Category Archives: Series: Fear of People

So Much Grace to Share: Why We Never Have to Be Afraid Again

Welcome to the conclusion of the Facing Fear of People series! For earlier posts, start here:

Part 1: We All Do It

Part 2: It’s a Trap

Part 3: Why Are We So Afraid?

Part 4: Tell Me Something True

Part 5: What If We Are Still Afraid?

“I wanna do it!” The two-year-old jerked away as her mom tried to steer the miniature shopping cart. The cart bumped into the freezer display.

Kelsie sighed before answering. “You can do it, Sara, but I am here to help you sometimes.” She held the cart still.

“No!” Sara yelled.

“I’m waiting for you to listen. When you’re ready to listen, you can do it by yourself.”

Sara stood quietly, but still glaring a little. Close enough. Kelsie let go of the cart. “Okay. Let’s go find the apple juice.”

She rolled her eyes as she followed her toddler down the next aisle. April’s offer of keeping both children for a couple of hours had been tempting, but Kelsie eventually decided to take Sara with her in the hopes that this one-on-one time would be helpful long-term.

Sara got to the end of the aisle and Kelsie reached out to stop the cart. “Watch out, honey—there are other carts here.” They waited a minute, then a woman smiled at them and waited for them to go first. “Thanks,” Kelsie smiled. She realized as they walked on that she was still holding onto the little cart—and Sara hadn’t yelled at her once. Small victories. I’ll take it, she thought.

“Mommy, look! We had those at Gigi’s house!” Sara pointed to the blueberry waffles in the frozen section.

“Those were yummy,” Kelsie agreed. “Look, they have strawberry waffles, too. Do you want to take some blueberry waffles home, or try the strawberry ones?” Sara looked hard at the waffle display as she tried to decide.

“Why, hello there—it’s nice to see you!”

Kelsie turned to see Rebecca Peters walking up. For a minute she froze. She thought about the chocolate-chocolate pie from the bakery now sitting conspicuously in the cart, and about the mismatched outfit Sara had insisted on wearing. She remembered Noah’s loud screaming in church the day before, and how she had forgotten to bring back the book she was going to return to Rebecca. The book she hadn’t read.

But in the next instant she remembered what she had been able to catch of yesterday’s sermon. We aren’t sitting here today because we earned our seats, Pastor Wilkes had said. We can only walk into the presence of God because Jesus bled and died to make us His. And if God has welcomed us, we will never be unwelcome.

Kelsie turned with a smile to Rebecca Peters. “Hi, Rebecca! It’s good to see you, too.”

Never Afraid Again

We don’t have to be afraid of each other. Not anymore. When Jesus paid our eternal debt and bought our freedom, He forever broke the hold anyone or anything else can ever have on us. Only He can call us His, and only in His love and grace and power and forgiveness will we ever find our worth and meaning for our lives.

Over the last few weeks, we have explored several different areas of fear of people and how it can sneakily hide out in the crevices of our lives. For me, it has been an exercise of looking deeper into my own life and finding new and deeper areas that need change, and I so hope that you have been encouraged and strengthened through thinking through this topic.

As we live in light of our eternal freedom and the security that comes with that, we may find that people don’t think as lowly of us as we expected. Or we may find that they do. Whichever the case may be, it doesn’t matter anymore: we have the assurance that our standing hasn’t changed because of our latest faux pas and will never be based on our popularity or current social standing.

Eventually, we will probably find others who are still trapped in fear of people. They may not know it. They may not even really show it. In fact, they might act so confident and callous to others that the real insecurities are almost too deep to see. Some of them might try—unintentionally, perhaps—to disguise their fear of not measuring up by pointing out to us how we have missed the mark.

But we don’t have to play like that anymore.

We know we have missed the mark. We know we still fail to measure up every day. But we also know that our lives are based on Jesus’ perfection, not ours, and we can rest in His grace and love and joy even in the most imperfect of days.

