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The Problem of Fear and Anxiety

A scream; a silence; a jump; a stiffening; a heart pounding; a heart stopped. Fear and anxiety have many faces and many instigators and all of us have had conversations with them. The circumstances are varied and the causes are diverse but fear is a universal human experience. While these experiences can be minor in terms of impact, they also have the potential to be life-dominating and crippling. Fear has the potential to ensnare and restrict. There is a reason why the scriptures tell us hundreds of times: Fear not! God knows that we are in desperate need of help with our fears and anxieties and thankfully He has provided that in His sufficient Word. The scriptures help us understand what fear is and looks like while also providing the truth that conquers fear. These two realities will be considered in turn in order that we might Fear Not!

The first step is to understand where our fears come from. Fear is rooted in living in a fallen world where we are vulnerable and not in control. When the seasoned fisherman disciples were placed into a storm on the Sea of Galilee that was filling their boat with water from the waves: they feared. (Mark 4:35-41) When the Israelites were trapped at the Red Sea and they saw the advancing armies of an angry Pharoah: they feared. (Exodus 14) When the armies of Israel witnessed a giant warrior challenging them to hand-to-hand combat; they feared. (I Samuel 17) Throughout the Bible there are people who were faced with vulnerability and they feared. They perceived their lives to be in danger and the resulting cry from their heart was fear and anxiety. This shows us the root of fear is found in potential loss of that which we love. “Anytime you love or want something deeply, you will notice fear and anxieties because you might not get them. Anytime you can’t control the fate of those things you want or love you will notice fears and anxieties because you might lose them.”[1] This is why fear and anxiety are deeply personal matters: they relate to what we love and may in this situation lose. The disciples loved their lives and thought they were going to be lost, the Israelites facing enemies did the same. But it isn’t just when our lives are on the line.

Consider the person shaking before their piano recital in front of family and friends. What in their situation is fear inducing? Is the piano going to harm them? Are the people in the crowd largely unsupportive and rude? Are they unaware of the notes that they have practiced dozens of times? No, the threats are not from physical environment. Instead, they are found deeper, rooted in a heart that loves the praise of people, that wants to be accepted and that is afraid they might not perform to their teacher’s or parents’ satisfaction. Fear always makes a grand and impacting entrance when we are vulnerable. It exposes who and what we love because in the fear-inducing situation we may just lose them.

Understanding the root of fear enables us to find true hope and conquer it by faith. The antidote to fear in scripture is always faith. Jesus in his rebuke of the disciples on the stormy sea says “Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?” (Mark 4:40) The presence of fear was an automatic indicator of no faith. If they had exercised faith they would not have been afraid.

Faith is at its most basic a simple trust that rests in God and His Word. It calls us to trust God with our vulnerabilities. It recognizes that we have no ultimate control but we trust the one who does. It is how the Psalmist can say in Psalm 56:3-4 “what time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.” His trust in God enabled him to have no fear of what people could do to him.

As we consider this idea, what is our greatest vulnerability? If we are honest, it is that we are sinners under the wrath of God. We live in God’s world but we violate His character and commands. (Ephesians 2:1-3, Romans 3:10-18) This transgression merits us the punishment of death. (Romans 6:23) We face physical death and the second death in the Lake of Fire. (Revelation 20:15) But God is rich in mercy and He loved us enough to send His Son Jesus Christ to die in our place and rise again triumphant over death. (John 3:16, I John 4:10) When we by faith trust in Jesus Christ we are forgiven of our sins, cleansed and given eternal life. God’s perfect love for us casts out fear because we have perfect righteous standing in Christ. (I John 4:18) Fear, John tells us, has torment. It brings punishment and the understanding of our lost condition but in Christ we are made perfect in His love. We are loved by Christ and He will never leave or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5) In Christ, we can never be lost, gripped firmly in the almighty hand of God and promised eternal life by the good shepherd who gave His life for us.

Understanding God’s perfect love for us ought to enable us to be fearless. If we are secure by faith in the love of God and if our hearts are set on Him in love, then we can never lose what we most cherish. There are no vulnerabilities because we are safely resting in the one who loves us perfectly, will never leave us, and who has the wisdom and power to make all things beautiful in His time. This is why Isaiah will say “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength.” (Isaiah 26:3-4) When our hearts and minds are fixed on the LORD, we have perfect peace knowing the one who has everlasting strength is always in control. Since God, who knows all things and is over all things, is at rest, we can be as we trust in Him. This is also why we are called in Philippians 4:6-8 to be careful or anxious in no situation: not even one! Instead, we are called to prayer; lifting our eyes and hearts to our Father in Heaven who cares for the lilies and sparrows and will surely care for us. (Matthew 6)

The Scriptural response to anxiety, then, is to replace it with faith in a concrete way so that I am transferring fear for faith, self-protection for God’s protection and pennies of earthly value for enteral riches in Christ.

[1] Ed, Welch, Running Scared, (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2007), 28.

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