When Fear Grips Your Life

Fear, Trust, Anxiety

Let’s admit up front that fear is real. Different people may fear different things in different ways but the feeling of apprehension and impending doom is very real. Think about some common fears. There is the fear of: High places, tight places, speaking in public, being alone, and fear of various kinds of animals (usually because of a bad experience).

There are fears such at taking an exam (which leads you to forget much of what you had learned). There is a fear of commitment (usually caused by a fear of failure or by a failure or disappointment in the past). We may fear a new situation (like heading off to school or moving to a new location). Most of us fear being audited by the IRS. You may fear a job interview. Most people fear death in some measure.

Some fear comes because something is unknown, and since it is unknown, we don’t know if we are prepared.  Other fears debilitate us. They can compromise our ability to function and suck the life right out of us. When we are afraid we can’t sleep, we can’t think, and at times we cannot even function.

In the first verses of Psalm 27 David asks, “why should I be afraid?” and “why should I tremble?” The way David answers these words give us a prescription for overcoming fear in our lives.

Fear Dispels When We Look at the Lord Rather Than the Threat (1-3)

We don’t know what fearful time David was facing when he wrote this Psalm. Perhaps like us, he vacillated between faith and fear. When he became aware of his fear David did something we need to do: he reminded himself (and us) of the character, goodness, strength and ability of the Lord.

 The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid?

The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?

When evil people come to devour me, when my enemies and foes attack me,

they will stumble and fall.

Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will not be afraid.

Even if I am attacked, I will remain confident.

David reminds himself that God is His Light, His salvation, and His Fortress. Think about this for a minute. These things speak to most of the underlying reasons for our fear

  • God is His Light in the times of confusion or uncertainty. We don’t know what to expect so we feel fear. (Isn’t that much of our fear about death? We don’t know what to expect.) David reminds us that in the times of darkness the Lord lights the way. He may not always show us the whole path but like a good strong flashlight he helps us see what is ahead of us.

Charles Spurgeon wrote: There is a great difference between the light, and the eye that sees it. A blind man may know a great deal about the shining of the sun, but it does not shine for him—it gives him no light. So, to know that “God is light,” is one thing (1 John 1:5), and to be able to say, “The Lord is my light,” is quite another thing. [1]

Is God guiding your path? Are you gaining insight for what you should do, think, or feel from His Word?

  • He is our salvation from eternal condemnation (isn’t one of our greatest fears the Judgment of God?) But He is also our salvation in the daily times when we feel overwhelmed; unequal to a task; like there is too much to handle. He rescues or saves us when we have a fear of failure or fear disappointing others. This fear may be so great that we fear we will lose our jobs. David reminds us that God not only saves us in eternity, He also saves us NOW.
  • He is our fortress in the times when we are threatened by destruction or danger. We feel fear when there is a near accident, when someone threatens us, or someone acts aggressively toward us. David remembers that the Lord is our shelter. The image the Bible uses is that of a bird who spreads its wings to protect its babies. God promises to put His strong and invincible arms around us. No one understands this better than those who have been martyred for the faith. Even in the midst of literal flames they knew God’s comfort, strength, and even joy.

How does David know all these things? He remembers: God’s Character, God’s promises, and God’s track record. Rather than dwelling on the possible dangers, we turn our focus to the sufficiency of the Lord.

David is confident because he remembers God’s character. In the times when we are afraid it helps to remind ourselves that our Lord is ever-present, He is strong, wise, Holy, Good, Loving, and sufficient for any and every need.

David reminds himself of God’s promises. He remembered God’s promise that he would have a descendant on the throne forever. And we have wonderful promises to hold on to as well. The Lord has promised that NOTHING can separate us from His love (Romans 8) we are promised that “He can do immeasurably more than we ask or even imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). He tells us that if we call on Him, He will answer us (Jeremiah 33:3). He says, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10).

David was aware of God’s track record. He knew he did not have to be afraid because he knew the stories of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon and Samson. He also had experienced God’s strength helping him conquer a giant and remembered how God protected him as he was pursued by King Saul. David remembered God’s track record.

This is a good lesson for us. When we are filled with fear we must remind ourselves of what we know to be true. God is faithful! He has been faithful in the past and will be faithful in the future.

Josh Wilson’s sings a song titled, “What I See Now”. In the lyrics he reflects on the tough times of life and how twenty years has changed his perspective. As he looks back he wishes he could have told the younger Josh,

you’re gonna make it through

I promise that you’ll do… somehow.
I wish you could see what I see now.
I see a perfect plan, I see God’s guiding hand.
I see a better man, you’ll be a better man.
Sometimes it takes a while, sometimes it takes the trials
To open up your eyes.

So here I am at 29,
But I feel just like that boy sometimes.
Praying, please God give me faith,
To make it through just one more day.
But every time I have those fears,
I think of me in twenty years,
Telling me, you’ll be just fine,
Just keep on walking towards the light.
Just keep on walking towards the light.
Yeah, you’ll be just fine
Just give it time, give it time

Conquering Fears Calls for a New Focus (4-10)

Listen to David’s cry,

The one thing I ask of the Lord— the thing I seek most—

is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.

For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock.

Then I will hold my head high above my enemies who surround me.

At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy, singing and praising the Lord with music.

Hear me as I pray, O Lord. Be merciful and answer me!

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”

And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”

Do not turn your back on me.

Do not reject your servant in anger.

You have always been my helper.

Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,

O God of my salvation!

10 Even if my father and mother abandon me,

the Lord will hold me close.

In verses 6-10 David reminds himself that his true security is found in the Lord. Even if his parents were to abandon him (which happens to many people), David knows the Lord will keep him close.