When we meet someone who still has that same fear we know so well, we can show them how free they can be. We can extend that same grace we have so undeservedly been given and welcome them, despite the reasons they may give us not to. They are invited and welcomed into this grace, too—into freedom forever.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Four minutes was a long time for Sara to wait as the adults talked. She tried to open the freezer door to reach the waffles herself, but she was too short.

She looked up at Kelsie. “Mommy?” she said quietly. No answer. Sara looked back at her cart, then back up at the door handle. She pulled the crackers out and put them on the floor. When there was enough room, she swung her leg into the cart and began to climb in. She balanced carefully and stood up. She had almost reached the handle—

“Sara!” Kelsie barely had time to catch her daughter as the cart dropped to its side under Sara’s weight. Chicken nugget packages fell on top of each other, Noah’s baby food jars—thankfully unbroken—rolled all over the aisle, and the chocolate-chocolate cake was smashed upside down in its container.

Kelsie hugged her daughter while a stranger righted the cart and another one set the chicken nuggets back in and a teenage boy started collecting the baby food jars. She smiled her thanks and laughed when someone handed her the smeared chocolate-chocolate pie. She set Sara down. “Okay, girlie,” she said. “I’m glad you’re okay. Next time let’s wait for Mommy’s help, okay? We’ll get the waffles in just a minute.” She held Sara’s hand as she turned back to Rebecca. “Sorry about that. Where were we?”

Rebecca paused. “That was neat, Kelsie,” she said quietly.

Kelsie looked around. “What was neat? How far the baby food jars could roll?” She smiled.

“No, the way you responded.” Rebecca sighed. “When my kids were Sara’s age, I would have been really mad at them for that—especially the pie,” she smiled.

Kelsie looked at Sara. “Oh, I get mad sometimes, too,” she said. “And pie is kind of a big deal.”

“But you were so patient there, so—” Rebecca tried to find the right word. “So full of grace.” She looked away. “I don’t show my kids grace very well.”

Kelsie nodded. “It can be hard,” she agreed. “But then, I’ve been given so much grace, I guess I have a lot to share.”

 

What If We Are Still Afraid?

For earlier posts in the Fear of People series, check out the following links:

Part 1: We All Do It

Part 2: It’s a Trap

Part 3: Why Are We So Afraid?

Part 4: Tell Me Something True

Kelsie took a deep breath as she watched her toddler try to blow bubbles while she played on the neighbor’s driveway. “Here, let me show you,” the neighbor boy said, slowly taking the bubble wand from Sara.

“Your kids are so great, April,” Kelsie said as she watched the teenager help Sara try again. “Sara loves Carson and Makenna.”

“I like them,” April smiled. “But I remember those early years, too—not for the faint of heart, girl.”

Kelsie rolled her eyes. “Maybe that’s my problem.”

“What, faint of heart?”

“I don’t know. I just know other moms who have had their devotions and fed their kids a three-course breakfast and trained for a 5K by this time of day—and we can’t even make it to the grocery store.” Kelsie turned Noah around in her arms so he could see his sister playing.

“That’s great for them, but ‘other moms’ don’t define what you or your kids should be doing. You are not them, you know.”

Sara squealed with happiness as she finally propelled a bubble into the air. She stared up into the sky with Carson as it drifted away on the wind.

“I just need to get it together,” Kelsie said quietly.

“Good luck with that, girl,” April said. “And let me know when you figure it out.”

So, So Hard

So we know our problem. We know it is there and that it is deeply rooted, and we worry (ironically) about how other people probably don’t have to struggle with this. It is discouraging to think others might have a handle on this when we never seem to figure it out.

As Christians, we know we are called to become more and more like Jesus, with the understanding that we will never live up to His example. Even Jesus’ opponents knew He didn’t “care about anyone’s opinion. For You are not swayed by appearances,” they told Him, likely trying to flatter Him into being tricked (Mark 12:14).

