2 Strategies for Combatting Fear

2 Strategies for Combatting Fear

Recently, I read an article written by a mother coping with the grief of her teenage son’s death. The article was a poignant account of how she was having difficulty going in her son’s room now that he was gone and the last moments of his life as a heroin-addicted drug user.

The article included a picture of her handsome son in his hockey uniform. Nothing about his demeanor or face suggested he was anything but a happy, healthy adolescent — yet, the last moments of his life were spent vomiting while his mother screamed helplessly as EMT’s worked to stabilize him. The mother’s words literally bled from the page as she shared her honest struggle navigating life without her boy.

The mother’s words stayed with me in a haunting way after I put her article down. After reading her account, I couldn’t help but think of my own children, and I felt a sense of fear myself. I began to think about how fragile life is. I began to irrationally worry for them. They were heading out for an outing at the swimming pool with my husband, and I could feel a frenzy of anxious thoughts stir. I was worried for their safety in the water that day. For their safety in the van while they were en route to the pool. For their safety every day.

Just as my emotions threatened to reach a fever-pitch, I realized I needed to cleanse these anxious thoughts from my mind. I got alone with God, and I whispered these words: “I am afraid. Help me. I am afraid.”

I told Him what I was tied up in knots about. I prayed for my children and asked Him to help me re-focus my thoughts. I immediately felt a sense of peace wash over me. Later in the day, I opened up a devotional and read these words by author and in(courage) contributor Lisa-Jo Baker: “The older I get the more I battle fear. And I know it’s because the older I get the more scary things I see in the world.”

I exhaled a little more and let the truth of her statement wash over me.

We live in a world where things go terribly wrong. People get hurt. Parents lose children. Relationships get broken. Being a mother, I feel a tremendous sense of love for my children. And with that love comes fear — because I know I can’t protect them from everything.

Scriptural Advice for Combatting Fear

In 2 Timothy 1:7, we see a young minister of the Gospel struggling with timidity not in his role as a parent, but in his role as a minister. Paul exhorts him with these words: “We have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (NKJV).

Though these words were given by Paul to strengthen and encourage Timothy in his ministry, as commentator Charles Ellicott states, these words can be taken in a more general sense, as applicable to all Christians.

The verse assures us that we as Christians have been given the exact opposite of fear: “power … love and … a sound mind.” That is — we don’t have to accept fear when it comes because it is not from God, and we have the means with which to resist it and send it packing.

You may be reading this, thinking, “But you don’t understand how strong this fear is. I am literally paralyzed by it. I want it to go, but I am totally overwhelmed by it.”

I understand because I have been in similar positions, as in the scenario I described with the frightening article, and I continue to have bouts of fear. Quite frustratingly, I have dealt with more fear as I’ve pressed into God these past few years — not because God has sent it to me, but because as I’ve become a more potent weapon for his kingdom, the attack against me has become very strong and very real.

There are days when the fear has been so thick that it is palpable, and I feel immobilized.

But Paul assures Timothy and Christians that we don’t have to remain in that place of feeling overcome. The “power” mentioned in the verse that we have at our disposal is the power that rests in us because of the Holy Spirit. This power we are given helps us discern and identify when wrong thoughts or ideas come against us — whether this be through Satan trying to plant these thoughts directly or through Satan working through the actions or words of people.

The “love and sound mind” part of the verse suggests that this counsel we have is such that we can reprove others in love when they offer ideas that counter God’s Word and walk in peace and stability of thinking, not only for our own sake, but the sake of others.

On a practical level, then, here are two ways we can tap into the Holy Spirit’s power and take a stand against fear:

1) Pray.

We make ourselves easy prey when we don’t make time daily to pray and spend time in God’s presence. God assures us that His peace guards our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:7). Sometimes, right in the moment when I pray I feel instantly at peace and my fear dissipates (as in this instance). Other times, when the fear is so strong, I will get a verse later through a friend or family member, a line in a sermon, or by some other means.

