The Conquest of Fear
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.—1 John 4:18
Fear paralyses. Many years ago, in the Mediterranean sea off the coast of Melita, a tremendous storm beset an ancient barque with over 200 passengers and crew. For two full weeks the sailors fought the storm, casting all excess baggage overboard and even undergirding the hull of the ship. Working dawn to dusk, too busy and frightened to even eat, they began to abandon hope. Some sought to abandon ship and strike out on their boat in a small dinghy to seek land. Giving up, the balance were paralyzed by their fear and awaited the dreaded end.
One man alone, of the whole shipload, remained calm. He was a prisoner whom they were transporting to Italy for trial. Standing up in their midst, he persuaded the would-be deserters to remain in the ship. Calmly rising up amid the turmoil of the storm and the depression of his ship mates, he took some bread and broke it and began dividing it amongst the crew and passengers, urging them to eat for they would need their strength. Then, with equal serenity, he told them all to be of good cheer, that he was sure that none of them would come to harm, and that they would all be saved.
You may have heard of that man. His name was Paul—the Apostle Paul. The account is found in the twenty-seventh chapter of the book of Acts, and Paul’s famous word of cheer are found in verses 22 to 26: “I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island.”
“For I believe God.” That was Paul’s method of conquering fear. What is your method? What is mine?
Causes Of Fear
There are many causes for fear:
DANGER, as in the incident in Acts 27
- Physical danger
- The danger of crime
- The danger of drugsThe danger of natural calamities.
CONCERN FOR OUR LOVED ONES:
- Concern for our children
- Concern for our spouse
- Concern for our friends and neighbors.
- Will I have a job next month?
- Will war break out someplace in the world?
- Will the one I love marry me?
- Failure to live up to our expectations of ourselves
- Failure to up to other’s expectations of us
- Failure to live up to what we imagine God requires of us.
Not All Fears are Bad:
A child is fearless, even foolhardy, and needs to be taught certain fears:
- Fear of falling from great heights
- Fear of electricity
- Fear of talking to strangers in today’s violent world.
The Bible Teaches Us Certain Fears:
- “Fear God and depart from evil” (Prov. 3:7)
- “Let the wife see that she reverence (literally, fear, Greek, phobia‘) her husband.” (Eph. 5:33)
- Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s . . .”fear to whom fear” is due (Rom. 13:7)
The Bible Teaches Us Not To Fear Certain Things:
- “Fear not what man can do unto you” (Heb. 13:6)
- Fear not persecutions (Acts 27:24)
- Fear not the fears of others over world uncertainties (Isa. 8:12)
Since there are both proper and improper fears it stands to reason that we are to cultivate the former and conquer the latter.
But how do we know the difference?
How do we cultivate proper fears?
How do we conquer bad fears?
Fear is our assessment of the risk involved in a given enterprise. When our assessment is based on an accurate appraisal of these risks we call it a justified fear. When this appraisal does not cover all the factors involved we frequently have an unjustified fear.
For instance, a child never having fallen or always having been caught in their fall by a loving parent does not experientially know the full dangers of a fall. The same could be said about putting the hand on a hot stove, or handling electrical wires without proper insulation.
A Scriptural example of this may well be the lack of personal observation by Adam and Eve of what the reality of death was like, leaving them without the proper cautionary fear.
Of all the proper fears, there is none greater than the fear of God. Since the Bible tells us that “God is love,” we don’t like to associate fear in our worship of him.
Only too frequently in times past our Christian forebears have stressed fear—the fear of hell—as a whip to keep the people in line. In the words of the Greek philosopher of the first century, Dionysius, “Even the entirely fictitious legend of hell has done much to keep the people in line.”
As a result many of us Christians prefer to translate the word “fear” as “reverence” when related to God. But this is not entirely justified. The Greek word translated “fear” in these Scriptures is phobia. We have that same word in our language and, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, it means just that—”fear.”
But this does not mean that we are to be afraid of God. Consider the two English words “awe” and “awful.” “Awe” implies great wonderment, respect, even reverence. “Awful” implies something horrible. But that is modern usage. Originally “awful” meant to be full of awe or respect.
The thought is that we are to recognize the vast superiority of God and our own unworthiness in comparison. It is this thought of “awe” that is indicated in the command to “fear God.”
But what about the Apostle Paul’s words in Eph. 5:33 that the wife is to see that she has a phobia of her husband. Delicately, the translators chose to use the word “reverence” in this case, but it is the same word phobia that is often correctly translated “fear.”