Paul adamantly declared he was free of this kind of fear. “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?” he wrote to an early church. “Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

It is easy to conclude that only weak Christians struggle with fearing people, and to live with an even greater condemnation than we were already giving ourselves. For shame, us—struggling with this problem that greater Christians left in the dust behind them. We just need to get our acts together and follow those who have gone before us, right? If we only try hard enough we can be better, like Paul.

But then there’s Peter.

Oh, Peter.

Afraid

“‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times,’” Jesus told Peter as they had the Last Supper together (Mark 14:30). True to form, Peter denied that prophecy, too.

But just hours later, he did deny Him—vehemently.

“And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, ‘You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘I neither know nor understand what you mean.’ And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, ‘This man is one of them.’ But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.’ But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know this man of whom you speak.’ And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.” – Mark 14:66-72

He lied to cover his fear, lied to a servant girl—a servant of the high priest. He had been with Jesus in person for years, hearing the speeches to swelling crowds, seeing miracles of every kind, watching the daily patience and kindness and love and righteousness of the Son of God. And he denied it all. Would rather pretend he had seen none of it than admit his identity to a servant girl.

It was a low point in Peter’s life, to be sure, but redemption was coming. In a striking gesture of love and forgiveness, Jesus appeared to Peter after His death and resurrection, asking Peter three times if he loved Him. Despite his blunders, Peter was reconciled to a relationship with the Son of God even stronger than he had known when he walked with him in person day after day. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, Peter now had saving faith and the promise of forever with God.

Take Courage, Peter

The book of Acts opens with excitement. During a major Jewish holiday, when Jews from the world over convened in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples, prompting miraculous speaking in tongues and Peter’s delivery of a bold speech to the gathered masses. The early church had begun, and would grow and grow—exponentially.

Not long after this conspicuous start, the high priest put Peter and other apostles in jail, but an angel freed them and told them to continue preaching. So they preached some more. Again, the high priest arrested them and now called them to stand before him, accusing them of ignoring earlier instructions to stop this telling of good news.

We’re not sure who exactly said what, but since Peter is the only disciple named we can be fairly sure he at least did some of the talking, culminating with a bold stand: “‘We must obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:29).

And the man who had cowered and lied to the high priest’s servant girl now stood tall and spoke clearly to the high priest himself.

Can Anyone Ever Really Change?

How we would love, in our human fascination with success stories and self-betterment, to assume that Peter had forever conquered his fear of people. After all, he had just spoken boldly and fearlessly to one of the most powerful people in his world.

But unlike a picture-perfect movie ending, the change didn’t last. Not completely, anyway.

Paul shared a story with the Galatian church. In the same letter where he shared his own victory over fear of people, he told them of someone else who had acted in that fear.

Peter.

Paul tells the Galatians that at a gathering of believers he had scolded Peter in front of others. Why? Because Peter had been “fearing the circumcision party” (Galatians 2:12)—he cared more about what people thought than about what God thought.

What was up? Hadn’t Peter left this behind him? Does this mean we never really change? Will our true colors always bleed through no matter how hard we try?

Have No Fear

Peter’s second recorded fall into fear reminds us that we are not the only Christians to keep struggling with this, and his later victories spur us on to keep seeking growth—and victory—in our own lives.

Years later, Peter wrote to early Christians about persecution, urging them not to trouble themselves about it. “Have no fear of them,” he counseled, “nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:14-15).

Have no fear, Peter said.

In the same letter, Peter encouraged the women in the church to “not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6).

Says the guy who used to be afraid of a servant girl.

The Story Isn’t Over

So it would seem there is hope for those of us who falter, who go back and forth in fearing and not fearing. The battle for fear of God over fear of people is not something we will completely conquer while we live on earth, and we will have days we struggle more than others.

Just like Peter.

If there’s anything Peter’s story shows us, it is that past mistakes don’t destine us to future failure. Not with Jesus. Through the power and grace of God—and maybe the rebuke of a Paul in our lives—we don’t have to be afraid any longer.

