What Fear Does1
“Wow, I could never do that. You are so brave!”
I can’t tell you the number of people who have said that to me as we prepared to move overseas with our 3 children who were 4 and under at the time. What they didn’t know, however, is that I’m not a particularly “brave” person. A bit of a daredevil maybe, but when it comes to the everyday realities of life, and especially when it comes to my kids, I have a lot of fears. I worry for my kids about all kinds of things: their emotional and spiritual development, poisonous snakes, even them getting hit by a car. The threat of serious illness can trigger a panic attack.
Ironically, as people have marveled at our “bravery” over the past 2 years we’ve been overseas, God has taken me on a journey of learning and overcoming my fears. I initially boarded the plane to Costa Rica white-knuckling the armrests, but slowly God has helped me overcome my fears and live in freedom.
Not only am I not a particularly brave person, I’m also not a very original person. I’ve always been slightly jealous of those people (like my husband) who can take a pile of Legos or a blank sheet of paper and actually create something. I, on the other hand, am very good at following directions and executing someone else’s ideas. So, the majority of what you are about to read are not my original thoughts at all. As God has been teaching me about fear and how to overcome it, he has used a Bible study entitled Fear and Anxiety, a small pamphlet called Living in a Dangerous World: Moving from Fear to Faith, and a book by Elyse Fitzpatrick called Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety. Anything profound you read here probably came from one of those sources, but I’d like to give you the blog post version of all that God has taught me.
First, let me be clear about what kind of fear I am referring to. God created us with the ability to recognize a dangerous or threatening situation and programmed us to generate an emotional response: fear. This is a good thing! We need this fear response in many situations to keep ourselves safe; not walking off the edge of a cliff, for example. Sometimes, however, our perception of what is dangerous or threatening can get skewed. Fear and anxiety can become overwhelming, even debilitating. It can keep us from obedience to Christ and can actually be rooted in sin. This is the kind of fear I want to talk about. With this in mind, I’d like to share 3 things that God has taught me about fear.
#1. Fear Reveals Our Idols
Our fear can be a very helpful tool in pinpointing where we have placed something above God. This was a huge revelation for me and the one that most drastically changed how I approached my fears and anxieties. If we have put something in the place that only God should have in our lives, and we are placing our hope and trust in that, it is only natural that we will feel fear any time that object or idea is threatened. For example, if my kids have become an idol, then anytime their well-being is threatened, I will feel fear. Maybe you fear losing your job because your finances have become an idol. Maybe you fear sickness because your health has become an idol. Whatever your fear is, try to trace it back to the root of what in your life has taken the place of God. Acknowledge what you are placing your trust in and repent from worshipping some part of God’s creation rather than God himself (Rom 1:21-25).
#2. Fear Is Rooted in an Incorrect View of God
Fear is almost always rooted in an incorrect, too small, view of God. If we consider God’s attributes revealed to us in scripture, and if we truly believe them, our fear many times will vanish in the face of the reality of who God is.
Perhaps the most consoling attribute of God when we are anxious is his sovereignty. Elyse Fitzpatrick writes, “God’s sovereignty is the only safe harbor when we’re assailed by the winds of fear, doubt, and worry.”
God’s sovereignty, his perfect power to do whatever pleases him, means that he controls every event of our lives, determines the number of our days, is in control of the weather, and can overrule even our stubborn sin and rebellion (1 Chron 29:10-11; Psa 68:20; Gen 8:22; Rom 9:18).
Coupled with God’s absolute power we find him to be absolutely wise, absolutely loving, absolutely merciful, and absolutely holy. The most powerful being in the universe is also our wise and loving Father who knows and cares for every aspect of our lives. Why then do we fear?
#3. Fear Reinforces Our Control Issues
Fear, according to the dictionary is an “unpleasant, often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.” In other words, it is our response to something that is happening or that we think might happen.
Often, the result is we try to control and manipulate every possible unpleasant scenario, especially ones that in reality we have no control over. For example, I fear that I or someone in my family will contract some illness like dengue fever, malaria, or something as simple as parasites. Fear causes me to spend my energy attempting to control all aspects of our life that could possibly be connected to getting sick: bug spray always, washing everything, not eating certain foods at specific restaurants, etc. Fear causes me to believe that if I work hard enough to control the situation, I can avoid the object of my fear. But the Bible says just the opposite. Proverbs 1:33 says, “But whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” And Proverbs 3:7-8 says, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”
Fear causes us to try to control rather than trust the One who is actually in control.
Thankfully, God does not leave us to struggle with our fears and anxieties on our own. In the next part of this blog post, we will look at 3 ways that I have learned to combat my fear.