What fears lurk in your heart? Crime? Racial tension? Terrorism? The political landscape? The economy? Failure? Disappointing others? Insignificance? Loneliness? Change? Missed opportunities? Aging? Illness? Dying?
Fear is a difficult thing to admit. Often we will use euphemisms like being stressed out or overwhelmed to avoid this confession. Regardless of what you call it, its real, and its presence is making itself known in American culture like never before.
The primary Greek word for fear is phobos, as in phobia. It is considered a neutral word, meaning that our understanding is based on the context of usage. On one hand it can mean cowardice, and on the other it can describe a truly religious person.
It was used in three ways in classical Greek. First, it could convey the idea of running away from danger. Second, it could refer to the opposite of courage as one seeks to avoid danger. Finally, it could describe the awe or reverence one possesses for an exalted ruler or person who is infinitely superior. In all, the word is used some 47 times in the New Testament, and generally speaks of fear in a positive sense as in the “fear of the Lord,” or as a description our appropriate response to evil.
It goes without saying that fear is part of our neurological hardwiring. It can produce a necessary and helpful signal that we need when facing danger. With almost no conscious help from us, fear tries to keep us safe. Gavin de Becker even calls fear, “a brilliant internal guardian.” At the level of intuition, fear is a gift that can potentially save our lives.
Unfortunately, much of our fear is manufactured. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar used to call fear, “False Evidence Appearing Real.” Like an illusionist, fear leads us to believe things that are not real. We see the magician saw the assistant in half, knowing full well its a trick, but at the same time wanting to believe what we have seen that cannot be explained.
I like what Paul wrote to Timothy about fear. He boldly said, “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT). Its interesting that Paul does not use the word phobos, but instead uses a stronger word — deilos. This word is always used in the negative sense, and refers to a deep cowardice that one has. Paul wanted Timothy, and us for that matter, to know that this kind of fear does not come from God. Did you notice that the word “spirit” is in lower case? So as we experience life we have to make a choice about which spirit is going to govern our thoughts and feelings. If my spirit is in control, I’m going to be vulnerable to all manner of fear. But if God’s Spirit is in control, I have the resources needed to prevent me from becoming paralyzed by something that may or may not happen. Power, love and self-discipline are resources available to me only through God’s Spirit.
In his book Unafraid, Pastor Adam Hamilton used an acronym of his own to help us navigate the fears that plague us. Check it out:
Face your fears with faith.
Examine your assumptions in light of the facts.
Attack your anxieties with action.
Release your cares to God.
There’s a lot of unpacking there that I could do, but I’ll let the four principles speak for themselves. The point is that God has already provided the resources you need to live unafraid.