Fear Less

While it’s impossible to be fearless, we can all fear less. But where do we start?
  1. In which area(s) of your life would you like to fear less?
  2. How do you typically respond to fear?
  3. Has fear ever led you to do something you later regretted? How can you avoid this in the future?
  4. “If you spend time with fearful people, you will adopt their fear.” Have you experienced this before? What did you do?
  5. What makes it difficult for us to place our faith in something bigger than our circumstances?
  6. Have you ever considered faith a solution to fear? What are the pros and cons?

NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.

Hey, we are talking about fear, and, specifically, our theme is Fear Less. Here's the deal. Now, you may not have thought about it this way before. In fact, you haven't had time to think about it this way before because everybody's busy, everybody's going through life. And we all have fears. We all have worries. We have anxieties. Some of you have anxiety attacks. In fact, I've learned this about anxiety attacks––having enough friends who've had anxiety attacks––that if I talk about an anxiety attack long enough, you'll have one. So, we'll just . . .We'll just move on. Anyway, so here's the deal. Now, I think it's impossible to be fearless, but we'll talk about that in just a minute. While it is impossible to be fearless, it is possible to fear less, and that's what we're gonna talk about. I think it's impossible––as we're gonna see over the next few minutes––it's really impossible to live a fearless life. Because the truth is––and you know this, you're adults, you get this––fear is actually a good thing. You really don't want to live a life without fear. Fear has kept you out of trouble. Fear has kept you away from some things that you need to be kept away from. But here's the other reason that fear is really, really a good thing and why it's never gonna go away. You're never gonna totally conquer it because fear is actually a by-product of something. Fear is the by-product of our ability to project into the future and remember the past. One of the greatest gifts that God has given you, one of the greatest gifts that God has given the human race, or––if you're not a God person or a Christian person––one of the greatest gifts that natural selection finally naturally selected for us is simply this: Human beings have the ability to remember what happened in the past. In fact, we can remember way, way, way, way back.

And because we have the ability to remember what happened in the past, we just assume all animals do too. They don't. We also have the ability to project into the future. It's our ability to remember what happened the last two Christmases that allows us to project into the future and look forward to the next Christmas. Or it's our ability to remember what happened the last two Christmases and dread the next Christmas, okay? So, our ability as human beings to be able to remember what happened in the past and to project into the future is a wonderful, wonderful thing. It's why we're able to make progress as a race. It's why we're able to move forward. It's why we're able to plan. It's why you're able to hope. The reason you have hopes is because you have memories. You have memories from your life. You have heard stories of what other people have done, and as you think about your future, you have hope. You're able to project into the future. It's why you're able to dream. It's why we're able to wish. It's why we're able to anticipate.

The ability to anticipate . . . Imagine life without the ability to hope or to dream or to wish or to anticipate. The problem is our ability to do all of that is what enables us, unfortunately, and empowers us to be able to fear. None of us––no matter how fearful we are, no matter how big our fears are––none of us would trade our ability to be able to do all that for a fearless life. That's why I say it's impossible to live a fearless life. We're never going to be fearless, but we can––as we're gonna see––fear less. Now, fear is connected to this other incredible thing that God has given us the ability to do, and that is to imagine. Imagination is tied to fear. What is fear?

Fear is, "I begin to imagine what might happen. I begin to imagine how bad it's gonna be. I begin to imagine three or four more years like the last three or four years. I begin to imagine how long it's gonna take me to recover. I begin to imagine what it's gonna be like if I can't pay my bills." This powerful, wonderful thing: imagination. Who would trade imagination to get rid of fear? None of us, and yet it's our ability to imagine that makes us think, What if it doesn't work out. What if this relationship doesn't work out? Then what? What if this career doesn't work out? And what if I don't get that job? And what if they don't call me back? And what if she doesn't show up? Or what if she does show up? Or what if I never have kids? Or what if I'm actually pregnant? We just imagine. And your fear––your ability to fear––is tied to your ability to imagine. And if I said, "Hey, if you come up here afterwards today, after I finish, you can push a button, and you can lose your ability to imagine. You can lose your potential to fear." None of us––I'm guessing––would trade that in, which means we're stuck. God bless you. See you next time, right? It's like, there's just really nothing you can do about it. Fear is just a part of life, and it's tied to some of the greatest things. And none of us––if we had the potential or the ability––would trade that in.

