Fear is one of the most common human emotions. And, it is one of the most common emotions mentioned in the Bible. Some of the biggest heroes of faith struggled with fear in the Bible. It’s an expected and healthy human response to a range of events from violence and oppression to rejection and personal crisis.
However, people write to me almost every day expressing deep shame about their fear. For example, some of you have been told that if your faith was stronger, you wouldn’t struggle with feelings of fear. Others of you have been taught that your fear is a sin. Not only do you struggle with fear, you’re now anxious that you are displeasing God because of it.
Let me be clear: these messages are simply not the picture of fear in the Bible.
Fear in the Bible
Let’s look at Moses, for example, a hero of faith. Moses was filled with fear when God appeared to him one day, asking him to lead a great nation out of slavery and into the Promised Land. Overcome by the fearful part of himself, Moses gave God several reasons why he couldn’t step up in this way: he doubted himself, he feared rejection by the people God had asked him to lead, and he didn’t speak fluently; in fact, he may have had a speech impediment (Ex. 4:1–10). Moses had numerous fears that he brought to God, and God answered them one by one. He gave him miraculous signs, assurances, and practical help in the form of his brother, Aaron. God also gave to Moses the gift of his presence.
God responded to Moses’ fear, not with criticism, judgment or shame, but with a promise to stay near: “I will be with you” (Ex. 3:12). Eventually Moses liberated the Hebrew nation from a tyrannical pharaoh.* From Moses we learn:
It takes fear to have courage.
Mary, the mother of Jesus shows us another instance of fear in the Bible. When an angel of God appears to Mary in her room, she is visibly shaken. Does the angel shame her or tell her she doesn’t have enough faith? Of course not. Instead, the angel reassures her: “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you” (Luke 1:29-33). From Mary we learn:
Fear is an expected response to personal crisis.
Jesus’s teaching further sheds light on the picture of fear in the Bible. For example, in Luke Chapter 12 (MSG), Jesus addresses his disciples on several topics related to fear. Notice the tenderness of his language as he encourages his followers:
- “I’m speaking to you as dear friends. Don’t be bluffed into silence or insincerity by the threats of religious bullies. True, they can kill you, but then what can they do? There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands” (v. 4-5).
- “Don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries” (v. 6-7).
- “Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself” (v. 32).
Here’s the thing: Jesus assumes that his followers will be frightened by threats, intimidated by bullies, and fearful of going against the crowd. He understands their fear, and he brings it out into the open. In these instances, it’s clear that Jesus is naming the fear he senses in his followers, not judging it. From Jesus we learn:
When we name fear, it loses power.
The bottom line is this: God doesn’t shame us for our fear. He expects it. God asks us to look toward him in our fear; he doesn’t ask us to get rid of it. Finally, God points us to concrete resources here on the ground. Here are some of the ways you can address fear in your life today:
4 Ways to Address Fear
1.) Name your fear.
Fear in and of itself is an important emotion. It can alert you to dangers to your physical and emotional safety. And when God calls you to do something that’s hard, he doesn’t promise that it’s all going to be smooth sailing. Don’t deny your fear or try to shove it aside. It’s an important part of who you are. But don’t let it lead, either. Naming your fear allows you to honor it by preparing yourself emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically.
2.) Identify your allies.
In response to one of Moses’ fears, God pointed him to his brother, Aaron, as a faithful helper and companion. As you consider the hard thing you have to do, who are those people who will pray for you, march with you, and stand by your side no matter what? Let them know what it is that you are facing and ask for their help and support in specific, practical ways.
3.) Take action, regardless of what you are feeling.
Moses took action, despite his fear. So have countless other great leaders. I love the story of church reformer, Martin Luther, going before the Roman Emperor. Luther’s refusal to cave in to the political powers of that day has been mistakenly revered as one of defiance. A close examination of the text of his speech reveals that Luther likely stood by his convictions. . . with fear and trembling. Luther knew that his refusal to acquiesce to the political leaders would likely land him in prison—and he was frightened. It didn’t matter. He stood his ground, spoke the truth, and changed the course of history
4.) Draw near to God.
A courageous action may not land you in prison, but it might bring heartache or challenges. It may be that you need to set firmer boundaries with your children, a parent, a boss, or a friend. Or you may be called to stand up for your beliefs in a hostile environment. Regardless, you may be met with resistance, and your courageous act may create ripple effects that are challenging. But if you’ve done what is right, you can stand tall, knowing that you did what God asked of you. James 4:8 promises, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”
What courageous act is God calling you to right now? If you’re fearful, that’s OK. A look at fear in the Bible shows us that it is natural to feel that way. Honoring your fear by saying simply “I am frightened,” is a powerful statement of faith when you turn toward God—and toward practical on-the-ground action. Without your fear, you wouldn’t have the opportunity to rise above and show God that he matters more to you than your circumstance.
God may not take away your fear. But he will strengthen you with courage.
*Excerpts adapted from Chapter 10 of Boundaries for Your Soul: How to Turn Your Overwhelming Thoughts and Feelings into Your Greatest Allies, by Alison Cook, PhD and Kimberly Miller, MTh, LMFT
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How has fear impacted your life? Have people in your church and other Christian circles criticized you for having fear? Which of the 4 ways to address fear do you find most helpful?
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