We have been freed from that.

Tell Me Something True

Just now joining us? This post is Part 4 of the series on overcoming a fear of people. To find earlier posts, start here:

Part 1: We All Do It

Part 2: It’s a Trap

Part 3: Why Are We So Afraid?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Finally,” April said to herself as she walked into the quiet kitchen. A few minutes to herself.

The counter was clean except for a lone Hershey bar calling to her. “No, siree,” she said. “Not until Thursday.” She put the candy in the bread box and closed it.

She glanced at the calendar. Wait—Tuesday already? Book study night. And Makenna had her first basketball practice. April pulled out her phone to text Kyle. Maybe he could take her.

April sighed as she picked up her book and headed to the swing on the front porch. She had been a faster reader in college, before married life and kids had forever obliterated her free time.

She almost didn’t join Nicole’s book study group, didn’t want to commit to such a daunting author as Charles Dickens. But Kyle had convinced her. “Just enjoy yourself,” he had said. “No one’s going to care how fast of a reader you are.”

So here she was. A porch swing, sunny weather, and two chapters behind in Great Expectations. Not too bad.

She was two-thirds through the first page (which was really more like half a page) when the neighbor’s garage door opened. Oh, there’s Kelsie, she thought, and started to get up to say hi. Remembering the two chapters waiting for her, she settled back down and waved to her neighbor instead. But Kelsie never looked up to see.

Looks like Sara’s in full force this morning, April smiled as she watched Kelsie try to wrestle the two-year-old into her carseat. Carson had been like that.

She sighed again as she turned back to her book. It would be nice to be on track with the rest of the group for once tonight. She focused on the words and had made it a couple of sentences when—Aa-roof!

It sounded so close April jumped.

“Baxter, no!”

Kelsie was pulling her giant of a dog out of the minivan by his collar. April watched to make sure the toddler didn’t wander out of the van while her neighbor returned the dog to the backyard.

Yes, those had been crazy days when the kids were little. She smiled with memories, but she also remembered how frustrated and undone she had been most days. She looked at the closed book in her lap. How she would have loved this kind of free time to read books like this when the kids were little.

“Sara! You need to stop it right now!” Kelsie had finally pinned the toddler into her carseat.

April remembered those moments, too. She didn’t look up this time, didn’t want Kelsie to think she was witnessing her hard morning. She heard the door shut and the engine start.

Aa-roof!

April jumped again. This time it sounded even closer. A panting, happy mess had joined her on the porch. “Well, hello, Baxter,” she said. Last time she just pointed him out to Kelsie and her neighbor came and got him, but after the morning she had just witnessed…April raised her eyebrows at the dog. “Come on, Baxter,” she grabbed his collar and started walking across the yard.

Charles Dickens could wait.

Playing with Snakes

Recognizing the problem is a vital first step. We know we have trouble with an unhealthy fear of people. But, armed with this knowledge of our struggle, where do we go next? How can we shake off these fears?

We were learning about snakes in our toddler classroom, so we got out the toy rubber snakes for playtime. The boys, of course, were all over this. Lily gave a shudder and refused to participate, choosing instead to play by herself and watch the rest of the kids from a distance. Anna, barely two years old, finally worked up the courage to touch one, and soon was quietly and very seriously playing with it. As she did, she kept repeated softly to herself, “It’s just pretend. It’s just pretend.”

Somehow, that two-year-old innately knew how to face her fear—but we’ll come back to that.

Not a Step-by-Step Plan

First, as we explored last week, before we try to work on our fear of people, we have to address the big problem—have we ever responded to the Gospel by following Jesus? We will never make any real progress without that foundation. To try to fix our fear-of-people problem while ignoring our bad standing with God is like putting new paint on a wall that is internally disintegrating from termite damage.

Yet even many Christians—if not all Christians—struggle long and hard with fearing man. Even after becoming one of God’s new creations, our old ways and struggles seep through. Fear of people hides so deeply and cleverly in each of us that our only hope to fight it is to follow God’s specific leading in our own lives. With that in mind, here are four things we can prayerfully do to fight it in our own hearts.