So, here's the question: What do we do? What do we do? As I said up front, is there a way––if we can't be fearless––to fear less? And the answer is yes. Now, if you're a Christian like I'm a Christian, and you kind of look to God for leadership, and you trust that the New Testament documents really tell us what Jesus actually said, we can ask Jesus. We can ask, "Jesus, what do you have to say about fear?" Now, Jesus is a little bit funny when it comes to fear. In fact, Jesus talked a lot about fear, and even if you're not a Christian, it's really interesting to read what Jesus said about fear. Because on the surface, he doesn't seem to give us much help at all. I would imagine––based on what the Gospels say––that if Jesus were here and we were to say, "Jesus, what do you have to say about fear?" he would sum it up in two words. He would say, "Fear not." Or three words, "Don't be afraid. Have a good day." It's like, "That's it."

When you look in the Gospels, you'll see that Jesus talked a lot about fear, and, apparently, he believed that in this life, there will be fear, that you're not gonna live a fearless life. But clearly, based on what he taught and how he lived and what he told those who were close to him, there is a way for us to fear less. And then, one time, he was speaking to his disciples. I think he had a big grin on his face when he taught his disciples this. He said, "Do not be afraid . . ." Maybe you've heard this before. "Do not be afraid of those who can only kill the body." That's like the whole thing. "Kill the body?" That's like, "You killed all of me." It's like, "Ah, it's just my body. I'm fine." Just the body? He says, "Don't be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul."

What does that even mean? "Rather be afraid . . ." So, we are supposed to be afraid of something. "Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell." It's like, "Okay, well, there it is again. You're not helping us. You're supposed to say, 'Don't worry. Nothing's gonna happen. Don't be afraid.' Twice now, you've said, 'Something bad's gonna happen. Don't be afraid. Your whole body might be killed, but don't be afraid of the people who can kill your whole body. You're supposed to rather be afraid of this one who can take care of and, ultimately, satisfy and save your body and soul.'" What is he talking about? Now, this is such a big deal. Jesus takes us to a place––and I'm telling you––I've met some people who've been there. You've met some who've been there. Some of you are just all about this. You know where I'm going with this, because this isn't theory for you. This isn't a message for you. This is your experience. He goes on and he says, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?" And they're all going, "Yes." And we're going, "I don't know." "Yet, not one of them, not one of these sparrows will fall to the ground outside of your Father's care." Really? That's a lot of detail. God really cares that much?

In other words, he's taking this to his bottom line and saying, "Your heavenly Father has the final say. Your heavenly Father has the final say. Your heavenly Father has the final say. Your heavenly Father has the final say. So, let me review. Bad things are gonna happen to some good people. Don't be afraid. Bad things are gonna happen to some really good people. Don't be afraid. Your heavenly Father is the ultimate decision maker. Your heavenly Father's will hold sway." And even—"The very hairs of your head are all numbered. So, don't be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows." So, let's see if we can get this straight. "So, Jesus, you're not doing the Mom/Dad thing. You're not sugarcoating this. You're saying up front, 'Things are gonna be bad. There's gonna be pain. There's gonna be sorrow. There's gonna be grief. There's gonna be death. There's gonna be all kinds of bad things that happen. And somehow, we can not be afraid.' You're not promising to keep bad things from happening. So, what's the point?" Now, Jesus was all about illustrations.

He wasn't just about teaching. He was about illustrations. So, on a couple of occasions, he took his disciples on a visual-aid boat ride. And these are very famous stories from the New Testament, these visual-aid boat rides. One of them went like this. It says: "Then he got into the boat, and his disciples followed him." Because that's what Jesus constantly said: "Follow me, follow me, follow me." So, "He got into the boat, and his disciples followed him." You've heard this story before­­. "Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake so that the waves swept over the boat." Remember this? "But Jesus was sleeping." Now, if you're a Christian, this is one of your greatest fears right here, isn't it? In fact, some of you feel like, No, this my life. I'm in trouble, Jesus is sleeping. I'm in trouble. God is sleeping. There's a storm. It's a physical storm, It's a health storm. It's a job storm. It's a relationship storm. It's a financial storm. It's something-going-on-with-my-extended-family storm. You feel like, There's a storm. And I'm praying like crazy, and Jesus is sleeping. And this is so important, okay? And if you don't hear anything else I say, hear this.

