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Nothing gets in the way of my prayers more than fear. When I get stuck in a fear zone or my thoughts reverberate in a fear loop, I find it mighty hard to pray. No wonder Jesus was constantly saying to his followers: Don’t be afraid.
That’s what he tells the disciples when the wind comes up and the waves toss, and he walks across the water to them: Don’t be afraid (John 6:20). And what he says to Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration, when he is transformed, his face shining like the sun and his clothes dazzling white, and they fall on their faces in awe. "Get up,” he says. “Don’t be afraid” (Matthew 17:7).
It was the refrain of the angel to the shepherd, announcing Jesus’ birth, Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you–wonderful, joyous news to all people (Luke 2:10). And what the angel said to the women outside the empty tomb at the resurrection: Don’t be afraid (Matthew 28:5).
If you must know, the fear I fixate on is about my heart. A half-dozen years ago I had open-heart surgery, and my aortic valve was fixed up with a new bovine valve. A pretty amazing operation and one that allows me to live a vibrant, energetic life that includes a good 16 miles of running a week.
So what do I fear? What happens when the bovine valve gives out? What will happen to me then? I ask myself. How will I feel? How will I know it? Will I drop dead in the middle of a run? I forget to be grateful for the good health I have. Fears outrace my prayers.
It’s hard to banish the fears entirely. But it is possible to claim a faith bigger than them. Here’s how the wonderful contemplative David Steindl-Rast puts it in his book, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer:
“We might think of fear as the headwind of faith. The faster we go, say on a bicycle, the stronger is the headwind we feel. It is our speed that creates that courage. As long as our faith remains a nose’s length ahead of our fear, fine. Let’s measure our courage by the fears we manage to master and pat ourselves on the back. We need not fear fear.”
Friends give me uplift when I face any tough headwinds. Reading does too. Worshipping offers its own support. Singing brings with it happiness and joy. Gratitude is a constant exercise in faith. And they are all means of prayer and prayerfulness.
Are you ever afraid? Hear Jesus’s words. Claim them. We need not fear fear!