Considering the entire context of Ephesians 5:22-33 the matter becomes somewhat clearer. Paul is describing the hierarchy of marriage. He is showing the subjection of the woman to her husband, and the responsibilities the husband thereby assumes.
The roles of both husband and wife are very responsible ones. The statistics on the number of divorces indicate just how difficult these roles are to implement.
This, we believe, is Paul’s thought—and it is equally true for the husband—let each spouse stand in awe, yea, fear, their individual responsibilities lest, coming short of them, the marriage flounder and despite be done to the beautiful picture intended of the marriage between Jesus Christ and his church.
The same can be said of our roles to the civil governments under which we live. When we are admonished to give “fear to whom fear is due,” it is in the context of our recognition of government.
Given the corruption that endemic to all administrations, and the lack of justice in so many laws that are passed, it is only too easy to criticize and look down upon governmental authorities.
What the Bible is admonishing is that certain offices demand respect, though the individuals filling them may not be worthy of that respect.
An example of this can be found in the book of Acts when Paul is bring tried (quite unjustly) and he responded in anger, calling his judge a “whited wall,” in other words, a hypocrite. When informed that his judge was the high priest, Paul’s attitude immediately changed. “Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.”—Acts 23:5
Cultivating Proper Fear
These proper fears, then, are to be cultivated. We cultivate them in the same way as a child learns proper fears—through instruction and through experience.
How many tears would a young child avoid if he would only learn to listen to the wisdom of his parents? How many accidents would never happen with such proper heeding?
So God, as a loving parent, gives us warning after warning about the dangers we will face in the Christian walk. But, like the unheeding child, we feel confident that these ills will not happen to us and we plunge straightforward into the path of danger.
When we do not listen, we must learn by the harsher teacher of experience. And if we do not heed to this voice the first time, we can be sure the experience will be repeated until we do get the lesson.
Cultivating proper fears then is the result of listening carefully to the instructions of our heavenly Father. This will involve regular, yea, daily, study of his word and even more frequent discussions with him through prayer.
Understanding the high standards set before us and attempting to live up to them, we need not fear failing to reach those standards, for we are assured: “For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.:—2Cor. 8:12
When we err, no matter how great the shortcoming, we are assured of a proper representation of our case before God. “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”—1 John 2:1
But there are improper fears. We are living in a fear-filled world. Dangers are all about us. Homicide is the leading cause of death among black teen-agers today. The drug culture has spawned violence throughout the land as the addict resorts to any means to find the funds to fuel his addiction.
If we do not feel personally threatened by these dangers, we worry for others—our spouses, our children, our friends and neighbors who may not be as protected as we are.
Uncertainty of the future gives birth to still other fears. Will we have a job tomorrow? Will Russia revert to communism and once again polarize the world into an armed camp? Will the funds be found to open school next year?
It is these fears and their proper handling that will occupy the balance of our time today. While all of these fears have certain things in common, we want to first look at each of four categories of fears separately.
Fear of Danger
The story is told of a man who fell off a steep cliff. Passing a tree on his way down he grasped a branch and yelled, “Help! Is there anyone up there?”
A voice responded, “Yes.”
“What should I do?”, he shouted.
“Let go,” the voice responded.
Not willing to do so he repeated his question a number of times, always with the same answer. Finally he asked, “Who are you?”
“God,” the voice replied.
His response—”Is there anyone else up there?”
Another version of the story has him finally following the admonition to let go and a foot below was a ledge upon which he was fully safe.
Both of these endings hold a good lesson. God’s answers are not always easy, though they are always wise. How frequently, if we do not like his answer, we ask “Is anyone else up there?”
Self-help books by the hundreds line the shelves of book stores today, each seeking to be that other voice “up there,” suggesting an easier way. It almost reminds one of Jesus in the wilderness, being tempted by Satan to find an easier way to fulfill his mission of saving mankind.
The Big Picture
But it is the second ending to our story that suggests the first major key to conquering fear. The falling man was either afraid or unable to look down. The “voice up there” could see the ledge below. All that was required on the part of the hapless man was to trust the “voice up there.”
Trust—trust in the omniscience, love and power of God—is the greatest antidote for fear.
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Do you know that? or do you merely hope that it is true? The more that we make this Scripture a certainty in our minds the less we will need to fear either real or fancied dangers.