That verse will be one that I can cling to that acts as a stabilizing force for my mind. As believers, we should expect that God will come to our aid, and we can call out for this rescue during prayer (Psalm 31:2). In my most recent situation fretting over my children, before I prayed about it, I had this thought: “Praying isn’t going to do anything.” And that was a lie straight from the enemy!

I pressed through and prayed anyway and felt better. And it was just a little later in the day that I came across Baker’s devotional which further encouraged me and helped me get over the anxious thoughts I was having.

2). Take every thought captive.

The power of the Holy Spirit Paul speaks of helps us to take every thought captive that is not of God. We can know when a thought or idea is going to derail us; instead of accepting that idea, we can keep our mind clear and at rest by resisting wrong thoughts.

As 2 Corinthians 10:5 states: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

I love how author and Proverbs 31 contributor Renee Swope describes this process of filtering thoughts in a recent devotional. Her son Andrew was apparently struggling with anxious thoughts about school. To help him, she explained 2 Corinthians 10:5 and advised him to “catch” each anxious thought he was having like a baseball and toss it back into “outfield.”

She concludes her devotion by emphasizing that there is nothing “more powerful than our hearts hearing our lips proclaim our trust in God’s truth” — truth that not only children but adults can find assurance in.

What do you believe about fear?

Both prayer and right thinking help us to meditate on God instead of the scary person or circumstance — but it also boils down to belief. We have to believe that God doesn’t want us to fear and trust that He will help us.

Unfortunately, some of us embrace fear and hold onto those worrisome thoughts that come our way because we don’t believe that there is the power available to us to overcome it. We accept it thinking there is no other choice, but Scripture indicates that God has a better way for us.

In addition, many of us beat ourselves up for having the fear at all. Rather than do any of those things, we must realize that God does not intend for us to cower down to fear or feel down that we are feeling so timid. Instead, He wants us to look to Him and know in the depths of our being that He is bigger than anything we face.

As Swope advocates in a different piece, “Fear goes away when we actively trust God more than what we fear.”

Join us for a live Blab chat Monday, April 11 @9 or watch the replay.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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Letting Go of Fear When It Has Been a Familiar ‘Friend’

Letting Go of Fear When It Has Been a Familiar 'Friend'

I’ve been frozen for almost eleven months now. Frozen in fear. It’s debilitating and it’s crippling and it’s exhausting. But, as sick as I am of it, I’m stuck. Or at least it seems that way.

Almost a year ago, my daughter was born two months ahead of schedule. I had severe preeclampsia, and an emergency C-section was performed to save both of our lives. I visited my little girl in the NICU every day for the longest month of my life.

She was so tiny, and to me, so fragile. She had to learn how to eat and breathe on her own, and I wasn’t familiar with how to care for a full-term baby, let alone one weighing 3 1/2 pounds. Her nurses assured me that she was one of the strongest preemies they had ever seen and that I had nothing to worry about, but I am embarrassed to admit that most of the time I didn’t see her strength.

I saw her feeding tube. I saw her IV and her blood pressure cuff. I saw her heart and oxygen monitors and I heard the jarring alarms when her heart rate dropped too low. All of it terrified me.

I knew she was a miracle. I knew that we were watching God form her before our eyes. I knew deep down that we were all going to be OK, but the spirit of fear that had seized me wasn’t loosening its grip anytime soon. When the day I had been praying for finally came and our little baby got discharged, I remember asking her doctor, “Are you sure she’s ready? Should she stay longer?”

The doors of the NICU were at long last opened wide for us to leave, but I’d become so comfortable there, enclosed in that small wing of the hospital, that I was scared to do the thing we were meant to do, the thing I had longed for — go home as a family.

Home we went, and our daughter was and is perfectly fine. She has excelled in every way, and now is virtually indistinguishable from a baby born at full-term. It’s me who’s not fine. I remember all too well the alarms, the monitors, the tubes and the lonely, sleepless nights without her.

I obsess about her health, my heart sinks when I hear her crying, and I fear getting the slightest thing “wrong” because if I screw up some awful thing might happen. Basically, I’m a mess, and when anyone asks me why, I point back to the NICU.

