Fear is not an actual but self created limitation and is conquered by shifting the focus on God and His word to confidently walk through it and not around it.
“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light”- Plato.
“I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Genesis 3:10) is the first time that fear is mentioned in the Bible after Adam and Eve had sinned through disobedience. Before this they were regularly meeting God in ‘the cool of the day’ in the same Garden. One of the strongest emotions that animals and mankind share is the feeling of fear. God created this in a person to save him from suffering injury or loss due to any unexpected situation. In the initial stage of creation before sin entered the world all animals, birds and sea creatures were subject to man. This same situation is predicted to come about after Satan and the evil forces will be restrained and consigned to hell fires and the New Heavens and the New Earth will come into being. “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mountain” (Isaiah 65:25). Fear entered the world only as a consequence of sin when man and animal developed inter and intra rivalry.
Why do we fear? – Fear is defined in the Readers Digest dictionary as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of pain, danger, or harm or a feeling of anxiety concerning the outcome of something or the likelihood of something unwelcome happening. It is unpleasant and an emotional response to some thought about some future event and may or may not be based on facts. Adam and Eve hid from God solely due to a feeling of guilt and expectation of an unwelcome action by God. This was neither based on facts about God’s nature nor about any information about God’s reaction in such circumstances. This is the reason that fear of the unknown is termed as sinful in the Scriptures.
Adam named each and every creature when God brought them before him and through this act he was given authority over them which was later confirmed by God. After the curse enmity between man and the serpent was established and this spread to other species also causing fear of each other. A sinful man on the other hand became envious of his own siblings and Cain murdered Abel, his own brother (Genesis 4:8). After “God confused the language of the whole world” and dispersion of mankind for their attempt to exalt themselves above God through the attempt of creating the Tower of Babel, the inability to communicate with other further caused enmity between people (Genesis 11:9). The stronger started oppressing the weak and nation states were formed to create groupings to thwart any dangers from others.
Sin resulted in distance between man and God and man started creating images of God as per the visible powers of the world and sun, moon and other forces came to be worshipped. One who was created in the image of God started creating God as per his desired image and fear of the unknown prevailed. Apostle Paul used this fact to preach the Gospel of Christ in Athens (Acts 17:23).
President of America Franklin Roosevelt once declared “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. When we analyze the causes of our fears most of the time these are based on old memories of fearful moments which come and go so fast in our lives that we have no chance of living that fear. It becomes a reflex action of sorts for us to react in future. All emotions including fear are based on information stored in our minds and the way we have chosen to interpret it. When we accept this fact we are in a position to tackle this consciously and control it. Certain fears are instinctive and useful for our safety while others that are learned reflexes can be overcome or re-learned thus eliminating the fear of fear itself.
Effects of fear – Positive fear creates a reflex action on our part forcing our body to automatically react to save or minimize the effect. The spiritual aspect of fear is of God and causes blessings to come our way. “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). This type of fear urges us to refrain from evil and to do good to others and forgive their sins committed against us. This results in a better relationship with God as well as His creation giving us peace and cooperation of others with social prestige. It has now been established that most of the diseases are caused by psychosomatic causes that are a result of our style of living and inter-personal relationships. “The fear of the Lord prolongs days but the years of the wicked will be shortened” (Proverbs 10:27) illustrates this point. While those who fear God get more done in a day the wicked will not in a year and also their respective life spans will be accordingly affected.
Negative fear on the other hand restrains us from acting out our dreams and causes failure and anxiety resulting in disease and early death. Types of this fear are- fear of death; fear of body injury or mutilation; fear of restraint like imprisonment etc; fear of abandonment or rejection and fifthly, fear of loss of self or ego. The ill-effects of these are numerous and all types are evident in most situations that we face everyday.
Inaction due to fear – Apostle Paul relates this type of fear when he came into Macedonia “conflicts on the outside and fears within” (2 Corinthians 7:5) after having been harassed from every side. This fear forces the affected person to start doubting own capability and the gifts of God causing a state of paralysis and inaction. In such a state we are not only vulnerable to “fear itself” but evil forces also. Our belief system is impacted and we start doubting the truth of the Word of God also thus getting further alienated from the only source of strength available to us. We retreat into a shell unable to share our failures with others and many land up in deep depression. Judas Iscariot committed the most heinous sin of betraying his Lord and Savior and probably because he was the only non Galilean among ‘the twelve’ he could not dare to go to them for comfort and preferred to end his life. Judas suffered fear paralysis to seek the company of the others while Peter and the other disciples could comfort each other and tide over this difficult period of their lives. This fear stops us from taking any steps that carry even a small chance of failure or loss of face.
