How to Fight Fear1
In my previous post, we looked at some of the root causes of fear, how they reflect our incorrect perception of God, and how they influence our sinful behavior. For this post, I’d like to dive into how we can begin to combat and overcome these sinful patterns. Here are 3 points that have been helpful to me in my own battle with fear and anxiety.
#1. Paul’s 4-Part Strategy
Probably one of the most well-known passages on dealing with anxiety is this one from Philippians 4:6-9:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
You may be thinking, “Yes, I’ve heard that a million times, but I need practical help managing my anxiety!” But let me tell you, coming from someone who has struggled with clinically diagnosed anxiety and panic attacks, Paul is laying out a very practical, 4-part strategy for dealing with fear and anxiety.
First, we pray (v. 6). This should be a no-brainer, but often it is not our first response.
Second, we give thanks (v. 6). I have come to believe that he includes this here because it is very hard to be anxious and grateful at the same time. As soon as I begin listing out the things that I am grateful for in my prayers, my anxiety lessens. Gratefulness reminds us of the good God that we serve and all the reasons we have to trust him.
Third, we think about truth (v. 8). This is so very important that I’ve given it its own point below, but I think the order here is interesting. After we have made our requests known to God, thanked him for who he is and what he has done, we have a further responsibility. We are commanded to run our thoughts through this 8-stage truth filter (Is it true, honorable, just, etc.?). It is our nature to pray about something that worries us, “give it to God,” and then go right back to our anxious thoughts. This is Paul’s answer to that problem!
Finally, we practice (v. 9). Having grown up playing soccer, this invokes a lot of analogies for me, but I think the main point is this: this is not a one-time deal. Practice involves repetition. It involves doing things over and over, even things that you think you already know how to do. It involves hard work, diligence, and perseverance. We must practice to overcome fear.
#2. Discipline Your Mind
Disciplining your mind to think about God’s truth is key to overcoming fear. Like I talked about in my previous post, fear can be generated just by our thoughts about what might happen to us. This is dangerous because it means we have the ability to fear things that may never actually happen to us. Charles Spurgeon said, “Such strange creatures are we that we probably smart more under blows which never fall upon us than we do under those which do actually come.” We can hypothesize fear into existence!
This was another area in which Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book Overcoming Fear, Worry and Anxiety was extremely helpful to me. She writes this:
The problem with fears that exist only in our imagination is that, since they aren’t real, we must face them alone. God’s grace isn’t available to help us overcome imaginary problems that reside only in our mind. He will help us to put these imagined fears to death, but it’s only in the real world that His power is effective to uphold us in trouble. It’s only when He calls us to actually go through difficult times that His power is present to protect, comfort, and strengthen us.
This is why it is so important to discipline our minds. If we allow our thoughts of what might happen in the future to control our minds, we will live in fear. The Bible tells us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7). A sound mind encompasses a mind that has the ability to “take every thought captive” and run our thoughts through the filter outlined by Paul in Philippians 4. Is what we are worrying about true, honorable, and just? Does it reflect the truth about God? We have a responsibility to align our thinking with Scripture and not allow our fearful thoughts to control us.
#3. Realize Fear Can Be a Tool in Our Sanctification
Although this may cause anxiety in itself, we need to embrace the fact that God can use our fears and anxieties as a tool in our journey toward Christ-likeness. If every time my anxiety flares up I confess the idols I worship, search Scripture to assure myself of the attributes of God, and discipline my mind to think about what is true, then my anxiety is no longer a tool of Satan keeping me from obedience to Christ. It is now a means of my sanctification and growth. Psalm 34:4 says, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” For many years I rewrote this verse in my mind to say, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all of the things I was afraid of.” But it doesn’t say that. God may very well not deliver us from the things that cause us fear, but rather deliver us from the bondage of the fears themselves as we learn to trust the sovereign Lord on a whole new level.
Psalm 94:19 says, “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” This verse has been so true in my life. Often in the times of greatest anxiety, the presence of the Holy Spirit has been the most tangible. I pray as you combat the worries, fears, and anxieties in your life, you will experience the joyous consolation of the Lord and ultimately freedom from the bondage of fear.