My paranoia understandably annoys those closest to me. Quite often, I find that I can’t enjoy time with or without my daughter because I’m too worried about her. This, naturally, creates tension for everyone around me. My family has been incredibly patient during my many meltdowns over the last year, but the thing about living in fear is that it not only paralyzes you, but everyone around you. My fear controls me, but my family experiences the bondage as well.

I’ll admit it — the traumatic events surrounding my daughter’s birth have become my go-to. The NICU has become my justification for agonizing over every detail of her life. It’s not right or healthy, and at some point I’m going to have to let it go, but I have no idea how to do that.

One of my favorite songs by Jason Gray says, “There’s no thief like fear.” And it’s true. Fear has stolen my joy, my peace, my sanity, my sleep, my health and my identity. Not only is fear a thief, but it’s deceiving. When you’re afraid for as long as I’ve been afraid, you swallow the lie that there is no other way to be. You cling to your fear. You justify it. You defend it.

I was in tears one afternoon at my parents’ house, trying to get up the nerve to leave my daughter with them for a while so that my husband and I could have some much needed alone time. I was listing all the reasons why I was scared to leave her, why I had no choice but to be afraid even though it was destroying my life.

My father, in growing frustration, was shooting down my pitiful excuses one by one. Finally, I said, “None of you … not one of you knows what it’s like to visit your baby in the hospital every single day for the first month of her life.”

My dad calmly said, “Well, you’re right. But it’s time to leave the hospital.”

It’s time to leave the hospital. My daughter had been given a clean bill of health and had been discharged for several months. And I had never left the hospital. Rather than allowing myself to experience the freedom we had waited for, I turned my nose up at the miracle in favor of the terror that something, anything might go wrong. That the other shoe would eventually drop.

I’m reminded of the story of Lazarus, which is found in the Gospel of John. You may be familiar with it, but the long and short of it is that Lazarus, a man Jesus loved, fell sick and died. In fact, Jesus knew he was going to die, and allowed it anyway, so that God would be glorified (John 11:4). Jesus knew the outcome; He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, gaining all the glory from his suffering and that of his family.

And even though He knew the ending would be a happy one, Jesus still wept when He reached the gravesite, knowing and feeling the pain that His children experienced as part of God’s perfect plan. The Bible says that in a loud voice, Jesus called for Lazarus to come out of the grave, and out he came.

Here’s where I draw the comparison to my story. What if, when Jesus called for Lazarus to come out of the tomb, the man had refused?

No, Lord. I’m too afraid! You don’t know what it’s been like. You don’t know how sick I was. I could get sick again. I could get hurt. I could die all over again. I just can’t do it. I’m just going to stay here. It’s too scary out there.

It’s more than a little ridiculous. But haven’t I done just that? The Lord had miraculously delivered me, in the nick of time, from a potentially fatal illness. He had gloriously rescued my daughter from my failing womb. And when she was strong enough and His timing was right, He had called her out of that hospital and home with us.

Only I had stayed behind. Physically, I’ve been home with her and my husband nearly 11 months now. In my mind, gripped by fear, I’ve been in that little rocking chair in the NICU, staring into that isolette at a baby much too small.

The reality is that God’s plan all along was perfect. My daughter was born early by our calendar, but not God’s. He saw, ahead of time, the sickness and the suffering, and He knew the purpose of it all. He allowed the pain and planned the miracle, knowing He would take the glory. And I, in so many ways, have refused the miracle in favor of the pain.

My dad’s words to me ring in my ears almost every day. It’s time to leave the hospital. Just like it was time for Lazarus to leave the tomb. Who am I to say no, to continue to live imprisoned when freedom Himself calls to me?

It’s time for me to do what I should have done a long time ago, and that is to obey the voice of Jesus rather than the voice of fear. The voice calling me to “Come out!” instead of the voice telling me it’s safer in the dark. So much has been waiting for me on the outside.

My little preemie, almost at her first year birthday, is about to take her first steps, and so am I.

