I’m writing this piece in October, the month when grocery stores haul out mounds of candy, and when pumpkin-flavored items appear in unlikely places. Orange and black seem to be the color scheme for just about everywhere, and Halloween costume ideas have already started appearing on my social media feed. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” will soon make its annual appearance on radios and playlists. It’s also election season, with polls “tightening,” “bombshells” being dropped, and the national blood pressure up a few points as people on all sides argue and worry about what will happen to the US if one candidate or the other wins. There are even memes on social media: I saw one recently with a snarling green witch declaring that Election Day will be even scarier than the scariest Halloween. In many ways, ‘tis the season to be fearful and anxious. I for one am a little worried about the atmosphere of the country in the post-election weeks. I confess to having a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
Obviously, you don’t have to be living in this country or following polls and politics in order to be familiar with these feelings. If you are a person who lives with anxiety and recurring fear—the real kind, not the sugar-fueled Halloween kind—then you know a lot about these feelings and the ways they can adversely affect your life, health, and spirit. Fear and anxiety can come from many sources: from memories of past hurts, from concern for people we love, and even from our own pride. Sometimes the reason we feel anxious or fearful is that we believe we can and must make things turn out a certain way. When we start to see that we can’t control every outcome, or change every mind, or anticipate every obstacle, our world starts to feel like it’s out of our control (which it is) and anxiety is often the result.
As real and natural as these feelings are for Christians and non-Christians alike, they don’t have to be permanent fixtures in our lives. Christ offers us freedom and peace of mind, and we can begin to experience that freedom by looking at fear honestly, and by acquainting ourselves with biblical truths. As a first step in the direction of that freedom, consider what fear does.
Fear can paralyze us. This is true in a literal as well as figurative sense. Most of us can understand the ways that the fear of falling or injury can make you stop in your tracks, unable to jump into a pool or walk up to a podium because you think something terrible will happen. Many of us also know the feeling when we can’t speak up or tell the truth about an event because of the fear that we’ll be ridiculed or rejected. Sometimes it’s a healthy thing: fear of injury can keep a child from taking on a foolish dare. Sometimes it’s an unhealthy thing: when “what-ifs” have a negative controlling effect in our lives that keeps us from doing something good or right.
Fear can also distort our vision. If you’ve ever been afraid of a person or a situation or a confrontation, then you may have had the feeling that the object of your fear is much larger than life—powerful enough to destroy your dream, affect your future, or keep you from getting what you need. When that happens, it can be tough to have a sense of proportion: it can be hard to see other possible outcomes or other actions you can take, or to see that the person or situation may have less of an effect on your life than you’d thought.
Finally, fear can keep us from experiencing blessing. Sometimes the things we fear don’t appear to be dangerous or threatening at all. Sometimes the object of our fear is an opportunity, a chance to share our talent, an invitation to speak to an important decision-maker, even an offer of friendship or relationship with another person. Whether it arises from a suspicion that the offer isn’t real or lasting, or from a sense that we’re not good enough to receive it, fear can prevent us from receiving those gifts from God. It can lead us to self-sabotage by making us close the door on opportunities we feel we can’t or shouldn’t accept.
This is no way to live. More importantly, this is not the way God wants and plans for us to live as Christians. One of my favorite passages is 2 Timothy 1:7, which tells us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (NKJV). Let the truth of that sink in for a bit. God has not given you a spirit of fear. Our anxieties about the future, circumstances and outcomes should not linger in our hearts and minds, because we can put our trust in God to bring freedom and peace.
The Bible tells us that God both recognizes our human tendency to be afraid and has compassion on us when we are fearful (Psalm 103:1). The Bible also offers us rock-solid truth to comfort and strengthen us so that we do not have to live in a constant state of anxiety, or be defeated by our fears.
Perhaps the most fundamental truth for us to grasp is that as Christians we are in God’s loving hands. That’s not just a metaphor. It means that God loves us and is powerful enough to ensure that his loving purposes will be accomplished in our lives. Psalm 46 tells us that God is our help and strength and protection. Philippians 1:6 tells us that the same God who offers us salvation through Jesus will take care of our spiritual growth and development. Philippians 4:6 tells us that God will provide everything we need. Likewise, Jesus tells us in Luke 12:31 that we have no need to fear because our good Father will provide and care for us.
If we believe our loving God cares for us and is powerful enough not just to feel that care but also to take care of everything that concerns us, then we don’t have to worry about everything that happens to us, and we don’t have to be anxious about a future we cannot control. Put another way, our fearlessness as Christians should be rooted in the truth about God’s character: that he is loving, powerful, and truthful, and since he has said that he will care for us, and since he has proven that he can do so, we have nothing to fear.
We should note that there is one kind of fear that the Bible does encourage, but it’s not the kind I’ve been talking about so far. The kind of fear the Bible calls us to have is a fear of the Lord. Such “fear” is best defined as reverential awe, an acknowledgement that God is holy, infinite, and all powerful, that God is worthy of our obedience. This fear isn’t terror that keeps us up at night. Rather, it helps to feed our trust because it brings with it the awareness that ultimate power resides not in people or situations, but in God alone. As Jesus reminds us in Matthew 10:28, if we have a right fear of God (reverential awe and respect), we have no need to fear anyone or anything else.
One beautiful section of scripture that brings many biblical truths together in ways that can comfort our spirits and help us drive out fear is Psalm 103. It’s a psalm of praise, but in offering reasons to praise God, it provides wonderful reminders about reasons we need not be fearful or anxious. The psalm tells us that God forgives sin, heals bodies, redeems lives, and provides everything we need (vss. 3-5). It tells us that God brings justice for oppressed peoples (6); that God is merciful and gracious (8); that God has compassion on us (13); that God knows how fragile we are (14), and that God is eternal, near to his children, and in total control of the universe (19). Look at that list again. Pause for a moment to consider all those truths about what God can and does offer us. Compassion. Forgiveness. Healing. Redemption. Mercy. Grace. All of that is available to us. All of that is given to us by a powerful, eternal creator. This is the God who created us and loves us.
In light of these truths from scripture, we must ask ourselves: why should we fear need if God will provide for us? Why should we fear the future if God knows and controls it? Why should we fear injustice if God will provide justice? Why should we fear rejection if God forgives and has compassion? Why should we fear being alone if God is always with us? And why should we fear being unloved when our God demonstrates love for us in so many ways?
As we take these truths to heart, we can move forward from the anxiety that comes from feeling like we have to do it all and get everything right. We can allow ourselves to be brave in the face of difficulty, to take advantage of opportunities, and to do what is right even if we risk being rejected or ostracized, because we know that God is both able and willing to take care of the outcome. As we follow the guidance we receive from scripture, biblical teaching, and the Holy Spirit, we need not worry about what will happen, or fear that some person or situation might oppose and overcome us. Trusting in God’s goodness and power, we can move forward without the burden of fear or anxiety.
If we are Christians, we can experience this kind of fearless living more and more by telling ourselves the truths of scripture, by praying for God to deliver us from the spirit of fear we often cultivate in ourselves, and by drawing strength from other Christians who can pray for and encourage us on our spiritual journey. If we are not Christians, God invites us to accept Jesus as Savior, so that we can have access to the freedom that is available to us now, and be delivered from the fear of eternal separation from God in eternity.
As you step into your new day, new week, or new season of life, trust that God will move you away from fear and toward greater trust in him, and into a fuller experience of the freedom that he wants you to have.