“I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.”
Let’s start with practical truth—we come to fear the challenges we face in Christian service so much because we fear God so little! All of us are, to some degree, guilty. One kind of fear paralyzes us, but there is another kind of fear that maximizes us! Let’s examine fear together.
The question starts with—what exactly are you afraid of? Maybe you are afraid of failure, afraid of a lack of ability, afraid of being the weakest link on the team? So, ask yourself seriously, “What am I afraid of?”—identify your fear. First, get clean before God. Remember, being without sin makes us without fear.
Then realize even David, the psalmist, had fears. He was afraid of losing his heart because of discouragement and even losing his mind with anxiety—plus losing the whole cause for which he was fighting—and also, failing God! To be honest, most of the most courageous people, our heroes, once faced fear. For them, the deepest fear, possibly, was being a victim of things beyond their control. Most of us fear the unknown. I know people who admitted, “I feared I would fail so much and that I would just be put on the shelf and be forgotten!”
Let me present to you briefly what others have said about fear. The Duke of Wellington, in 1831 said, “The only thing I am afraid of is fear.” Henry David Thoreau, in 1841 said, “Nothing is so much to be feared as fear.” Fear in our world has so many other names—misgiving, trepidation, dread, paranoia, horror, alarm, consternation, foreboding, fret, uneasiness, phobia, panic, uncertainty, and the list goes on and on!
Our key verse has the psalmist saying that because of God he was “delivered … from all my fears.” You might say, “Yes, of course, he was one of the greatest people in the Bible! But I am just little frightened me! And, that was then and this is now; what can God do for me now? Can He deliver me from my fears?” “I sought the Lord …”
Billy Graham once spoke about anxiety and fear. He declared, “Anxiety is the natural result when our hopes are centered in anything short of God and His will for us.” Here is truth—minds that are turning over with fear will give evidence of being uncertain in what to do and unsettled in how to do it. Often that means all the practical preparation is tossed to the wind and all the prayers are thrown to an abyss. It must be faced and conquered. God promises He will help you conquer destructive fear.
Let’s look at three headings now, all intertwined.
I. THE PARALYZING POWER
The preacher Harry Fosdick said, “Fear imprisons, faith liberates; fear paralyzes, faith empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages; fear sickens, faith heals; fear makes us useless, faith makes us useable.”
You have often heard the phrase “frozen in fear,” and it can be very much like that. In wildlife there are even examples of animals who literally froze before an oncoming predator; that can happen to us if we allow it. The cowboy author Louis L’Amour said, “The man who says he has never been scared is either lying or else he’s never been any place or done anything!” Cowboys, when thrown, get back on a horse immediately!
Fear is also a kind of temporary insanity. It is very often our worst enemy. And fear robs the mind of all its powers of responding and reasoning. It’s paralyzing. Because of fear “we worry about our worries.” We have an “anxiety attack.” What is that? — fear taking over our whole system mentally, physically, emotionally!
President Roosevelt, after his famous words about fear, went on to describe it perfectly: “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” So it weakens judgment and produces fatigue—it reduces us into trembling shadows of what we really are! Fear is bondage to the mind and it is the prison of the heart. And here is what is discovered: most often imagination is more terrible than reality. Long ago, I think Shakespeare said, “Fearful people die many times—a man of courage, only once!”
And most of the time fear comes when we try to solve problems before we get to them, so fear is created by our minds when we imagine what might happen. Our biggest mistake is to continually be fearful; you will fail for it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy! And the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah said, “He that flees from fear shall fall into a pit” (Jeremiah 48:44). Therefore, we must avoid the fleeing and, as a result, avoid the pit!
Some describe it using an acronym, F-E-A-R is False Expectations Appearing Real! Fear is the interest you pay on a debt you do not owe! Way back in the fifth century BC, Sophocles, the Greek philosopher, said, “To him who is in fear, everything rustles!” And there are people who begin to avoid all things that might produce fear. And they actually become afraid of fear. Literally they fear the fear of fear! And often when people have the courage, at last, to challenge what they fear, they find there is nothing to fear! Please listen—“Sometimes it is very hard to fight an enemy who has an outpost in your mind!”
So, for God to give us inner courage to face and conquer fear is the most practical blessing, and He has the power to dispel our fears; and for any of us to confess, “Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.” (I John 4:4) That can happen to any and all of us!
II. THE ANALYZING PROCESS
We gain courage with each step we take looking fear in the face and then saying, “I lived through this challenge and the next challenge will come and with God’s help I’ll live through that too!” Keep doing this until suddenly you realize you, with God alive within, are doing what you assumed you could not do. As the psalmist said, you are fighting fear and winning! “… he delivered me …”
We have already touched upon it, but let’s make it clear—research has found that half of our fears are without definition and the other half are baseless. People who fear are people who have developed bad mental habits. Already it was briefly mentioned—George MacDonald, the Scottish mystic, said, “Fear is faithlessness,” and the former Polish President Lech Wałęsa said simply, “Deep faith eliminates fear.”
Wonderful are these words, “Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. And lo, no one was there!” I suggest, repeat those words aloud!
So let us hear it said again, “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears.” And, repeat those words aloud!
So, yes, our resource is in God, but humanly speaking, I suggest just focus on doing the assignment God gave you. Lady Bird Johnson, the President’s wife, is right, “Become so wrapped up in something that you forget to be afraid.” So I ask you, “Do you want to conquer fear? Really?” Then get out and get busy. Thinking about being afraid makes one more afraid! Don’t sit and think, get up, get out, get in, and as a result, get strong! Get busy in simple acts of faith.
And so, take action—do something that honors God. One step at a time, just do something that brings glory to God. Do anything in the service of God that brings you fulfillment. And then another and another.
A young preacher knew he was called by God but was filled with fear as he prepared to preach. So, what did he do? He wrote out the text he would read and read it over twenty times. He chose five verses that supported his subject and got busy memorizing each verse. The next thing he realized his fear was almost gone. Then he wrote his three main headings in the sermon until he could quote them in his sleep. Then, thanked God for the opportunity to preach, and suddenly he was totally without fear. He took action in faith!
“God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear …”
III. THE CHRISTIANIZING POTENTIAL
It can become the tool of Christ. Yes, I still tremble before I preach—but I would never want to walk into a pulpit with a carefree attitude. Let me tremble and trust! There needs to be urgency and a realization of what is at stake. I use it for good, it helps put me on edge and to be sensitive to the situation. Fear is helping me—yes, helping me—to be wide awake—fully alert and thoroughly ready with blood pumping! Speaking of the positive side of wholesome fear—let me say, I believe wholesome fear liberates, it empowers, it makes one fully alive.
Noah prepared the ark—that was the most positive thing—because he was “moved with fear” (Hebrews 11:7). Don’t forget this verse, “others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire” (Jude 23). Spurgeon said, “He who fears God has nothing else to fear.” Fear of God is defined as “deep reverence.” So, Christianize fear!
But I join with the great preacher Henry Ward Beecher, who said, “Fear is a kind of bell, or gong, which rings the mind into quick life … it is the soul’s signal for rallying.” Fear can be a bugle blast! A charge! Wholesome fear can be the strong, motivating force in life. To be a little frightened makes you sharpen your mental focus again. In fact, fear can be like a spur that a cowboy wears.
When I’m laid back and feel at ease, that’s when I get scared. Someone called fear—the wholesome kind—the father of courage and the mother of more preparation. Wholesome fear is God’s warning signal to get fully ready and stay busy and charge into battle!
Remember, it is a foolish person who may have no fear, but it is a wise angel who does have some. Paul said to the Corinthians, “I came before you in weakness, in fear, in great trepidation … the gospel I proclaimed … carried conviction by spiritual power” (I Corinthians 2:3-4, EB) Cannot you see that fear helped him be at his best?
The Bible speaks of fearing God as a very good thing! So that, those that fear God face life fearlessly. But those that have no such fear end up fearing everything! In fact, show me someone that doesn’t fear failing and I’ll show you someone who will fail continually. Confess openly:
“I am a servant of God so I denounce the enslavement of fear. So I do not know all the way, but I do know the Guide. My Guide, the Spirit, gives me confidence and fearlessness. Therefore, ‘I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me!’ Yes, I can because of Him. (Philippians 4:13) Therefore, rebuke negative fear and use the positive kind for God’s glory.”
Again the verse we started with: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” So let’s enlarge it, “I sincerely sought the Lord and He was there to immediately respond to me. And miraculously, He set me free from all kinds of fear that tried to paralyze me, and because of Him I stood courageously to face the challenge before me and win!”