Psychologists make a distinction between healthy and unhealthy fear. Healthy fear helps us make wise decisions such as preparing for a test or wearing a seatbelt. Unhealthy fear can paralyze a leader from making decisions or cause someone to be untrusting of others.
Below are the four common and unhealthy fears I have seen. I am not suggesting this is an exhaustive list, but these are four fears I regularly saw as an executive leader who often heard from other leaders and as a pastor who has been among people. I also see them in my own personal struggles.
- Fear of failure
- Fear of not being enough
- Fear of rejection
- Fear of not providing
The Scripture also makes a distinction between healthy and unhealthy fear. Look at these two verses in Proverbs:
The fear of mankind is a snare, but the one who trusts in the Lord is protected.
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning people away from the snares of death.
Both passages mention fear and snares. When I lived in Miami and went lobstering in the ocean with friends, we would use fear and a snare—a net—to catch lobster. We placed a net behind the lobster and simply tapped on the ground with a stick in front of the lobster. The lobster, afraid of the stick, would back into the net and in a few hours it would be a delicious dinner. If we fear mankind, we are backing into a snare of death. But if we fear God, we enjoy real life and are saved from the snares of death. Fearing God and having awe, wonder, and respect for God, bring life. Fearing other things only hurts us.
The Scripture teaches us that if we fear God, we don’t need to fear anything else. We are invited to fight our fear with the fear of God. So how do we fight these four common and unhealthy fears?
1. Fight fear of failure with fear for the One who gave you His perfect record.
If you are a Christian, God has given you the perfect record of Jesus. Because of His work on the cross, the righteousness of Jesus is now yours. So, you are free to work hard, to attempt great things, and to set big goals because your identity is not based on the success or failure of those things. Your identity is already secure because of Jesus.
2. Fight fear of not being enough with fear for the One who is enough for you.
The message of the Bible stings at first, but after the initial sting, we see it is actually good. You are not enough. You can’t be because all of us fall woefully short of God. The Bible is not filled with “pep talk” passages encouraging us to be enough. It is filled with gracious reminders that He is enough for us. You can rest in Jesus being enough for you.
3. Fight fear of rejection with fear for the One who was rejected for you.
You are not rejected. Jesus was rejected on the cross so that you would never be rejected by God. You have been received by the perfect Heavenly Father who is also the King of all kings.
4. Fight fear of not providing with fear for the One who always provides.
Jesus taught the same thing about fear. He tells us to replace fear of anything with fear for God:
Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:28-31)
Jesus invites us to direct our fear and awe towards our Father. As we do, He reminds us that He cares for us more than He cares for the sparrows He also provides for.
Fight fear of lesser things with your fear for the Greatest One. Fight fear in this world with your fear for the One who rules over all. Fight unhealthy fear with healthy fear. About this truth, Augustine wrote, “Let us then fear that we may not fear.” As our fear for God increases, our fear of everything else decreases.