A Gift of Authority

I serve on a jail ministry team. Each week, we lead church at the jail.

When I started with that team eight years ago, I was just beginning to heal from a lifetime of “fear of authority.” So of course, God sent me to serve at the jail, under the authority of the sheriff’s office and surrounded by uniformed officers. What better place to get healed?

Fear of authority is common with anyone who has been abused by someone in authority – a parent, teacher, husband, pastor, or someone in the legal system.

One problem with fear of authority is that we project it onto all authority figures, including those who walk rightly and don’t abuse. Fear makes it hard to submit to good authority. Once we’ve been abused, we don’t trust authority easily, and it’s scary to be around authority figures.

A bigger problem is that we end up fearing God’s authority – and I don’t mean “fearing God” in a healthy way. We may find it hard to trust or submit to God’s authority, so we never quite give Him our whole hearts.

In addition to that, God delegates His authority on earth through the people He places in positions of leadership. When we do not respond well to His delegated authority, we are not responding well to Him. (Please note: I’m talking about people who serve rightly, not abusers.)

I’m blessed that God has called me to serve in this particular jail because the sheriff is a godly leader who has raised up godly deputies. It has been a great place for me to find healing in relationship to authority. Over the years, I’ve been able to teach and model that to the women in the jail as well.

Last week, I had an unexpected opportunity to find further healing by watching healthy authority in action.

There was a situation that developed in which the guards had to be called in. It was a relatively minor incident that should have been cleared up quickly. The women were asked to cooperate and most of them did. But because one of them would not, the guards had to be called.

Two guards came in first to try to take care of the problem. When that didn’t work, they had to move a level up.

Next thing I knew, the door opened and a deputy walked in who carries a powerful gift of authority. It felt like a solar eclipse had consumed the jail pod. I have seldom, if ever, felt that level of authority in such proximity. I started weeping just from the weight of it.

Historically, everything within me would have liquefied just standing near the power of that authority. But because of my years of healing, I was able to stand upright, and breathe, even though my eyes did fill with tears. And I was able to watch.

Some of the women, who had been cooperative to that point, started lashing out verbally against him – simply against his presence. It wasn’t really the officer they were shouting at. It was the authority he walked in. Any unhealed areas in their hearts regarding authority started bubbling to the surface.

They were reacting as if he had done or said something harsh, when he had not. Again, it was the authority they felt. When someone has been abused, authority feels harsh, even when it is not.

As I watched, I could see how calm he remained. He didn’t raise his voice. He kept his words simple. He said he just wanted to find a solution.

It was a revelation for me to watch this encounter. My insides were shaking a bit, as if the officer were angry, which he was not. Meanwhile, my brain could see and hear that he was totally calm and trying to resolve the situation.

What an amazing lesson in how fear of authority clouds the way we see healthy and godly authority in action. That was further healing for me, and it’s not something I’ll forget. I’m always amazed at how God arranges these encounters for our healing.

Our jail team wasn’t sure if we needed to stay or leave. When we asked the officer if we could go, he gave us a big grin and said, “Of course!” He was very polite and understanding as he led us out. That was another layer of healing for me.

If you struggle with fear of authority, the first step to healing is to forgive those who abused you (God did not want that to happen to you). Invite Jesus to show you His love and how His authority protects you. Then repent for the ways you have projected your fear onto others, including God.

Then, I recommend that you watch someone who walks in healthy, godly authority, and observe how that person models that authority. Compare how it affects you inside (in your heart) with how you see it from the outside (with your brain). Note the difference, and you will be further along your way to healing.

By the way, it is better to try such an exercise when you are not on the receiving end of that authority, but just a bystander.