INTRODUCTION

What Are You Afraid Of?
by Dr. David Jeremiah

You are asleep in your bed when your clock radio shocks you awake, blaring into the beginning of the day with news of traf­fic tie-ups, approaching thunderstorms, overnight killings, fires, stock-market plunges, government scandals, and car wrecks. Instead of jumping out of bed, you pull the covers up over your head. You know what a fearful world we live in, and you dread facing all the challenges of the day.

But maybe your morning fears are not in the news; they’re about your job. You live in constant fear of getting caught in the downsizing trend. Or you’re apprehensive about a business deal that has your career on the line.

Maybe your deepest fears lie at home. Can you meet this month’s mortgage payment? Does your marriage seem shaky? Are your kids worrying you? After a recent service at the church I pastor in Southern California, a young soldier who had just returned from Afghanistan wept as he asked me to pray for him. He feared that he might be losing his family.

Might. That’s the word that’s haunting him. Our greatest fear is the conditional might—the threat of what might happen. Fear trades in the market of possibility. Or even impossibility—for fear is the tyrant of the imagination. It imposes itself upon us from the shadows, from its hazy mirror of maybe.

My friend Don Wyrtzen has been there:

The illusive monster of fear lurks in the shadows, waiting
to claw my soul to shreds. As one prone to melancholia,
I see its ugly face often when I’m struggling with the
emotional stress of a difficult relationship, when I’m
afraid failure is just around the corner, when success
seems too hard to handle, and on days when free-floating
anxiety is getting the best of me.1

That last phrase captures it for me: “free-floating anxiety.” That’s the worst one—the foreboding fear that something is wrong, but you don’t know what. It envelops you like a cloud.

If you have struggled with fear, you are not alone. Fear is no respecter of people or of ages. It strikes the weak and the powerful. It haunts the young and the old, the rich and the poor. Even those who seem to have it all, including celebrities and heroes and “fearless” leaders, confess to a wide array of phobias.

Jennifer Aniston, Cher, and Whoopi Goldberg are all aviophobes. They are afraid of flying. Barbra Streisand is xenophobic—she is uncomfortable around strangers. Michael Jackson was haunted by the fear of contamination, infections, and diseases. He was mysophobic. But the celebrity with the most phobias is Woody Allen. He’s afraid of insects, sunshine, dogs, deer, bright colors, children, heights, small rooms, crowds, and cancer.

Famous people of the past were no different. George Washington was scared to death of being buried alive. Richard Nixon was terrified of hospitals, and Napoleon Bonaparte, the military and political genius, feared cats.

Phobias: a circus parade of mental enslavement.

Some fears attack us only momentarily, but others can stay with us for a lifetime. A person with a fear of heights might feel her pulse shoot up when she steps into a glass-walled elevator and ascends twenty stories over a hotel lobby. But her fear is over the moment she steps out of the elevator into the hotel hallway.

On the other hand, our fears of failure, loneliness, rejection, impending disaster, or contracting a major illness never seem to go away. They are lifetime fears that simmer on the mind’s back burner. They are fears that prey on life itself. Those are the fears I address in this book.

These fears can be described with what linguists call a “seman­tic range” of words: fear, worry, anxiety, intimidation, unsettled­ness, dread, unease, alarm, distress, apprehensiveness, and others. Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly which of those words best describes what we’re feeling, and it really doesn’t matter. Whatever term we use, these feelings can all trigger toxic responses: immo­bilization, paralysis, withdrawal, passivity, depression, and psy­chosomatic disorders—physical maladies with no discernible physical cause.

When I ask, “What are you afraid of?” I’m asking, “What is it that immobilizes you? What is stealing your joy and destroying your hope? What is robbing you of sleep, night after night? What keeps you from living by faith and being a risk taker? What keeps you from giving your life wholly to a loving God who wants noth­ing but the best for you?”

I think I know the answers to these questions, at least in part, because I’ve lived shoulder to shoulder with a lot of mature Christian people my entire life. And I’ve been a pastor to thou­sands for nearly five decades. I’ve discovered that everybody—including me—is afraid of something. Our challenge is to discover and analyze our fears and find a godly (biblical) response to them.

When the apostle Paul was giving counsel to Timothy, his young protégé, he knew Timothy was afraid of something—probably of his assignment to lead the large church in Ephesus. Timothy was raised in a small town in Asia Minor, and Ephesus was the big city. Paul himself had spent three years in Ephesus, building up the church there. It was led by a strong group of elders, yet false teachers were causing trouble. And Timothy was supposed to go in and be the leader of the whole thing. What young pastor wouldn’t have felt fear at the prospect?

So what did Paul tell Timothy? “Your fear is not from God. What does come from God are power, love, and a stable mental attitude” (2 Timothy 1:7, my paraphrase).

