Gripped with Fear

“I lived most of my childhood gripped with fear.”

Even though my parents claimed to be Christians and took us to church every Sunday, their relationship was very volatile.  Arguments erupted all too frequently, and, often, my parents’ anger with one another spilled over onto their children.  Even during relatively peaceful moments, an undercurrent of high tension coursed just below the calm appearance.

Another constant source of fear, odd as it may seem now, was the Cold War.  I spent countless nights in the 1970s and early 80’s huddled under the bedcovers afraid to fall asleep fearing this would be the night the Russians would invade, imprison my parents, and persecute the rest of us for being Christians.

As I grew older, fear of a Communist “takeover” gave way to dread of nuclear war.  I began reading all I could find about the United States’ military equipment, particularly fighter jets and missiles, in hopes of finding some measure of comfort against that threat.

Worse than these, though, was my fear of hell.  Having grown up in a church that preached the Bible, I was well aware of my spiritual condition.  Sunday school memory verses such as Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and Romans 6:23a, “For the wages of sin is death,” coupled with the many sermons I had heard detailing the judgment awaiting the unrighteous cemented in my mind exactly what I could expect when I died.

In order to relieve this particular terror, I prayed repeatedly for forgiveness, but my prayers had everything to do with escaping consequences and nothing to do with repentance.

I was so self-centered, I felt like the victim in the situation since I faced eternal punishment.  In my mind, God owed me salvation.  I had no concern that my sin was a violation of a glorious, holy God and His law.  I didn’t really even want to spend eternity with Him in heaven; I just didn’t want to go to hell.

Meanwhile, I had found other ways of trying to numb my nagging fears.  Popularity, rock music, movies, girlfriends, even substances became my gods.  While I probably couldn’t have articulated it then, I was trusting in the momentary satisfaction they provided, but I could not find lasting peace.

Eventually, even the temporary peace I could sometimes muster seemed always in jeopardy.  The approval of my peers began to seem hollow, relationships with girlfriends were full of problems, and entertainment media was losing its kick, but the real blow came when I was 19.  That year my parents separated and eventually divorced.  Even though my family life had not been happy, it had been stable enough that I never had any physical needs or wants.  Now, though, I basically had to support myself.

I didn’t know then why these things were happening, but God used them in my life.

Through verses like Romans 5:8,

“But God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

He began to show me that the work Jesus did on the cross was not something I somehow deserved, but was an initiative of love and grace that He undertaken on my behalf.  Through verses such as II Corinthians 5:21,

“For [God] made [Jesus], who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

I began to understand there is no real way to be acceptable to God apart from Jesus’ sinless life, death, and resurrection.  I began to realize that trust in anything but Christ’s payment for my sin was worthless and just another offense to a loving God who commanded that we have no other gods before Him.

I was sitting in a Sunday night church service shortly before my 21st birthday when all of these realizations surfaced in my mind, and, like the rebellious son in Luke 15, I came to myself.  What I needed was a restored relationship with God!  All my fears—fear of missing out on fun, fear of losing the approval of my friends, even the fear of hell—receded into the background.

I don’t remember what our pastor preached about that night, but after the service I met with a counselor, and, after talking through some Scripture with him, I prayed once more for God to forgive me.  This time though, I was repentant of the sin I had committed against His holiness, and my faith was resting solely in what Jesus had done.  I finally understood what it meant to accept the offer God makes to all in Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

One of the results of the peace I have with God through salvation is freedom from the fears that had plagued me for so long.  Sure, there are times that I worry about this problem or that, but the lasting dread that has no answer is gone.  In addition, I now realize that the situations that caused me such concern were not my real problem.

No matter what my circumstances were, I would never have found lasting comfort outside of a relationship with God.  If you find yourself obsessed with fear or anxieties the same way I was, hear the words of Jesus Christ:

“Come to me, all you that labor
and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.”
(Matthew 11:28)

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