Understand.

We must understand what exactly we are fighting, and what our hope of victory is. Our goal here is not simply to quit fearing people. “The human heart is an idol factory,” John Calvin said, and we will always be worshiping something. If we clear out the altars we have set up to other people, we will soon start following some other illegitimate god, whether money or self or living in the moment. We must realize that the ultimate battle is for our hearts and the end goal is the glory of God and our worship of Him alone. God must have first place in our hearts. When He does, idols will find no room to stay.

Pray.

Why do we think we can do this on our own? Why do we think we can somehow muscle our way through our issues without help? God knows our weakness and is ready to help us in it. As Peter slipped through the water when walking to Jesus, he called out for help and Jesus immediately gave it (Matthew 14:22-33). All we have to do is ask.

Talk. To people.

Seriously. It may be tempting to think that because we struggle in valuing people’s opinions too highly, we shouldn’t include other people as we face this problem. But again, why do we think we can do this on our own? The people around us can never take God’s place in our lives, but God has put them in our stories for our encouragement and theirs. Find someone who can sympathize with your struggle and talk it through with you, regularly if needed.

Remind our hearts of the Gospel.

When we played with toy snakes that day in the toddler class, Anna was afraid. But her fear didn’t control her. First of all, Anna participated in spite of her fear—she played with that toy snake instead of retreating to the familiar safety of the book corner or joining Lily. Secondly, as Anna participated, she reminded herself of something true: the snake was, in fact, just pretend. It would not hurt her.

We don’t retreat from people—hiding from our problem changes nothing. We are still called to live life, not in monasteries, but in the midst of people. But as we step out into the crazy new world of each new day, we can remind ourselves of something true: the Gospel.

To focus on the Gospel is to touch on everything else. Fear of man hides in different nooks and crannies of each of our hearts, and we will all gravitate to different verses, truths, promises, etc., that best help us personally in our own fights against fear of man and other things we can’t shake off easily. But here are a few that would be a good place to start:

  • God is bigger, stronger, and more powerful than any person on earth—and all of them combined. See Daniel 4:34-35.
  • God is your Father, and loves you more deeply and cares for you more consistently than anyone you will ever meet on earth. See Psalm 103:17.
  • Jesus’ sacrifice is powerful enough to save you, and to set you on a path toward becoming like Him. Because of this, change is possible, even unavoidable, if you are truly His. He will complete in you what He started. He has given you His victory, and you can be victorious in this. See Philippians 1:6, 1 Corinthians 15:58.
  • God knows what He is doing in your life. He knows about your heart struggles and how hard this is, and He sees you. You are not in this alone. See Psalm 103:14, Isaiah 45:3, and Matthew 6:4.

So realize what battle you are fighting. Pray to the God who will strengthen and guide you through it, and consider seeking out someone to talk with as you grow. And be like a two-year-old: don’t let your fear keep you from reaching out to people, and remind yourself of something true as you go.

Why Are We So Afraid?

“Hey, Erica! I was hoping to see you today.”

Erica turned to see Chloe coming up behind her in the church foyer. “Oh, hi, Chloe.”

“I wanted to show you something,” Chloe handed Erica a piece of paper.

Erica looked it over. “A piano contest?”

“It’s more than a recital; it’s a songwriting contest. You come up with a song and some lyrics and then play it and sing it at the contest. I showed it to Ashley and she thought you’d be perfect for it!”

“So there’d be people judging me?”

“I know it can be a little nerve-racking at first, but you’ll do great. I can help you practice, if you want.”

“I don’t know, Chloe. That sounds…” Erica hesitated.

Chloe smiled. “Think about it. You can let me know next Sunday if you want. I really think you’d be great at it, Erica!”

Erica re-read the paper as Chloe walked away. Singing one of my songs. In front of judges. And an audience.

