the true nature of fear

I’ve told this story several times since it first happened. But at this point, it’s been a pretty good while since I’ve even thought about it. But my post about dealing with my bike and the fear I have of using the clips on the road got to me to thinking about this stuff again.

If you’ve read much here at all, you know that my family and I are very active in our local Emmaus community. Since I went on my own walk back in the fall of 2011, I’ve worked almost every walk after that in one way or another. I’ve served in the conference room multiple times and in various capacities, I’ve served in agape a few times and on the dining room team multiple times as well. I’ve also served on the prayer team multiple times.

If you’re unfamiliar with Emmaus, let me explain that it is a 72-hour “retreat” of sorts, but it’s unlike any Christian retreat you’ve ever attended. It’s really hard to explain and some people treat it like a huge secret but it’s really not. It’s just that it’s very hard to put into words exactly what an Emmaus weekend is!

You are put at “table groups” with up to 5 other people (at least for our community, we don’t put more than 6 people at a table) and you stay with this group throughout the weekend except for sleeping. You bunk with people who are NOT at your table, so you get to meet a lot of new folks and make lots of new friends. The purpose of an Emmaus walk is to strengthen your walk with Christ and build your faith and help you become a better church member once you leave. It is interdenominational and separated into walks by gender. Men’s, women’s and then boys and girls for the younger ones down to age 15. You spend the days in what we call the conference room listening to talks on the different aspects of God’s grace, discussing them with your table group and generally having a lot of fun, eating lots of food and usually crying lots of tears. It’s all good, don’t worry. I strongly encourage you to go if you ever have the opportunity to attend a walk.

So, all that aside, it takes a LOT of people to make one of these weekends flow seamlessly. There are tons of people behind the scenes cleaning, setting up rooms, meeting various needs of the attendees AND the other workers, cooking food, setting up the dining room for each meal and serving the meals and praying.

There’s a team of people there just to pray the entire time the walk is going on. And not only that, there’s also a list of people who are NOT on site, people who are praying around the clock at their homes and work for the walk also. The whole thing is bathed in prayer long before the weekend arrives.

The prayer team works in shifts, 3 hours at a time, twice a day per (usually) 2-member team. Those two people go in the designated prayer room where there are bibles, devotional books, and a list of names of all the attendees of the walk and a book for the prayer requests that come in during the weekend. Also, for each speaker that gives a talk in the conference room they come in before their talk and are prayed over, then when they are done giving their talk, they come back to be “prayed out”, to ask God to bless the words they have spoken and to refill their spirit for what they’ve “poured out” during their talk, etc. So you have speakers coming in unless you have the “wee hours” shifts when everyone is sleeping.

It is a huge honor to serve in prayer and I have always grown immensely from my experience on the prayer team.

Once I was asked to serve in prayer on the first-ever women’s prison walk. Yes, Emmaus does modified walks in the prisons. They’re called “RECs” or Residents Encounter Christ. So this was the first one in a women’s prison for our community.

I was very excited to go, but it was in Nashville! We, the prayer team, would serve outside the prison.

Let me explain that the “teams” that work and support the Emmaus walks are people who have previously gone on walks, and at this point, there had probably been about 10 walks since my own and mine was #29, so that was a LOT of people that I’d never met who I might potentially be put on a team with. It’s always fun to work a walk because you get to know new people each time.

So, hopefully for you who are unfamiliar with Emmaus, you can now follow most of what I’m about to tell you. My apologies for this being SO long, but I felt the explanation was necessary for anyone outside the Emmaus community.


We were housed in a gigantically huge and century-old church on the outskirts of Nashville. Those who were working directly with the inmates would load up a couple of vans and go in each morning then come out each evening for the supper meal and to sleep. Those of us on the prayer and kitchen teams were at the church for the duration except for the closing ceremony when the inmates would give their testimonies.

So this church… it had been built onto numerous times. It had four levels and scads of rooms and rooms-within-rooms and twisty staircases throughout. At that time, they were doing some renovation in the main sanctuary, which was not that huge but retained much of its original style and frankly, smelled pretty musty. It was a little confusing to understand just what sort of church this was. I mean, for it to have that small a sanctuary when compared to the sheer mass of the rest of the building?? That was sort of odd. We got the feeling that the church had been booming at some past point, but now was in decline as most ALL those many rooms I mentioned were in various states of disuse and disrepair.

