Did you know that the most often repeated commandment in the Bible is. "Do not fear"?  I was reminded of that when reading Donald Miller's book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  That fact seemed to jump off the page, as if reading it for the first time.

I found it surprising and deeply encouraging.

Fear Comes in Different Flavors

Of course, some fear is healthy.  To deny its existence is to deny reality and miss its benefits.  If a Realtor recommends that you buy a house with a mortgage that'll cost you 50 percent of your monthly income and the thought strikes fear in your heart, follow your heart.  And then find a new Realtor.

A lot of fear, however, is not so dramatic.  It isn't about a momentary fight or flight experience like hearing the crazy suggestion of an unethical Realtor or the sight of a car barreling toward us.  It's more subtle, more nagging.  And, it's unhealthy.

The recession has left lots of us carrying fear around like the extra pounds brought on by too much holiday pie.  It's with us all the time; we feel its weight, wondering whether we'll ever have enough to retire, whether our job is secure, and whether our home will ever be worth what we paid.

Fear is Normal

Miller's first take-away about God's constant refrain to not fear is this: "It means we're going to be afraid, and it means we shouldn't let fear boss us around."

In other words, it's natural to experience fear, so don't beat yourself up about it as if it's a sign of spiritual immaturity.

As for not letting fear get the best of us, step one is to share the load:  "Cast all your cares on him," the Bible instructs, "because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). 

A Personal Example

I wrestle with fear more than I'd like to admit.  When I left the seeming security of a well-paid corporate job to write and speak about money full-time, I remember feeling a mixture of excitement and fear.  I felt called to this work and still do.  It's what I believe I was designed to do.  But it wasn't long before I missed the paycheck that showed up every two weeks. 

In the five years that have passed, I have to admit that there have been too many times when something didn't work out the way I hoped and I went straight to fear or second-guessing.

I'll never forget a time before I had a publisher for my first book when I was especially down.  After months of writing, there came a day when I thought I might hear some news from a prospective publisher, but the phone never rang.  As my wife, Jude, and I headed toward the home of some friends for dinner that night, she knew I was discouraged and was wrestling with the fear that I had made a colossal mistake in leaving my corporate job.  She quoted Matthew 7:9-11:  

"If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing. You're at least decent to your own children. So don't you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?" (MSG)

Those words were a great comfort.  They were a well-timed reminder that God loves us, knows our needs, and promises to provide. 

How Fear Can Hold Us Back

Miller's second take-away about the Bible's most frequent command is that, "fear isn't only a guide to keep us safe; it's also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life." 

I know that if I had stayed in my corporate job I would have regretted it.  God was calling me to a greater adventure.  To have said no would have been to settle for far too little.

Miller's final insight about fear is this: "The great stories go to those who don't give in to fear."  Amen to that!  The stories I'm drawn to the most are the stories of endurance, overcoming great odds, and heroism. They're the stories of people who moved through their doubts and fears and their lives and the lives of many others were forever altered as a result.

Facing Our Fears with Gratitude

One of my favorite Bible verses about fear tells us: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (Philippians 4:6).  There are some odd and helpful words in that verse - like "anything," "every," and especially "thanksgiving."

Let's commit to this: Every time we feel fearful, let's take our fears to God.  And let's take God up on his outrageous suggestion to give thanks in the midst of our frightening circumstances.  And let's press on, fully trusting in his provision and looking for his purpose in whatever we're going through.  Amen? 

Has fear ever helped you financially?  Has it ever held you back?  What are your greatest financial fears today?  Please leave a comment below.

January 17, 2011

Personal finance expert Matt Bell is the author of three books, including the upcoming "Money & Marriage: A Complete Guide for Engaged and Newly Married Couples." To learn more about his work and subscribe to his blog, go t www.MattAboutMoney.com