Do you have doubts about getting a job?
Does the dread of illness or a nervous breakdown haunt you?
Are broken friendships robbing you of health?
Then here’s what you need to do!
by Herman L. Hoeh (1928-2004)
Updated by The Bible Fund editors, 2012
NEVER in the history of the world have so many people enjoyed so many benefits from labor-saving devices and so many benefits from public sanitation. Yet, the fear of nervous disorders, heart disease, cancer and insanity is robbing millions of health and happiness. People everywhere are under needless mental strain. Business pressure and family troubles worry millions like never before. We don’t know how to relax.
Why is there such anxiety, such nervous strain? Why are we failing to master our fears and worries?
An Age of Mismanaged Minds
This is not only the age of the bomb or of gross abundance of information. This is the age of mismanaged minds! Uncontrolled, undirected minds are ruining the lives of countless thousands. Millions more are rendered miserable and unproductive because their minds have been enslaved to needless, unreasoned fears.
Needless fears rob us of contentment, warp our personality and poison both mind and body.
Fear is an emotion – an emotion directed toward the self. Have you ever noticed that those who suffer most from fear and worry are wrapped up in themselves? “I’m afraid of this” and “I’m worried about that” is the way they talk.
This, then is a selfish age! And the more we become concerned with ourselves, the more afraid we become that the self will get hurt. We become fearful of what might happen to the self. Our misdirected minds coddle and pamper the self.
In many instances this uncontrolled emotion of fear leads to grave consequences – to real desperation. There is the fear that “something is wrong with the brain” – that a nervous breakdown is impending, that even insanity might result. In other instances this uncontrolled emotion results in feelings of inferiority, in mental inadequacy, in sexual impotency. One fear leads to another until our mental outlook and our physical health are permanently impaired! But there is a way to correct this problem. There is a way to conquer fear!
Are All Fears Wrong?
For thousands of years the problem of fear has confronted and perplexed our greatest thinkers. Philosophers have found no satisfactory solution – or their lives wouldn’t have been so often frustrated! Certain psychologists have spawned the idea of hypnosis as a solution to overcoming fears. Those who have tried this method still find themselves spiritually devoid of happiness. Of course! For hypnosis is a clever way of saying self-deception! And deception never solved anything.
Others have tried sedatives – especially alcohol – to relieve their nervous fears. Countless pills to calm nerves and keep people happy have been sold by druggists. But fears and worries and mental and physical illnesses still continue!
For us to reach the solution, we must recognize there are two fundamental types of fears: helpful fears and harmful fears.
Without normal, helpful fears none of us would be alive today! Proper fear is merely the drive for self-protection. Without this fear we would not exercise proper caution against injury. This is the kind of fear we need!
But notice! – when the mind is not properly managed, the natural fear for self-protection is turned into unnatural fears for the protection of self.
Fears Are Learned
The control of the drive or emotion of fear is a learned process – it is a matter of education. After we have learned what proper fear is, then we need to exercise proper control over it. But we must also avoid misdirected and harmful fears.
Proper fear is wisdom. It is also knowledge. Suppose, for a moment, that we are confronted with a real danger. It is only natural that we should be fearful. But let’s master our fears. Fear tells us something is wrong. It warns us that we must calmly and carefully face our danger. We must get busy and take action. Action solves the danger! – but simply worrying about it and remaining afraid that the worst will happen won’t help us.
People who are chronic worriers, who have countless fears, are usually procrastinators and indecisive. They are afraid to take action. Their fears become their master. They become slaves to their fears.
The time to learn to master our fears is when we are young – yet the proper direction of the mind in these formative years is not being taught in either the home or the school!
But it is not too late to learn. Life is too important for us to remain in ignorance, no matter how old we are. So let’s learn further about the differences between helpful and harmful fears.
Needless Fears and Phobias
Sometimes our fears are insignificant or even laughable – to the other person, of course. Petty fears that plague people – fear of an expanse of water, fear of air travel, fear of silence, darkness, shadows in the moonlight, fear of telephone calls or telegrams – all these are usually the result of past experiences that we have either consciously or subconsciously allowed to haunt us.
