For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
~ 2 Tim 1:7, KJV
“Fear is a self-imposed prison that will keep you from becoming what God intends for you to be. You must move against it with the weapons of faith and love.”
~ Rick Warren
When Fear Takes Over
Years ago I was shopping at Walmart with my two small children and decided to grab lunch at the micro-McDonald’s that was within the store. It was lunch hour and clearly the busiest part of the day for the four people working behind the counter.
The woman who appeared to be in charge of the mighty foursome of burger-flippers was in a total panic. The stress of trying to meet the needs of the customers while simultaneously managing her little flock had somehow left her totally undone. She was rushing about madly while yelling at workers and customers alike.
The customer in front of me was blind and was trying to make sure her order was correct. The distressed manager showed her no mercy either. She was barked at like everyone else. I helped the lady with her order.
As I watched this melodramatic display continue, I was struck with two opposing feelings. For one, I was sad for this poor lady and all who had the misfortune of crossing her path that day. Second, she was so over-the-top that it became comical. By the time it was my turn to interact with her, I had to work hard to stifle my laughter. I so wanted to hold her hand, look into her eyes, and say as gently as I could, “Dear woman, you are not overseeing a nuclear power plant meltdown. You are passing out French fries. Please get a grip. For all our sakes, just get a grip.”
Our fear can make problems seem much bigger than they actually are. This poor woman’s panic had overtaken her and she had made herself—and all the rest of us—miserable. It’s easy to stand in line and laugh at her, but the truth is I have been just like her myself. My own fears—of failure, of not being enough, of all the what-ifs—keep me rushing and yelling and attacking. I confess I have acted like my home is a nuclear power plant in the midst of a meltdown and I have treated the ones I love most with disrespect because I let my fears rule my thoughts and actions.
But that’s not all that I have let Fear do to me. I have also allowed it to tie me down and keep me from pursuing good things that God has for me. I have let anxious thoughts run so wild through my head that they trample my reasonable thoughts and drain my faith-tank. I become paralyzed—unable to do the good or avoid the bad. I’m stuck.
Are you fearful—literally full of fear? Do you know where that comes from? It doesn’t come from God. He has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Tim 1:7). Can you guess from where fear originates? Yep. It’s him again. Our age-old enemy rears his ugly once more. God does not want us to be afraid.
Go Big or Go Home
Now not all fear is bad. Some degree of fear is healthy and keeps us from being stupid. Like that time my sons invited me to follow them down the terrain park run on the ski slope. I looked around, saw no one was watching, and thought to myself, “Go big or go home.”
I did okay on the first jump. The second one got me a little off balance and I didn’t have time to pull myself together before the final and largest jump. I caught some serious air! The only problem was I was not in a good position to catch the ground again. It was one of those falls where you have to go looking for the ski you lost.
In my younger years, I would have bounced back pretty easily. Now that I’m in my forties, I don’t bounce so well anymore. The entire right side of my body from shoulder to knee hurt for at least a year afterward. I have now come to the conclusion that whenever I hear a little voice telling me to “Go big or go home”, I’m going to go home. It’s safer there.
This is when fear is good because protects us by reminding us what smart people do.
No Fear in Love
But when our fear gets out of control and starts to control us instead of protect us, it’s time to get rid of it. That’s not always an easy thing to do. Fear and anxiety actually alter the physical chemistry of our body. Our body prepares itself for to fight or flee. But when there’s no physical threat to fight and nowhere to run, our body stores up all that negative energy making it even harder to change our course.
When my fear is controlling me, I feel powerless to make it stop. But here’s the truth
“Have I not commanded you? 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
God wouldn’t have commanded us not to fear if it were something beyond our control. Clearly, living free of fear involves our will. We must choose faith rather than fear.
Here are some practical ways to overcome fear.
- Pause. Breathe. Pray.
- Focus on the God’s perfect love for you. (1 Jn 4:18)
- Remember that it’s okay to be inadequate. God is all-sufficient. It’s not all on your shoulders.
- Sing songs that encourage your faith. Worship is your weapon.
- Exercise. It does wonders to help your body reset and move beyond the “fight or flight” mode.
- Read and recite any of the many Scriptures about fear. (See below for a list.)
- Do what you would do if weren’t afraid. Sometimes the fear leaves once you get started.
- Talk about your fears with someone who has different fears than you do. You can both encourage each other.
- Make sure your body is getting the rest and nourishment it needs.
- Acknowledge your fears. Examine them. But don’t let them boss you around. You are in charge. Remember, God won’t ask you to do something you don’t have the power to do.
Aliens in the Basement
Some fears are legitimate. Others, well…not so much. My youngest son came to me on the verge of tears just yesterday because his sister who is 15 months older told him there were aliens in the basement. This fear seems ungrounded and ridiculous to us, but it’s very real to him. I’m quite sure that many of the things that keep me up at night are every bit as ridiculous sounding to God as aliens in the basement, but they are very real to me. Just like I want my son to believe me when I tell him there is no reason to fear the basement aliens, God wants me to believe Him when He tells me not to be afraid or discouraged (Isaiah 41:10).
Be Bold & Courageous
Don’t underestimate the significance of your personal struggles. It takes courage to face the day with integrity and grace no matter what you are going through. Whether you are facing illness, an important decision, unemployment, sleepless nights, a broken relationship, a sick child, a colossal mess, deadline pressure or something else, it is all too easy to be overcome by fear. Whether your challenges seem large or small in your eyes, you are courageous when you tackle them in spite of your fear. We must actively choose faith. As we feed our faith our fear will shrivel.
Search Your Heart
Who or what is causing me to fear?
Is this a legitimate or a foolish fear?
Is this fear protecting me from something dangerous or stupid?
Is this fear keeping me from doing what is right, desirable, or beneficial?
Call to Action
- Memorize at least one verse on fear, anxiety, or worry. There is an excellent list of verses by Debbie McDaniel here.
- Memorize at least one verse on courage (Joshua 1:9, Ps 23:4, Is 35:4).
- Imagine your fear in every scary detail. Then imagine how God is greater than your fear in every way.
- Choose to not let your fear hold you back from the life you are called to live.
- Feed your faith instead of your fear.
Seek His Face
Lord I know you are bigger than anything that scares me. Why do I forget this so often? I worry and wring my hands. I feed my fear by googling it and reading worst-case scenarios. I’m tired of being ruled by my fears—both the legitimate ones and the crazy ones. I want to be set free by knowing and experiencing your perfect love. My head knows you love me unconditionally. Help my heart to feel it too. Bring my racing, panicked, heartbeat down to be in sync with your heartbeat of love and provision for me. Help me to stop striving and struggling and rest in your embrace. Help me believe you when you tell me there are no aliens in my basement. When I allow my fears to rage, it reveals the extent to which I fail to trust you.
Forgive me. Protect me. Hold me.
I ask this in the name of Jesus, who name is above every other name, Amen.
Find Strength in the Song
“Whom Shall I Fear” by Chris Tomlin
“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?”
~ Psalm 27:1
To read other posts in this series, click the image below.