Stop Living in Fear (Proverbs 29:25)
What are your inner-most fears? We all have them. Fear of loneliness, death, public speaking, heights, the dark, confined spaces, spiders, roaches, snakes, flying, intimacy, germs, drowning, cowardice, poor health, poison, aging, losing a job, financial ruin, failure, success, and rejection are some of the more common human fears. Our fears can range from minor anxieties to major phobias. They can also change over time. Fear can be debilitating, causing us no end of anxiety and stress.
For example, as a College professor and author, I do a lot of public speaking. Over the years, I have spoken to audiences large and small in many different locales and venues. Consequently, when people approach me for advice on public speaking, they are shocked to learn there was a time when, given the choice between public speaking and wresting a hungry alligator, I would have chosen the alligator. Fear of public speaking almost kept me from graduating from college. Speech was a mandatory course in my curriculum. Every member of the class was required to give at least one speech during the semester. I put my turn off again and again until finally, I was the only student left in the class who had not given a speech.
The situation boiled down to this: give the speech or fail the class. As I reluctantly approached the front of the class, my hands shook and my knees knocked. I gripped the sides of the podium so hard it’s a wonder they didn’t break. I was supposed to begin by introducing myself and my topic, but could hardly remember my own name much less my topic. Rather than speaking, I croaked like a frog. My voice trembled, my throat went dry, and my tongue swelled up like a balloon. Sweat poured down my face and soaked my shirt.
Without going further into the gory details, suffice it to say I croaked out enough words to squeak by with a charitable “C” for the course. It took a while and a lot of effort, but eventually, my public speaking experiences got better. Over time, with practice and determination, I was able to overcome this common fear. Now, public speaking is one of my favorite activities, and the bigger the audience the better. However, I have never forgotten how frightened I was that first time.
Psychologists will tell you that unless your fears are phobias, the best way to overcome them is direct confrontation: do what you are afraid of over and over until you are no longer afraid of it. In Marine Corps boot camp, we had to run what the Corps called its Confidence Course. This was a series of difficult obstacles that forced you to confront the fear of height, drowning, weakness, failure, and so on. As difficult as it was, the Confidence Course served its purpose. Once we had run the course several times, fear was replaced by confidence; hence the name.
Repeatedly confronting what you are afraid of can help overcome certain fears. But this method isn’t infallible. Some fears are so deeply ingrained that confronting them directly just makes matters worse. Plus, not all fears lend themselves to direct confrontation. Loneliness, cowardice, death, or health problems are examples of these kinds of fears. Further, sometimes you need help dealing with your fears. Fortunately, help is available. The Bible has much to say about fear.
SCRIPTURE IN ACTION: AN EXAMPLE
Angelina harbored some of the same fears a lot of people carry around inside of them. She was afraid of heights, spiders, and confined spaces, but these were all fears she could cope with. Angelina simply avoided exposing herself to situations that brought out her fear of heights and confined spaces. For dealing with her fear of spiders, she learned that a rolled-up newspaper provided a quick solution. Consequently, these fears had little effect on Angelina’s daily life. Unfortunately, the same could not be said about her fear of financial ruin and becoming a homeless indigent.
Angelina came from a wealthy family. During the early years of her life, she wanted for nothing. Her family had a big house in the city where her father was an investor on Wall Street. They also had a farm in the country for weekend getaways and vacations. Her life in what she thought of as the good years was idyllic. Then, when Angelina was in ninth grade it happened. Through a series of bad investments in which her father bet everything he had, the family suddenly found itself in unfamiliar territory: they were broke.
In an attempt to recover, Angelina’s father sold their farm and mortgaged their home. But rather than take the cautious approach, he once again invested in several get-rich-quick schemes that, predictably, failed to perform as promised. This time the family lost everything it had left, including their home. Unable to cope with the sudden change in circumstances, Angelina’s father killed himself. With no family to turn to for help, Angelina and her mother were soon destitute. When the bank foreclosed on their house, she and her mother had to move into a homeless shelter.
The next several years were a struggle for Angelina as her mother receded into a shell, shut herself off from the world, and stopped functioning. She eventually took an overdose of prescription medicine and died quietly in her bed at the homeless shelter. Left on her own, Angelina had to grow up quickly. She graduated from high school and with the help of a volunteer counselor at the homeless shelter and then applied for need-based financial aid to pay for college. By working and collecting financial aid, Angelina was able to complete her college studies with a degree in accounting.
With excellent grades and solid recommendations from several professors, Angelina was able to secure a good job with a local accounting firm. Determined to never again suffer the want, unmet needs, and indignities of financial ruin, Angelina became a workaholic. She came to work early, stayed late, worked on weekends, volunteered for difficult assignments, and took work home with her every night. Other than her work, Angelina had no life. She had no friends, no personal relationships, no hobbies, and no diversions. In truth, Angelina so feared the specter of financial ruin that she was afraid to do anything but work. To Angelina, her job meant financial security.