When you feel that way, the good news is you're not the first person to experience that. The people Jesus knew the best and loved the most experienced that very thing. It wasn't just the theoretical, "I've been praying, and I haven't heard anything." No. They are six feet away, and they are gonna literally drown. And he is actually sleeping. Which means when you feel that sense of distance from God and the Where's God, and what's God up to? it's as if Jesus left us this story to say, "It's okay. It's okay. You're not alone. It's not as bad as you think. You are not the first to feel this, to fear this, or to experience this."

You remember this story. "And the disciples went, and they woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We're going to drown.’ And then he replied, ‘You of little faith. Why are you so afraid?’” Okay. See, God, your Father, gave us the ability to both remember and project. And we remember some friends who got caught in the storm, and they drowned. We know what's happened to us in the past. We know what has happened to other people in the past. How can we not project the past on the future? Because there's no way for us not to do that. That is why we are afraid.

This is our experience. And Jesus is so down-to-earth, both feet planted firmly on the ground, illustrating for the people he loved the most, and then recording this in such a way that 2,000 years later, we are still talking about it. This is so powerful. And then he got up, the text tells us: "And he rebuked the wind and the waves, and it was completely calm. And the men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him.’” And the answer is “super.” That's what kind man he is. He is a super man. He has the ability to control nature.

And here we are, 2,000 years later, still talking about this extraordinary, extraordinary event. Because here's what ultimately happened for them, and here is what I believe our heavenly Father wants to happen for me. I think God wants all of us to take something away from these fabulous narratives that have been preserved for us through all these years. He wants us to know that in the midst of all the what that causes us to fear, there is a who that says, "I want you to look at me." And in this moment, here's what happened. Their focus went from the what of the storm to the who of the person who could calm the storm.

Their focus shifted away from the what of the storm that's about to take our lives and kill our bodies. As if there was more to life than our body. Then suddenly, in a moment, they're asking a question. Not, "Did you see what happened? Where did the storm go? It suddenly came up quick." Instead, they were like, "What kind of man is this? If there is anyone who demands and deserves our respect and awe, if there is anything we should fear, it is not the storms. It is the one who has the ability to calm the storm. What kind of man is this?”

Well, the disciples, the apostles, I'm not critical of them. Who knows what any of us would have done? But they didn't get it. They didn't. So, when Jesus was arrested, they didn't stand by their man. They hid, they lied, and they denied. They fled, and they disappeared. And then a little while later, this same group of people who just disappeared into the night and kinda left their guy—literally—hanging, show back up, and they're courageous. They go into the streets of Jerusalem, even though they are facing people who killed the Son of God's body and have the potential to kill their bodies as well. And somehow they've learned the lesson, and somehow they've become seemingly fearless, regardless of the fact that all of their lives are at risk.

And they go into the streets of Jerusalem, and they say, "You killed him. God raised him. We've seen him. Say you're sorry. And we're not afraid anymore." It's like, "What happened to you?" It's that, "We saw a resurrected Savior, and we got it. We got it. We got it. We finally came to grips, and we finally came to terms with the question that we asked on the boat, 'What kind of man is this?' This is a man sent from God. And if there is anyone and anything we ought to fear, respect, awe, reverence, it's him. And it's exactly as he said: We have suffered, and we have lost. But somehow, we are no longer afraid." Because a someone replaced a something. This is how you become­­––not fearless––this is how you begin to fear less. Because when their faith in someone exceeded their fear of something, fear lost its grip. And when your faith in that someone exceeds your fear of the something, fear––though it doesn't completely vanish––loses its death grip. It loses its chokehold on you.

