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The young father was having a difficult time convincing his son to go to bed.
"I don't want to go to bed. I'm afraid of the dark!" the five-year-old exclaimed.
"There's nothing to be afraid of," his father said reassuringly. "I sleep in the dark and I'm not afraid."
"Sure," the youngster replied, "you've got Mom lookin' out for you!"
Nearly everyone has memories of childhood fears. Perhaps you needed a night light to keep the bogeymen at bay. Maybe there was a house in your neighborhood where you were sure a witch kept children locked in her basement. Fears that spring from an active imagination are a common part of growing up.
As we mature, we develop a better understanding of the world and its dangers. We learn to discern real threats from imagined ones. When fear comes, we do our best to think rationally and manage our emotions until the menacing situation passes.
Worry, which is a type of fear, could be our daily companion if we let it. Family problems, job stress, economic uncertainty, crime, global conflict, environmental disaster - there is no shortage of things to fret about. Normally, we manage to keep all of these things in perspective and don't allow them to dominate our lives.
However, sometimes a personal crisis can make the normal concerns of life seem more burdensome, even overwhelming. Struggling with a family conflict, or some other dilemma, can weaken our normal defenses against fear to the point that rational thinking goes out the window. Then fear takes control.
Fear can suddenly overwhelm or gradually paralyze. It can make just leaving the house seem unbearable. People who live with uncontrolled fear are susceptible to broken relationships, missed opportunities, illness, guilt, depression and loneliness. For them, fear is a prison as impregnable as any made of stone and steel. If you are struggling with fear, you know how it can control you and turn you into someone you don't want to be. The following information will help you understand fear better and give you some practical and scriptural guidelines for confronting and overcoming it.
What is Fear?
The dictionary defines fear as "a distressing emotion aroused by an impending pain, danger, evil, etc. or by the illusion of such." There's and important distinction here. Fear may be brought on by either a real or an imagined threat. One kind of fear is a normal response to real danger. The other kind can be an abnormal, destructive emotion when the threat of pain, danger or evil is only imaginary. More about that later.
God has designed human beings (and all other living creatures) with an internal mechanism for coping with danger. The threat of physical or emotional discomfort motivates us to avoid, change or prepare to face a threatening situation.
The fear that compels you to avoid a barking dog is a normal reaction to a potential danger. Your body prepares you to handle stress by exhibiting what physiologist Walter Cannon called the "fight or flight response." Fear is the trigger for this sudden physical readiness.
Anxiety is another word for fear. It is a general term that incorporates a wide range of emotions. Worry, apprehension and uneasiness are mild forms of anxiety; dread, distress and panic are more intense manifestations. Anxiety may result from either real or imaginary threats.
When you are faced with a stressful situation, a moderate amount of anxiety is normal. This is "healthy" anxiety that can be managed and reduced as circumstances change. Actors and athletes often attest to the benefits of "the butterflies" they experience before going on stage or playing a game. By channeling this nervous energy into their performance, they are able to function at a higher level. Normal anxiety can energize you to meet new challenges and do your best when it counts the most.
When Fear is Out of Control
Sometimes we experience anxiety that is out of proportion to the danger or unpleasantness of a situation. Occasionally, the source of anxiety is only in our minds. Unhealthy anxiety that goes unresolved can seriously disrupt our lives when it turns into a chronic emotional problem.
There are many possible causes of abnormal anxiety or fear. Like healthy anxiety, the unhealthy variety can also develop from our relationship with others or the potential loss of something important. You may also experience anxiety because of a childhood trauma or because of guilt over disobedience to God. You can even be conditioned to fear something by your upbringing. Regardless of its source, fear usually begins with a thought.
We all conduct a continuous internal dialogue with ourselves. This self-talk greatly affects our emotions and behaviors. When we start telling ourselves things that don't line up with reality, or that contradict the truth of God's Word, we get into trouble. We start thinking and believing thoughts that just aren't so. And these misbeliefs are a prime breeding ground for unhealthy anxiety.
Unhealthy anxiety starts with irrational thinking that magnifies a threat of danger beyond reality or creates an imaginary threat. Do you tell yourself statements like: "I just know everyone will hate my idea," or "With my luck I'll make a fool of myself"? Do you create negative mental scenarios that may or may not happen and then tell yourself they will happen?
This kind of irrational thinking often leads to worry, dread and other forms of unhealthy anxiety. Left unchecked, this destructive sort of self-talk will produce a negative outlook on life in general. You may find that you are always afraid, worried or uneasy for no apparent reason.
Many physical and emotional problems are rooted in unhealthy anxiety. Ulcers, headaches, sleeplessness, fatigue or loss of appetite are common symptoms of anxiety disorder. A panic attack is a sudden surge of fear that is often accompanied by a pounding heart, shortness of breath, dizziness, sweaty palms and other unpleasant physical symptoms. A panic attack is evidence of anxiety that is out of control.
Fear can also result from demonic attack. The Bible tells us that Satan is like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (). Satan and his demons seek to tempt people to sin. Fear is a powerful motivator and can be used by Satan to lure you into disobeying God by causing you to turn from God and rely on your own resources. But the Bible is very clear that Christians have complete power to resist the devil ( ). Satan's schemes are foiled whenever we put on the full armor of God ( ).