The Second Key
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”—2Corinthians 4:17
There is purpose to Christian experience. We can best appreciate this purpose by appreciating the purpose to the experiences of Jesus.
“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”—Hebrews 4:15, 16
Jesus suffered to gain a sympathetic understanding of the experiences of mankind. Each member of the human race has experiences unique to himself. Therefore they are prone to say, “Nobody understands.”
But Jesus does understand. He was “tempted in all points like as we are.” In God’s kingdom, when the dead are raised from the tomb, they will come back with the same feelings and thought patterns that they had when they died.
That is when the experiences of Jesus will be of greatest value. Understanding them fully, he will be able to give them the utmost help to reach that perfection which will merit everlasting life.
But Jesus will not rule the world alone. Those who follow him with share that responsibility. “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us.”—2 Timothy 2:12
The dangers which the Christian faces are no different, nor even no more severe, than that of mankind around him. And they are for the very purpose of helping him understand the sufferings that the human race has undergone so that they, with their Lord, can help bring man back to the perfection enjoyed in Eden.
Concern for Others
This same confidence in God which can enable us to face the experiences of daily life unafraid is the biggest key to facing our anxiety over the safety of others.
While we are to take all due concern for those around us, to dwell on the potential dangers they face is to lay aside our trust in the far superior wisdom and knowledge of God.
He who knows the sparrow’s fall is certainly able to protect those we love. But will he? Tragedies do happen to those we care for. Did God let us down? Far from it. Here is where trust is put to the supreme test. Do we have enough faith to believe that that which is a tragedy to our minds is the best experience for another.
There are times when we would gladly go through a hard experience that a loved one faces—cancer, for instance—rather than see them suffer. That is when faith must grasp hold of the reality that God is directing their life just as he is directing ours. He knows what experiences they need. And why. Whether it be for further character development, or to prepare them for a special future work, or to correct them for a secret fault of which we are unaware. When we can truly say, “God knows best,” we can conquer this fear. Remember those faith-filled words of Job: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORDgave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”—Job 1:21
One of the most gripping of our fears has to do with the future—the unknown future. These cruelest of fears are also the most avoidable.
A wise man has said, “Fear knocked on the door. Faith answered, and no one was there.”
An incident from the Old Testament illustrates well this type of fear. As an exile, David was in flight from King Saul of Israel. He seeks refuge He took refuge in a city of the Philistines. There he heard certain rumors that the princes of the city were after his life, fearing that he was an Israelite spy. Although he was in no real danger, for the king of that city had guaranteed to protect him, David sought to flee. Devising a scheme to escape from the city, he pretends he is insane, and is sent forth.
As he flees he composes a song of thankfulness for his deliverance. It is found in the 34th Psalm. There he gives vent to this expression: “I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears” (vs. 4).
Like David, how frequently we seek deliverance, not from real dangers, but from our fear that some real danger might occur.
Once again, trust in God is the start of our answer. And also, once again, gaining the big picture is another part of the answer.
When it comes to the distant future, the Bible is a storehouse of information. The overall plan of God is not caught by surprise by the present success of evil. This permission of evil is part of the plan of God. Knowing that experience is the best teacher, God designed the present experience of man to live under the domination of evil so that he might be thoroughly acquainted with its side effects—suffering, sorrow, and death.
The secret to God’s plan lies in the doctrine of resurrection, and the fact that it is for every many who has ever lived—both saint and sinner. This resurrection from the dead, under controlled conditions of righteousness guarantees an adequate opportunity for all to learn the effects of following God’s rules—security, happiness, and life.
This short review of God’s plan holds the biggest secret for overcoming fears of the uncertainties of the future—the future is not uncertain. If we believe that, the short range picture becomes less and less important.
With God in total control there is no reason for fear, as David expresses it in the 46th Psalm: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah”.
The Apostle Paul puts this perspective on the matter: For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18).
Short Range Uncertainties
Comforting as is the large picture, we still have to live within the shorter framework of the present life. How can we conquer fears about future uncertainties within this framework?
Let me suggest several steps to help in this regard. As you might suspect, they are easier to enumerate than to apply; but, with the Lord’s help they will lead to a more care-free life.
FIRST: We have to start with the basics—trust in God. The Apostle Paul gives the secret of Christian living in Romans 12:2—”the renewing of the mind,” a new set of objectives, a new way of looking at things.
Do we really believe that God is directing our individual lives? Do we really believe that he knows better than we what we really need? Do we really believe that he loves us and will not permit us to be tested more than we can bear?