She folded the paper and stuck it in her pocket. Not likely.

Good Enough?

We live in constant fear that others will see us for the frauds we feel we are. We’re afraid they’ll think we don’t measure up. That we’re not good enough.

News flash, friends. We don’t measure up. And we’ll never be good enough.

All the self-help books and feel-good motivational posters we can read will never bury this inescapable truth: You and I are not good enough. Whether the people around us tell us so or not, it’s true. We fail, make mistakes, and look ridiculous. Sometimes all in the same day. Even in our best moments we’re mired down by memories of past mistakes and fear of future ones.

It’s time to face the music. We’re scared of being found out.

But what if we already have been?

The Bible Says…

We spend so much time worrying about the thoughts going through other people’s minds. Other people. People just like us. What about the thoughts and plans of the God who made us?

Our mind-reading attempts on other people rarely land us anywhere productive (or even accurate), and it is even more ridiculous to think we could ever guess the thoughts of God. In an extraordinary gesture of kindness, God wrote His thoughts down, and gave them to us.

We don’t have to wonder.

God knows us and everything we try to hide.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).

“And he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts’” (Luke 16:15).

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:7-10).

“For he knows the secrets of the heart” (Psalm 44:21).

We have nothing good in us.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4).

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Can’t Get the Medicine Without the Diagnosis

The Bible seems to agree with our self-assessment on our bad days. We have so much we want to hide, but we can’t—God sees it all. Ironically, though, it is only through acknowledging these hard truths about ourselves that we begin to find a way out.

The secret to our fears of insufficiency is knowing they are true: We are messed up.

BUT.

It is one of the most hope-filled words in the Bible. But. Here those three letters remind us that our future isn’t determined by our past or even our present, but by the all-powerful God who is writing our stories.

“…[W]ash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

“But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:8-9).

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:4-8).

Like a doctor who knows his patient’s only hope is through radical medical intervention, God tells us the truth about our hearts. And then He provides the antidote. Because of the free gift of Jesus’ sacrifice, we can be whole and clean and perfect and complete.

God has seen our deepest, darkest secrets – even things no one else knows about – and knows just how dark and twisted and bad we are.

But He didn’t leave.

All of these fears we have that people will decide we aren’t worth their time and walk away?

We are not worth God’s time. But He isn’t leaving.

He paid the debt for our darkness by giving His own Son, and freely offers to accept us as His own. His adopted children.

All of those fears and insecurities have no basis anymore. We have been made alive! We have been given the perfect righteousness of Christ! We are loved by God!

And when God is for us, “who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

The thoughts and opinions of man hold no weight when we have been uber-generously given the acceptance of God. We have every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 13-4). We are children of God (1 John 3:1).

We are free. Free from trying to measure up or resting on our own abilities to be enough. Free from bondage to others’ expectations or our own goals. Free to live for the God who rescued us—and for Him alone.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

It’s a Trap: Defining Fear of People

He pushed hard on the pencil to get the darkest shades of green he could. This was his best tree yet. He set down his pencil and studied his work. He might even need to add black to made the foliage really seem dark enough. He squinted at it, then reached for his black pencil.

“This is truly marvelous, Matthew!”

He nearly dropped his pencil. “Oh, uh, thanks.” She usually didn’t sneak up on him like that.

“This is exactly what I was talking about,” she picked up his paper. “See, class? May I borrow this, Matthew?” He didn’t answer because she was already holding it up.

“Notice how Matthew used light and shading in his work here. On the side of the tree that faces the streetlight, he added lighter colors of green. On the opposite side of the tree, we seem some of the darkest greens there are. Well done, Matthew!”

She set the paper back down on his desk. “Would you like to put it on the display board?”

Matt looked around. Everyone else was either looking back at their papers or pretending not to talk to their neighbors. Just as he turned back to Mrs. Ludstrom, he noticed the seventh-graders walking down the hall outside the classroom. The basketball players walked by last, seemingly unconcerned about being late.

