“But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:8-10).
“Fear not!” may be the most repeated command in the Bible. In fact, it’s been said that there are 365 “fear nots” in the Bible — one “fear not” for every day of the year. Lloyd Ogilvie in Facing the Future without Fear said there are 366 “fear nots” in the Bible, one for every day of the year, including Leap Year. Now I don’t know if that is entirely accurate, and these numbers will change depending on translation, but I’m still thinking that God doesn’t want His children to go a single day without hearing His word of comfort, “fear not!”
As I see it, worry grows into anxiety, which, given time and the wrong frame of mind and circumstances, becomes fear. Fear leads to paralysis. And spiritual defeat.
Many emotions are detrimental, but fear is devastating.
What is fear?
Webster’s dictionary says that fear is “to…expect with alarm.” It is a mindset that anticipates the worst even if these feelings aren’t realistic or justified. Fear overcomes us to the point where we lose our good sense and a right view of the way things really are, and who our God is. And we become enslaved.
That’s why some folks explain this negative emotion (as opposed to the fear of God which is reverential and liberating) as “False Evidence Appearing Real.” And there is some truth there. Numerous studies have shown that most of the things we fear never come to fruition. But when overtaken by toxic fear our pessimistic, false perceptions can seem bigger than anything else, even our God. Jame’s MacDonald says, “It’s not that your problems are too big; it’s that your God is too small.”
So what does the Bible tell us about fear?
“…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).
First, we see that fear is an emotion (spirit). And emotions are not always rational. Generally speaking, we need to be wary of putting too much trust in our feelings. Fear is a feeling that often does damage that would not otherwise exist – there are things that we need to fear but we aren’t to live with a foreboding disposition of fear.
We also see that God doesn’t give us this “spirit,” but gives power, love, and self-control:
- Power, in that our Father is the sovereign ruler of the universe and He is with us, in us and for us.
- Love, in that, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:16-18).
- Self-control, in that we need to exercise discipline in trusting God and waging war against unreasonable, unhealthy fear.
In 2 Timothy 1:7 we see the word “for.” This means we need to see what it is there “for” and look for the context that precedes it: “I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands…” (2 Timothy 1:3-6).
Here we find some traits that encourage our self-discipline in doing battle with unwarranted, unnecessary fear. I’ve rarely seen people with these attributes be overcome with coma-inducing anxiety:
- A thankful heart
- A clear conscience
- An active and effective prayer life
- A joyful spirit
- Sincere faith
- Reflecting on God’s legacy of guiding and protecting us
- Actively serving and using God’s gifts
Although these ideas need to be further developed and explained, they give us some food for thought concerning some characteristics that are commonly found in those Christ-followers who are not paralyzed by a spirit of fear, but freed by the power of God from this toxic emotion. He has given us His power, which is made perfect in His perfect love, but we must cooperate by wielding God’s gift of self-control by consistently yielding to His sovereignty and strength.
Then we can more fully embrace his words of confidence and consolation…“fear not!”