For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7 NLT)
My family loves hockey, especially ice hockey. Although ice hockey is still becoming more and more popular in the western United States, it is still quite expensive and less accessible than the many other sports options that are available to us here in Southern California. However, my kids have recently started playing street hockey in the front yard. They purchased some inexpensive nets, sticks, and inline skates, and they have recruited other neighborhood kids to play with them. It is fantastic to see all the kids out front, brothers, sisters, boys, girls, grade school kids, and middle school kids, all playing hockey in the street and loving it! Of course there are your minor skirmishes and disagreements at times (c’mon it’s hockey!), but for the most part the kids are all having a good time and are encouraging one another as passing cars yield to them in the street. Currently, this is an everyday occurrence. Most of the kids, mine included, are getting quite good as they instinctively teach themselves to play this great sport.
An opportunity for some free professional instruction was brought to our attention and I registered my youngest son and daughter for a class where they could learn to play street hockey at a local inline hockey facility. Ozzie and Goldie were so excited for the first class. Off we went with high expectations to have so much fun. Ozzie’s expectations were met, but Goldie was challenged with a case of “cold feet”, and her cold feet won. Goldie did not play hockey that day, but rather submitted to her mind games, which were telling her to be worried, anxious, nervous, and to act in fear. Goldie sat on the bleachers with us that day as we watched Ozzie enjoy the spacious hockey rink and fine instruction. Goldie was very sad and was extremely upset at herself. She wanted to play so bad, but her mind would not allow her to. This was equally sad and upsetting for me as a parent whose power of encouragement was of very little help that day. I will be honest, although I felt really bad for my daughter, I was also angry. My daughter was missing out on so much fun for what I believed was an unreasonable reason. I gasped for compassion, held my anger, and did my best to support my daughter, but I did not quite understand why this was happening and was determined to help her overcome her fear.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5 ESV)
While I offered Goldie some immediate advice to ignore her thoughts and listen only to her heart, I knew that my simple counsel was not so simple. I wanted to know more about the relationship between our heart and our mind, and the power of choice. To suggest to ignore your mind and trust your heart might be good advice, but it is much more complicated than that. I once heard someone say to always follow your heart, but take your brain with you. Sounds good, but is it really that simple? What if your brain protests? And what is the difference between our heart and our mind? Which is best to listen to? Which one controls us? Why do we commonly hear the phrase “ask Jesus into your heart”, but we do not hear “ask Jesus into your mind”? Is there a reason? What does the Bible have to say about all this?
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30 ESV)
As I contemplated my daughter’s struggle and asked God for wisdom over the following week, God began speaking to me about the heart and the mind, and the importance of allowing the Holy Spirit to control both. I simply wanted some wise words of encouragement that would empower my daughter to overcome her “silly” fears, but God was showing me deeper theological truths about our human existence. I do not aspire to engage in a systematic theology debate, although this could possibly ignite one. However, I would like to share some thoughts that are intended to encourage critical biblical thinking about how the invisible attributes of mankind, namely the mind and the heart (our spirit), cause our visible bodies to move and take action, or conversely to not move or not take action. So below is a lengthy post that reaches far beyond the confines of a nine year old girl’s fear of skating onto the hockey rink. I most likely break every written and unwritten rule about keeping blog posts short and sweet. My mind is telling me to simplify and shorten this post, but no apologies; I’m going with my heart.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and test the mind… “ (Jeremiah 17:9-10a ESV)
The Bible tells us that our heart is deceitful, so maybe we shouldn’t listen to our heart, or trust our heart. It would be nice if there were a simple formula to be able to move past all our fears, but it is simply not that simple. Some decisions seem to be more emotionally driven, while other times the best appropriate decisions seem to be more logically driven. I believe that one reason there is no magic formula to overcoming our fears is because God loves relationship. God loves for us to use our mind and heart to make relational decisions based on our choice to obey, trust, and place our faith in Him. God will allow us to fail in fear, but He loves to prove that faith in Him is actually more reasonable, even when it is humanly illogical. We must learn to trust God in every situation and be able to make faith decisions.
