Late one night I was walking alone down the middle of a moonlit street. It was quiet and still. The houses were dark. No one was outside and not a single car was moving. Suddenly, I heard a strange noise behind me. Looking back, I saw a huge lion rushing madly toward me from about a half block away! Fear gripped me and I began to run!
With my heart pounding I sensed the beast was gaining on me. In panic I rushed through the front yard gate of an old house and hurdled up the stairs to the porch. Glancing back, I saw the lion racing through the gate! Pushing open the front door I scrambled up some stairs to the second floor. Looking down I saw the fierce creature charging up the steps. Dashing down a hallway, I found a large old trunk, dove inside of it and quickly closed the lid. Seconds later it reopened. It was the lion! His mouth was wide open! And then . . . I woke up.
Yes, it was a terrible dream, a frightening nightmare that I had experienced as a child. Not only did I occasionally endure bad dreams as a youngster but various fears troubled me. Perhaps during your youth, you experienced the same. The fact is, both children and adults are affected by real or imagined fears and anxieties.
Healthy fear vs. harmful fear
Numerous books are available today which pledge to help individuals overcome their fears and worries. But, are some of our fears justified? Yes, there is healthy, proper and necessary fear which is simply the desire for self-preservation. Without it, people would not take appropriate caution to avoid perils or injury.
For example, healthy fear was demonstrated in the 1962 Academy Award winning motion picture, To Kill a Mockingbird. In one scene a violent, rabid dog was roaming a residential neighborhood causing frightened people to huddle in their homes for protection. However, Atticus Finch, played by actor Gregory Peck, chose to deal with the threat. Standing alone outside, he took his rifle and shot and killed the dog, thus ending the menace. So, legitimate, healthy fear was present yet it was accompanied by a critical element: the willingness to take suitable steps to confront it.
What is harmful fear? It is the result of not taking measures to deal with a disquieting, potentially fearful situation. The consequence of not facing and dealing with our fears is anxiety, distress, nervousness and worry. Healthy fear can actually mutate into harmful fear when alarm and panic, rather than knowledge, logic and godly faith, governs our thinking and actions.
Confronting our fears
Challenging, managing and mastering our fears is essential to living a happy, successful life. Experts in psychology offer helpful advice on contending with fear. Stanley J. Rachman, Ph.D., a psychologist and Professor Emeritus of the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada is the author of the book, Fear and Courage (W. H. Freeman, New York, 1990). He wrote, “When a situation becomes predictable, the fear diminishes.” In other words, when facing a fearful condition, the more information available about it, the better it can be precisely and rationally dealt with. Additionally, when grappling with a demanding and potentially distressing event, discussing the circumstances with others, who will not be judgmental or critical, can help alleviate distress. Obtaining wise input and advice from trusted sources is important, because, as Dr. Rachman wrote, “Suppressing fear is not a very effective technique.”
Nevertheless, if fear or worry persists, experts advise seeking professional help to determine if treatment could be beneficial. Suggested resources include, The National Institute of Mental Health, nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml, The Anxiety Disorders Association of America, adaa.org and The Ross Center for Anxiety & Related Disorders Inc., rosscenter.com.
God offers us powerful help
In confronting and defeating fear and anxiety, let’s examine the most important tool we can employ, which is the marvelous support our Creator generously offers. Since He doesn’t want us to be tormented by harmful, destructive fear, He provides us tremendous aid. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7, emphasis added throughout). A “spirit of fear” doesn’t originate from God but arises in the human mind, influenced negatively by Satan the devil (1 John 5:19). However, with God’s limitless help we can perform rationally and calmly in fear-inducing situations (Isaiah 41:10).
We can also be fully confident that we will win our battles against fear because God cares for us deeply and is close by our side. “For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’” Plus, God’s way of love is flawless: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
Considering what God is willing to do for us, we never need to feel lost and alone or be embarrassed when we occasionally feel and display anxiety. The fact is, even some of the great personalities of the Bible felt and expressed fear. For instance, the apostle Paul articulated some of his personal fears to the brethren at Corinth. “We were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears” (2 Corinthians 7:5). Nevertheless, Paul didn’t stay fearful but relied on God’s love and strength to aid him in successfully facing and overcoming his fears (Romans 8:38-39). We can do the same!
When Jesus Christ walked on the earth, He fully grasped what human distress was like and clearly understood our fears and worries. So, when we are threatened by fear and anxiety, we can call upon Him instantly for His loving, powerful help in order to address it. “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).
Be anxious for nothing
Unlike human beings, who can sometimes be fickle, God will never let us down if we fully trust and obey Him. He will give us the spiritual, mental and emotional strength we need to face and conquer our fears and anxieties. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, New International Version). Furthermore, the apostle Paul admonishes us to, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). What will happen as a result of our diligent prayers and God-given faith (Ephesians 2:8)? “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
So, it is God’s intense desire that we be completely free of harmful fear. Even so, there is a type of fear He actually wants us to have. Proverbs 1:7 explains that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” The term “fear” in this verse actually means “profound respect and awe.” God does not want us to be fearful of Him but rather that we honor and faithfully submit to Him in order to be blessed with true peace of mind and great joy (Deuteronomy 5:29). With God’s steadfast guidance, strength and encouragement we can confront and defeat fear and anxiety!