Now, that is very easy for me to stand up here and say. So, last night––literally last night––our community group met. And right now, in our small group, there's a man in our group who I've known for about eight or nine years––maybe longer than that––maybe ten years. His name is Tim, and three-and-a-half years ago, Tim was diagnosed with ALS. Many of you know that ALS is a disorder that involves the death of the motor neurons that control the voluntary muscles. So, what happens is, over time your muscles atrophy—all of your muscles. It can work its way out in different ways, but generally, what happens is a person gets weaker and weaker because their muscles get weaker and weaker. Eventually, you lose the ability to speak. And then you lose the ability to swallow. And then you lose the ability to breathe. And then you pass away.

So, three-and-a-half years ago, Tim was diagnosed with ALS, and our community group is kind of their support group as Tim slowly goes to meet his maker. Last year, our family and a bunch of us were part of his team for the ALS Walk and, at the Walk, I took this picture, so I'm gonna show you this picture. So, last night, we were in community group––there are five couples in our group and two couples didn't show up. So, three couples sat in my living room, and I'm supposed to lead the discussion. I said, "Hey, Tim. Tomorrow night, I'm gonna meet with a whole bunch of folks in the city, and we're gonna talk about fear. What would you tell them? What would you say to them?" And we're very good friends, so I can ask very specific questions. There is no secret. They're wide open about this whole thing. I said, "Come on. How do you deal. . .? Come on, Tim. I want you to be specific. How do you deal. . .?" Now, I didn't use the word “fear.” I said, "How do you deal with the terror?" And I just started taking notes. And he and Carla just started talking. And we were crying, and I'm writing. And we were crying and writing.

So, I wanna tell you what he told us, and what he told me, specifically, to tell you. Here's what he said: "If you spend time with fearful people, you will adopt their fear." Let me ask you a question. What are the people that you spend the most time with most concerned about? We don't call that “fear.” For example, Am I gonna make enough? Am I gonna wear enough? Am I cute enough? Am I. . . All that stuff. And we don't call those fears; we call those concerns. He said, “The people that you spend time with, the thing that they're most concerned about will eventually become your concern. You will adopt their fear, whether it's looks, status, income.” He said, “What are the things that the people you spend time with most concerned about? Those concerns will become your concerns.” But what is most valuable? What's most important? What really matters?

That's why those of you who invest a slice of your time investing in the lives of other people, you get this. You get this because part of your concern is other people, and part of your concern is the welfare of another generation. But some of you, you are surrounded with people, and it's not that they're concerned about bad things. They're just not concerned about really important things. And Tim says, "Fear is contagious, and the things that the people around you fear the most will eventually become your fears." And his reasoning was, "There are so many people in the city that, when they are confronted with ALS, they go into complete denial. They won't even come to a support group. And then when they find each other, it's like fear feeds fear. And you've got to find people who fear the right thing and are concerned about the right thing." The second thing he said is this, and you wouldn't be surprised at this one. He said, "ALS makes everything I worried about in the past seem silly."

And then he looked at me. He was sitting in my big––like every dad has a chair––he's in my chair. He's in the Santa Claus chair last night, and I'm sitting on the couch. And all of us were sitting there. He looked at me, and here's a quote. He spoke to you last night. Here's what he said: "Tell them, 'Stop worrying, live your life.' The sooner they accept what can't be changed, the easier it becomes." Stop worrying and live your life. Come on. What is it that you're worrying about? Oh, I'm so completely stressed out. He's gonna get. . . And Tim would get face to face with you, and he'd go, "Are you kidding? That is so silly." Yeah, but everybody at work . . . "Hey, it's silly." But my sister-in-law. . . "It's silly." Yeah, but I don't know if I'm gonna . . . "Hey, it's silly." Live your life, and stop trying to live somebody else's life. Here's what he said: "I've met so many people in this ALS community. They put all their effort . . ." Now don't miss this, okay? "They put all their effort and energy into fighting, striving, and denying, rather than living, and they're disappointed in the end." He said, "There are so many people in this community, and they're just striving. They're fighting this. They're denying this. There's so much tension. In the end, they lose anyway."

