One of the most common issues that comes up in my counseling office, as well as in my own spiritual life is “the fear of man.” Ed Welch defines the fear of man in simple terms, it is “when people are big and God is small.” Welch writes, “Scripture gives three basic reasons why we fear other people…1) We fear people because they can expose and humiliate us. 2) We fear people because they can reject, ridicule, or despise us. 3) We fear people because they can attack, oppress, or threaten us. These three reasons have one thing in common: they see people as ‘bigger’ (that is, more powerful and significant) than God, and, out of the fear that creates in us, we give other people the power and right to tell us what to feel, think, and do.”
The fear of man can take on many different shapes and sizes. It might look like an unpleasable boss who apparently has the power to bring financial ruin upon you by firing you. For pastors, it often looks like a disgruntled church member who can bring untold chaos to the body by gossiping, calling for special meetings, and writing endless letters. In some extreme cases it may look like an abusive spouse or father who verbally puts you down in order to lift himself up. What all of these circumstances have in common is the fact that the person in question looks very powerful and intimidating. The fear of man is so powerful that it can even take on physical manifestations, especially for those who have dealt with abuse in the past: sweaty palms, heart racing, nervous habits, or even panic attacks can all be the results of the fear of man.
Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” The snare of the fear of man is that it if people are big and powerful in our estimation, God is invariably small. There is only so much room in the human heart and when men become too big, the heart diminishes God and our perception of his ability to save.
Like most people, I’ve struggled with the fear of man since I was a child. In counseling I’ve recently come up with a set of questions to help overcome the fear of man. These certainly aren’t exhaustive, but I’ve found them to be extremely helpful in my own life, as well as the lives of those I work with.
When I am tempted to fear man I want to ask myself 3 questions.
1) Who do I fear right now? This question is intended to be something of a slap in the face, to help me realize what I’m struggling with. The real issue is not that I have a disgruntled church member who may cause great harm to the church; the real issue is that I am being tempted to fear him or her more than I fear God. Psalm 34:7, 9 might be a good verse to meditate on in this regard, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them…Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack.”
2) How have I sinned? This second question is really designed for me to “get the log out of my own eye” (Matthew 7:3-5). Often times the fear of man can look like a false sense of guilt over something I’m being accused of. This question allows me to step out of the situation I’m in and ask myself in biblical terms if I have sinned. The goal of this question is that I would make that right with the Lord, before I make it right with anyone else (Psalm 51:4).
3) How have I been sinned against? This final question is meant to provide one more level of clarity as I work through the fear of man. If I’ve sinned against someone than I need to go and make it right with them, on the other hand if someone else has sinned against me I need to go and confront them in that. Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.” The goal of this question isn’t for me to find a weapon to attack with, but rather to help clear the fog of the fear of man from my eyes and to see people accurately through the lens of scripture.
There are certainly other questions that could be asked and would be helpful (i.e. “How can I serve in this situation?” or “What does God expect of me right now?”), but the big idea is to use questions to lift the fog of the fear of man and to see God as He truly is. Isaiah 66:1-2, “Thus says the Lord: Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
This past Fall our Home Group read “Life in the Father’s House” by Wayne Mack. Wayne Mack is a well known figure in the Biblical Counseling movement who has produced a wealth of quality resources for Biblical Counseling. “Life in the Father’s House” continues Mack’s tradition of high quality, useful material for growth in godliness.
“Life in the Father’s House” is essentially “a member’s guide to the local church.” Throughout it’s 10 chapters Mack seeks to orient believers to life in the local church. Herein lies what I like most about “Life in the Father’s House”. Mack goes to great lengths to highlight the importance of the local church in the life of the believer. Mack writes,
If we want to be where God is, we need to be in His church, for that is where He dwells. And the way we relate to Him is largely dependent upon the way we relate to His church, for it is the house He has built with His own hands (1 Peter 2:5).
“Life in the Father’s House” would be a great study for anyone who’s new to the church, or even someone who has been in the church all of their life but has never had any formal training on what life in the Father’s house is supposed to look like. I highly recommend it.
Two of my favorite things to do in this life are to counsel people and to worship. That’s why I enjoyed this video of Bob Kauflin (well known worship leader) and David Powlison (well known Biblical counselor) conversing about the relationship between counseling and worship.
