Lesson 21: Overcoming Fear and Anxiety
All scripture citations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.
What are you afraid of? OK, maybe you aren't afraid of anything. Let's put it this way: Are you anxious, do you experience dread over certain events, are you weighted down with concerns, are you chronically worried, stressed out, or shy around people? Like so many others, perhaps you avoid speaking in public, or want to run from times of conflict and confrontation?
All these are forms of fear! As such they stand in the way of the life Jesus wants to live in us. Jesus is the Fearless One who has overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil, and is bringing to us the perfect love of the Father so that we too can become overcoming ones and live valiant lives, trusting our God even in situations of great peril. Fear is therefore a mighty stronghold that the enemy seeks to build in every believer to quench faith, stymie love and turn us away from the challenges of our high calling.
Fear is built upon the other strongholds we have been studying: unbelief in God's perfect love is the root to all fears; accusation makes us feel cut off and condemned; bitterness binds the pain of the past to us; unhealed trauma makes our world feel very insecure; rejection sends frightful messages to our heart; self-rejection blocks us from believing that God really can love us; envy insists that others are getting a better deal; and occult involvement always brings massive amounts of fear. No wonder that fear is something of an emotional pandemic! Fortunately for all of us, the Lord has great remedies for overcoming fear and anxiety!
Two Forms of Legitimate Fear
There are two kinds of fear that are good and helpful: godly fear and fear awareness of immediate danger. Even so, we need to beware—both of these can quickly turn into the wrong kind of fear.
1) Godly fear, also known as the 'fear of God,' is respect, honor and acknowledgment of who God is. It is a healthy awareness that God holds us accountable for our choices. On the other hand, being afraid of God, or of what God may do, or of what God may allow, or of what God may ask of us comes from the enemy.
2) Fear awareness of immediate danger enables us to deal with trouble and rescue the situation. Science has identified this as the 'flight or fight' response of the General Adaptation Syndrome (review The Spiritual Roots of Disease) and we need it to gear our bodies up for immediate action.
This can quickly become 'bad fear' if a) we are paralyzed or panicked and cannot act decisively or b) there is no real response we can make because we are being alarmed by imagined or future dangers, not immediate, life-threatening ones. This kind of fear response keeps most people living stressed up and breaks down health like a hammer.
Apart from these good types of fear, all other forms are due to not trusting God. The critical issue is heart-trust in God.
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.Trust in the Lord forever,for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. Isaiah 26:3-4
What Fear Actually Represents
If you want freedom you need to know that fear is a spiritual issue—not a personality problem. Watch this progression carefully. It will help you recognize and renounce any agreements with fear you may have. Remember, the enemy tempts us with very persuasive ideas, images and impressions. Stand on God's truth!
1) Fear is the opposite of love. Just as perfect love casts out fear, so too 'perfect fear' casts out love. Fear closes us in on Self (our old nemesis), activating selfishness, self-centeredness and above all self-protectiveness. Faith and trust open us, enabling us to care for others in the self-less way of love.[i]
2) Fear is weakened faith. Jesus upbraided the disciples for having 'little faith' and 'no faith' when they became worried about their daily needs and afraid during the storm at sea.[ii] Such concerns seem normal, but Jesus shows us that it is 'illegal' for a follower of His to fall into fear in any of its forms.
3) Fear is the opposite of faith. Fear works in the same way faith does but in the opposite direction. Faith looks past the problem of the visible reality to see its solution in the invisible reality of God and therefore becomes the substance in us that God uses to fulfill His purposes.[iii] Fear looks at the visible problem, ignores the invisible Savior, and becomes the substance the enemy uses to fulfill his plans for us. Job lamented that what he feared came upon him.[iv] It is false 'protection' that works against us.
4) Fear is spiritual blindness. It keeps us from seeing with our eyes of faith. It minimizes what God can do, 'shrinks' us as His vessels and 'giganticizes' the problem.[v]
5) Fear is actually a sin. Fear is distrust in God, rooted in the sin of unbelief, for whatever is not of faith/trust in God is sin.[vi]
6) Fear is spiritual bondage. It enslaves us and carries us captive to the enemy's mindset, pressuring us to act amiss.[vii]
7) Fear is an evil spirit. It delights in using fear to derail our life and destroy our health. These spirits are liars and bullies who never tell you the whole truth—otherwise you would quickly go back to trusting God as you were before they showed up.
As Paul wrote to timid Timothy, it was not God who gave us 'a spirit of fear.' What God gives us is 'power, love and a sound mind.' [viii] Note that we have a choice to make: We can have either fear or power, love and a sound mind. We cannot have it both ways!
Even the presence of a little stress can begin robbing anyone of confidence in God, feelings of love and soundness of mind (thinking clearly, remembering readily). On the other hand, reconnect your faith with confidence in God's power, love and wisdom and see how quickly fear is sent packing.
Ways to Get Free of Fear
1) Receive: Let perfect love cast out fear.[x] Work on renewing the true image of God in your heart, keeping your thoughts fixed on Him.[xi] Meditate upon His love expressed for you at the cross.[xii] Open your heart and receive His love by faith.
2) Believe: God's Word undercuts the power of fear, so build your faith by staying in the Word.[xiii] Saying scripture over and over has power to slowly push back the attack of fear. Believing scripture has awesome and immediate power once it becomes a living and life-giving Word to you. Take your stand on the truth as Jesus did. Stoutly resist the temptation to fear.