He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:29-33 ESV)
It is evident that our minds will lie to us, and that, they do often. Anxiety, fear, worry, doubt, insecurity, playing the “what if” game in our mind; these are examples of the way our mind lies to us and keeps us from making good, confident decisions. Because of these things, it is extremely important that we know and believe God’s Word so that we do not believe the lies that invade our minds. It is important that we think truthfully rather than emotionally and so we must hide God’s Word in our heart. Our heart seems to regard our emotions, feelings, and our spirit. Our mind seems to regard our thoughts, reasoning, and our intellect. The heart and the mind work together as they motivate, inspire, and instruct each other. It seems that although the heart and mind are different, they rarely act independently from each other. As Christians, in order to make the best decisions, we must allow the Holy Spirit to control and rule over both.
So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. (Romans 8:6 NLT)
Everyday we use our minds to make countless simple, logical decisions that are seemingly unemotional, and do not seem to require the influence of our heart. But often times, even daily, we are faced with complex situations that require challenging, heart engaging, emotional decisions. Many of these situations can be terrifying for whatever reasons. These situations require faith decisions. There comes a time when we must decide to put our faith into action regardless of how we feel. In order to do this, we must know what we believe, we need the power of the Holy Spirit, and it requires prayer. Whether we decide to listen more to our heart or more to our mind, we must be aware that both are naturally deceitful. We need the perfect harmony of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit ruling in our heart and mind so that we can make good decisions.
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ… (2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV)
God gives the command, “do not be afraid”, or “fear not”, well over 300 times throughout Scripture. This is very interesting because if feelings cannot be commanded, we must conclude that fear is not just a feeling, but like love, it is an action, a choice. Can we actually decide or choose to not fear? To simply decide or choose to not fear seems impossible. Correct, without God, it will most often be impossible. Likewise, without God, simply deciding or choosing to love is often times not possible. In order to live a life of love that is devoid of fear, we must be absolutely dependent on God and must place all our faith in Him.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18 ESV)
Love and fear are actions that are opposed to each other. If love removes fear, then I would suggest that hate encompasses fear. If we are commanded by God to live lives of love and to choose to love when we do not feel happy, warm, comfortable, content, or safe, it seems that we are likewise commanded by God to live lives without fear and to choose to not be afraid when we feel worried, anxious, nervous, intimidated, or frightened. What is it that we are really afraid of? At some point in our lives, every one of us experiences the fear of failure, rejection, opposing opinions, conflict, criticism, pain, suffering, and death. But the perfect love of Jesus has endured and has overcome every one of these fears on our behalf, and although we may feel afraid, the Holy Spirit is available to us in order to help us act in opposition to fear.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16 ESV)
But sometimes we are even fearful to love. Why? Probably because our sin nature, and the world (our culture) teaches us to make decisions based on our feelings, and most of the time it does not feel good to love the way that Christ commands us to love. Many times, because we are human, our feelings are sinful and self-serving. So we end up living fearful, unloving lives. However, the Good News is that as believers in Christ, the Spirit of God dwells in our hearts and our minds and He has the desire and ability to change the way that we think, act, and feel.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 ESV)
Without question, there are feelings and emotions that are products of and are related to love. Likewise, there are emotions and feelings that are products of and are related to fear. However, we must be able to decide to not be afraid, trust God, and take actions of faith regardless of our feelings because we know in our heart that it is the right thing to do. We can make tough, intimidating faith decisions that will move us beyond fear and in spite of fear. Reasonable faith in God can give us courage to act like Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Samson, Ruth, Hannah, Samuel, Daniel, Esther, David, Mary, Peter, Paul, the list goes on. All of these people were faced with difficult and frightening situations. Many of them were even tortured or killed for their faith. But it was their faith in God that gave them the courage to move ahead and make good faith decisions, fulfilling God’s plan. Our God is supernatural. His power supersedes logic; hence our faith in Him is logical.