All us workers were stationed on the third floor in about 3 different bunk rooms. The church also served to house visiting mission groups and sometimes just church groups passing through to other places as somewhere to sleep for the night as they went elsewhere. So there was a group of teens there when we arrived. We never really even knew they were there most of the time til the night my prayer partner and I were doing our second shift of the day, during the supper hour.

There was a small, dingy room that was designated for prayer and that’s where we would meet. This was in the summer so it was hot and we’d have to run the window AC unit, which was noisy and bothersome. But on this particular night, the second night of our weekend, those kids decided they would take turns running and jumping onto mattresses and sliding down the stairs, which meant all this was going on right outside the prayer room.

Since my PP (Prayer Partner) and I were the only ones of our team up there at the time, I found it a little scary to have this big mob of teens behaving so badly. She stuck her head out a couple times to ask them to please be quiet and was met with some smart remarks and disrespectful looks.

Then we put a sign on the door, “Please be Quiet! Prayer in progress.” all to no avail.

Finally they stopped as our team started coming up from supper a few at a time and we began to get team members coming in with prayer requests for what was going on inside the prison.

One lady, who happens to be blind, came in requesting prayer for a very oppressive spirit to leave the prison and she described as best she could an incident that happened during a very “soul-searching” time in the walk, a time when many people who may not be saved, will realize it and come to a true relationship with Jesus. But she described hearing a noise she had never heard a human being make. It sent chills up my spine.

Later, we got other reports of one particular inmate screaming and writhing on the floor as if possessed. And let me state, we don’t practice exorcism or anything like that, but when there’s demon activity, you pray for God to free that person!! So that’s what had happened and it must have been a really unsettling manifestation.

So we prayed for all the various people that came in and for the situation that had been submitted for prayer and for the inmate who had been, by her own testimony, freed from a demonic spirit.

Soon the next shift came in, another two ladies and we began discussing what had happened and to pray, me and my PP staying to pray with them.

And so it was that the four of us were in that little room praying and most everyone else was asleep. By this time it was a little after midnight.

We began to hear some very loud noises. It was like someone was bouncing a ball on the floor up above, but it wasn’t regular… it was almost like someone wrestling on the floor. It was loud enough that we were all disturbed by it and soon one of us said out loud, “What in the world is that noise!?” My PP and I shared how the group of teens had been making all kinds of racket earlier, so we just assumed it was them in the level above us carrying on.

The only man on the place was the clergy who was serving as spiritual director inside the prison. He was in a room on the floor above us too. One of the ladies from the other shift and I decided to go up there and tell those kids to knock it off since we had people needing their sleep. They all were getting up early so they could be at the prison around 7 am!

So up the little curvy staircase we went and once we got to the top, we were greeted with a couple of wide-open rooms with bare light bulbs illuminating them, and not a soul in sight. We could still hear the noise, but it sounded as if it was coming from somewhere else. There was a short hallway going back down into darkness to our left, and a couple of rooms with closed doors before the hallway started. I didn’t dare open either of those. I was honestly very confused and frightened at this point.

I don’t do “scary” as in ghosts or demons, etc. I will watch a murder mystery movie, but if it involves anything demonic in nature, I normally will not watch it. And so it was really NOT in my nature to have even volunteered to go upstairs in the first place. The lady who had gone up there with me tends to be a somewhat stern personality and besides, she was a good foot taller than me and could have wiped the floor with me if she wanted.

I got concerned when she looked at me with her face full of fear.

We both turned and went back downstairs. The noise had stopped by this time. Just stopped. Nothing at all to be heard.

When we got to the hallway at the bottom of the stairs, we ran into one of the hosts, a college boy who stayed at the church to see to the needs of anyone who was using the bunks. We asked him about the noise and he said he hadn’t heard anything. Then we told him how we’d thought it was probably the teens who were also staying there. He then told us that they had left shortly after the stair-sliding incident.

Now we were thoroughly confused and troubled….and frankly, scared.

We went back into the prayer room to find that the other two ladies thought we’d set those kids straight. When we told them what we’d found, we all become very troubled. I realized then that the lady who’d gone upstairs with me was a younger Christian and was extremely upset with what we’d just experienced. The other lady was an older lady, a mature Christian probably saved longer than me and my PP was probably the intermediate as far as “length of salvation” went.

I only mention that stuff because I began to worry about how this lady was processing the situation. The fear on her face was so real!

Once we got ourselves settled, I mean, if there had not been four of us in there, it would have been easy to say we were just hearing things and dismiss it all. We began to pray again and soon, the same noise began again.

