My high school basketball coach was terrifying.
At least that was my first impression of him. He was loud and intense. He screamed and had on occasion kicked us out of the gym if our practices didn’t meet the standard he desired. (The kicking out wasn’t the bad part, it was what awaited us at the next practice.) I wasn’t used to people yelling at me, I grew up in a quiet home, so coach really rattled me. Not only that, he had in his possession the one thing that mattered more than anything to me: playing time. If I couldn’t find a way to make that guy happy, I would lose what I wanted most.
I used to believe the same things about God.
I had read stories in the Bible of people being turned to a pillar of salt. Some were destroyed by floods, the ground opened up underneath others and swallowed them whole. I had also heard enough sermons about hell to know that I needed to be very careful when it came to God. I can remember thinking that I needed to make sure to never look back at a city that God was destroying by fire, and definitely not lie to any church leaders about anything! I was afraid that if I didn’t make God happy I would lose the things I wanted most; jobs, relationships, health, etc…
Things changed for me when I stumbled across some words written by one of Jesus’ closest disciples, John. He said, “There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18) I loved God, but I realized that I was living much of my life in an attempt to avoid his punishment. I didn’t really trust that He wanted the best for me. If we are honest about God, if we see Him clearly as the creator of everything that is, then fear is a very healthy first impression. He is more powerful that we can possibly imagine. But, if that all-powerful God loves us and wants the best for us, the fear we feel can begin to melt away and love can grow in it’s place.
Over time, I realized that my coach wanted the best for me as a player and as a person. He didn’t just care about the score of the game, he cared about me. Once, I realized that all of that volume and passion wasn’t trying to destroy me, but trying to help me, I was able to relax. The lessons I learned during those years in high school with my coach still impact my life today, and I’m grateful that I was able to trade in my fear of him and trust him instead.
The same is true of my relationship with God. God doesn’t punish us. Punishment is about getting even, about answering for what you’ve done. In an act of unimaginable love and sacrifice, Jesus answered for what we have done. God disciplines us, which is much different. Discipline is for our good, and leads to our growth. When my coach made our team run sprints until our lungs burned and our legs felt like rubber, it wasn’t to get even. He was making sure we would have the stamina to play hard late in games, so that when other teams were tired, we could keep going.
I don’t understand everything about God, but I trust Him. It’s not a perfect trust. Nothing about me is perfect. It’s growing, though. Every day I find that the more I trust the less I fear. That’s good because fear is miserable. It takes faith to trust, and that isn’t always easy. The reward is worth it however, and I hope you are able to enjoy a life with less fear.