Everyone fears something at some point in their lives. We want to be brave, but it’s easier said than done. The famous theologian SpongeBob SquarePants explained the problem in the episode Roller Cowards, “I don’t want to face my fears; I’m afraid of them.” He’s right, fears can be scary, but that doesn’t mean we cannot overcome them. While we may have all been afraid at some time or another, there are a lot of other things that can masquerade as fear. It is important to clearly describe each one to help overcome the fear in your life.
What is Fear?
So what is fear? Google defines fear as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” I don’t think that’s the best definition, but it gives us a starting point. The real definition here is “an unpleasant emotion.” The other things may lead to fear, but they are secondary and are not the same thing as fear.
The belief that someone or something is dangerous is not fear. There are dangerous people and things in the world and a person can accurately identify these with no emotional involvement. Avoiding these dangers is also not fear. This is wisdom. I know that falling 30 feet from a bridge onto pavement will cause pain. I dislike pain. Therefore, I choose not to fall 30 feet from a bridge onto pavement. That doesn’t mean I am afraid of bridges, pavement, or heights; I just avoid falling from bridges.
The unpleasant emotion these beliefs cause is fear. Fear is characterized by its irrationality and/or paralyzing effects. Fear is fundamentally a temptation. This temptation is a seed which Satan tries to plant in the garden of our mind. We experience these emotions when we allow fear, which is neither an attribute of nor a gift from God, to take root.
Why is it a Problem?
Why is fear a problem? Fear is a thief. John 10:10 says that “the thief does not come except to steal, to kill, and to destroy.”
Fear steals your joy. Do you know anyone who has ever been joyful and fearful at the same time? Very quickly the fear takes over and the joy is gone.
Fear kills. James 1:15 says, “when desire [temptation of fear] has conceived [taken root], it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” If something “brings forth death,” it kills. If fear is a temptation, and temptations kill, then fear kills.
Fear destroys. Kenneth Copeland says that “fear tolerated is faith contaminated.” Fear prevents you from fulfilling all God expects of you and prevents you from experiencing true life. Fear destroys your faith and destroys your peace.
Now that we know what fear is and why it’s a problem, we must learn how to eliminate it. In short, we conquer fear through love, faith, and action. The Bible says in 1 John 4:18 that “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” Love overcomes fear.
Another way to decrease your fear is by increasing your faith. Pastor DaVon Alexander says that “fear is faith in the opposite direction.” Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” If you want to move from fear to faith, you need to stop listening to things which terrify you and instead speak and listen to words of life, words of love, and words of faith.
Finally, we must fight our fears with our actions. James 2:20 says “that faith without works is dead.” Faith may come by hearing, but once it arrives, it identifies itself through actions. As we grow in faith, we must become “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). To effectively combat and overcome your fears, you must know, meditate upon, and act based upon your identity, your history, and your purpose.
To overcome fear, we must first understand our true identity. This means knowing who you are. Your identity is conferred by God, not people, and is often revealed through your experiences. Army General William Thornson once said of Marines: “There are only two kinds of people that understand Marines: Marines and the enemy. Everyone else has a second-hand opinion.” The general is right. Plenty of people have opinions, but Marines know who they are.
Thomas Jefferson famously stated that “one man with courage is a majority.” In other words, one man who knows his God-given identity is the strongest force in any situation God puts him. This kind of courage is what was on display when a young man refused to back down from the barrel of a tank in Tiananmen Square. He was confident in his identity
People sometimes confuse their identities with their intentions. What you want to do is often different from who you are. You are not self-created. God made you to be who you are. That’s why it’s important to know who you are instead of relying on your plans. Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth.” Marine leaders know that no plan survives first contact intact. Once you “get hit in the mouth,” all bets are off. Your plan is out the window and you fall back on your identity. That’s why it’s important to know who you are.
Also, who God made you to be may conflict with how you feel. In Judges 6:12, the Angel of the Lord called Gideon a “mighty man of valor!” In Luke 1:28, the angel Gabriel called Mary “highly-favored one” and “blessed… ...among women.” The Creator determines the identify of the creation. God made you for such a time as this, regardless of your plans or feelings.
In addition to knowing who you are, it’s also important to know who is with you. Of course, your status in the kingdom is important. However, your relationships in life also matter. Genesis 2:18 says “it is not good that man should be alone.” We were created to experience this life together. So don’t do it alone! Take a buddy! Knowing someone has your back is nearly equal in power to knowing your identity.
In addition to your human relationships, God will also be with you. He said in Exodus 3:12, “I will certainly be with you” and in Judges 6:16, “Surely I will be with you,” Psalm 23:4 says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and staff, they comfort me.” God is with you and He will never leave you nor forsake you. Know who He made you to be and that He will be with you no matter what.
In addition to understanding who you are, it’s also vital to know where you came from. You have to know your history. I remember playing football in high school and realizing that I was carrying a century-old legacy with me. When we rode the bus to the games we went past the cemetery where many who had gone before us were buried. The coach, a former player, was in the front of the bus, and people throughout town would stop what they were doing to watch as the bus drove past. Knowing that I was part of something greater, something that preceded me in time, was important to me having the courage to do what I might otherwise not. Hebrews 12:1 bears witness to the “great cloud of witnesses” upon whose legacy we build as a motivation for action.
The United States Marine Corps also places a high premium on its history. From the lyrics of the Marines’ Hymn, to the many quotes from warriors of a bygone era, the Marine Corps understands the importance of history to its present and future success. This is why they learn their history, wear their history, sing their history, recite their history, reenact their history, and celebrate their history as often as possible.
Believers should similarly meditate on the faithfulness of God throughout their lives and history. David’s confidence in God came from what God had already done in his own life. He told Saul in 1 Samuel 17:37: “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”
You must know that God will do the same for you as He has done in the past. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew what God would do for them. Daniel 3:17 records them saying, “If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.” Similarly, King Darius knew that God would save Daniel from the lions. In Daniel 6:16, he told Daniel, “Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.” Our confidence in God comes from our history with Him.
Finally, conquering your fear requires knowing your purpose. Bill Cosby said that “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” The Marines and Navy corpsman who raised the flag on Iwo Jima understood why it was important to their nation. There are many similar stories of people making great sacrifices because they understood their purpose. Your purpose should be greater than yourself and it should be ordained by God.
God told Moses his purpose in Exodus 3:10, “Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” Similarly, the Lord told Gideon in Judges 6:14 and said, “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites.” Like each of them, the prophets, and countless others, we must understand what God wants us to do in order to overcome the fear that might otherwise prevent us from accomplishing it.
Fear can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. God wants you to be courageous so you can accomplish what He has planned for you. We accomplish this through receiving God’s love, operating in faith, and basing our actions upon our identity, history, and purpose. In doing so, we can overcome great obstacles.
Consider the example of Jesus when He faced the temptation to fear the crucifixion. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that instead of succumbing to it, He meditated upon His identity as “the Author and Finisher of our faith,” his purpose of attaining “the joy that was set before Him,” and his history and future “at the right hand of the throne of God.” By doing this, He was able to endure the cross and achieve the greatest victory that ever was or shall be. By following His example, we can also overcome our fears for His glory. This is God’s will for your life.