Everybody experiences fear. As I thought about this article, I felt a sense of fear that I might not express what the readers need.
What is fear like? Much fear is illusive. You feel it before you recognize it, and then you think about it. Many times fear can be totally unnoticed, but it then escalates into other emotions such as hysteria, anger and aggression.
Jesus’ disciples provide insights into our many fears. When a storm developed unexpectedly on the sea of Galilee, they became hysterical. Jesus was sleeping in the boat. Their fear turned to anger, and they accused Him of not caring (Mark 4:38). When Jesus was being arrested, Peter was in the courtyard. He was accosted by a woman accusing him of being one of Jesus’ followers. He panicked. In his fear, he cursed angrily, swearing in denial (Matthew 26:74). The religious leaders, fearful of Jesus’ popularity, became aggressive and violent and plotted to kill Him (John 7:1,13).
Fear can be a paralyzing emotion. It incapacitates and hinders a person from taking responsibility. Depression and discouragement are its cousins. Judging from Paul’s letter to Timothy, pastor at Ephesus, it seems the young man was so weakened by fear that he slipped into tearful depression, neglected his personal life and lost his confidence in the Scriptures. His teaching and the ministry were suffering (1 Timothy 4:14,16; 2 Timothy 1:4, 6,13). “Be strong,” Paul admonished. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7; 2:1, NKJV).
Identifying a fear doesn’t always offset it. When fear strikes it does not readily respond to logic, because it makes us feel out of control. The Bible compares it to the desolation of a tornado (Proverbs 1:27). But the opposite response can also take place–a resolve to take charge and to overcome the fear. When the disciples were terrified, Jesus shouted above the storm, “Take courage!” When we acknowledge God’s presence and power, courage emerges and outweighs fear and uncertainty.
But there is a reasonable fear, a good fear. For example, teaching children to be alert to strangers and to avoid risky behavior is good parenting. Warning labels create healthy fear. A marriage is stronger when a couple fears doing anything that would hurt their relationship. Christians are warned to “give no offense in anything, that the ministry be not blamed” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 6:3). Vance Havner said, “I hope I get to heaven before I do something foolish and spoil my ministry.” Real dangers require the fear of consequences.
This is exactly the emphasis of godly fear. To fear God is to revere Him, to hold Him in awe, and not to offend Him or sin against Him. “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil” (Proverbs 8:13, NKJV). The result is obedience. At God’s command, Abraham was about to take Isaac’s life, though it seemed contrary to God’s nature. But the angel of God stopped him. “Abraham, Abraham! … Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Genesis 22:11-12, NKJV). According to New Testament Greek scholars, “The fear of God takes the form of reverent and submissive recognition in trust and obedience” (Geoffrey Bromiley, “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume”).
Human nature is innately fearful when separated from love. But when we experience a healthy fear of God, we come to understand His love for us, and He eliminates our anxious fears. The Apostle John said, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God . … There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. … We love because He first loved us. … This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome” (1 John 4:16, 18-19; 5:3, NIV). Fear is conquered by love.
The ultimate solution to fear is faith. God says, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. … You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day, Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; For He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:1, 5-6,10-11 NKJV). The Lord Jesus delivers from the fear of dying: “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Revelation 1:17-18, NKJV). Faith evaporates and dissolves fear by His words and presence. “Do not be afraid. … I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:10, 20, NKJV). Praise be to the Lord!
How Does This Apply To Me?
Paul says in Romans 8:15, “You did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption” (NKJV). When we are tempted to let fear overcome us, we can turn to the Bible for encouragement. The following verses from Psalms are powerful reminders that God watches over those who fear Him:
- “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4, NKJV).
- “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid? … Though an army may encamp against me, My heart shall not fear. … For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; In the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock. … Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Psalm 27:1, 3, 5, 14, NKJV).
- “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears. They looked to Him and were radiant, And their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him, And saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, And delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him” (Psalm 34:4-9, NKJV).
- “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling” (Psalm 46:1-3, NKJV).
- “Cast your burden on the Lord, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved” (Psalm 55:22, NKJV).