Paul knew that when we get God’s perspective on the source of our fear, we can set aside what is not from Him and embrace what is. In all my years of following Christ, studying the Bible, and pastoring well-intentioned Christians, I have yet to find a fear for which God does not have an answer. And the reason is simple: God Himself is the answer to all our fears.

Think about it—fear is almost always based on the future. Sometimes we’re afraid because we know what’s coming in the future. But more commonly, we’re afraid of what we don’t know about the future. We’re afraid of what might happen. For instance, the Gallup organization asked thirteen- to seventeen- year-olds what they were most afraid of. In descending order, the top ten fears of these teens were terrorist attacks, spiders, death/being killed, not succeeding in life/being a failure, war, heights, crime/ violence, being alone, the future, and nuclear war.2

Notice that all these fears are future focused, and all are merely “maybes.” These teens may encounter none of them. Whether the future is just a minute from now (you’re waiting on a doc­tor’s diagnosis) or five years from now (you worry about having enough money for retirement), fear’s home office is the future.

But what is the future to God? To Him the future is now! We live inside time while God, who made it, lives outside it. We know relatively little about the future, while God knows everything about it. All the events in our lives occur in two time frames: past and future. (The present is a continuously fleeing, infinitesimal moment that becomes past even before we can define it.) God, on the other hand, has only one frame of reference: the eternal now, in which He sees and knows everything, including the future.

That’s why God is the answer to all our fears. If God is good and loving (and He is), and if God is all- powerful (and He is), and if God has a purpose and a plan that include His children (and He does), and if we are His children (as I hope you are), then there is no reason to fear anything, for God is in control of everything.

I know—that’s good theology, and you probably believe it. But you still have fears and apprehensions and a hollow place in the pit of your stomach, either sometimes or all the time. The great author Edith Wharton once said that she didn’t believe in ghosts, but she was afraid of them. It’s one thing to know something with the mind, and another to believe it with the heart.

How do you help a little child face her fear of the darkness? First you appeal to the mind. You turn on the light and show her there’s nothing scary in the room. Then you help her attune her heart to what her mind has accepted. This is the process of faith, for all of us. We accept that God is in control, and on that basis, we shift our burdens to his perfect shoulders.

But what about our shaky future? Pessimism doesn’t work, because it’s another form of mental enslavement. Optimism may have no basis in reality. The one way to walk boldly and confidently into an unknown future is to stake everything on the power and goodness and faithfulness of God.

To understand why God is the answer to all our fears, we must understand what the Bible says about fear. And it says a lot. It tells us more than three hundred times not to fear. “Fear not” is its most frequently repeated command. The word afraid occurs more than two hundred times, and fear more than four hun­dred. And lest you think our Bible heroes were fearless, more than two hundred individuals in Scripture are said to have been afraid. And not all these were the “bad guys”; many were the main characters—David, Paul, Timothy, and others.

Biblical heroes were regular people who had to learn the same things you and I have to learn—to drive out fear by increasing their knowledge of God, to shift their focus from their present fear to the eternal God, to replace what they didn’t know about the future with what they did know about Him. They had to put away childish things (being afraid of everything) and grow up in their faith and understanding.

I wrote this book because I see fear as a real and present dan­ger in the body of Christ. Many Christians are not living lives free of fear, and there can be serious consequences when fear is not removed. Author and educator Neil T. Anderson writes,

Fear is a thief. It erodes our faith, plunders our hope,
steals our freedom, and takes away our joy of living the
abundant life in Christ. Phobias are like the coils of a
snake—the more we give in to them, the tighter they
squeeze. Tired of fighting, we succumb to the temptation
and surrender to our fears. But what seemed like an
easy way out becomes, in reality, a prison of unbelief—a
fortress of fear that holds us captive.3

Jesus came to “proclaim liberty to the captives,” and I believe that includes those held captive by fear (Luke 4:18). He also says that truth is the key to freedom (John 8:32). And here is the truth: God is good (Psalm 119:68), God is love (1 John 4:8, 16), and God has a future filled with hope for His children (Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28-29). God is a refuge and a fortress, a shield and a defender for those who trust in Him (Psalm 91:2-4). For those reasons, and more . . .

You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.
Psalm 91:5-7

As you read this book, my prayers are that you will grow in your conviction that God is the answer to all your fears, that as you look to the future you will see nothing except His power and love guarding your every step, and that you will find the truth that sets you free to live the fearless life God created you to enjoy.

Dr. David Jeremiah
June 2013

 

1. Dan Wyrtzen, A Musician Looks at the Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), 10.
2. Linda Lyons, “What Frightens America’s Youth?” Gallup.com, March 29, 2005, http://www.gallup.com/poll/15439/What-Frightens-Americas-Youth.aspx
3. Neil T. Anderson, Freedom from Fear, 25.


Turning Point www.davidjeremiah.org