So fear doesn’t just pack up and leave a body alone.
Jesus tells a tale of a person who had an evil spirit. The person, depicted as a home, was “empty, swept, and in order” (Matthew 12:44). That spirit returned with a host of friends to an emptied-out house all tidied up and made ready for him.
Fear is just that way. We kick it out, board up the windows, clean the cobwebs out of the corners…and then what?
The moment the door is opened a crack, all the fears come swarming back in, more numerous than before.
We can’t leave our hearts open like uninhabited rooms, ready for any whim to rush in and capture us. The room has to be inhabited. In that same chapter of Matthew, Jesus said, “ For who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger—someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house” (Matthew 12:29 NLT).
We can’t just enter the strong house of fear and plunder it. We can’t just chase it out with a broom. We can’t take over the enemy camp without a stronger army to overthrow it.
And we can’t evict fear without something to put in its place. If we try to just root out the bad without replacing it with something else, we will find ourselves assaulting a fortress without an invading army.
Who is going to hold the fort once it is taken?
In Matthew 12, Jesus is the Someone Stronger. He is the invader who has plundered Satan’s stronghold of sin in our hearts. That strong man has been tied up and his house has been plundered by the work of Jesus on the cross. The fullness of Him is the only thing able to fill up the spaces of our cleaned-out rooms.
When He fills us, there is no vacuum for sin to rush into.
Theologian Abraham Kuyper said it this way: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
“Mine!” he declares over our hearts, every square inch.
When we get rid of something, we have to replace it with something. Physicists calls it horror vacui. Nature abhors a vacuum.
Sanctification abhors a vacuum too–we don’t become like Jesus just by sloughing off our sins (although we are helpless to even get that far without God’s power!)
Following Him isn’t just about who we aren’t anymore–it is all about who we are now.
“Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”
– Ephesians 4:17b-24, NLT –
Put off, put on. Stop something and start something else.
Take off fear and dress yourself in something good to replace it.
But what? What can I put in place of my fear?
I set up myself to study fear in 2018. I knew from the beginning that, by drawing this line in the sand, I would launch myself on a frightening journey. How could I not?
I was throwing open cobwebbed cabinets and pounding the dust out of the fear-filled rugs of my existence. Dirt was bound to fly. Fear was bound to be raised. A challenge to my fearless declaration was bound to come. I was nipping at the strong man’s ankles and just daring him to come and get me.
A month and a half into my new year, I’m not sure the assault has let up since the ball dropped and 2018 began.
I began the year uncertain of what adventures would come next, thinking that fearless meant the adventure was about to arrive with at least a certainty of the next move.
Halfway into February, I haven’t the foggiest of what’s coming next.
Worse, I barely know what to want anymore. My hopes and dreams could go any number of directions, if it only knew which path will pan out. I’ve lifted up an open, prayerful heart again and again. I’ve pursued the next thing, unsure what direction life will take in the next moment.
Literally living from day to day as I have never had to do before, terror has not been far away. I used to know what the next 6 months would contain. Today, I barely know what I will do tomorrow, much less next week.
Fearless was supposed to be a victory declaration. Instead, it was a battle cry.
I declared war on the anxiety in my heart, anything keeping me back from a whole-hearted embrace of the glorious liberty of Jesus, and any secret whispers of inadequacy holding me back from what He wants from my present and future.
The fear often settles over me like a cloud of sad restlessness. I start losing sight of what I love. I stop being able to see the beauty. Even as I give mental assent to my God’s plan, my heart turns to anxiety to keep me safe. If I can somehow apprehend this narrow road, if I can just wrap my mind around all the possibilities, if I can prepare my heart to survive any scenario, maybe…just maybe…I can make it through all this uncertainty.
So, in practice, I come back to this thought: What can replace fear in the spaces of my soul? Instead of the habit of anxiety, what habit can I, by grace, cultivate to make my Jesus glad? What can take root in my heart instead of the cold taproot of fear?
Verses trip through my heart:
Jesus never leaves me alone with my fear. To the terrified, the first word are always these: Do not fear!
“Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’” Mark 6:50
“Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’” Mark 5:36
Last night, I read through the She Reads Truth Lent 2018 study, Day 5. As I read God’s words to Moses, I underlined everything God did in response to His people’s needs and paraphrased His words to His beloved ones:
“Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.’” Revelation 1:17
“Do not be afraid. I Am before all the terrors and problems and pains and fears.
I AM, and will still be standing in victory, after all those things fade and crumble and slip away into nameless defeat.
Do not be afraid.
I see you. I hear you, I know. I have come down to rescue and bring you to somewhere good and spacious. I see how you are being treated, I will be with you. I have already sent help. I have paid close attention to what has been done to you. I have promised you that I will bring you up from the misery. I have met with you. I have a plan. I have people already on the way to you. I am paying attention.
Don’t you know My power? I am the Resurrection–the power of all life exploding from the most hopeless state a human heart can experience. I am the Life, the Writer of the Eternally Happy Ending that awakes only after the Misunderstood and All-Hope’s-Lost Tragedy.”
What is strong enough to replace fear in my heart?
Only Jesus, dwelling in my heart by faith (Eph. 3:17).
Belief-saturated praise is the habit that kicks out anxiety, as I fix my eyes on the Source of all perfect love and peace.
Listen up, everyone! The Strongest Man is in the house!
Don’t you see?
Fear doesn’t have a chance in the world.
Love has won.