Loss of faith – Scriptures especially Psalms are full of a question “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but You do not listen?” (Habakkuk 1:2). Abraham received the promise from God to be made ‘father of many nations’ after he had left his ancestral place in Haran and he “believed the Lord” (Genesis 15:6). However after more than ten years had passed his wife Sarai urged him to produce a child with her maidservant displaying a lack of faith in the promise. Delay in answers to prayer during difficult times invariably leads people to alternative sources and destruction. King Saul faced a test of faith after Prophet Samuel’s death when being faced with the Philistines army. “When Saul saw the Philistines army he was afraid, terror filled his heart”. He asked the prophets and priests to enquire of the Lord but failed to get an answer and in desperation asked his servants “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and enquire of her” (1 Samuel 28:4-7). This was in direct contravention of the Law as given by God through Moses (Deuteronomy 18:10-11). Even today many believers go to astrologers, wear various types of stones to ward off evil, when faced with disease or failure. It was this loss of faith due to fear which prevented the Israelites from entering the Promised Land causing forty years of wandering in the wilderness and death of a generation (Deuteronomy 1:22-28). King David at his deathbed cautioned his son Solomon about this paralyzing fear “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you” (1 Chronicles 28:20).
How to overcome fear – Basis of fear is imagination and ten of the twelve spies saw the giants and their fortified cities while Joshua and Caleb saw the power of God and His might displayed in Egypt and in the way. We need to understand the causes of our fears and then handle them.
Examine yourselves – Apostle Paul asked the believers “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith, test yourselves” and the Greek word used is ‘dokimazo’ meaning ‘to put to the test to reveal genuineness or fitness’ (1 Corinthians 13:5). We need to examine our faith in such a manner to test the reality of it and then analyze our fears in light of our faith. God desires that we must realize our true nature and understand the potential for evil that exists in each of us. Only after we understand the real state we are in we can take steps to handle it. This examination is not only once a year event but a regular feature of our lives to enable us to understand the level of our faith as compared to our fears and the rededicate ourselves to overcome the hurdles to our growth. This was the purpose behind the annual festivals observed by the Israelites to remember, examine and rededicate themselves to God.
Once we sincerely come before God, humbly praying for an examination by Him to learn about our hidden self, He will reveal and help in being victorious over these shortcomings. King David was sure of his faith and during the times of trial when chased by Saul he had tested it many times over- even while sparing Saul’s life. He could confidently proclaim “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1). This examination of the reality of our faith cannot be a onetime test but a continuous and daily evaluation. Fear has become part of our nature and we cannot eradicate it suddenly, it will take a continuous and sustained effort to do this and that too only with the ‘power of God working in us’.
Study the Word of God – Joshua was appointed by God as leader of the Israelites and repeatedly assured “I will be with you as I was with My servant Moses, do not be afraid”. In the first chapter of the book Joshua is told five times to not be afraid. Our Lord has promised “I will never leave you nor forsake you” and if and once we believe this and other promises of the Lord we are assured of Divine help in each and every situation. Lord Jesus commanded the disciples “Let us cross over to the other side” but when the storm started the disciples lost faith and out of fear cried out to Him. Our Lord’s question to them was “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” (Mark 4:35:41). The more we study, hear and meditate upon the Word of God the stronger is our faith and lesser are the fears. Apostle Paul cautioned Timothy that “God has not given us a Spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (1 Timothy 1:7). Believe in the promises of the Word and conquer your fears.
Prayer and Faith versus fear – Faith and fear are two ends of a see-saw where only one end can be up. If faith is up at 100% fear has to be zero on the other end and in like manner our life functions. Saint James talks about the daily struggle of fear and faith while facing different trials and our prayers based on fluctuating levels of faith are likely to be unanswered (James 1:2-8). It is difficult to maintain the highest degree of faith in every situation but perseverance in faith even while facing fear would provide strength. Circumstances and symptoms will point towards doom but Lord Jesus looked for little faith in those who sought Him to get blessed. Nehemiah was extremely fearful when asked by King Artaxerxes about his countenance since he could be killed for showing a sad face before the king. He immediately “prayed to the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 2:4) and then answered the king. “The Lord is far from the wicked but He hears the prayer of the righteous” (Proverbs 15:29) and we have been transformed to righteousness by the blood of our Savior.
We may study and meditate on the Scriptures and remember any number of Bible verses and may even believe fully in the truth of the Word of God but unless we act upon the knowledge thus acquired it is futile. Faith is to take action on the beliefs and in a similar way God desires that tithes may be taken to His house thereby testing Him “if He will not open the windows of heaven to shower abundant blessings that there will not be room to store it” (Malachi 3:10). Peter believed and prayed to the Lord to ask him to come out of the boat towards Him and acting on his faith walked on water. “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it” (James 4:17) and not acting on faith is to lose out on blessings but also earning wrath of God through sin.
Confess and seek help – Lord Jesus promised to be with us and the Holy Spirit works the power of the Lord in us. David lays bare his feelings of hurt and fear before the Lord seeking Divine intervention against his enemies but also declares repeatedly “I will say of the Lord “He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God and I trust Him” (Psalm 91:2). With such confessions through worship of the Lord he declared his faith to himself and to others and sought comfort. In prayer place your fears before the Lord and seek His help in overcoming the same. Also look for some prayer partner to support in facing fears and help to face tough times. Our Lord is faithful and He will definitely help in facing trials caused due to fears and circumstances.
Our walk with the Lord is not all beds of roses but we shall e faced with tough trials that would test our faith severely and that is when the devil will attack through fears to shake us. Word of God is true and illustrations provided therein are for helping and encouraging us to remain strong in faith. Meditate on these and examine our fears about their source and quash them with faith.
Fear is based on worldly knowledge while faith is spiritual and in our battle with the evil one spiritual only will prevail!