When You're Battling With Fears

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Psalm 34:4-7

When you stop and think about all the problems and troubles in life, it’s easy to be afraid. But here’s some help in how to battle your fears.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” What a stirring witness that is! What a happy situation it describes! Think of being set free from all your fears!

THE FEARS WE FACE

Here was a human struggler who admitted that he had many fears. Honest man! We all have them, don’t we? All of us have both our times of fortitude and our moments of panic. As Thomas Carlyle once put it, “Every man has a coward and a hero in his soul.” And I think it was Emerson who carried that idea a bit further. “A hero,” he wrote, “is no braver than anyone else; he is only brave five minutes longer.” The fears are there for him, too. No human being lives long in this world without the chilling experience of being afraid.

But not all of us admit to that. We men, especially, like to keep up a brave front, to give the impression that we are dauntless. So we mask our fears, push them down inside, pretend they aren’t there. All of us know something about that. We call it “whistling in the dark.” Unfortunately, that habit of repression may eventually make us stubborn, insensitive, deeply angry, or even sick. But it won’t make the fear go away.

This man, this jubilant psalm-singer, was ready to acknowledge that he had been full of fears. That’s a step in the right direction. It’s a good thing for you, for me, to face our fears, to acknowledge to ourselves that we are afraid, to get in touch with just what it is that we fear. Sometimes putting that into words, bringing it out into the light, can make it seem a bit less fearful. Pause right now and ask yourself: “What am I most afraid of?” Say it. Admit it. Now suppose that those worst fears will come true. Picture to yourself the most dire scenario imaginable. All right, there it is, out in the open. You’ve looked squarely at the darkest future you have ever feared.

Now remember, there are different types of fear. Some is altogether healthy, an essential ingredient in our lives. This kind usually has to do with real, immediate threats to our safety or to that of others. Fear of this kind can release enormous energies. It galvanizes us into action. It enables us to escape from or ward off dangers. Thank God for the fear that leads you to leap from the path of a speeding car or to throw yourself between some danger and the child you love!

Sometimes the threat to our lives, our well-being, may be real but not immediate. It looms on the horizon or hangs over us like a dark cloud. We can have a healthy fear of that, too, which leads us to prepare ourselves, to take precautions, to marshal all the defenses we can. Thank God for the kind of fear that equips us in advance for genuine crises!

But it’s probably true to say that most of our fears, our especially troubling ones, are not like that. We’re afraid about many future misfortunes that may never happen. We’re often afraid of things that have no power to harm us, or shrink from perils that are merely imaginary. It would take several dictionary pages to list all the “phobias” to which we human creatures are vulnerable. We can be afraid of heights, of crowds, of small rooms or wide spaces, of silence or loud noises, of elephants or insects. It’s hard for us to understand why, but all of these things can make some of us deathly afraid.

Past experiences may have conditioned us for fearfulness. We’re afraid of rejection or of being abandoned, of failure or bereavement because these traumas have touched our lives before. We fear the disapproval of important persons in our lives, the loss of someone’s love. Some of us fear poverty or disgrace. The more powerful or prominent we become in this world, the more insecure we can feel, the more fearful of some disastrous fall. We fear illness and disability, death and what may lie beyond it. And what we fear for ourselves, we sometimes fear even more for loved ones and friends.

Fears of this kind, especially prolonged ones, about matters over which we have no control, are decidedly unhealthy. They cause us acute discomfort – not only anguish of mind but even distressing physical symptoms. Instead of energizing us, these fears sometimes paralyze, render us utterly helpless. They attract, they almost create, the very things we fear. Dread of war may provoke a nation to measures which actually bring on conflict! Fear of losing someone’s love may undermine the openness and candor on which genuine love depends! And the skier, as soon as he focuses on his fear of falling, becomes much more likely to fall!

We tell people, in vain however, that they “shouldn’t be afraid” of this or that. They know that very well already, but it does not ease the controlling grip of their fear. When you fight against unhealthy fears or try to repress them, you are not helped. They can become even more severe. On the other hand, it’s a sad thing to see people giving way to their fears, renouncing all effort or adventure in their lives, withdrawing into safe routines or an inner world of fantasy. There must be a better way. This psalmist has found it. He declares that the Lord has “delivered him from all his fears!”

THE FREEDOM WE FIND

Sometimes that deliverance may come by God’s providence. The psalmist writes: “This poor man cried and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles” (Ps. 34:6). In this case, the man was delivered when God rescued him from frightening circumstances. He was sinking in the mire and God lifted him out and set his feet upon a rock. He was surrounded by menacing foes but they were alarmed by evil tidings and withdrew. The man’s fields were parched and barren but God sent upon them life-giving rain.

