Rudolf Abel: Standing there like that you remind of a man when I was young. Our house was overrun by border guards, and this man, my father’s friend, he was beaten. Every time they hit him, he stood back up again. They hit him harder, still got back up to his feet. I think because of this they let him live.
James Donovan: And I remind you of him?
Rudolf Abel: Standing Man. Standing Man.
-Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies
I love stories about people who don’t let fear defeat them, which may be why I really enjoyed Tom Hanks’ portrayal of James Donovan in Spielberg’s 2015 movie “Bridge of Spies.” Donovan, a lawyer who negotiated between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In the face of fear, defeat, and seemingly insurmountable odds, James Donovan keeps standing up for what he believes is right. Nothing can knock him down; he becomes a Standing Man.
I think stories like this inspire us because – let’s face it – having that kind of courage and faith is hard. Sometimes the biggest obstacle in my life is my own fear; my fearful thoughts can paralyze me and convince me of impending failure regardless whether there are actual facts to support this.
I think that’s why the Bible says it’s so important to pay attention to our thoughts and fight not to give into them:
5 We are demolishing arguments and ideas, every high-and-mighty philosophy that pits itself against the knowledge of the one true God. We are taking prisoners of every thought, every emotion, and subduing them into obedience to the Anointed One.
2 Corinthians 10:5 (VOICE)
How hard do you fight to believe and trust the Bible instead of your emotions? Do fearful thoughts control you? It’s important to pay attention to our thoughts because, if left unchecked, they can push God right out of our lives:
In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
Psalm 10:4 (NIV)
It’s a problem if you don’t have room for God in your life. Think about what kind of person you become when you are controlled by fear instead of faith. Do you get more angry, mistrustful, and irritable? Or paralyzed, quiet, and full of regret?
Emotions aren’t bad in and of themselves – they are normal and human and can actually lead us to be more loving and connected with God and people. Fear can serve a very important survival function in helping us avoid life-threatening situations. But letting negative and fearful thoughts take over and control your decisions will quickly turn you into someone you don’t want to be.
So how do you take every thought and emotion captive? How do you defeat fearful thoughts? If you want to become someone who is known for having courage and faith in the face of obstacles, here are four ways to start.
1. Be willing to do some work
10 I have tried hard to find you— don’t let me wander from your commands.
Psalm 119:10 (NLT)
Having faith doesn’t happen magically; you have to try hard. This is challenging for me because I like things to come easy. In Silicon Valley where we have apps to make almost anything more convenient, from buying groceries to buying a home. And if there’s no app for what you want, you can probably find a way to create one and make some good money.
But having true faith and trust in God doesn’t come easy. It requires some spiritual work:
29 Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.”
John 6:29 (NLT)
Simply put, believing takes work. We know from Romans 10:17 that we get faith from reading the Bible. So how hard are you working at reading the Bible? Are you giving it your best effort? Do you think God would say you have been working hard? Do you read the Bible every day? If so, do you work at memorizing scriptures, and quoting them to yourself throughout the day when you are getting fearful? Have you found new scriptures that help you with the specific situation you’re in? Do you write them on Post-it note and keep them at your desk at work? If you read a scripture you have a hard time believing, do you pray about it and read more scriptures until your heart changes? Or do you just give up?
These are questions I’ve been asking myself lately and I feel very challenged to put more work into my faith. I often feel overrun by fear and unbelief instead of doing basic things to fight my fears with spiritual weapons.
What does it look like for you to try hard to believe? Have you been doing that? Make a decision to change that this week and you will see your faith grow.
2. Don’t let emotions be your god
19 In the end they will be destroyed. Their own emotions are their god, and they take pride in the shameful things they do. Their minds are set on worldly things.
Philippians 3:19 (GW)
Emotions are not inherently bad; take one look at Mr. Spock in one of the Star Trek movies and you’ll understand that emotions are a very normal and essential part of human nature. They just shouldn’t be what you believe and live by all the time. Emotions go up and down; if you constantly make decisions based on what feels good or bad your life will be unstable.
Fear, for example, can have a good self-perservation purpose when it prevents you from walking down a dark and dangerous alley by yourself. But if you let fear be your god – believing it, living by it, letting it guide you – it can destroy a lot of important things in your life. If fear guides your marriage, you’ll end up always mistrusting your spouse and destroying love and intimacy. If fear guides your career you may end up making decisions to prioritize work over friendships, family, and other very important things.
How has fear been affecting your relationships? If you want to turn your fearful thoughts into faithful ones, you need motivation – you have to understand and acknowledge that fear has been causing you some harm before you’ll be willing to work hard at changing it.
In what areas of your life have you let fear be your god? Becoming aware of this will help you figure out how to fight it.
3. Admit you need help
“Cursed is the strong one, who depends on mere humans, who thinks he can make it on muscle alone and sets God aside as dead weight. He’s like a tumbleweed on the prairie, out of touch with the good earth. He lives rootless and aimless in a land where nothing grows.
“But blessed is the man who trusts me, God, the woman who sticks with God. They’re like trees replanted in Eden, putting down roots near the rivers—
Never a worry through the hottest of summers, never dropping a leaf,
serene and calm through droughts, bearing fresh fruit every season.
Jeremiah 17:5-8 (MSG)
When I feel overwhelmed and anxious, my first inclination is usually to take control of the situation and do everything I can to relieve my anxiety. But when we do that, thinking we “can make it on muscle alone,” we are actually setting God aside as “dead weight.” Imagine telling the God who created the entire universe “I don’t need your help, I got this.”
I don’t often think of myself as an arrogant person, but arrogance is defined as having an exaggerated sense of your own abilities. I can have a very exaggerated sense of my own ability to do things and my ability to take care of my own anxiety. The truth is, I actually can’t do it at all. I don’t think it’s possible just to tell yourself not to be afraid and magically stop being afraid. If that were possible, none of us would be reading this article. Overcoming fear is hard, and it’s not something you can do on your own. Even fixing the problem, cutting down the stress in your schedule, and going on more vacations won’t get rid of your fear forever; when you get back from your vacation your stress will come right back again.
Sometimes we are fearful because we are trying to control things we can’t possibly control. There are so many things in life I actually can’t control at all – my future, my family, my finances, my health … the list goes on and on. The truth is I need help, and as this scripture says the only way to feel serene and calm and never have worries is to trust God and ask him for help.
In what area of your life do you need to ask for God’s help today? How do you think that could make you more “serene and calm”?
4. Change where you find happiness
Make me walk along the path of your commands,
for that is where my happiness is found.
Finding happiness in something stable and secure significantly decreases my stress level, because I know that even if the worst case scenario happens it won’t destroy me. I’ll still have something else that makes me happy.
Where do you find happiness? From success and achievement at work? Having a husband, a marriage, or a nice house? Do you find happiness in something changeable or in spending time with God? When your happiness comes from spending time with God you’ll always be able to find it, even if everything goes wrong at work, school and home.
What choice can you make this week to turn your fearful thoughts into faithful ones?