I am not fond of spiders it must be said. But a few years ago, I realised that a grown man should probably not be reduced to a twitching jelly by something a thousandth his size and weight. I decided this inverted pecking order needed to be righted, and so I began training [cue Rocky soundtrack].
Step 1: I caught a large house spider in a glass, and kept it there until it was a bit dopey.
Step 2: I turned aforementioned spider onto my hand and sweated as it sat there on my palm.
Step 3: After a (long) while I lifted the glass. I looked at Spidey; he looked at me.
Step 4: I released my new friend into the wilds of the back garden.
Step 5: Whenever I saw a spider on a bush in the days that followed, I would give it a gentle prod on the back. After I while I could even do this without flinching like a jack knife.
These days, whilst I still don’t like being taken by surprise by the little critters, and wish they wouldn’t move quite so fast, I can nevertheless often pick them up and show them to my two-year-old daughter, who asks with an enthusiasm she didn’t learn from me: ‘hold it my hand?’ This brings me a great deal of pleasure, since it is perhaps a small step towards her not inheriting my irrational phobias. Fear can be infectious you see.
Fear. We are so often either completely immobilised by it, or else propelled into strange tarantellas of illogical action. And, like those cartoons where a monstrous shadow looms on the wall only for a kitten to then turn the corner, so often the object of our fear is entirely at odds with the power we give it. In fact, sometimes it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: we hand the kitten a rocket launcher. This dynamic can affect individuals, groups, even nations. Fear warps the world.
As we approach Christmas we’ll be caroling those classic lyrics: ‘“Fear not,” said he, for mighty dread had seized their troubled mind’ – a reference to the words of the angel to the shepherds in Luke 2:10. The angels encourage us, in place of fear, to know joy and peace, for Christ is here.
The words ‘fear not!’ or ‘do not be afraid’ often sound in the pages of scripture. Sometimes it’s erroneously claimed that there is exactly one reference for every day of the year. Though that’s not actually true, it is nevertheless certainly a favourite biblical catch-phrase, and reflects the truth that God would not have us live as prisoners of fear, but would rather have us saturated with peace, and advancing boldly in mission.
One of the verses that has been orbiting my head recently is Paul’s reminder to Timothy: ‘For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.’ (2 Tim 1:7). Courage is part of our birthright in Christ, regardless of what the Devil would have us believe.
I wonder whether one of the tasks of discipleship is to be proactive about naming, facing and overcoming our fears with God’s help; dislodging the hold they have on us and inviting him to back-fill the vacated space with his joy and peace.
So what fear is holding you back from giving your all for Christ today? What internal hang ups are causing external hold ups? Perhaps you and I need to come up with a few tangible tactics for tackling those spiders, in a way analogous to my little stratagem above. It may need to be a graduated approach; as step-by-step we expose ourselves to fear-eliciting situations. But as we do so, with God’s help we’ll make headway, and celebrate not only the fact that we can be freed from our fears, but also, and simultaneously, freed to live more abundantly in the joy and peace that Jesus offers.