Usually far worse are the common phobias that afflict people abnormally. Fear of the sight of blood, fear of animals, fear of being alone, fear of being afraid, fear of loss of job and the fear of failure. To this list we might add the fear of everything, a characteristic of the person who runs away from life!
Underlying some of these abnormal phobias are normal fears. But in every case the normal, natural fear has been allowed to get out of control. Witness the countless millions of girls and women who are afraid they are overweight. Often, serious mental, emotional and physical injury has been endured in an attempt to remove this fear. The worsened condition creates more fears. A vicious circle results.
Haven’t you known people who were fearful of being afraid? They can’t explain their fears, but they know something fearful is going to happen to them! They haven’t learned one of the lessons of life, that our worst fears and experiences never happen!
Sometimes, however, we bring fears and worries on ourselves. Job wrote, “For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me” (Job 3:25, RAV). Many capable men and women have become failures simply by yielding to the uncontrolled fear of failure. This has been especially true since two world wars, a catastrophic depression and now a major recession.
This fear of failure leads to the fear of lack of security. One anxiety breeds another. These fears are all ultimately characteristic of a lack of knowledge and a lack of wisdom.
The cause of these abnormal worries and fears lies in inadequate recognition and control of emotional problems we experience in growing up. Domineering parents, inconsiderate fathers, over-possessive mothers, family jealousies and arguments, fussy grandparents – these early experiences created most of our emotional problems. But the root cause of our fears is our failure to recognize and solve these emotional problems.
Let’s understand why emotional disorders lead to physical disorders.
There is a direct mind-body relationship in every individual. We must direct and coordinate both mind and body before we can really achieve happiness and conquer our fears. Solomon understood this problem when he wrote, “A sound heart is the life of the flesh; but envy the rottenness of the bones” (Prov. 14:30). And again, “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted calf with hatred” (Prov. 15:17, RAV).
There is a direct connection between digestion and health with the mind. When the mind is fearful, it sends out messages to the various glands and organs to be prepared for danger. These organs fill the bloodstream with hormones to enable us to act to meet the danger. When we procrastinate or are indecisive, our body becomes filled with hormonal secretions. Our glands are needlessly drained. Constant, self-induced fears soon cause the glands to function abnormally. As a result, our whole body suffers, and with it the personality and even the mind.
Unconquered fears are the cause of a major portion of diseases. Of course, proper food habits, proper exercise and elimination also play a part in overall health – both mental and physical.
When our bodies become filled with toxins that should have been used up in action to meet real dangers, we find ourselves nervous and upset. People often say, “It’s my nerves.” Nerves are not wrong. We need nerves to function normally. It is what we have done to our nerves that is the problem. We have frayed them through overuse arising from uncontrolled fears and worries. We have turned the nerve mechanism created for self-protection into a powerful weapon for self-destruction.
The Fear-plagued Mind
Once we have created physical disorder in our body, the imagination begins to play tricks on us. Our imagination should be utilized to create new and better ideas. It is an instrument for progress. Instead, we let our imagination frighten us with new and added fears. We imagine that we are suffering from indigestion, then ulcers, then cancer. Sometimes we imagine ourselves suffering from a nervous breakdown or mental derangement. Life becomes frightful.
Horrifying dreams begin to afflict us. Most dreams come from an overworked mind. Daily problems weigh us down as we seek rest at night. We don’t know how to relax. Solomon said, “For a dream cometh through the multitude of business” (Eccl. 5:3).
Since the conscious business with which so many have been occupied helps create new fears and worries, is it any wonder that a blood-engorged brain will recreate these same fears in dreams?
When the state of mental worry takes a severe form, dreams and premonitions build up the fear of death – and can result in premature death. This is known in the medical world as paranoia. Most of the world is enslaved by this dreadful fear! This fear wrecks mental balance and poisons the body. It creates spiritual misconceptions that sometimes exert themselves in this type of paranoia and constant fear of persecution.
The Way of Escaping Fears
Once we recognize these unfounded fears that we need to battle, we must find the right way to conquer them. Psychological self-deception won’t help.
For example, it doesn’t really do any good to tell ourselves that death is not really an enemy – that it is a good friend. Such autosuggestion doesn’t change the fact that death is a mortal enemy. The way to solve this fear – and to solve every unnecessary fear – is to recognize what it really is.
