Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed emotionally. It seems that around every corner, bad news is lurking—it seems like you can’t check Facebook, or Twitter, or the Yahoo homepage, or even email without coming across something sad or negative whether you want to see it or not. It might be some tragic event, natural disaster, childhood cancer, or some other loss that creates human suffering of some kind. I really try my best to avoid as much negative information as I can, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. One thing I’ve noticed in regards to this is that it is easy to become fearful in the wake of such information. Pain is something that none of us wants to experience, but often can’t avoid. It is simply the result of living in a fallen world. If we are not careful, it is easy to be overtaken by our fear.
The interesting thing about fear, though, is that all of us are born with only 2 fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. If you have children, you’ve witnessed the exhibition of these fears. But all the other fears or phobias that we face are learned. We’ve developed them through the things we’ve watched, the people we’ve known, the experiences we’ve had, and most, if not all of them do us no good. Like anxiety, being overly fearful reveals a lack of trust in God. But it is also a tool that the devil uses to neutralize our impact and influence. For me, the easiest thing to do when I feel fear is to shrink back into a state of despair. It limits my creativity, steals my courage, and keeps me on edge, creating a negative attitude. Being fearful doesn’t just affect me; it affects my wife, my kids, and everyone else I come into contact with.
The good news, however, is that if our fears are learned, they can be unlearned. By no means is this easy, but I believe it can be done. The first step is to recognize the source of our fears. I’m not sure what your spiritual beliefs are, but I believe that all of our negative fear originates with Satan. The Bible tells us that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). There is a cosmic battle between good and evil that goes on unseen in this world, though sometimes we can feel it. We are warned in 1 Peter 5:8 to be “sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” What a powerful image! Satan is constantly working to get us off track.
Whenever we feel fearful, our initial response should always be to pray. I once heard someone say that the Bible tells us 365 times not to fear—one reminder for each day of the year. I have not verified if it is truly that many times, but nevertheless, we are exhorted often to fear not. I think that this shows us that in our fallen nature, God knows that we will have fears, but He wants us to learn to give our fears to Him and seek His refuge. Isaiah 41:10 says, “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.”
I confess that this has been a difficult lesson to learn. My first response is generally to fret, worry, or dwell upon my fears becoming reality. When I was writing earlier about my experience with my heart issues, I mentioned that the thing I feared most when faced with the fear of death was my kids growing up without a dad. If I spend even a moment dwelling on the prospect of this, I can become distraught with fear—fear that Elly and the kids won’t be financially provided for in the long term, fear of my son not having a godly man to lead, guide and mentor him, fear that my daughters won’t experience the unconditional love and emotional security gained from a relationship with their father.
Another issue I have faced since going through these things is something called Somatic Symptom Disorder. Basically, I’ve become somewhat of a hypochondriac—fearing that any little physical issue I feel is some major health concern—random muscle soreness might mean I have a blood clot, a lump of fatty tissue could be a tumor, or back pain could be another heart issue. It’s really been amazing to me because sometimes it seems like there is something new every day to fear.
Thankfully I have learned not to spend too much time dwelling on these fears. Sometimes it is still difficult, but it has been a daily exercise in trusting God. I honestly believe that Satan is doing whatever he can to prevent me from living a God-honoring life. I’ve heard it said that fear is simply an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real and I have often found this to be true. As mentioned before, fear is simply a tool Satan uses to distract us. But the more we exercise trust and faith in God, the lesser the impact fear will have. If an issue persists, I’ll have it checked out, but I’m not going to be overcome by fear.
Even if some of my fears do come true, I still believe that God is sovereign and in control. For example, Lord willing God will allow me to live a long life, but if He takes me while my kids are still young, I know that He will provide for Elly and the kids. He will provide a man to mentor my son, and perhaps He would bring another godly man to marry Elly and to be the father that my kids would need. Because I trust in God, I don’t need to fear what would happen to them.
When you feel fear, do you spend more time dwelling upon it than you spend in prayer to God? Realize that fear can only paralyze you if you let it, and it may just be Satan trying to keep you from making the impact God wants for you to have. But also realize that even if some of your fears do come true, God is still in control. He will still be there for you.
“Cast all your anxiety on Him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).”
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).”
In this world, there will always be things to fear. Satan is going to do whatever he can to derail us. If we give in to every fear we face, we will become inept, ineffective, and complacent. This is exactly what Satan wants. His purpose is to “steal, kill, and destroy,” but God wants us to experience life to the full (John 10:10). When I am fearful, I remind myself that I can’t live my life in fear. I can’t allow Satan to win the battle for my mind. I remember that God has said,
“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 46:10).”
I hope I don’t give the impression that fear is something that I’ve mastered, because I haven’t. But I have learned to temper it. And that has happened only through a lot of prayer and scripture reading. I’ll leave you with my favorite Psalm that I like to read whenever I am feeling particularly distressed, and if you, too, are feeling fearful about anything, I pray it will bring you comfort as well.
A prayer of David.
1 Hear me, Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
2 Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; 3 have mercy on me, Lord,
for I call to you all day long.
4 Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
for I put my trust in you.
5 You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
abounding in love to all who call to you.
6 Hear my prayer, Lord;
listen to my cry for mercy.
7 When I am in distress, I call to you,
because you answer me.
8 Among the gods there is none like you, Lord;
no deeds can compare with yours.
9 All the nations you have made
will come and worship before you, Lord;
they will bring glory to your name.
10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
you alone are God.
11 Teach me your way, Lord,
that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.
12 I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your love toward me;
you have delivered me from the depths,
from the realm of the dead.
14 Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God;
ruthless people are trying to kill me—
they have no regard for you.
15 But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and have mercy on me;
show your strength in behalf of your servant;
save me, because I serve you
just as my mother did.
17 Give me a sign of your goodness,
that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,
for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.