Fear isn’t always a bad thing; many psychologists believe that fear can have a survival function – it triggers our “fight or flight” reaction and helps us either run from danger or fight back when our lives are being threatened.
The problem is, sometimes we live in fear even when there is no real threat to our well-being. Fear can be destructive if it becomes the driving force behind our decision making:
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.
What things in your life do you fret about? Your future, your family, your marriage, your academic success? Fretting means being constantly or visibly anxious, and the Bible says it leads only to evil. Think about it – have you ever made a bad decision in your dating life because you were afraid of being alone or afraid of rejection? Or made decisions to prioritize work or school over friendships because you were afraid of failure or unforeseen circumstances?
Luckily, God doesn’t want us to be controlled by fear and he gives us tools to live by faith instead. Because the first step to changing something is identifying it, here are 4 signs that fear is controlling you and 4 ways to fight back:
1. You think more about what is going wrong than what is going right
2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! 4 Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”
Studying the Israelites’ journey into the promised land in Exodus and Numbers is a great way to learn lessons about fear. The Israelites were constantly afraid that they wouldn’t be taken care of, despite God’s reassurance and miracles. In the scripture above, God had brought the Israelites right to the border of the promised land, and was about to bring them into it, yet all they could see were the things that were going wrong. Their fear made them miss the great things God was doing. He also had plans to provide them with plenty of water if they would just ask (Numbers 20:8).
What good things is God doing in your life right now? Are you more focused on what is going wrong than where God is leading you? Take time to fight your fears by writing out 10 things that you are grateful God has done in your life, past or present.
2. You can easily think of worst-case scenarios
This was their report to Moses: “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. 28 But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak! 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev, and the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country. The Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea[a] and along the Jordan Valley.”
30 But Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses. “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it!”
31 But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!”
Numbers 13:27-31 (NLT)
Instead of seeing that God wanted to bring them into a great place, the Israelites saw all that could go wrong. They didn’t want to fight because they were convinced that they would lose. When you think about your future, do you spend more time thinking of all that could go wrong or all that could go right?
Caleb faithfully believed that good things could happen, and he was rewarded for that (Numbers 14:24). What good things have you been afraid to pray for in your future, your job, or your family? Pick 2-3 of those things to start praying for daily.
3. You don’t believe God wants to help you
They said to all the people of Israel, “The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land! 8 And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. 9 Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!”
Joshua and Caleb were able to overcome their fear because they believed God would help them. The circumstances might have been stacked against them, but they believed God was more powerful and he was on their side.
Sometimes we get fearful because our view of God is wrong – we don’t think he cares or will guide our lives in a really good way. Do you believe God will take care of you? Why or why not? Take time to pray about your answer to this question and then study out scriptures about who God is to challenge your thoughts about him.
4. You feel like you don’t have time for relationships
14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he asked, “What are you really accomplishing here? Why are you trying to do all this alone while everyone stands around you from morning till evening?”
15 Moses replied, “Because the people come to me to get a ruling from God. 16 When a dispute arises, they come to me, and I am the one who settles the case between the quarreling parties. I inform the people of God’s decrees and give them his instructions.”
17 “This is not good!” Moses’ father-in-law exclaimed. 18 “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself.
Even a great leader like Moses struggled with fear (Exodus 3-4). When faced with the pressures of leading all the Israelites, Moses decided the best way to handle the stress was to do everything himself. Ever been there? Fear makes us think we need to be in control and do everything ourselves. We start to cut out time to spend with friends who help our emotional and spiritual well-being so we can get things done.
Spiritual relationships are meant to relieve our burdens and stress, not add to them (Hebrews 3:12-13). What relationships has God put in your life to help you with your faith? This week, take time to let down and connect with one of those friends each day, whether through text, email, phone call or grabbing a quick cup of coffee. Even a short amount of time letting down about our stresses and emotions with spiritual friends will bring relief and refreshment.