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; yet do it with gentleness and respect… (1 Peter 3:15 ESV)
We must be able to make rational, reasonable, logical decisions that are not motivated by our emotions. We all know that horrible decisions are often made with unsettled emotions. However, many times the best Christian decisions are irrational, unreasonable, and illogical. When Christ instructs us to die to ourselves, love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us, that is not reasonable. Jesus telling Peter to walk on the water was not logical. God whittling down Gideon’s army to only 300 men before fighting 120,000 was not rational, but God is victorious. The Bible is filled with countless examples where God expects people to make what seem like emotional, nonsensical decisions, but they are actually the best logical decisions; faith decisions. And faith decisions are logical because faith in God is logical. Our faith in Jesus is reasonable. Our faith is not in ourselves, our faith is not in our willpower. Our faith is not in our heart, nor in our mind to make good decisions. Our faith is in the God of Miracles, the One True God, Almighty God, the Creator of the entire universe, the Risen One, the Redeemer and the Lover of our souls.
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (Luke 6:27-28 ESV)
Christian apologetics defends that the Christian faith is a reasonable and logical faith. We do not hold to a blind faith or an unreasonable or obnoxious faith. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 11:1 that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. Faith is faith, but our faith is logical, emotional, and relational. Our faith should engage our mind, heart, soul, and strength, our entire being.
We can trust that God is who He says He is, He has done what He says He has done, and will do what He says He will do. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He cannot lie (Titus 1:2). He is for us and not against us (Romans 8:31). It is important that we study the Word of God so that we can stand on His promises and we can trust the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 ESV)
Goldie did overcome her fear the following week and she enjoyed playing hockey with her brother and a bunch of strangers. And it was worth it. Tears from the week before were turned to smiles the week after. I don’t know what you might be up against or afraid of. I would bet that whatever it is, it is much more difficult than choosing to reject fearful thoughts and go play hockey. Maybe it is fear to love someone, fear to reconcile, fear to go to the doctor or the dentist, fear to start a business or close a business, fear to sell or to buy, fear to care for the sick or the poor, fear to adopt a child, fear to go to church, fear to get help, fear to give help, fear of failure, rejection, or suffering. Whatever fear you are facing, fight it with faith. Faith in Jesus is reasonable. Jesus demolished fear on your behalf. Knowing that He would be crucified and would suffer for the sins of all mankind, Jesus endured the cross. Jesus did this for you, and for me. Knowing what He was up against, Jesus sweat drops of blood as He prayed, asking God the Father if there was any other way to reconcile God and man, other than the way of the cross. But there was no other way. So Jesus chose love. Jesus chose suffering. Jesus chose to not fear. Jesus chose you. And Jesus rose from the dead and promises us eternal life. If this were not true, our faith is useless and we are the most pitiful (1 Corinthians 15:19). Perfect fearless love won the greatest victory the world will ever know. Death has been defeated for you, and for me, and nothing can separate us from the love of God (Luke 22:42-44, Philippians 2:5-11, Romans 8:38-39). We can be confident in this truth!
So let’s love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Let’s love others as we love ourselves. Let’s change the way we think as we allow Jesus to transform our hearts and minds so that we think and act like Him. Let’s live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s embrace God’s perfect love, rejecting all fear, acting in faith, being willing to suffer, so that we might experience the life God intends for us, for His divine purposes, for our good, and for His glory.
I had all this to say simply because my daughter had a little bout with anxiety at the hockey rink last week. Now are you ready to play? What’s your heart saying? What’s your mind telling you? What are you going to listen to? What are you going to do? I suggest you invite the Holy Spirit to ignite your faith! Anything is possible! Choose Love, He’s still writing the story, there’s still time, let’s get in the game!
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV)