Fighting fear is like muscle memory: The more you fight, the more and better you will fight. But what does fighting fear look like in a practical sense? Here are 10 biblical principles:
1. Acknowledge reality.
In Psalm 56:3, David writes, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Not if, but when. A great (and freeing) place to start when you’re afraid is to acknowledge that fear is a universal human reality. Since we live in a world corrupted by sin and full of suffering, we are guaranteed to encounter what is fearful.
So, it isn’t always wrong to be afraid; fear can be a God-given kindness to protect us from legitimate dangers and threats. When we are afraid, rather than condemning ourselves for feeling fear (Rom. 8:1), we can acknowledge the circumstances that brought about such a response and, when appropriate, thank God for wiring us to respond this way.
2. Discern the fear.
However, we shouldn’t stop there. Sometimes, our fears can subtly shift from legitimate concerns to all-consuming fixations. We can ask God to reveal when this has become the case: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” (Ps. 139:23, NIV). Usually, our problem with fear isn’t its existence but its enormity. Fear will arise. The question is, what weight does it hold, especially in comparison to God?
Imagine a double-sided scale, where your fears are one side and God is on the other. Which side weighs more? When fear’s magnitude outweighs what is most true and real, the result will be anxiety, anger, doubt, and other bitter fruits. Fight fear by asking the Lord if it has become weightier on the scale of your heart than it should be––than he should be.
3. Wield Scripture.
Ephesians 6:17 calls God’s Word “the sword of the Spirit.” Hebrews 4:12 says it is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,” and Psalm 29:4 testifies, “The voice of the Lord is powerful.” The truth is, we can’t fight fear unless God’s Spirit applies his living, powerful Word to our hearts, and this means we must engage with it. Remember, we fight fear by growing in the fear of the Lord––by our God weighing more to us than our fears––and we grow in the fear of the Lord by holding fast to his self-revealing words and asking his Spirit to impress them upon our minds and souls.
So, think of ways to wield the Word. After I read my Bible in the morning, I leave it open on our kitchen counter so I can re-read it during the day. We can also memorize Scripture, write it on notecards, and share what we’re reading with others.
4. Stay present.
In Matthew 6:34, Jesus gives us a wise principle on fearfulness: “Therefore [because God is a trustworthy Father who promises to provide for you] do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” We will fight fear as we focus on the present and refuse to run ahead into the future. Jesus knows that too many thoughts about the unknown will overwhelm us and are ultimately unproductive: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (v. 27). So, he reminds us to take one day at a time.
When you’re afraid and daunted by what’s to come, ask God to help you stay present. Trust him to supply for that particular day’s needs (v. 32). Then, when tomorrow becomes today, do it all again.
5. Limit media consumption.
While modern media can be a wonderful gift, it can also be an unhelpful weight. News media thrives on feeding our fears, posting sensational headlines to grab eyeballs and rivet attention. Of course, we don’t want to be uninformed, but we should consider the effects. Is the media making us more fearful and anxious? Are we spending more time absorbing the news than we are God’s Word and other life-giving resources?
Fight fear by limiting media consumption and tuning your eyes and ears instead to what is “excellent or praiseworthy––think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).
6. Practice thanksgiving.
I say “practice” because thanksgiving doesn’t come naturally to us; grumbling and complaining do. Since we are forgetful creatures, God constantly reminds us in Scripture to “remember”: remember his character, his works, his promises, his good gifts and new mercies, his Son.
As we practice thanksgiving with our mouths––verbally in prayer, in conversation with other believers, or perhaps through writing––we will promote a posture of worship within our hearts. Rather than following our feelings and our fears, we lead our hearts by faith. We fight fear with thanksgiving and praise to the One who is worthy to be feared.
7. Read biographies.
When I’m fearful (and discouraged by my fears), I’ve been helped by great books, particularly biographies on believers who encountered their own fearful circumstances and learned to trust and treasure God within them. Add the following books to your pile and be spurred on in faith: A Chance to Die, Bonhoeffer, A Passion for the Impossible, Here I Stand, Amy Carmichael, The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 12 Faithful Men, and 12 Faithful Women.
8. Tell someone.
Fear flourishes in silence and darkness, but when brought into the light––when confessed and spoken about––it loses some of its power. We can start by telling our Heavenly Father about our fears in prayer (Phil. 4:6-7), and then we will be helped to tell a trusted friend or two.
Sometimes, in the process of talking about what we’re most afraid of, we’re led to recognize untruths we have believed, unhelpful or even sinful patterns we’ve adopted, and most important, how our fears have become more weighty to us than the Lord. Wise friends will listen and then counsel us in the truth (Prov. 20:5), and we can provide that same ministry for a fearful friend.
9. Get outside.
King David knew the worth of creation for reorienting his gaze to the Creator. In Psalm 19:1 he writes, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Then in Psalm 8 he says,
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?Psalm 8:3-4
We can follow suit. Fight fear by taking a walk (even a trip!), and note the beauty and majesty of God’s careful handiwork. He created so we would worship him; he made so we would marvel at his glory. Let the fear of the Lord increase in your soul as you look away from your fears and to his power and beauty as revealed in creation.
10. Remember God’s grace.
Ultimately, fearful people need the gospel: the good news that God sent his Son into the world to restore in sinner’s hearts a right fear of him. When we are united to Jesus by faith––when we have confessed our need to be rescued and receive Christ as our Rescuer––then his presence goes with us every moment of every day, in the person of his Spirit.
When we are afraid, we will fight fear as we remember God’s grace: his all-satisfying, all-sufficient supply of spiritual help. He not only saved us when we first believed, but he continues to save us as we believe: from ourselves, the temptations of this world, and from the evil one. He promises, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). So, we remember his grace amid our fears, that even if the worst comes to pass, God will give us what we need, and he will walk with us.
If you want more help on fighting fear with the fear of the Lord, may I commend to you my book, Fight Your Fears: Trusting God’s Character and Promises When You Are Afraid?