Keep in touch with God through constant prayer, and watch for his providences to show you the way to go through the trials that life holds. This is not just watching and praying; but watching (for your needs), and praying, and then watching again (for the answer to your prayer.)
“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it”.—1 Corinthians 10:13
The literal Greek does not imply a way of escape around the trial, but the directing of the issue through the trial. Wilson’s Diaglott reads, “he will direct the issue so that you may be able to bear it.”
SECOND: Use the helps available. God said he would never leave you, nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5). Use, through prayer, the promised advocacy of Christ (1 John 2:1). Cast, indeed, all your anxious cares upon him, for he has taken forethought for you (1 Pet. 5:7). Let your brethren share your load of care and become your partners in prayer (Jas. 5:16).
THIRD: Look at each experience as a challenge, not a hardship. Turn your trials into blessings. Explore the resources of your mind to find how to cope with each new happening in your life. Trace the development of your solutions, so that they can be of value to others now, and to the world of mankind similarly afflicted in the kingdom.
FOURTH: Plan ahead. Consider the possible pitfalls in the road ahead and study out ahead how the Lord would have you deal with them. When you have your options thought out the trying experience will not only surprise you, but will be easier to meet because you can try out your pre-thought-out solutions.
It has been said that the prayer of Jonah while he was in the whale’s belly can be reconstructed from the Psalms of David. He had become so familiar with those Psalms that he thought in the same language. Have we made regular Bible reading such a part of our lives that its language becomes our language?
FIFTH: Realize that fear supposes the worst, while faith looks for the best. Emphasize in your mind the probability that that which is feared may most likely never come to pass, but, if it does, that your faith will not waver. Consider the words of the three Hebrews when threatened with the fiery furnace: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”—Daniel 3:17, 18
SIXTH: Learn the lessons intended from each tragic experience. They are there or the experience would not have happened. Every thing that happens in our life is for a purpose; but the value will be gained only if we concentrate on discerning what the purpose is.
Fear of Failure
Now let us look at our last category of fear—fear of failure. Feelings of guilt so frequently prevail when we attempt to do some activity. We feel that we cannot do it right. We feel someone else can do it better. We feel that the Lord will judge us for not living up to his expectations of us.
These fears are based on false assumptions. While setting for ourselves the very highest of goals, we must realize that we can never meet them. Success is not so much in accomplishing, as in attempting to accomplish.
The standard of God’s judgment of our actions is a most tolerant one indeed. He judges upon the amount of desire and effort we put into our labors for him, and not on the final quality of the output.
Let us consider again a scripture we considered earlier: “For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.”—2Corinthians 8:12
We are much more apt to condemn ourselves than God is to condemn anyone sincerely trying to please him. Note the words of the Apostle John: “For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.”—1 John 3:20, 21
Now there is a no-lose proposition. If our hearts do not condemn us, then we can have great confidence toward God. But even if they do condemn us, we are assured that God is greater than our hearts because he knows all things.
The Psalmist David expresses similar thoughts: “O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. “Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.”—Psalm 139:1-3
The Universal Antidote
No discussion on fear would be complete without looking at two texts that speak directly to it. The first of these is found in 1 John 4:18, and reads: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”
Think of a mother watching her toddler on the front lawn. Suddenly her child runs into the street directly into the path of an onrushing car. Her love for that child casts out all fear of her own well-being as she rushes headlong into the street to push her child out of harm’s way.
There are other levels, too, in which the principle of this Scripture work. To fully love someone is to have confidence in the one loved, to be sure that the one we love is truly interested in our best interests. This kind of perfect love in God begets perfect trust and, as we have seen again and again, it is this perfect trust—born of perfect love—that truly casts out fear.
In yet another text we find three helps in the conquest of fear. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”—2Timothy 1:7
The scenario in this book is that the Apostle Paul is writing his dear friend Timothy to journey hundreds of miles to Rome to bring Paul his winter coat, his books and for personal fellowship.
He urges that he not succumb to the spirit of fear, but that he conquer this in the spirit of power—that power which can do all things through Christ; and in the spirit of love—the love which Timothy held for Paul; and in the spirit of a sound mind—or, as the more literal translation put it, the spirit of discipline, or determination.
One Remaining Fear
Former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt summed it up well in his famous message to the American people during the Second World War: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Fear paralyzes. “Fear hath torment.” The next time fear knocks on any of our doors, lets send faith to answer. We will probably find that there is no one there.