Sharon Early

With a bachelor’s degree in English, Sharon Early did not actually put her English background to use right away. She began a job as an animal trainer out of college and then moved on to become a marketing writer. Her latest role is now stay-at-home mom to her infant daughter, Mellie Christine. Married for almost 3 years to her pilot-husband, Sharon has lost 3 babies to miscarriage and is currently pregnant with a brother or sister for Mellie. A Lord of the Rings fan, Sharon once tried to learn Elvish, and dreams of visiting New Zealand where the movies were filmed. She also loves musicals, particularly Phantom of the Opera. Over the course of her life, Sharon has struggled with depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidal tendencies, and promiscuity before coming to Jesus at the age of 23. Because she still struggles with many of these things, Sharon believes that the worst thing she can do as a Christian woman is pretend like these issues do not exist. Because she has been the recipient of judgment and criticism from other Christians for battling these demons, Sharon is passionate about letting other Christian women know it’s okay to not be okay, and that it’s only when we admit we are not okay that we can begin to fully rely on God’s grace. Sharon firmly believes that we defeat the lies of the enemy by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:11).

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My Biggest Assignment in Christian Ministry

assignment When I launched my blog a few months ago, I received positive response from a series of articles. Excited about the feedback, I voiced these words to a circle friends, “It is totally worth it to me if I helped someone.”

A wise friend stopped me after the conversation and pulled me aside to tell me that she writes for God’s pleasure and no one else’s. I thought about that for a moment and had to agree with her. Before her comment, I had started thinking of posts that would draw more favorable reaction, topics I could talk about that would appeal to readers. But I had to stop myself.

It is totally worth it to me if I please God. Even though I very much want to help others with the content of my blog, I write the posts that God gives me and directs me to write. I know they will help people, but I must do it not for my readers but for my audience of one: Him.

I can’t let my desire to attract readers and grow a ministry distract or divert me from what God tells me to do. An important observation that Oswald Chambers makes about Christian service is this:

The great dominant note is not the needs of men, but the command of Jesus.

My motivation for what I’m doing is because He told me to and no other reason. If I orient myself instead solely around the needs of others, I’m bound to get burned out, frustrated and irritated. I’m also bound to get caught up in self-worship and set myself up as the object of others’ worship rather than just the conduit God uses to channel their worship to Him.

Paul was very careful to always point his ministry back to Jesus. When a crowd started to worship him and Barnabas for healing, he “tore his clothes” and declared, “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you” (Acts 14:15).

My tendency is to want the praise and want the spotlight. But God wants me to worry about pleasing Him alone. I need only look at the ministry of Jesus to discover what boundaries I need to set up in my relationship and ministry endeavors to ensure that I do just that.

Jesus Practiced Self-Care

Although it may appear like an illogical place to start, one of the best ways I can serve others best in ministry is by first taking care of myself. A guest blogger I had post several months ago wisely noted that we need to apply the oxygen mask to our face first before we can assist others with theirs. She was speaking in the context of motherhood, but the same can be true in a ministry sense as well.

The oxygen mask I need in ministry is time spent alone with God.

Serving on a worship team a few years back, I was totally unprepared for the spiritual attack that came against me on the weeks I would sing. I assumed that since I was ministering to the body of Christ that I would have some sort of special grace and protection — and God does protect those who serve Him. However, I had more than a normal amount of appliances break down within a few month span; instances where my children contracted strange illnesses; foreboding thoughts and moments waking up afraid at night; and situations where conflict would break out despite my best attempts to be peaceable with others.

I collapsed under the weight of the spiritual hurricane like a cheap tent. I was a complete wreck. I didn’t realize I had to prepare for spiritual battle by immersing myself daily in the Word and communion with Him.

The same has been true of my blog writing. The attack has come in the form of fear and doubt every time I write a post. Ugly thoughts invade my mind: No one is going to read this. You’re not a good writer. Why can’t you sound like this other writer? You probably didn’t hear God right. Are you sure you understood that verse?

