March 23, 2015

Transformation Tips

Fear has become one of our greatest maladies. It often makes us do and say strange things. Following the perception of fear, adrenaline hits the bloodstream, and few can predict if we will fight or flee.

It’s been argued that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs speaks to fear. Its various levels intimate our inherent fears: the physiological need speaks to our fear of dying or annihilation; the security need speaks to our fear of being harmed or unsafe; the affiliation need speaks to our fear of being unloved; the self-esteem need speaks to our fear of being worthless; and the self-actualization need speaks to our fear of being powerless.

Fear is a ubiquitous, primal, spontaneous urge that is as instinctive as grief or anger. We don’t have to coach ourselves, saying, “OK, it’s time to fear”; it just happens. Encouragingly, we don’t have to succumb to fear. Moses challenged the Israelites concerning their enemies: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut. 31:6).

But how does one unpack the challenge to say no to fear? Christ’s example with the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration provides us with a simple but thoughtful formula for managing fear (Matt. 17:1-9). The disciples experienced an overwhelming sense of fear when they saw Christ in His transfigured glory. Seeing Elijah and Moses, and hearing the voice of God, they collapsed in fear.

While Jesus did not explain the details of this phenomenon, He did provide a road map for processing such fear-inducing events. As He helped the disciples collect themselves, Jesus provided them with instructive counsel that can be paraphrased as: Get up, come down, keep quiet (until the right time), then speak out.

These four steps that speak to the disciples’ descent from the mountain also speak to us about how to deal with fear-provoking situations.

1. Get up. Jesus challenged the disciples to rise up from groveling in fear. He challenges us to resist wallowing in our paralyzed state of inaction and powerlessness. Though we may be confused and confounded by our fears, He invites us to rise to a positive position. As we do so, our minds will eventually follow our bodies.

2. Come down. After asking the disciples to rise, Jesus told them not to be afraid, implying that He had everything under control. He wanted them to get about the business of life that awaited them at the bottom of the mountain. The point is not to run away from our fears, but to resist them by resuming our life responsibilities and reengaging in service.

3. Keep quiet. Surprisingly, Jesus cautioned them to be silent. They needed space and time to process the life-shattering event that had just occurred. Often after death, disloyalty, and calamity we are initially unprepared to speak about the event. In spite of popular advice to talk it out, join group therapy, and vent, we sometimes need retrospective silence. Rather than voicing our obvious questions—“Why me?” and “What now?”—we often just need time to listen to that voice that says, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).

4. Speak out. After shaking free from fear, reentering life, and contemplating life’s mysteries through the lens of faith, Jesus shared that the time would come for His disciples to speak, even to shout, about experiences that demonstrated the trustworthiness of God’s providence. Jesus wasn’t advocating denial, sublimation, or repression. Instead, He was advising that there is a right time and place to share our triumphant testimony.

Though we may not understand the threatening fears that confront us, this four-step formula can point us to the healing, helping presence of Jesus. Ellen White wrote: “God knows better than we do what is good for His children; and if they could see their real necessity as He does, they would say that the Lord had dealt most wisely with them.”*

* Review and Herald, July 3, 1888.