“Um, no thanks, Mrs. Ludstrom. I think I’ll take it home.”

What is Fear of People?

When we think of fear, we usually think of physical danger or harm. Sometimes that can be true of our fear of people; sometimes we’re afraid of what people can actually do to us. We worry about increasing street violence or North Korean missiles instead of trusting in the God who holds all people and their lives in His hands.

But there is another kind of fear of people that is more common for most of us. We might think we’re not afraid. But ask someone to get on a stage and speak to an audience and you’ll see just who is fearful…which will be most of us (it will certainly be me).

Some polls say that 25% of Americans are afraid of speaking in front of an audience, a fear that tops fears of snakes, drowning, and needles (and clowns, by the way). We are more afraid of standing in front of people just like us and talking to them than we are of suffocating underwater. What?

We can’t handle it when one person thinks less of us, much less a large group of them all at once. And they would think less of us, wouldn’t they, if they saw us as we are?

People scare us. Their opinions scare us.

When we fear people, we base our worth on their acceptance, then live in fear that they will take away their acceptance—and take our worth right along with it. We fear others through relationships, and refuse to show our true selves out of a fear that we might be rejected for it. “We are more concerned about looking stupid (a fear of people) than we are about acting sinfully (a fear of God),” Edward Welch writes in When People are Big and God is Small.

Why is Fear of People a Problem?

The exact phrase “fear of people” is not found in Scripture and the similar term “fear of man” is only found once: “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” (Proverbs 29:25). What kind of snare does fear of man put in our path?

Meet Herod. There were several Herods in the Bible, and this is not the one who met the wise men after Jesus’ birth. This Herod executed the apostle James not long after after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to Heaven; when he saw that James’ death pleased the people, he decided it was a good thing. So he imprisoned Peter, intending to do the same to him.

But Herod forgot something. He forgot that God is sovereign, not Herod. An angel walked right into Peter’s cell that night, woke him up (the guy never could stay awake), and escorted him to safety. Peter would not die that night.

But Herod’s days were numbered. Shortly after this attempted execution, Herod gave a speech in all his political glory to subjects who, ironically, wanted to please him. The people began chanting that Herod the king was actually a god. He liked that praise and glory from the people who stood before him, and he prided himself in their chant. And he died.

What kind of snare does fear of man lay for us? The trap of looking to frail, fallible people instead of the conquering, incredible God. We forget to follow God and instead start following people like us.

Herod was an extreme example, but an example nonetheless. When we rest our faith and joy in people and glory in their praise, we forget that God alone has any right to that praise. It’s a trap.

Not Alone

This is serious stuff. It seems to be a universal human experience to struggle through this heart-problem: Who will we look to for acceptance, for our worth?

Israel’s first king (provided, by the way, because the Israelites wanted to be like all the peoples around them) was chosen by God and began his reign as a humble and wise leader. Yet eventually, Saul’s fear of the people he ruled drove him to break God’s direct command in order to do what would command their respect. “Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice'” (1 Samuel 15:24).

In the New Testament, we find the Pharisees lived in constant fear of people. For a bunch of bossy holier-than-thous, they were surprisingly scared. The Bible tells us they feared the Romans and their hold on the Pharisees’ authority (John 11:48), but they also feared the people (Luke 22:2), and inspired fear in others (John 12:42).

And then there is what might be darkest example of fear of people. The night cocky Peter fell to fear and didn’t acknowledge that he even knew the One who was giving His life for Peter’s soul (Mark 14:66-72). How low fear of people can take us.

Hope

But perhaps it is this darkest example that brings our deepest hope. Because Peter’s story didn’t end that night in Jerusalem, not far from the hill Golgotha where the cross was raised.

When Jesus conquered death and rose again just three days later, the story wasn’t finished. Peter now had the unending power of God, the unshakeable hope, and the steadfast love he could base all of his life on. And because of this hope and love and power, Peter would not always be afraid.

We don’t have to be, either.