Fear comes in many forms. We can fear making the wrong decision or disappointing our friends. We can also fear that our children will be snatched, the car brakes will fail, or the plane will crash. We may experience fear about our country’s future and the direction of the world around us.
Our immediate response to a threatening situation like a loud noise or a scream is usually a reflexive or involuntary fear. This initial fear is uncontrollable. What we allow to settle into our minds and emotions after our initial response, however, is controllable. If we do not exercise control over it, if we leave the initial fear untamed, it turns into long-term dread or even paranoia.
Unhealthy fear can be a symptom of a lack of eternal perspective. Ed Welch writes, “Fears see only in part. They see that we might lose something dear to us, such as our money, our health or the health of someone we love. They see the potential for loss with microscopic acuity. But they don’t see God’s presence, they don’t see His faithfulness to His promises, they don’t fixate on unseen realities but are dominated by what is merely seen with the naked eye (2 Corinthians 4:18).”
We’re told that “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Whether you suffer from specific phobias, a chronic fear of harm or death to yourself or loved ones, or any other fear, here are some suggestions for handling them.
Three Strategies for Fighting Fear
Face your fears by sharing them. Fear thrives most when it lurks in the shadows. Tell someone else and you’ll find that fears are more common than you think. Many people suffer from what could be called “fear phobia.” They’re afraid their fear means they are abnormal.
Sharing your fears with someone you trust, and finding out others struggle with similar issues, may bring you relief and help make them easier to handle.
Starve your fears—don’t feed them. Once a fear is shared, it should not be dwelt on. Talking too much about fears tends to feed or reinforce them, making it more difficult to shake them.
Another area to check is your viewing habits. What are you taking in through television, movies, the internet, and social media? We can’t fill our mind with what is evil and dreadful and expect to be at peace!
If you fear violence to yourself and your family, it’s better that you don’t watch violent movies and television programs that feed your fears. For that matter, you’d do better not to read the newspaper or watch the news on television since they major in violent crimes and catastrophes. Studies show that chronic television watchers see the world as being far more dangerous than it really is.
Shift your focus away from your fear and toward God. Read Scripture, memorize it, and pray about your fear. There are hundreds of “fear nots” in the Bible. The most common statement is, “Fear not, for I am with you” (Genesis 26:24). God knows our frailties and fears, and He is quick to reassure us:
Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9, AMP).
God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5–6, NIV)
I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:4, NIV)
Charles Spurgeon said, “The fear of God is the death of every other fear; like a mighty lion, it chases all other fears before it.” Scripture is full of commands to fear God and it is also full of commands not to be afraid. If you fear God, you need fear no one and nothing else, even the devil. If you do not fear God, you will ultimately fear many things besides Him. We’re told that “In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence” (Proverbs 14:26).
But what if your fears do happen or have already happened? Ed Welch put it this way: “Our worst fears may come upon us, but we cannot imagine the immense grace that God will pour out on us for them.”
It can help to remind yourself that even if one of your fears becomes reality, God has promised He will use it for your eternal good (Romans 8:28). Everything that comes into your life—yes, even evil and suffering—is Father-filtered. There is great comfort in meditating on your true, eternal circumstances: your Savior has come to deliver you, has secured your resurrection and eternal life, is for you and not against you, and never under any circumstances allows anything to separate you from His love.
We’re told that Christ intercedes for us (Romans 8:34). Since the prayers of a righteous man are effective (James 5:16), what could be more effective than Christ’s prayers for you? What an encouragement to know that even if no one else knows your needs, worries, and fears, and is praying for us, Christ does and is. Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote, “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.”
God’s promise of His presence is a source of both comfort and courage: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). Jesus has promised us that no matter what, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, NLT).
An Opportunity for Greater Dependence
In a time of dark suffering and dread, David affirmed, “The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?… Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident…. Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me…. I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD” (Psalm 27:1, 3, 10, 13–14).
My wife Nanci suffered through what she calls her “year of fear and free-floating anxiety that made me fall in love with God.” Nanci knew God from childhood and trusted Him all through my lawsuits, arrests, and job loss, then through her mother’s death and other losses (and threatened ones). But that inexplicable year of her life, unrelated to any outside traumatic event, changed her. She coped by telling God, morning and night, how much she loved Him.
She has continued her habit of praise and intimacy with God that developed when daily fear and dread fell upon her. The crushing emotions of that time have departed; the sense of intimacy with her Savior remains. To this day Nanci rejoices in God’s love for her and her love for Him in ways she never would have known without that year she otherwise could describe as hellish.
Your struggle with fear can be an opportunity for greater dependence on your Savior, and an opportunity to fix your eyes on what is unseen. John Newton penned it well: “If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm over us, His ear open to our prayer—His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable.”