In my short life, I have identified (and experienced) three different kinds of fear:
Rational Fear: This is a fear that’s totally normal and acceptable. For instance, a fear of crocodiles is rational. They have the power to eat people alive, so it’s okay to be afraid of them. Because of this fear, you probably try to avoid crocodiles by not doing stupid stuff, like crashing the glass at a zoo and cuddling one like a baby. However, you also don’t hide under your bed because a crocodile might sneak into your house and eat you.
Irrational Fear: This is like being afraid of staplers or unicorns. When you have an irrational fear, you are creating negative emotions about something that could be positive (or about something that doesn’t exist). You don’t know because you’re too scared to experience it.
Rational Fear Turned Irrational: With these fears, we can go from calm to cray-cray in as little as three seconds. The crocodile example is perfect. A fear of these monsters is normal, but if you start hiding under your bed or never stepping foot in any body of water ever again, that would be a rational fear turned irrational.
When you’re afraid, you miss out on something. Maybe that something is bad, like avoiding a snake bite. Or maybe it’s good—like skipping the youth group ski trip because you’re too scared to talk to anyone who’s going.
I have countless fears. COUNTLESS. Some of my worst fears include sharks, strangers, and going away to college. There. My guts have been spilt.
Thankfully, I can handle my shark fear pretty well. I enjoy swimming in the ocean, but I don’t go out too deep because I might get eaten for lunch.
But how come I can’t handle my life fears as well as my shark fear?
Oh, I don’t want to talk to her. She might ignore me or give me the cold shoulder.
Do I have to say I’m a Christian? Nobody has to know my exact title. I can just be a good example, and they’ll figure it out. They could laugh at me.
Why do I have to go to college? I know it’s the best thing for me, but I’m afraid of being away from home and not making friends and handling five classes all at once.
What if I don’t figure out what I’m supposed to do with my life? What if I don’t get a good job and have to scrub toilets the rest of my life?
These are some of my irrational fears.
What are some of yours?
Perhaps your list includes public speaking, getting sick, flying on an airplane, spiders, snakes, sharks, losing your family, not having enough money to support yourself/your family, sharing your true feelings, getting struck by lightning, losing your job, sharing your faith…
The list goes on and on.
Most fears (not the smaller ones, like snakes) involve losing something (What if your house catches on fire? What if your brother dies of a heart attack? What if your car gets stolen?) or not being able to please someone (What if you walk out of the house with spinach in your teeth and people laugh at you? What if you bomb your English test? What if you get turned down at your job interview?)
How do we handle these pesky feelings?
But when His brothers had gone up to the feast, then He Himself also went up, not publicly, but as though in secret. So the Jews were looking for Him at the feast and saying, “Where is He?” And there was a great deal of talk about Him in secret among the crowds: some were saying, “He is a good man”; others were saying, “No, on the contrary, He is misleading the people.” However, no one was speaking openly about Him, for fear of the Jews. But when it was now the middle of the feast, Jesus went up into the temple area, and began to teach. (John 7:10-14 NASB).
The people didn’t want to get attacked by the Jews, so they kept quiet. (And to be honest, I would’ve done the same thing.) But Jesus didn’t. He had a message to share, and He shared it. Who cared what anybody else thought? He wasn’t a crowd-pleaser—and we weren’t meant to be either.
Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. (Ephesians 6:5-8 NASB)
Are people going to reward you when you wear trendy clothes or lie about your true political affiliation? Maybe they’ll give you some of their “valuable” attention, but that attention won’t last because people are fickle.
But, when we try to please God, He promises that we will be rewarded. That’s a guarantee. When you share your faith, reach out to someone who’s lonely, or go on a mission trip—even though people may question your decisions—you’ll be rewarded. God will be pleased, and His pleasure isn’t fickle.
So I’ve addressed the people-pleasing category of fears. But what about those fears that involve losing something/someone? Those are legitimate fears. A tornado could sweep away all of your possessions, or a car accident could claim the lives of your loved ones.
All I can say is to leave those fears in God’s hands because His hands alone are big enough to hold them.
He provided Joseph with a position of honor. He provided food for the weary Elijah. He provided Ruth with a new family. He provided Daniel with safety from the lions. You don’t need me to give you a summary of Old Testament history. You know that God provides for the righteous.
When we forget this, our fears can become our idols. Do you think more about how you might lose your job—or trust that God will provide you with a better job if you lose it?
It’s possible that one of my college fears will actually happen. Maybe I won’t be able to balance all my classes, or I’ll constantly feel homesick. Maybe I’ll get a degree and not be able to find a job.
Then it wasn’t meant to be. That’s the beauty of Christianity. I can trust that if something is supposed to happen, God will make it happen. And if it’s not supposed to happen, He will prevent it from happening.
Whether you fear is as simple as staplers or as complicated as the future, God can handle it. Let God transform your irrational fears into rational ones. If you’re afraid of your house burning down, buy a smoke detector and don’t leave certain appliances plugged in. If you’re afraid of inviting your new neighbors over for dinner, pray that God will provide a good opportunity for you to invite them.
Fear doesn’t have to control you. (Imagine that!) Don’t let fears and worries rule your heart because you’ll be a miserable wreck. Let Christ’s love compel you to be brave (2 Corinthians 5:14).