Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me. - Psalm 55:5
Fear, even horror that makes us tremble, is a part of life as the above verse indicates. What do we do when we are overwhelmed with fear? Before we answer that question we need to ask the question, what is fear? The dictionary definition of fear is, “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.” That danger could be physical danger that threatens your life or emotions connected with the thought of personal loss. The thought of losing a relationship, an opportunity, a possession, anything or anyone, can cause us to fear. These emotions can become very intense. Intense fear can result in a stoppage of the heart and death. The word “fearfulness” in Psalm 55:5 means to be full of dread. The word “horror” means literally shaking. We can shake with fear.
Is fear a sin? Abraham is an example of the truth that even godly people have fears (Genesis 15:1). Fear is a God given emotion. Fear can serve as a defense mechanism. Fear puts us on alert and we need to be on alert sometimes. Fear is a God given emotion that energizes us to escape danger. Spiritually speaking, the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Prov. 1:7; 9:10).The fear of the Lord motivates us to hate evil (Prov. 8:13) and can prolong our days (Prov. 10:27). Fear of God’s judgment can wake us up to our spiritual need and move us to receive God’s gracious salvation through faith in Christ (e.g. Acts 17:30-31). God’s fear leads to life (Prov. 19:23). Therefore the fear of the Lord can be seen as a fountain of life (Prov. 14:27). Godly fear for the predicament of the lost is an incentive for us to share the gospel with them (2 Cor. 5:11). God’s fear is also an incentive to live a holy life (2 Cor. 7:1) and to serve the Lord (Heb. 12:28-29). There is evidence therefore that fear is not always bad. Fear from God is holy.
But fear can become sin if not handled correctly. The context of one’s fear determines the proper response. The psalmist goes on to say, “So I said, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Indeed, I would wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah.’” (Psalm 55:6-7). Ever feel like running away because of your fears? If you are being attacked by a robber sometimes the Lord will prompt you to run. In the Olivet Discourse Jesus said a fearful time would come when the people of Israel should “flee to the mountains” (Mat. 24:16). There is a time to run so that you can fight another day. But flight as a response to fear is not always the path of God. When we flee on impulse it is usually wrong. A reaction to fear that lacks faith in God is sinful. When we allow fears to drive us away from God it becomes sin. Flight or escape can be an indication of a lack of faith or weak faith. Faith that is in self will ultimately always falter in the face of life’s fears. Faith in God will be prudent and steadfast in fearful situations.
The key is walking in the Spirit and being guided by God to make the right response. We are to walk circumspectly (Eph. 5:15). This means we should walk with our head on a swivel; we need to be aware of our surroundings. The times we live in are evil (Eph. 5:16). We need to have a rational anticipation and readiness for fearful situations. This doesn’t mean we go through life anticipating or fearing bad things that might happen to us. It doesn’t mean we should draw the blinds and lock the doors and cower in a corner. It does mean we live with a contingency plan of trusting in the Lord and turning to Him in all circumstances for guidance in how to respond. Potential fear producing situations makes wisdom from God all the more essential (Eph. 5:17). Godly wisdom is the ability to apply God’s word to given situations. We need to live with a spirit of preparedness. Feed on God’s word. Memorize it. Study it. Know it so that in a split second the Spirit can access a scripture to give you to apply in a fearful situation. This is one reason why we need to be continually filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).
What causes fear? Fear is caused by focusing on circumstantial risks. From the fleshly perspective we might react to fear by saying or thinking, “Oh my, what am I going to do? God is taking too long. I can’t wait any longer for Him to act.” Therefore, we might continue, “How am I going to work this out?” “How am I going to reach that goal?” “How am I going to accomplish this task?” “How am I going to attain that reward?” “How am I going to get what I want?” etc. When we react to a situation it usually means our emotions are out of control or in the control of our flesh. When we react it is usually a Godless impulse because we don’t take the time to consider God’s plan or will. When we react we allow ourselves to be overcome with what if? thoughts. Behind the above fleshly reactions are what if I don’t do something, my problem won’t be solved. Reacting to fears in the flesh (our own will, whim and efforts, self-reliance) only leads to chaos, confusion, and lasting negative counterproductive consequences. Fearful situations don’t always allow us time to get on our knees and spend a prolonged time in prayer to seek God’s will. That’s why we need to have an up to date current walk in the Spirit so that on a moment’s notice we are ready to hear and obey the Spirit’s direction in how we ought the respond to fear.
When we react to fear without factoring God into our life equation it compounds the problem. Failing to factor God into your life in any circumstance is called foolishness in the Bible (e.g. Ps. 14:1). An example of the wrong way to deal with fear is seen in the lives of Abram and Sarai (Genesis 16:1-6). Abram and Sarai feared they would die before God fulfilled His promise. They acted in their flesh and the consequence was the continued historical animosity between Jews and Arabs. God is merciful and will forgive acts of the flesh, but the consequences of fleshly decisions often continue.
Fear is the foe of faith. Fear can paralyze us from following the path of God for our lives. Fear can stop us in our tracks. Fear can confuse us and scatter our thoughts. Fear can cause us to run from God and run from His best for us. Fear can bottle us up in isolation that we think will protect us but really only robs us of God’s blessing. Therefore it is clear to see that fear can be a tactic of the enemy. Satan prowls around like a roaring lion because he wants to scare us (cf. 1 Peter 5:8). What’s the answer to fear? What should we do when fear overtakes us? These are questions we will answer in part two of this study on dealing with fearfulness.