We live in a society dominated by fear. Our culture is permeated by fear because we have chosen not to fear God.
Not only are we fearful for our safety, but we live in dread of nuclear war, of transmitted diseases, of economic collapse. When all of these fears are combined with the always dominant worries about health, finances, death, and failure, the fear factor for this generation is as great as it has ever been.
To understand the nature and origin of our fears, however, we must go back thousands of years to man’s transgression in the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve violated God’s command to abstain from eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16-17), they cowered in their Maker’s presence:
“Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid…’” (Gen. 3:9-10).
This is the first time fear is mentioned in the Scriptures. Fear began with the sin of man.
From that point on, fear is mentioned more than four hundred times in the Bible. Many times, it is used in the imperative sense: “Fear not…”
But fear is still rampant in the heart of man. It is an inner dread or uncertainty about events, people, or circumstances that we cannot control or handle.
Not all fear is bad. We should be afraid of boiling water or poisonous snakes or collapsed bridges. These fears are protective, productive, and keep us from endangering ourselves and others.
We are told in the Scriptures to “fear God” (Lk. 12:5). That does not mean we should be afraid of relating to the Father but that our relationship with Him should be governed by a high view of God’s holiness.
We reverence God, hold Him in awe, and in that sense “fear Him.”
When we truly fear God, we hate what He hates – that is, sin. Thus, our fear of God keeps us from evil, protecting us from making wrong choices. When we fear God in the right way, we do not need to fear any man.
But the fears we must deal with as a part of our human existence are most often destructive. The causes are varied.
Many of our fears are learned. Perhaps when you were a child, your mom or dad said, “Don’t get too close to the deep water, or you’ll drown.” Their intentions were good, but in the process you became afraid of deep water.
There are many phobias that are transmitted through learned behavior. We live with parents who are afraid of high places, and we are gripped by the same phobia.
Some fears are the result of ignorance. Many people are convinced they have committed “the unpardonable sin.” They are deathly afraid of God’s judgment, and they are tormented by fear.
Once the truth is discovered about God’s forgiveness, such fear evaporates. It is an unnecessary anxiety, needing only a dose of the truth to dispel its dark shadow. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
Our vivid imaginations also can be the breeding ground for fear. We are certain we have heard strange noises in the night. It is amazing how we suddenly envision depraved looking sorts creeping around the house. Ordinary night sounds become door knobs turning and latches lifted. Our frightened thoughts then generate large doses of adrenalin, and our nervous systems are put on high alert. Fear reigns.
Doubt is another reason we fear. We doubt the unchanging promises of God’s Word. Most believers are adamant when asked if they believe the Bible to be the inerrant, infallible Word of God.
But when confronted with distressing situations, they are overwhelmed with fear. Their bedrock faith in God and His Word are shaken by the winds of doubt and unbelief.
A poor self-image is still another fear factor. If an individual has a perception about himself that things just will not work out, he usually is caught in the grip of inferiority and insecurity.
Guilt can be another contributor to our fears. A person who has experienced moral or ethical failure in a relationship or in a family or work environment lives under a cloud of guilt which nourishes a spirit of fear. He is unable to forgive himself for his actions; and he approaches new endeavors with fear.
Whatever the cause, the consequences of our fears are far-reaching. They impact almost every area of our existence, coloring our relationships and clouding our future.
One of the results of a spirit of fear is the diminishing capacity to create and think.
Why bother to dream and hope if our fears convince us we will never be successful anyway? Those imprisoned by fear are unlikely to risk much. They are not goal-setters, and they often settle for less than their potential.
Indecision is also a common companion of fear. Making a decision is difficult when our fear of failure is running at high tide. It is easier to postpone a decision or to ask another to assume responsibility.
Indecision is compounded by the fear of rejection. We are afraid of being rejected by others if our decisions affect them adversely or if we think we do not measure up to the expectations of others.
Another consequence of fear is the damage it does to our relationships. For example, a woman hurt in a divorce can be fearful of establishing new relationships. She builds up emotional barriers that effectively keep others out of her life.
Why? Because she is fearful of being hurt again. She wants to love others, but the risk is too great. The scars run deep, and the threat of still further wounds is intolerable.
The most devastating consequence of fear is the strain it places on our relationship with our Heavenly Father. When a person is filled with fear, God seems anything but loving and gracious. Instead the discipline and chastisement of God are magnified from that person’s viewpoint. This distorted view of God creates an oppressive spiritual climate in which spiritual growth and enrichment are impossible.
Fear stifles prayer, Scripture reading, and other Christian exercises. God seems like an angry judge, waiting to lower His divine gavel. The great truths of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love are obscured by fear’s tainted lens.
Our joy and peace are victims. Fear does not coexist well with these faith-builders.
So the question is: “What can we do about fear?” We cannot avoid it, but we can learn how to handle fear with biblical wisdom and insight.
The starting point is admitting our fears. The person who says he has no fears is fooling himself and preventing God’s corrective action.
Our fears may not be overwhelming. They may seem small at this point, but nevertheless they bother us – they create uneasiness.
At this point we need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us identify our fears. God will always show us the truth when we ask Him sincerely.
He may surprise us with His answers. We may harbor some fears that we have suppressed over time so that they no longer seem a problem. But God knows that it could present some difficulty in the near future; therefore, He leads us to deal with it.
Once we have identified and acknowledged our fears, we then can move ahead and find God’s solution. It is here we must not doubt. God does not want us in bondage to fear. It is the will of God that we be set free from every single fear.
“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10).
“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7).
We experience God’s supernatural power to free us from fear by obedience to two principles – focus and faith.
By focus, I mean we must concentrate on what God’s Word says. The above verse in Isaiah says that God is with us; that He is our God; that He will strengthen us, help us, and uphold us.
The focus of fear is on the circumstance. It looks almost solely on the situation, always magnifying its power and reducing God’s ability to help.
How should we focus? By meditating on the Word of God. When we saturate our hearts and minds with the Scriptures, we are fixing our inner being on God. We are thinking His thoughts, moving in His direction.
We see how big and powerful and caring our God is. We witness His deliverance of His people in similar situations. We discover the marvelous care of God, and our hearts are encouraged.
When fear comes, turn to the Word of God. Place your focus squarely on His truth, relying on its unquestioned authority.
When our focus is right, then our faith is strengthened. Our faith is our response to God’s Word based on Who He is in us.
Faith is a choice, a decision that is based on the complete adequacy of the Lord Jesus Christ in every situation. Faith is not something we must work up; there is no staircase we must climb.
The focus of our faith is the person of Jesus Christ. We concentrate on Who He is, not our abilities or talents.
With a clear focus on God’s Word and with faith in His presence and power in our lives, all fear can be defeated.
Dr. Charles F. Stanley