So, come on, let me ask you, is there a fear? Is there a concern? Is there a worry? And you're just constantly striving and constantly fighting and constantly worrying, a little bit in denial. Here's what my buddy Tim would say. He'd say, "Come on. You've gotta let that go. I know what everybody else… Come on, let it go. Quit trying to live somebody else's life with somebody else's expectations because of something somebody told you. Let it go and live your life." But then, he said something I won't ever forget––there were just too many tears. I said, "Come on, Tim, what are you afraid of? I'm gonna talk about fear. Tell me about the fears." Here's what he said regarding his fears. Are you ready for this? "It's the fear of the unknown," and he paused. And I'm like, “Yeah.” We all know this: fear of the unknown. Okay, that's what fear is. It's the unknown. If we knew, we wouldn't be afraid. But if we knew, we'd be afraid more. But then, sometimes, we don't know, and I'd like to know the future. But I don't think I really wanna know the future. “So, it's just the unknown, right?” He paused, and then he made a statement. I'm telling you, I don't know how to communicate this with the gravity and the weight that Tim did. This may just kind of be like, "What's the big deal?"

Here's what he said: "It's the fear of the unknown." And then he chuckled and said this: "But the truth is, very little is really unknown." Here's what he meant. He chuckled and said, "I have ALS. What is there not to know? I know how this ends. And so I'm no longer afraid of the unknown, because very little is unknown." Listen to this. Look up here. Ladies and gentlemen, there is no mystery as to how it ends for us either. There is very little unknown. This is why Jesus––this is so amazing––this is why Jesus could say to his closest followers, and why he can say to us, "You don't need to be afraid, because the unknown isn't unknown to me." And at the end of the day, we all know how it ends. So, fear not. Superman is with you. And the worst thing that can happen is that your body is destroyed, and there's no unknown about that either. But why would we spend our lives striving and fearing things when the worst they can do is destroy our body? Why fear things when we have been introduced to the super man, the someone who died for our sins and claimed to be able to save our souls––that immaterial part of us that isn't brain and that isn't body, the part that is eternal once it's been created by God?

He says, "Why would you spend your little, itty-bitty, seventy, eighty, ninety-year-old years on this? Why would you spend it striving and fearing? Because there isn't really that much unknown anyway." At the end of day, we all end up the same. So, just let it go and live your life. And knowing that reality loosens the stranglehold of fear because the unknown––come on––it's not really that unknown. In fact, while we were sitting there and he said that, his wife, Carla––she was sitting to the left––said this. She said, "You know, Andy, but every once in a while . . ." And she didn't say, "at night," but I could tell she meant "at night." She said, "Every once in a while, the fear creeps back in, and I just have to re-release it to God. The fear starts creeping back in; it doesn't ever completely go. We're never gonna be fearless. The fear starts creeping back in, and I just have to let it go." You know what she was saying? Come on. “There is a someone who overwhelms the something. There is a someone that I have learned to trust in. And if I can trust in the someone, the something stays smaller, and I can live my life.” And as Jesus said, “I'm not promising you bad things are not going to happen. I'm just promising to be with you through them. I'm not promising that everything is gonna work out the way everybody says it's supposed to work out because you have faith and believe in God. I'm just telling you there is a who that will keep your fears in their proper place if you will continue to put your trust in me.” Because when your faith in someone else exceeds your fear of something, fear loses its grip.

The apostle Paul said it this way, and we're done. He said, "Come on. Don't be anxious about anything." This is in the book of the Philippians, where he spent time in jail in Philippi. "Don't be anxious about anything, but in every situation . . ." Here we go. “Don't be worried.” Come on. “Don't be anxious about anything, but in every situation––thing––by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to someone, and the peace of God . . .”

Not the peace of circumstance. Not the peace of enough money in the bank. Not the peace of, Oh, she called me back. Not the peace of, It all worked out. Paul says, "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding . . ." I've said this to Tim so many times. "Seriously, Tim, how do you keep your attitude? I do not understand how you can have such peace in the midst of . . . you're dying." Paul goes on to say, "And the peace of God, that transcends above and beyond all human understanding . . ." The way I memorized it as a kid was "all human comprehension." He says, "And the peace of God, that transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in . . ."––in a who––"Christ Jesus." Like many of you, I've seen that peace firsthand. Many of you could stand up and tell us your story of how the peace of God overwhelmed circumstances that filled you with fear until you understood that there is someone who puts fear in its place. Tim and Carla would assure you tonight. It's very, very real. There is a peace that surpasses human comprehension because it comes from someone, a super man. It enables us to move from fearful to fearless because there is someone who is with us.