Death is an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26). But Jesus Christ has made a way to escape its eternal consequences. ” . . . our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10, RAV). “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control” (verse 7, RSV).
But how do we lose the dread of death – and of all the other fears and worries that haunt us?
Remember, the first lesson we learned is that we need to recognize the distinction between helpful and harmful, uncontrolled fears. Fear may be either right or wrong, depending upon our direction of this emotion. Proper fear stems from the drive for self-preservation. It is a signal of danger – a signal that we need to take action.
Proper fear is in two forms. One is natural fear of physical danger – the warning that we need to protect this life. The other is spiritual fear for our eternal protection. This fear almost no one recognizes. Yet without it, we will never be able to conquer uncontrolled fear.
This spiritual fear is called the fear of the Lord or the fear of God. Like every other fear, it, too, has been misguided until it has become the fear of the devil!
The natural emotion of physical fear warns us of physical hazards. This is a learned fear. The spiritual fear of God warns us of eternal dangers. It, too, is a learned fear. We have to learn about the power and authority of God. We learn that God gives life and also takes life. That is why Jesus said, “Fear him” (Luke 12:5).
Why Is the Fear of God Necessary?
This generation has lost this healthy respect for God. Notice this example: “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household . . . ” (Heb. 11:7, RAV). Noah feared the power of God. That was a right fear – a proper spiritual fear. But Noah didn’t let his natural fear worry and frustrate him. Noah acted on his godly fear. He did something about it!
The great importance of the fear of God has been woefully misunderstood. Let’s understand its full significance. “By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil” (Prov. 16:6). This fear warns us that God will punish us if we harm ourselves by doing evil!
When we do evil, we harm ourselves. To teach us not to do evil, God sometimes has to punish us. That is how the fear of God leads us away from the danger of evil – both physical and spiritual danger. “The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom” (Prov. 15:33).
When we fear God, we respect what he says. What he says has been recorded in his Word, the Bible. In the Bible is the wisdom of God. Its instruction tells us right from wrong. It defines for us the pitfalls of sin. It warns us of the dangers of evil that rob us of happiness and prosperity and eternal life. “The fear of the Lord tendeth to life and he that hath it shall abide satisfied; he shall not be visited with evil” (Prov. 19:23).
The need for the fear of the Lord is also a New Testament teaching. Peter said, “Fear God” (1 Pet. 2: 17). It is repeated again in Revelation 14:7. The early Church of God had peace when “walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy [Spirit]” (Acts 9:31).
How to Act on the Fear of God
How will the proper reaction to the fear of God rid us of all the needless mental suffering we impose on ourselves? How will the fear of God teach us to manage and direct our minds until we master every nervous fear?
The apostle John wrote, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
The worries and mental torments stemming from fears occur when love has not been perfected or matured. Love is doing what God commands. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous [burdensome]” (1 John 5:3).
The commandments of God define right and wrong. They tell us of the dangers of sin. Sin is the “transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). By obeying God we avoid the dangers of evil and we fill our minds and emotions with love. Love removes worries and torments. This is how we act upon the fear of God.
Now let us learn how to acquire perfect love. Here is what Peter says: “Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness [love]” (2 Pet. 1:5-7). (The archaic word charity, found in the Authorized Version, should be rendered love.)
First, notice that you begin with faith.
What is faith? “But without faith it is impossible to please [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6).
You cannot fear God without having faith that he exists and that he rewards us for what we do, whether good or evil. Faith is not something you try to make yourself think you have when you don’t have it. Faith is the recognition that God exists and that it is foolish for you to defy his purpose in your life by refusing to turn from your sins! This faith is acquired. It is learned by experience. You cannot hypnotize yourself into receiving faith.
But there is a way to receive the faith that is needed. Here is what James wrote in his Epistle: “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). Another way of gaining more faith is to follow the instruction in Romans 10:17 – “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” That is, faith is gained by reading and studying the Word of God!
Let’s now follow the instruction of Peter throughout his sevenfold plan to conquer fear by adding to faith the mind and character of God.