The onslaughts are real and exhausting and make me want to close down my site and hide from the internet. They make me cry out to God, “Where are you, Lord? Why is this happening to me? This isn’t normal!” And I think that serving God can’t or shouldn’t possibly be this hard. But it is. I wish my Christian walk only consisted of those graceful moments sitting in my Grandma’s church watching sunlight beam through stain glassed windows casting patterns of bright color on the floor, the choir singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” — Luke 5:16

Jesus modeled how to combat the pressure and conflict He experienced as a public figure in ministry by going into the wilderness alone to pray. Jesus made Himself available to the masses, but He also was intentional about the time He spent in solitude.

He knew the importance of drawing boundaries around Himself. He didn’t apologize or make excuses for the times He slipped away from the crowds. He knew that He had to spend time with God to carry out God’s will — to know the words to say and have the energy to meet the demands of those who continually pressed in on Him. As commentator Adam Clarke observes:

A man can give nothing unless he receive it; and no man can be successful in the ministry who does not constantly depend upon God, for the excellence of the power is all from him.

Others’ Expectations Can’t Trump God’s

Not only do I need to make time for solitude; I need to set clear boundaries so the needs of others don’t distract me from what God has asked me to do. For a long time, I thought that being a Christian meant being nice to everyone, and I mistakenly equated nice with doing what other people wanted me to do even if it meant that I had to suppress how I really felt about a situation inside.

However, Jesus never put others’ wants above His Father’s commands. Note what He says when He is teaching a crowd and someone informs him that his mother and brothers are waiting outside to speak with him:

Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? (Matthew 12:48)

Ouch! Jesus is painfully forthright here. Jesus clearly wants everyone to know that there is “no tie of relationship more sacred than spiritual relationship” (John Calvin commentary). Although we are not told why His mother needed Him, she clearly felt that the matter was urgent enough to interrupt His teaching to get to Him. He, however, lets the informant know that His Father’s work cannot be interrupted, and He gives His reply in the hearing of all listening to make a lesson out of the incident.

Jesus’s answer demonstrates how I am to handle those persistent matters that press in on me each day as I decide what tasks to invest my time in. Jesus doesn’t intend for me to starve all of the relationships in my life and spend every waking hour working on ministry projects. However, serving God means putting Him above the other relationships or other obligations in my life. That means that I may have to disappoint other people at times or do things that aren’t always comfortable for me.

Several years ago, in a different season as a new, scared young mom, I held my daughter out of the nursery on Wednesday night services up until the time she was seven months old because I was afraid that she would get sick if I put her in with other babies, and I would have to call off work. I had watched other co-workers provoke irritated responses from superiors when they had to leave early or call in sick to tend to sick little ones.

Petrified of disappointing my administration at my job but very much wanting to get back into Wednesday night choir practice, I didn’t know what to do. As I was trying to come up with a solution while walking the hall of the church one night, I felt the Lord very clearly speak to me and say, “Carol, you are putting your daughter above me.”

Whoa! I felt for sure that God would admire me for being a protective mother, but I learned that God was asking me to obey Him and get back into singing in that season without letting the expectations of my work or my own self-generated expectations about being a good mom take precedence over what God was asking me to do. (Rest assured that there are certainly times God asks us to set aside time just to mother, but for that particular time He had called me to another role as well.)

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galations 1:10)

What my biggest assignment truly entails is being a daughter of the King and letting my service to others flow out of that secure place I find when I put my relationship with Him first. Although I have other important jobs that I am called to — mom, blogger, friend, wife, sister — when I keep my eyes fixed on Him, He helps me prioritize and balance the demands in my life so that I don’t end up sidetracked or overwhelmed.

Because when I fillet open my motives, lay them bare like a fish on a carving board, what lies underneath my desire to have glowing feedback to my writing and ministry is me. My desire to look good. And my job is actually to make Him look good. Yes, I am called to lay down my life for others, but I am called to lay down my life for Him first.

And His approval of me must be more important than the fleeting words of those around me.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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