It sometimes happens that way, right before our eyes. God comes to our rescue. He works in our circumstances to bring about a change. He lifts the threat that hangs over our heads. He routs our enemies or snatches us from the jaws of death. By so doing, he scatters our fears to the winds.

Sometimes by his providence he leads us to see that our fears are groundless. Remember Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress? At one point in his journey, he saw a ravenous lion standing by the path he had to take. He was filled with fear. But as he came closer, Christian noticed that the lion was securely chained. Though threatening in appearance, he had no power to do a traveler harm. How many seeming dangers in our path turn out like that! As God brings us along our way, as he furthers his work in our lives, he helps us to see that what we had dreaded is not so formidable after all.

God may deliver us from our fears through his promise. Almost every “fear not” in the Bible is followed by some divine reassurance. God pledges his deliverance long before it comes. We can live at peace because he has promised us “grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

Many of us can testify to the way in which some word of Scripture has again and again relieved our anxieties. Sometimes when I begin to fear as a minister that I won’t have anything to say, that I won’t be able to communicate God’s message, or reach the people I long to reach, I remember God’s word to his prophet:

“to all to whom I send you, you shall go and whatever I command you, you shall speak . . . behold I have put my words in your mouth.”

(Jer. 1:7,9)

Or I take up this rich promise of God through his servant James,

If any of you lacks wisdom [and I surely qualify there!], let him ask God, who gives to all generously and without reproaching, and it will be given. . . .

(James 1:5)

When I can listen to those promises of God and lean upon them, fear recedes and confidence returns.

I’ve known people who were fearful that they had sinned too grievously or wandered too far ever to be restored. But I’ve also seen them lifted from despair and restored to hope by a promise like this:

“‘Come now and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘though yours sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.’”

(Isa. 1:18)

Or,

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

(1 John 1:9)

Parents sometimes fear for their children that they will not share the family’s values or embrace their parent’s faith. It brings relief beyond measure to know that God has promised to be the God not only of believers but of their children. I have been cheered and restored to peace innumerable times by reading verses like these, “and the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 30:6). Or, “I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring” (Isa. 44:3).

To say “Amen” to God’s Word, to echo his promise, is a powerful antidote to fear. Our granddaughter Rachel, when she was only two and a half, seemed to have learned that lesson well. When frightened by a loud noise or a dark room or a crowd of strange people, Rachel had often heard her mother say, “It’s all right.” Now, when anything threatening begins to occur, she quotes with a brave smile that same reassurance. First a look of fear, perhaps a trembling lower lip, but then, “It’s all right!” That’s a promise she can rest on.

But what frees us most from our fears is God’s presence. This is his kindest providence and the sum of all his promises: “Fear not, for I am with you” (Isa. 41:10). A little child wakes from a bad dream and cries out in fear. In a matter of seconds, his father appears. There may be words of comfort and assurance. The father may show him that the menacing shadow in the corner is not a boogeyman but a bathrobe. But the father best relieves fears simply by being there. A little boy needs in his moments of panic someone with him. That’s what we need too, a Father’s presence. Then we can say,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.

(Ps. 23:4)

HOW IT HAPPENS

What does it take for that to happen in our lives? How does it come about? The psalmist says simply, “I sought the Lord and he answered me” (Ps. 34:4). “Seeking the Lord” here is another term for “fearing” him. To “fear God” means to hold him in awe, to recognize that he is Lord, to know that we are completely in his hands. It means to remember that we have to do with him in all things and to trust him reverently. In the full biblical sense, it means to believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior and surrender our lives to his lordship. When that “fear of the Lord” is in our hearts, that worshipful trust, our other fears begin to seem puny by comparison.

Seeking God also means listening to his Word. There is no discipleship without that. We need to be learning what he wants for our lives and relying on what he promises. Faith, the faith that conquers fear, “comes by hearing,” writes Paul, “and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

Finally, seeking the Lord means calling upon him freely in all our troubles. When we cry to the Father through Jesus Christ, amid the most terrifying dreams of the night, he is always there. Sometimes he takes the fears away. Or, he may give us courage to go on in spite of them. But he, whatever happens, will never fail us nor forsake us. Call on him now, from your heart. “Lord, help me! Jesus, Savior, set me free!” Then, however dark and long the night, you will surely say when the morning comes: “I sought the Lord and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears!”