But she didn’t stop there. Not only did Angelina virtually live in her office, but she also hoarded every penny she earned beyond what was required to maintain her strictly-controlled, Spartan budget. Angelina lived an excessively prudent life, refusing to spend money on even the smallest personal indulgence. She purchased her clothes at the Bargain Basement, drove a car that was already used when she was in middle school, lived in a tiny house that was well below her means, and subsisted on a diet that would starve a parakeet.
Eventually, her fear of financial ruin began to take a toll. Although she had become well-off financially, Angelina’s security came at a price. She was friendless and lonely. Every aspect of her daily life was controlled by her one overriding fear: financial ruin. Objectively Angelina knew allowing fear to control her life wasn’t healthy, emotionally or physically. But her fear of insolvency and once again being homeless was so deeply ingrained in her psyche she could not conquer it. She had thought about seeking counseling but was unwilling to pay what psychologists charged.
For a little over a year, Angelina had been attending a church near her home. She enjoyed church; the sermons were interesting, being around other people was uplifting, and, best yet, church was free except for the few dollars she dropped into the plate when it was passed. One Sunday she noticed a posting on the church’s bulletin board advertising “Free Counseling.” She thought it over for a few days. Finally, primarily because it was free, she called the phone number that was posted on the bulletin board and scheduled an appointment. During that appointment, Angelina poured her heart out. Her life story practically spewed out of her. If she surprised the counselor—Linda—by being so forthcoming, she surprised herself even more.
Linda was just as forthright with Angelina. She told her, “All of those years of letting your fear of insolvency and homelessness control your life were unnecessary. If you had only known to trust in the Lord, you would have realized you are safe and have nothing to fear.” Then Linda read Proverbs 29:25 to Angelina. When she heard the words, “…whoever trusts in the Lord is safe,” Angelina sat upright in her chair. She could not remember feeling safe in years.
Noticing her interest, Linda read Psalm 118:6 to Angelina. Hearing the words, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear,” had the same effect on her as Proverbs 29:25. Angelina found herself silently repeating the words, “I will not fear,” over and over. Linda asked Angelina if having money in the bank and living frugally did anything to relieve her fear of insolvency. Angelina could only shake her head sadly. “Angelina, you have been seeking security and comfort in the wrong way. There is nothing on earth that will take away the fear of your experiences embedded in your heart. Only God can do that. This is the message in Isaiah 41:13.”
Linda closed the counseling session with a prayer and then gave Angelina one final word of advice. “Angelina, the only way you are going to conquer your fear of insolvency is to ask the Lord to take that fear from you. Psalm 34:4 makes clear that this is the answer you are seeking. It is not amassing money in the bank and living frugally, although there is nothing wrong with these things if done for the right reasons. But there is something wrong with allowing your fear to deny you a life. Seeking the help of the Lord and putting your faith in Him rather than material wealth is the answer.”
Linda’s words and the Bible verses she introduced had a powerful effect on Angelina. Nonetheless, she still struggled with her one overriding fear. Angelina wasn’t able to conquer her fear of financial insolvency overnight; it was too deeply imbedded to just suddenly go away. Further, Angelina did not yet know the Lord so she didn’t know how to put her faith in Him. But the more deeply she involved herself in the church while also continuing her counseling sessions with Linda, the closer Angelina came to overcoming her fear. It took two full years, but Angelina finally learned to put her faith in Christ and place her anxieties at His feet in prayer. Later, when other people referred to her by Linda asked how she was able to overcome her fear, Angelina always responded by quoting Psalm 34:4: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”
LESSONS FROM SCRIPTURE FOR YOUR DAILY WALK
To enhance your daily walk with the Lord, learn from Angelina’s experiences and the advice she received from Linda. No matter what fears you carry around inside of you, Scripture holds the answer for overcoming them. There are important lessons in Angelina’s story. The first is that we live in a fallen world that can seem scary at times, but with God on your side you are safe. This is the message in Proverbs 29:25 where we read “…whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Angelina thought she could find security by pinching pennies and building up her bank account, but her frugal ways never brought her the peace of mind she sought. Only God can do that.
The second lesson from Angelina’s story is that we can cause ourselves a lot of emotional distress worrying about what other people might do to us. In Angelina’s case, she had seen how the actions and decisions of other people contributed to her father’s downfall. But the message in Psalm 118:6 is clear: when the Lord is on your side you have nothing to fear. This does not mean that bad things will never happen to you. After all, we live in a fallen world where bad things do happen to good people. Rather, it means that no matter what life sets before you, with God on your side you can cope and get through it.
The third lesson from Angelina’s story is that when fear and anxiety seem overwhelming seek the comfort and security you need in God and in God only. According to Isaiah 41:13, God is the one who will hold your hand and help you face your fears. The final lesson from Angelina’s story is that rather than look to worldly solutions for our fears we should seek the answers we need from the Lord. The message in Psalm 34:4 is clear. We are to seek the Lord when struggling with fears and He will deliver us from those fears. This is the lesson that eventually had the most powerful impact on Angelina, a lesson she often shared with others. It is a good lesson for you too when you find yourself struggling with fear.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com