensed professional clinical counselor. Healing and help cannot be wholly effective without the spiritual piece but some need additional assessment and treatment.


      1. Yes, and it’s important for believers to not feel shame when they need the extra help in that. Professionals who are also believers give the person the best of both helps oftentimes when the problem is related to trauma or abuse, etc. Always appreciate your thoughts and writing and the books that inform your work.💕

        Liked by 1 person

  4. So much of this resonates with me. I, too, am more prone to “pray for deliverance from a bad situation than to pray for #diligence and mastery of it.” I’ve been paralyzed with fear too often, sometimes in the face of responsibility. What a neat thought that a greater fear, the right kind of fear, can overcome lesser fears.


    1. That verse in Exodus where Moses is trying to reason with the people of Israel that if they would only fear God [with reverence and awe], they would not need to be afraid of God [with servile terror]–it set my thoughts in this direction, and I bump into this intersection of fear myself, especially when I’m being pushed outside my comfort zone. Thanks for sharing your own thoughts, Barbara!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This brings to mind so many thoughts, Michele. I can for sure relate to praying for deliverance from a bad situation rather than praying for diligence to get through it. (Is it OK to pray for both, maybe? 😊) I didn’t see it at the time, but fear kept me from broaching a few subjects with my parents in their last months. I regret that, but it’s also made me less afraid now to bring up things that need to be addressed with my girls. So that’s a blessing, I think.


  6. “I am more likely to pray for deliverance from a bad situation than to pray for diligence and mastery of it.” So very true! Thank you for sharing such an important message!
    So glad I stopped by your blog today! I downloaded the Abide app and am looking forward to this new habit.


  7. “Likewise, may our primary concern be pleasing God, a salutary fear that will crowd out any tendency to play to the crowd.” Good advice, Michele. Having dealt with a lot of fear myself, I know it helps when I parse out the underlying factors of my fear, and let God help me overcome it.


  8. Oh yes, thank you, Michele, for this important reminder to pray for diligence through and mastery of our challenging circumstances. Those prayers CAN be easy to forget in the midst of trouble. God always has valuable lessons to learn in the difficulties as well. I want to be an attentive student!


    1. Where did we get the unbiblical notion that Christians should have smooth sailing? May we submit to those valuables lessons and come out on the other side stronger!
      Always SO good to hear from you!


  9. The book on fear sounds really good, I was just reading an excerpt from an author – Richard Rohr on fear, yes I put my hand up, especially as a six.


  10. I love how you bring out that our fear of the Lord should empower us to treat others better—not retreat into some lofty, removed relationship from the world. I’ll have to check out Fearing Bravely—it seems like the perfect companion to Nehemiah!


  11. “Nehemiah was being formed by his fear. This was a salutary thing in his case because his fear was well-placed. In fact, Nehemiah’s fear of God prevented him from fearing his enemies and their threats.”

    I have never really thought about how fear/reverence of God can shape our character. Thanks for that eye-opener, Michele!


  12. Thank you, Michele for this important reminder of how our fears shape us: for good and bad. Fear is a powerful motivator or an excuse generator. I appreciate this wake up call to be more discerning about where my fears are taking me!


  13. As I was reading this post I just kept thinking about Evan’s Psychology lesson this week that was all about the fight or flight response and the body’s physical manifestations of stress and fear. Thank you so much for sharing with us at Encouraging Hearts and Home.


  14. I’ve never really thought about fear as being a motivator. It can definitely pave the way for us to act irrationally and out of character though if we’re not careful. Thank you for joining us for the #dreamteam x


  15. I love this post, Michele! You’re right: our fears are forming us, a fact that we need to face squarely. Love your example of Nehemiah, who offers us so much wisdom for living our days! And thank you for highlighting Catherine’s book; I know how much she appreciates that!

    Thanks so much for joining the Grace at Home party. I’m featuring you this week!


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