It’s the most basic of emotions.
All of us have experienced it at one time or another: that clench in our gut or race of our heart that happens to us when we’re afraid.
Even newborn babies aren’t exempt from fear. There’s something called the Moro reflex that causes a physical reaction in newborns. They spread out their arms then just as quickly draw them back in when they think they’re falling. The Moro reflex is believed to be the only unlearned fear a human being will ever have, and it’s outgrown by the time an infant is five or six months old.
This means all our other fears are learned.
And we’ve all had experiences which have taught us to fear.
A bite from a strange dog, a loud noise when we walk into a dark room, a fall from a chair or ladder, or a bad experience whilst speaking in public. Like fainting whilst giving a book report. In front of the whole class. In a brand new high school. Yeah, that was me, and I never wanted to stand up in front of anyone and say anything ever again.
But all of these experiences from our past can impact the way we deal with a stressful situation today. Followers of Jesus aren’t exempt either.
I remember being a young Christian and struggling with my struggle against fear and anxiety. I believe in God, I’d think. Why is anxiety still an issue for me? Why can’t I overcome it?
Part of the problem was I’d been told that since I was a new creation in Christ, and the old things had passed away, that all the stuff from my past simply didn’t matter anymore. I needed to forget these things and press forward.
Whilst these two verses are certainly in the Bible, in this case, they were being improperly applied to my situation. So not only was I experiencing fear and anxiety, I also had a heaping helping of guilt and doubt piled on top. If I wasn’t changing, it had to be my fault, I believed. I just wasn’t forgetting enough. I wasn’t looking forward enough.
The error with this line of reasoning is it’s not taking some other principles from the Bible into consideration.
Romans 12:12 tells us:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…”
So while we absolutely, 100% get a new heart the moment we are spiritually born again, our minds still need some help. Our minds don’t forget and press forward easily. Our minds need to be retrained, renewed, and transformed.
Picture a dirt road that hasn’t had any maintenance for a while. What happens? Grooves from all the passing traffic start to form along the sides. The centre of the road begins to rise. Potholes develop.
Our minds can be like that. We’re so used to reacting to a certain situation in a certain manner, that it becomes second nature. We head down a familiar road, and our minds just naturally slip into the grooves that are already there. A strange dog wanders toward us, and we freak out. We have an opportunity to speak in front of people, and our head gets all woozy.
But God wants us to react to those same stressful situations in a different way. In His way!
That’s where 2 Corinthians 10:4 – 5 comes in:
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…”
I believe the stronghold that is talked about here is like the grooves of our mind. At some point, we had a scary experience (or more than one!) that made us fearful. We had a natural reaction to that experience. Whenever we’re facing that experience again, we react the same way. In other words, we built a stronghold to protect ourselves.
But wait a minute, isn’t a stronghold kinda a good thing? Don’t we want to be protected?
The problem is that the type of strongholds from this verse are based on lies.
Much of (if not all of!) our fear and anxiety can be traced back the lie that God will not take care of us. The enemy is a liar and loves to play on our fears. Once we believe that God isn’t going to take care of us, it’s so easy for the enemy to come in with all sorts of other lies about our specific situations.
Hold on, hold on. Am I saying that sometimes we don’t believe that God will take care of us?
That’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s possible for us have a thought pattern, a groove, a stronghold, that tells us when something unknown or frightening is in front of us (a financial struggle, a health challenge, a strained relationship, our family’s welfare) that we’ve got to react with fear because it’s just too big of a problem for God. So we have all this anxiety in our lives over things that are going on, and our trust in the Lord has evaporated.
What’s the answer? How can we tear down this nasty, rotting stronghold of deceit and abide in the enduring stronghold of the Lord?
In my experience, I’ve witnessed a few different solutions. For one person I know, God delivered them from anxiety in the middle of a worship service. This person was praising God, and the Holy Spirit swept in, cleaned house, and fear was gone. Whilst this kind of miraculous deliverance is amazing, that might not be your experience. It’s not that God can’t deliver you immediately, but His methods of growing and maturing us are as varied as our individual personalities.
For me, I went through several years of God showing me how to deal with my fear. It started when I understood how my thought patterns were stuck in the groove of anxiety. Something ‘bad’ would happen (or something ‘bad’ loomed on the horizon) and my stomach would get upset, my shoulders would tense, and I’d spiral down in a swirl of fear that was almost impossible to recover from.
God showed me I needed to recognize my initial reaction as soon as I could. I had to catch myself before the spiral!
Then I needed to repent of that anxiety. I would pray something like this: Lord, I know that I’m not supposed to worry about this. I’m sorry that I’m not trusting in You. I know You are good, Your purposes are good, and my future is in Your hands. Oftentimes I would remind myself of the many, many times when I’d imagined the worst case scenario, but God was faithful to save me from my fears.
Finally I would refill my mind with the truth from the Bible.
My go-to verse became 1 Peter 5:7
“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”
I wrote it on notecards and put them on my mirror, by the kitchen sink, in my handbag. I memorised this verse, and recited it to myself every single time I was tempted to fear.
And you know what? Eventually, the grooves of my mind went to this verse instead of to what might happen. Instead of being filled with fear, I was filled with the assurance that God cared for me, and I didn’t need to worry.
What a relief!
The stronghold was gone!
Fear has often tried to creep back in. But it can’t stay very long because my mind recognizes it for what it truly is: a lie from the pit of hell.
So if you’re struggling with fear today, if this post has resonated with you, God wants to deliver you from your fears and anxieties! He wants to be the One you run to when you’re frightened. He wants to be your strong tower.
Will you let Him?
If you’re in need of some extra encouragement, have a listen. I love this song!
“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”