The best way to re-gain our perspective is to meet with God. In times of crisis we must remind ourselves that what we need most in life is not ease of circumstances, but to be in the presence of the Lord. Fear grows as we are weighted down by the “temporary things” of this life. Hudson Taylor the missionary to inland China wrote,

It does not matter how great the pressure is. What really matters is where the pressure lies – whether it comes between you and God, or whether it presses you nearer to His heart.

David saw the fear-filled times as invitations from the Lord to “come and talk with Him”. David’s instinct was to run to the temple of the Lord to meet with God.

That is a good lesson for us. One of the best things to do in fear-filled times is to run to the Lord. We can and should do that on a personal level but there is also something about gathering together in worship that lifts our souls. There is something about singing together, praying together, and learning together that is powerful beyond description. This is why we must strive for this place to be a place of reverence and honesty. Our strength and our courage when fearful comes from the Lord.

Conquering Fear Requires Us to Keep Going (11-13)

11 Teach me how to live, O Lord. Lead me along the right path, for my enemies are waiting for me.

12 Do not let me fall into their hands. For they accuse me of things I’ve never done; with every breath they threaten me with violence.

13 Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.

David understood that instead of letting fear paralyze him he needed, more than ever, to keep following the Lord’s path. David pictures himself as going through something like a contemporary minefield. His enemies are all around him. He knows the only way through the minefield is to stick to the directions given by the One who has already come through the minefield.

Do you think people who go into dangerous places to share the gospel are not scared? Of course they are! They move forward and do what God has told them to do trusting Him for the strength they will need. Is it easy to go into an uncertain situation? Is it easy to visit someone in the hospital? Is it is easy to talk with someone who is dying? Is it easy to talk to a friend who is heading in a bad direction? Is it easy to take on a new ministry? No. However, the best course is always to do what we know God wants us to do and trust Him for strength.

Sometimes we have the feeling that because we know fear we must be deficient in our faith. I don’t think that is true. God gave us fear to alert us to danger. Maybe He even gave us the sense of fear so we would know we need to turn to Him. Finding faith and strength in fearful times is a struggle for most of us.

We need to see these times as opportunities! Every time we face fear with faith instead of fear we are going to grow stronger. Fear can paralyze us or help us grow. Pretending we are not afraid is not helpful. Facing the fear and dealing with it in God’s strength is what will help us grow.

Does fear have you paralyzed? Don’t give up! Run to Him and tell Him what you are afraid of. Discuss the situation with Him. Open your Bible before Him. Feel His comfort. Sense His strength. Embrace His perspective.

The Bottom Line (14)

14 Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous.

Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

At first these words may sound like those who tell you “Don’t worry!” when you are filled with a sense of dread and anxiety. The words sound so easy and perhaps even a little trite. But they are not a cliché. David calls us to look past the trial to the One who has authority over all things: the Lord.

Maybe you have had the experience of watching a sporting event on your DVR with a friend. The game is not going well. Time is running out. You team looks like it is headed for defeat. You are anxious, frustrated, and maybe even a little angry (like they are losing just to annoy you!). You look over at your friend and he watches intently but seems confident and filled with anticipation. Why? It’s because he knows the final score! Perhaps he saw it on his mobile device or caught it on the news. He isn’t upset because he knows how it ends.

As believers, we know the final score. We know how it all ends: The Lord will reign supreme! We know that we will be protected and vindicated. We know this life is only the title page to “real life” that starts when we enter His Kingdom.

In the fearful times we need to ask over and over: Do I trust God, or don’t I? If you are like me, the first few times I ask myself the question I may answer, “I’m not so sure . . . “. However, as you recall His character, His promises and His past faithfulness you begin to say: Yes, I do trust Him. And once we affirm that we trust Him we remind ourselves to rest in His faithfulness. We can then wait for Him– not with apprehension but with faithfulness.

Conclusions

This is a Psalm for all of us. We all face fear every day

  • The fear that we don’t measure up.
  • The fear we will lead our kids astray.
  • The fear that we cannot get free from our past.
  • The fear that we can’t work through a conflict.
  • The fear that we can’t improve.
  • The fear that our addictions are too strong.
  • The fear that we will let God down.

Do you know what the most frequent command of Jesus was? The Gospels list some 125 commands from Jesus. 21 of these commands are to “not be afraid” or to “fear not” or “to be of good courage”. As a point of contrast, the command to love God and our neighbor only appears 8 times.

Max Lucado wrote,

Jesus doesn’t want you to live in a state of fear. Nor do you. You’ve never made statements like these:

  • My phobias put such a spring in my step.
  • I’d be a rotten parent were it not for my hypochondria.
  • Thank God for my pessimism. I’ve been such a better person since I lost hope.
  • My doctor says if I don’t begin fretting, I will lose my health.[2]

John Ortberg wrote,

“Fear has created more practicing heretics than bad theology ever has, for it makes us live as though we serve a limited, finite, partially present, semi-competent God. . . . You will never know God is trustworthy if you don’t risk obeying him. When you come to the end of your life – all those “what ifs” become “might have beens.” What might have been if I had trusted God?[3]

The problem with our fears is that they come from looking in the wrong place. Fear comes from looking at our ability and our track record rather than looking at His. It comes from looking at the size of the problem rather than the size of our God. It comes from imagining what might happen instead of holding on to the promises of God. When we focus on the Lord, the fear disappears. And that is what I think God wants us to learn. And the better we learn the lesson, the more we will be filled with courage rather than fear.


[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (2009). The treasury of David, Volume 2: Psalms 27-57 (p. 6). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] Max Lucado.  Fearless. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson 2009) Chapter 1

[3] Ortberg p. 131

Scripture:

Psalm 27