We all looked at each other, all of us feeling fear by then, and totally unsure of what to do. I suggested we go get the clergy from upstairs to come pray with us.

The same lady agreed to go with me again, which was surprising to me. So up the stairs we went again. I really hated to have to wake this man up. I knew all the team who had been in there the past two days were worn out. It’s hard working directly with the people attending walks, whether it’s in a prison or not, so I hated to infringe on his sleep, but we needed some direction in a big way.

I thought my stair-climbing partner might squeeze my hand into pieces before we got back downstairs, but we finally awakened the clergyman and told him what was happening. He told us right there that he hadn’t heard a thing.

We weren’t surprised. Thankfully he didn’t blow us off but agreed to come downstairs. We all gathered around in the prayer room. Maybe once he saw who else had also heard the noise, people mature in faith, he took it more seriously? Or maybe it was simply because he had been front and center when the incident happened in the prison that day. Whatever it was, he prayed the most comforting prayer.

He spoke of the fact that only God had any authority in the earth and that satan (I refuse to capitalize that name! ha!) had no business trying to distract any of the team from their tasks. It made me realize something right then and there.

Fear is NOT an emotion. It is a tool. It is a tactic. satan uses it to distract us from God and from what He wants us to do, see or concentrate on.

The Bible speaks many MANY times about fear and tells us repeatedly to “fear not” “be not afraid” and I believe God means what He says.

I realized that there was major Kingdom work going on in that prison and satan was not happy about it. His only option, since he has no power to thwart God, was to distract God’s people from the task at hand. If he could make us afraid, we would look away from our Lord and toward the fear. Exactly the way Peter did when he became bold enough to step out into the sea to walk to Jesus during the night…

Matthew 14:28-30English Standard Version (ESV)

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind,[a] he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”

When Peter looked at his surroundings and focused on the “could haves” of the situation (he could have drowned, he could have slipped under the waves and drowned, he could have been eaten by sea creatures) he took his eyes off Jesus, Who had the whole situation under His control.

Those other ladies tell me that after the clergy man left, I prayed an amazing prayer. I honestly don’t recall it, and so I say that it was the Holy Spirit praying through me, but I DO recall feeling so bold and so thankful to realize that we had NOT. ONE. THING. to fear. Ever.

One week to the day that I got home from Nashville, I had an accident on our riding lawn mower that left me crippled for several months, required a couple of surgeries including a skin graft. But it taught me, no, it drove home the fact that I’d just learned.

I have NOTHING to fear. If a fire-breathing monster were standing before me, with huge, sharp teeth ready to devour me, I STILL have nothing to be afraid of. It gave me the boldness to claim this truth and just watch God work through my months of recovery. It kept me from shedding a single tear when, in the moments after the accident, as I lay in the back field watching the mower go on without me, looking down to see that my shoe was gone and the blood began pouring from my foot and I felt panic start welling up in me… I could refocus and speak out loud, “you are NOT going to invade my life satan. My God is bigger than you. you will NOT make me afraid!”

The doctors and nurses in the ER who first worked on me wanted to know how long I was passed out. I never was. Not that *I* am strong, but my God sustained me. He kept me from passing out so I could call my son and husband. He is the one who caused me to do something I normally never do… put my phone in my pocket to go mow the yard. He is the One Who caused an old diabetic to heal at an unprecedented speed. It was Him who had me up and wearing shoes and walking months before the doctors predicted.

I learned so much through all these experiences. So I have a whole new take on what fear really is.

It’s not an emotion. It is a tool used to cause us panic, to cause us to take our eyes off what God is doing, off what He wants us to focus on.

Do I still get scared? Of course!! But do I live in fear? Not anymore. Panic and fear still slip up and grip me, but these days, once I recognize it, I speak the name of Jesus over it and I see fear as what it is… a distraction tactic of satan. I see it as a warning that I need to refocus on Jesus.

I hope all this long, rambling story has helped you to rethink what fear is. I hope it will prompt you to do a study of what God has to say about fear in His Word. It is the single most-effective tool the wicked one has and he uses it OFTEN to paralyze God’s children and make them ineffective in the kingdom!

I’m thankful for the lesson I got about fear and I try to keep it fresh in my mind so I don’t let it compromise me. And although I don’t see myself as a great spiritual person by ANY means, I hope that at least my sharing this experience can help others recognize when fear is being used against them and helps them overcome it.

God bless you!!

1 Chronicles 28:20 — “…. “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.”

Search “fear not” in the Bible and see for yourself how important it is!!


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