A Guide to Addressing Fear

The first step is choosing to face it
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When we feel fear, God understands, because he's the one who made us that way. In many ways, that first response is involuntary. He designed our minds that way so we could react quickly in dangerous situations without being slowed down by the rational thought process, which takes much longer.

Surprise: fear is not a sin—it's a gift.

All throughout Scripture God does talk to his people about fear. As I dug into those verses, two primary phrases appeared. God says, "Do not fear" or "Do not be afraid" almost one hundred times. That may make it seem like fear is a sin. But if you look closely, those phrases are almost always in contexts where the audience God is addressing is already feeling fear.

"Do not be afraid" appears more than any other place in the story of the Israelites going to the Promised Land. God says, "Do not be afraid," and then he gives instructions about what to do next—commands, like going into battle, that he knows will cause even more fear to spring up. In essence, he's telling his people, like a father would tell his kids when they're scared in the dark or about to jump off the high dive for the first time, "Don't be afraid. Go ahead and jump. It will be okay."

I love that the word be is in that phrase. God doesn't say, "Don't feel fear." Because he made us, he understands that would be impossible. Instead he says, "Don't be afraid." In other words, don't live in fear or make it part of your identity.

You will feel fear. More than once. But you don't have to live in fear. You don't have to make that Chihuahua your pet and carry it around in your bag like a socialite. You don't have to pet it, give it treats, and let it sleep in your bed at night.

I mentioned before that fear is a response from the area of our brains called the amygdala that bypasses our rational thought. But after that first surge, the other parts of our brain do kick in, and that's when we have a decision to make.

Our amygdala says, "Ack! A threat! Fear alert!"

Then the rest of our brain starts searching for evidence to support or disprove that initial response. Is the monster we thought we saw in our closet actually the vacuum cleaner? Is the loud noise that sounded like a gunshot actually just a car backfiring?

With examples like those above, it's easy to shoo away the fear with physical evidence. But when it comes to the heart, it becomes much harder. Because most of the time there isn't a black-and-white answer to that fear. We have to respond by faith.

One of my pastors, Matt Newman, likes to say, "When David saw how big Goliath was, he could say either, 'He's too big for me to ever win' or 'He's too big for me to miss—and my God is even bigger.'"

August 19, 2013 at 8:49 AM

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