The Sevenfold Plan
First, add virtue to your faith in the power of God. Virtuous means decent, chaste, modest, well-mannered. It is the opposite of being coarse and vulgar. The first step is to remove the cause of self-condemnation, the secret sins that are often committed under the guise of extreme prudery!
We must let the Bible define decency, chastity and good manners for us. Study the lives of men and women recorded within its covers. Recognize their mistakes. Don’t make the same mistakes. Remember, too, that the fear of God teaches us not to make up our minds as we wish on what to believe, but to believe and act upon what God says virtue is. It is neither self-righteousness nor coarseness. It is proper refinement.
Second, add knowledge to virtue. Knowledge refers to the learning of ideas and principles of conduct. We must continually increase in knowledge until we clean up our character! But one must be careful about the choice of knowledge acquired. The knowledge of God must be preeminent in our search: “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself above the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
Third, add temperance to knowledge. When we learn that God permits us to use things that we thought were forbidden, we must exercise the proper balance in handling any new freedom. We must be temperate. Temperance does not mean prohibition. Prohibition is abstention. Temperance is moderate use. Paul said, “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things” (1 Cor. 9:25). Temperance means self-control. This is one of the most vital steps in controlling the mind and stilling fears. You need to exercise self-discipline over mind and body if you want to overcome fears.
Fourth, add patience to self-control. Patience is that broadness of mind by which you wait for the result to be achieved. Patience is the opposite of worry. One who is patient does not become frustrated because problems don’t always solve themselves immediately. Patience comes from exercising self-control under trial. “Tribulation [troubles] worketh patience,” wrote Paul (Rom. 5:3). You can’t sit down and make yourself patient. You must work at it, under trial and test!
Fifth, add godliness to patience. Godliness means to be like God in character. God defines his character throughout the Bible. Many “religious” people pretend to have godliness, but they “deny the power thereof“ (2 Tim. 3:5). God is a powerful character, not a weakling. Godliness means strength of character – it sums up virtue, knowledge, patience, self-control. Too many try to imagine what God is like apart from reading the Scripture. Little wonder that they deny his power!
Sixth, add brotherly kindness to godliness. It is often easier to act righteous than to be kind to a brother! James says of the human tongue, “Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God” (James 3:9). God is perfect or complete. We need to be perfect (Matt. 5:48). But our brothers have faults of the flesh. It is sometimes difficult to be kind, to be helpful, to be generous, to be stern only when necessary to fellow human beings.
In misguided zeal, many impose their “kindnesses” on others. We must learn to exercise good judgment in being kind. On the other hand, many neglect kindnesses that they can never make up. This breeds sorrow and worry.
Seventh, add love as a climax to perfection – full maturity. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44, RSV). When you love your enemies this much, you won’t fear what they can do to you. Love, when perfected, casts out all fear! Jesus also said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Perfect love removes the most terrible fear of all – the fear of death!
What Is Love?
Love is the perfection of God’s law according to its spirit or intent. “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10). You cannot love anyone without fulfilling the law. And you cannot fulfill the law completely without loving your neighbor and your enemy! Love sums up the spirit and intent of God’s law – and is the summation of all that is good and right. The fear of God leads us to divine love.
Notice how the Scripture defines love in its fullness: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing” (RAV). Brotherly kindness without the attitude of divine love profits nothing! In the Authorized Version (the archaic word charity needs to be translated love, which I have done) we read, “Love suffereth long” – it is patient – “is kind” – it includes brotherly kindness; “love envieth not, vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up” – it doesn’t exalt itself, it is virtuous – is not “unseemly, seeketh not her own” – love is directed away from the self – “is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil” – it is patient and not resentful – “rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth” – it is godlike.
Love “beareth all things” – better, it covers every requirement – “believeth all things” – love is not gullible (which a misreading of this verse might imply), but it believes all things written in God’s Word – “hopeth all things” – it hopes for all the promises, which gives us courage – “endureth all things.” Love rises above all conflicts, making it possible for us to rise above the sufferings and fears that engulf this age.
“Love never faileth” (1 Cor. 13:3-8).
This is how you can conquer your fears and worries! Ask God for help to carry out his sevenfold plan to attain real peace of mind. “Ask, and it shall be given you” (Luke 11:9).
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