Regardless of the cause, fear that controls or limits your life can rob you of all that God has for you. That's why He has so much to say about it in the Bible. And that's where to begin looking for ways to achieve victory over fear.
God's Word on Fear
Scripture tells us to fear God. Rather than fright, this sort of fear is better understood as an attitude of reverence and awe toward God Almighty. Believers are admonished to acknowledge God's power by being obedient and humble. Scripture likewise makes it clear that those who oppose or disobey God have good reason to fear His wrath.
The Bible also addresses another kind of fear - the destructive kind. God has a lot to say about unhealthy anxiety and what to do about it. As our creator, He knows better than anyone how worry can stifle our faith and damage our relationship with Him. Throught the Old and New Testaments, the message is the same: do not fear; be anxious for nothing.
But the word of God does more than just tell us that we shouldn't be afraid. If offers us a bountiful treasure of assurances from our loving Heavenly Father, such as:
"So do not fear, for I am with you; do no be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" ().
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" ().
Trusting in God is our ultimate remedy for fear. Yet, that sometimes seems easier said than done. In fact, the more consumed with fear we become, the more distant God seems to be. That's why, when anxiety grips your heart, you should make a concerted effort to stand on the promises of the Bible and claim them as pledges from God to you personally. Look up the following scriptures now, and make them personal affirmations of your faith.
- "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."
Personalized - "I will trust in the Lord with all of my heart and I won't lean on my own understanding; in all of my ways I will acknowledge Him, and He will make my paths straight."
, Peter 5:7
, Timothy 4:18
Corinthians 4:16-18, 1
Perhaps you're feeling fear toward God because you have disappointed Him in some way. Failing to live up to the standards set forth in the Bible can lead to worry that God will abandon us. He won't. David proclaimed this wonderful truth, "for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you" ().
God forgives when we seek His forgiveness. He doesn't expect us to be perfect, just obedient. Anxiety that comes from guilt can be vanquished by simply asking for and receiving God's forgiveness. God can use our shortcomings and failures as tools to mold us if we'll let Him. They remind us of our need for Him. They draw us into a closer walk with Jesus Christ - our role model.
Your ultimate victory over fear depends on your walk with the Lord. Day by day, seek to develop intimacy with God through prayer and reading the Bible. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you and empower you for the day's tasks and challenges. God will help you drive fear from your life as you draw near to Him.
Receiving God's promise to alleviate fear in your life begins with receiving His greatest gift - salvation through Jesus Christ You cannot know God's strength until you know His Son. If you have never acknowledged Jesus as your Savior, now is the best time to do so. Simply pray and ask Jesus to come into your heart and be your Savior and Lord. Confess your disobedience and receive God's forgiveness and His gift of eternal life.
Confronting and Overcoming Fear
Often our first impulse when we experience fear or anxiety is to avoid the source. When the danger is real, avoidance is an appropriate tactic. When fear is irrational, avoidance is inappropriate and will only make the problem more intense.
Avoidance is a serious obstacle to dealing with fear because it works. We temporarily feel good by avoiding the object of fear. The problem is we can condition ourselves to avoid something rather than face it. As a result, we give a portion of our lives over to the thing we fear, letting it control us. Avoidance will never make fear go away.
The first step to conquering fear is to call on God for strength and confront it. Confronting a fear means exposing yourself to the thing, person or situation that is causing the fear. Exposure can be sudden or gradual, in large or small doses. The key is experiencing the object of your fear until you no longer fear it.
Make a list of the things that cause you to be fearful. Rank them in order of severity. Take the least troublesome one and begin working on that, exposing yourself to it until it is gone. Build on this success and attack the next one on the list in the same manner.
Another important step to overcoming fear is adjusting the way you think. What are you telling yourself when you feel anxious? Are you telling yourself the truth? Do your thoughts line up with Scripture? Challenge irrational thoughts and reformulate them to reflect the way things really are.
"I just know I'm going to mess up on this new project. I"ll probably get fired. If I lost my job, I won't be able to go on."
"I'm going to do my best on this project, believing that it's going to turn out well. That's all anyone can expect. If things go wrong, it will be unpleasant, but it won't be the end of the world for me."
Another kind of faulty thinking is telling yourself things that don't agree with the Bible. Identify unscriptural thoughts and counteract them with God's Word.
"There's no way I can handle this situation. I'm going to cave in under the pressure."
"I can cope with any situation in my life with God's strength working through me" ().
Praise is another powerful weapon against fear because it ushers you into God's presence. A mind focused on praising God becomes a might fortress that fear cannot invade. Furthermore, an attitude of praise creates an unfriendly environment for demonic spirits that would try to tempt you to fear. You won't have to command them to flee, they just will. Make it a habit to spend time praising God every day.
Meditate on God's Word daily. Receive the promises of the Bible as God's personal pledges to you. Try memorizing verses that speak to your heart. Here are some worth considering:, Hebrew 13:5; ; ; ; ; ; ,19; .
Pray about your fears. Prayer is the pathway to the peace of God which passes all understanding (). Ask God to help you overcome fear. He wants you to be free from its shackles so that you can enjoy the abundant life He has for you.
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