Investing Fear

By Dustin Heigh

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom.

I remember hiding behind my mom’s leg when I was a kid. I wasn’t in school yet and found most social encounters terrifying. The safest place for me was behind my mom’s leg, no dangers could overtake me behind this unbreakable bulwark. When towering strangers would reach down to pinch my cheeks I’d press my face into the back of my mom’s leg and close my eyes. I’d wait, clutching tightly and then lean out to see if the stranger had moved on. I grew out of it but I didn’t stop being afraid of things.

Fear has always been a significant part of my life. I am the kind of person who wants to know what’s around the corner before I get there. I want to understand a situation before I am in it. I don’t care for the term, “scaredy-cat” I prefer “Enneagram 6”. It sounds more intelligent. If you’re not familiar with the Enneagram it’s a system of 9 interrelated and interconnected personality types. A “6” is described as having a core weakness of anxiety.

You scan the horizon of life to predict and prevent negative outcomes (especially worst-case scenarios) and remain in a constant state of apprehension and worry. Every Type 6 has an inner committee constantly shouting feedback and cautions at them, like the Parliament in England. The internal clamor causes so much confusion, anxiety, and self-doubt that you do not know what to decide.

It’s a struggle.

If fear is such a natural reality for me I should be a monument of wisdom. As the author of Proverbs 9 writes, fear is the foundation of wisdom. Well, that’s not quite it, fear of the Lord is the accurate quote. So, what does fearing the Lord mean? The beginning of the answer lies in the beginning.

Humanity is created in the image of God, they are like him, his representatives, created to reign and rule with him, to work, create, protect, and bless. Humanity lived in the abundance of God and in active reliance on his eternal goodness. In that setting where the only good they knew was what God defined as good they flourished. In that relationship the fear they had for God was manifested in respect, awe, and dependance. But when they considered the lies of the snake they began to doubt God’s definition of good and set out to claim that authority for themselves, to define good on their own terms. Their fear of God changed. It now manifested in shame and guilt as they hid from one another and God. Their fear changed.

It is an ongoing challenge to understand this “fear of the Lord”. We all know the definition of fear we carry in our minds, “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” But notice fear is based on belief. Fear requires faith. We fear based on what we believe. Which is why it can be so hard to understand the fear of the Lord, our beliefs can shift.

What do I believe when under pressure? If I trust in the goodness of God my fear leads me to worship. If I determine that God is not good my fear leads me to panic. Where do I place my fear in times of crisis? Fear invested in the appropriate place leads to wisdom.

Fear is a big part of my life. My body is significantly impacted by it. Lorimer Moseley is a clinical scientist researching pain in humans. He talks about the pain and fear system in the brain in his amazing TED talk, “Why Things Hurt”. He teaches how pain and fear work together in our brain to keep us safe. Our memories and experiences of pain fill a mental filing cabinet that our brain accesses to determine danger. These experiences develop fear which in turn can actually increase our pain. The two work together to keep us safe. For me, I fill this filing cabinet not just with my own experiences but also with those of others and even with my own imagination. In an attempt to find security I try to look ahead and solve potential problems before they cause pain. This fear has led me to significant health issues, it’s hurt my relationships, and my work.

It’s no surprise and it’s no coincidence that treating my fears is a foundational component to overall wellness in all areas of my life. I need to rewire my brain, my thought patterns, my perspectives.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

I need to intentionally engage my thoughts every day. I need to be attentive to what I am thinking about, what I am focusing on. Fearing God is the fruit of a renewed mind. As I seek Jesus in this His Spirit counsels me in many ways, through scripture, family, community, scholars, and doctors to better understand fear and where to invest it. I want to invest well. I may not be able to hide behind my mom’s leg anymore but I’ve found a bulwark never failing, a mighty fortress worthy of all my fears. I want the love of Jesus to be the foundation of my life.

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