Have you ever had the experience where a smell fills your nostrils, so you begin to seek out where it is coming from … and it’s coming from nowhere? Or you begin to have this overpowering taste in your mouth for some type of food you haven’t eaten in months? Maybe you’ve had the experience of being asleep, then suddenly being awakened with this incredible realization, some amazing truth that could impact your life in some positive way. I call these and other such experiences “manifestations.”
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “manifestation” as an event, action or object that clearly shows or embodies something; it is the action or fact of showing something in a certain way. It can also refer to a symptom or a sign of an ailment. When the word is used as an adjective, it refers to something that is clear or obvious to the eye or mind. As a verb, it means to demonstrate something by displaying or showing by one’s actions or appearance. “Manifestation” can also refer to a version or incarnation of something or someone, or simply an appearance of a ghost or spirit.
I’ve had many manifestations in my life. They have been wonderful, joyful and amazing; some have been scary, painful and even destructive. Sometimes they came out of nowhere; other times I caused them. There have been manifestations that I have, by the grace and strength of God, been able to “exorcise” from my life; others still grab me from time to time.
One of these manifestations I really struggle with is fear. Fear has many nuances, all of which manifest themselves in my life in one form or another. Fear, worry, anxiety, apprehension, uncertainty, doubt, paranoia, all pop up from time to time, and there seems to be little I can do to keep this from happening. I find I must choose to work through it or allow myself to be stopped dead in my tracks because of it.
I finally came to a point in my life where I was able to see the extreme amount of time I had spent being immobilized with fear. I now choose not to stand still any longer. But I still find myself having to wrestle with the amazing emotional reaction caused by fear. In the past, when confronted with fear, I was unsure of how to respond. Running always seemed like a good response! But fear is like your shadow; it follows you wherever you go. You can run but you can’t hide. So I’m left with taking it on, headfirst.
I have come to realize that fear is not the private manifestation of the weak. It manifests itself in the bravest of us. And it doesn’t just restrict itself to the individual. Like a virus, it can be passed on to others. Fear has the ability to slap handcuffs and shackles on our lives, keeping us bound up in a prison of frustration and hopelessness.
The Bible gives the account of Moses, as he and the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land. Israel had been traveling to this promised place for 40 years, a trip that should have taken them less than a year. It took this long, in part, because of the many times they allowed fear to impact their lives as individuals and as a people. But there they were, not only able to see the land but also able to smell the air. They could taste it — they were that close. So Moses picked 12 men to go over and scope things out. They came back with some amazing stories and proof that the land indeed “flow[ed] with milk and honey.” But then some of the men began to talk about giants, that the people occupying the land were stronger than them. “The land that we explored devours the living … we seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes,” they said. Out of 12 men, only two were able to look beyond their fears and see possibilities.
The problem with fear is that it often distorts reality and warps our perspective. It also distracts us from the resources we have to aid us in our walk through fear. Israel allowed her fears to take her eyes off God, and in doing so, became powerless, weak and ultimately, defeated. The Israelites became grasshoppers in their own eyes.
Another common response to fear is self-preservation, which is the protecting of ourselves from that which is causing us fear. The problem with this, however, is that we often end up building a wall around our lives, keeping us from really living and stepping out in the direction that God is calling us. The Israelites, filled with fear, often sounded the cry of “retreat,” and it took them 40 years to take a one-year journey.
Another story in the Bible tells about a man named Jacob who lived before Moses. Long story short, Jacob was a real conniver, including lying to his father and cheating his brother. As a result, he ended up on the run for his life. But he reached a point in time when he just wanted to go back home. He was willing to face up to his brother and father and hopefully make amends, but he knew his brother was really angry at him, even to the point of being willing to kill Jacob. Talk about fear! I imagine each day as he drew closer to home, his fear grew as well.
One night, having left his group to sleep alone, Jacob was confronted by a manifestation. An angel came to him in his dream, but it wasn’t really a dream. If it were me, I would have hightailed it back to the group — but not Jacob. He wrestled with the angel until daybreak, determined not to give up. He faced his fear and prevailed, and in facing his fear he ended up a changed man. The Bible says the angel gave him a new name (Israel), and he never walked the same again because the angel had touched the socket of Jacob’s hip.
The things we must face in life rarely leave us unchanged. How we react to the manifestations that invade our lives often determines the way we will live our lives and the consequences or blessings we will receive. Allowing fear and any of its counterparts to be the controlling influence in our lives will more often than not deprive us of experiencing God’s blessings. Yes, there are certain aspects of fear that can help us be more careful in making decisions or choosing a course of action. But when fear dominates, keeping us from making choices, when it makes us always second guess ourselves, when it replaces our faith in God, ourselves and even others, then fear is not healthy, emotionally or spiritually. That type of fear cripples us, keeping us from growing into our full potential and moving forward in our journey.
The question is: How do we deal with the varied manifestations of fear in our lives? We begin by voicing our fears, calling them what they are. If we don’t start there, fear is going to stay put. Catherine Marshal, in her book Something More, had some stern words for people who don’t allow children to express their fears: “We may be teaching our sons (and daughters) a false basis for manliness (and womanliness). So long as we are in these bodies, we are going to be subject to the limitations of the flesh, and we will always know a degree of loneliness. To ignore these facts of life is not to nurture independent manliness (and womanliness), but to suppress fears and cram them into the subconscious where they will do further harm” (emphasis added).
We need to confess our fears to ourselves and, depending on the situation, we may need to confess our fears to certain others. And, above all, we must confess our fears to God. “Cast all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you,” Peter writes in 1 Peter 5. Confession is more than a psychological or emotional release; it helps to define our understanding of God, and it allows us to realize that God isn’t the enemy. It helps us to gain a clearer picture of what more needs to be done, in addition to confession and prayer, to help us wrestle through the fear and take possession of the land (spiritual and emotional) that God has called us to enter into.
Catherine Marshall sums up the benefits of confession and trust in God when she writes, “There is only one way to get rid of fear; like any sin, we must recognize it, confess it in true repentance, claim God’s sure promise of forgiveness, cleansing and renewal, accept these gifts, rise and get on with life. Not only new confidence, but real growth in character, follows this facing up to what we fear, provided we are acting under God’s direction.”
Eventually, Israel was able to move beyond her fear, and by trusting in God, moved in and took possession of the land — but only after a whole generation had died. And Jacob finally got back together with his brother. He was a changed man. He viewed his life differently. His focus was on God, not himself, though he still had his moments. He still had his fears to wrestle with. But God’s grace is far greater than our fears. His forgiveness is deeper than our failures. God will manifest himself in some really interesting ways. Odds are, we will never walk the same again!
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