3) Resist: Keep obeying despite your fears! Refuse to let fear push you around, shut you down, or stop you.[xiv] Taking decisive action ('just do it') defeats a lot of fears during the trial and those same fears will have less power over you in future trials.
4) Rebuke: Prayers of command can cast out fear. Call a friend who can do spiritual warfare to break fear's grip on you.
5) Love: Whenever love fills our heart, fear becomes an out-cast. Start with friendly animals; work up to friendly people.
6) Rejoice: Laughter releases the grip of fear.[xv]
7) Surrender: A willingness to suffer, even die, for Christ defeats most fears, since the fear of death is the root of all fears.[xvi]When we 'die to Self,' not caring what happens so long as His good will is done, we slip out of the snare of many fears.[xvii] The overcomers of Revelation 12:11 'loved not their own lives' even in the face of death. Surrender always brings peace and release.
8) Pray: Put your fears to rest as you release your concerns to God. Cast your cares on Him by praying concerns out of your heart and into His Hands, persevering until you let it all go.[xviii]
9) Discern: Learn to recognize the voice of fear (the way it presses upon you) and stop listening to it.[xix]
An Ongoing Battle
Oddly enough the best time to start trusting God is when you are caught in fear. Jesus used a storm-tossed and windswept sea to offer His first 'class' in walking on water.[xx] He waited for fear to strike His disciples before challenging them to trust Him. The Psalmist would have approved. Note that the repeated use of 'will' indicates a deliberate choice.
When I am afraid,I will put my trust in you... In God I put my trust. I will not be afraid.What can flesh do to me? Psalm 56:3-4 WEB
The very best way to get free of persistent fear is by the six Steps to Freedom laid out for you in Recognize and Replace! Along the way to victory you will 'see' a threefold progression: Faith becomes seeing; seeing becomes believing; believing becomes resting in confidence.
1) Jesus has overcome the world—He will always be victorious. This is the 'seeing stage' as faith opens our eyes to see Jesus as the answer because of what He has done and can do.
'In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.' John 16:33
2) We overcome through faith in Him, not through faith in our-selves. Our faith in God's love and power is what overpowers our fear—one battle at a time. This is the 'believing stage': We work hard at believing that what we see in Him is true.
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. 1 John 5:4
3) Our heart becomes established as we make progress at more continually beholding God's perfect love for us and His power to give us victories. This is the 'resting stage': We trust Him enough to stay centered and surrendered most of the time.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment. 1 John 4:18
Faith lifts and leads; fear presses and prods. Fear focuses on the thing feared—never on God. Learn to recognize when you are in fear and deal with it first - then you will be able to work with the problem it represents and receive the Lord's guidance and help much more readily.
Ask the fruitful question: 'What am I really afraid of?' Find it and deal with it! It is actually an act of faith-fullness to confess our fears as unbelief and sin. Our Father loves an honest conversation, even if it is about our failings. Naming fear as sin begins the process of repentance and restoration to trust. As we do this we enter into fellowship with the Father about the truth of our situation. The problem is not with God—in what He has allowed—it is with our inability or unwillingness to trust Him with it. Now that we are talking it over with Him, we can draw strength from our relationship.
So let us go boldly to the throne of grace and obtain mercy, then re-discover that His grace really is sufficient to help us in our time of need.[xxi]
The Way to Freedom
Some fears are easy to see; others are much harder to recognize - we have lived with them for so long that they seem normal and natural: 'Of course I'm stressed, look at my situation!' The key is to focus on recovering the lost trust in God.
1) Be willing to recognize any loss of peace and any advent of stress as temptations coming from a spirit of fear—unless some other negative emotion is clearly predominating (such as anger).
2) Take full responsibility for agreeing with fear, losing peace and becoming 'stressed': Repent, renounce and carry it captive to Christ until you see something in Him that restores trust.
3) Turn to the Father and release gratitude to Him that His perfect love is always able to cast out your fear!
We truly have nothing to fear—not even fear itself!
Father, forgive me for falling into fear again. Thank You that I can come boldly into Your Presence and ask You to cleanse me of this sin. Thank You that You love me and want to fellowship with me even now. Thank You that You have made great plans for how to help me and that even this situation will be made to work for my good. I ask You to send Jesus for my deliverance and to meet me by Your Spirit right where I am, as I am, and lead me forward. Strengthen me to hold on to You as I resist fear and watch for Your final victory to arrive.
Interested in Going Deeper?
Don't just give these truths a 'head bob'! For further study and for help working these truths into your heart and life, see The Head to Heart Guide for Fear Not and 'work out' with exercises, discussion questions, review of main points, digging deeper, more scriptures, model prayers, renunciations/affirmations and practical steps of life application.
Or Keep Reading
[i] 1 John 4:18-19
[ii] Matthew 6:25-34; Mark 4:35-40
[iii] Hebrews 11:1
[iv] Job 3:24-26
[v] Numbers 13:30-33
[vi] Romans 14:23
[vii] Romans 8:15
[viii] 2 Timothy 1:7 KJV and NKJV
[x] 1 John 4:18-19
[xi] Isaiah 26:3
[xii] 1 John 4:9-10
[xiii] Romans 10:17
[xiv] James 4:7-8
[xv] Proverbs 17:22
[xvi] Hebrews 2:14-15
[xvii] Luke 9:23-25
[xviii] Philippians 4:6-7
[xix] Hebrews 5:14
[xx] Matthew 14:25
[xxi] 2 Corinthians 12:9; Hebrews 4:16