NEW ORLEANS (BP)–“If we don’t deal with fear, it will bring death to our future and to our lives,” Claude Thomas told students at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Oct. 24.
During the same week, concerns about anthrax spores passing randomly through the mail caused the Postmaster General of the U.S. Postal Service to distribute cards to every address across America, detailing how to handle suspicious envelopes and packages. The U.S. military was in its fourth week of bombing targets in Afghanistan, and 48 days had passed since terrorists hijacked four commercial jets, resulting in more than 5,000 deaths.
“Trust no one and fear everything” has almost become the watchword across America, said Thomas, pastor of First Baptist Church, Euless, Texas, and former chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. But “we cannot succumb to terror and fear. We have to get on with life,” he said, quoting what President George W. Bush repeatedly has told Americans, because “if fear sweeps over our lives and overtakes us, the effects of it will be very, very negative.”
Fear intimidates and immobilizes when it overtakes someone’s life, Thomas said. When fear intimidates, “we miss the opportunities we have before us,” and when fear immobilizes, “we cannot move into the future that God has before us.”
Such paralysis is true not only after such traumatic events as the World Trade Center disaster “but also in normal, everyday experiences in life,” he said. Even for people who seemingly are never afraid, “I promise you, there are going to be days when fear will grip your life,” said Thomas, who described himself as a risk-taker but admitted he has had to deal with fear at times during his 34 years in the ministry.
While fear is a natural, common reaction learned early in life, Thomas said God provides a clear path for “navigating your way through the storms of life”: “Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
The word “fear,” at its root means “to empty out,” Thomas said, referring to the feeling of emptiness many people say they feel when they experience fear. “Fear empties us of courage and confidence,” he said. “Our confidence in the future and our courage in the present are taken away” when fear is allowed to control and overwhelm.
But fear doesn’t have to intimidate and immobilize, Thomas said. With God’s help, fear can be conquered as it is correctly recognized and responded to, while remembering the sovereignty of God.
The correct way to respond to fear is with “simple faith,” he said, by trusting God through the storms, including three basic fears: the fear of being alone, the fear of the unknown and the fear of failure. “God says [in Isaiah 41:10], ‘Don’t feel abandoned. I’m not leaving you,'” Thomas paraphrased. The way to overcome those fears is to respond with faith to “the promise of the presence of God,” he said, remembering “there is no unknown to God” and “God never says, ‘Oops.'”
Thomas said he was intrigued by a drawing supposedly made by a child after the World Trade Center disaster and currently circulating across America via the Internet. As smoke billows from the WTC towers, above, resting on clouds, are thousands of people. Jesus is looking down with sorrow; his hands are under the clouds. “Children cut through all of the jargon and they see Jesus,” Thomas said. “In the storm that wreaks havoc to life, drains of courage and confidence, and would fill us with fear, [the child] in simple faith sees people held in the hands of Jesus. Nobody and nothing can destroy those who are in God’s hands.”
When the storm is the focus of attention, “you’re going to be filled with fear,” Thomas said. “But when you focus on the sovereign of the storm, faith fills your life and guides you through.”