One of the first major issues that I had to deal with at Emmanuel Baptist was a number of High School girls who were struggling with eating disorders. I wish that I could say that over the years this problem has declined, but sadly it has only grown and the consequences have become increasingly severe.
That is why I am so thankful for Ed Welch and his ministry to those suffering with eating disorders. The following is an excerpt from one of his articles on overcoming eating disorders.
In this article, Ed Welch describes how easy it is, in a weight-conscious world that also uses food for comfort, to take the small steps that lead to a full blown eating disorder. He gives a road map for dealing with this difficult problem that includes understanding the thoughts and emotions that trigger destructive eating habits and then encouraging those who struggle with food addictions to take the big step of trusting God, instead of food rules and rituals.
Do you ever wish that you could just forget about food? What started as an innocent diet has turned into a monster. You eat too little. You eat too much. You restrict. You binge. It’s getting harder to cover up what you are doing. At first you tried exercise, then vomiting, then laxatives. Maybe you tried cutting too. Who would have thought that food—or the fear of it—would become the center of your life? Heroin, cocaine, and other street drugs lead to addictions. But food?
But for you food is no longer . . . just food.
You know, of course, that you are not alone; many people struggle with eating disorders. It’s easy to see why. Advertisers sell their products using only one slim body type; movies show impossibly thin, surgically-enhanced heroes and heroines; high-profile athletes have body fat percentages that can only be maintained with round-the-clock workouts; food is everywhere; and more than half the U.S. is on a diet. In some countries food is nutrition. Here food is nutrition, but it also means beauty, control, comfort, guilt, shame, love, and loathing.
Jonathan Dodson has an outstanding post on what anger really says about us. If you’re a husband or a father, this is an especially good article and well worth the read. Dodson writes:
You don’t have to be an “angry person” to have a problem with anger. There’s an anger of the garden variety that’s often expressed through complaining, grumpiness, a cutting remark, sulking self-pity, and turbulent frustration.
Take commonplace complaints about the weather. Complaints about the excessive heat or cold can either be a form of small talk or a form of unbelief in God’s good providence. We don’t typically think of complaining as anger, but when framed with the providence of God we are pressed to consider our motives.
Subtle complaining characterizes our culture. According to one statistic, most people in America are exposed to some 3,000 advertisements a day, most of which appeal to a lifestyle grounded in self-comfort. It comes as no surprise, then, that when our comfort is overturned … we complain. If someone cuts us off in traffic, we curse under our breath and complain for the next five miles. If a fast-food attendant is slow in taking our order, they are subjected to our cutting remarks. If work or school becomes demanding, we wallow in self-pity, a weak form of anger.
Under the surface of all the “happy shiny people” called Christians lurks an enemy of our soul — sinful anger.
“When People are Big and God is Small” by Ed Welch is a book about fear, specifically it is a book about the fear of man. I first read this book during a time in my life when there were some pretty big people and unbeknownst to me God had become very small in my thinking. Dr. Welch served as a powerful antidote to the fear of man in my life at that time and continues to remind me of the temptation for me to fear man today. This is my second reading of this book and it has proven itself to be a tremendous blessing yet again.
Welch’s big idea in this book is that the fear of man is a controlling factor in every person’s life that needs to be overcome by the fear of God. Welch writes:
Scripture gives three basic reasons why we fear other people, and we will look at each one of them in turn.
We fear people because they can expose and humiliate us.
We fear people because they can reject, ridicule, or despise us.
We fear people because they can attack, oppress, or threaten us.
These three reasons have one thing in common: they see people as “bigger” (that is, more powerful and significant) than God, and, out of the fear that creates in us, we give other people the power and right to tell us what to feel, think, and do.
I read this book over the course of the last 3 months alongside of the youth staff, which afforded me the opportunity of really thinking through what Welch was saying. Time and time again I found practical situations come up where I had to decide whether I would choose to fear man or fear God. In short, this is a paradigm shifting book that teaches how to overcome the fear of man with the fear of God.
My only criticism of “When People are Big and God is Small” is the length of the book. While the book only weighs in at 239 pages, I frequently got the impression that what Welch was saying could have been said in a shorter way. Even with that fault, this is a great read. If you have ever struggled with wanting other people to think highly of you (and who of us hasn’t), this is a great book to consider. I highly recommend it.