I’ve sat on this post for a while before sharing it, because I really want people to know that it’s absolutely okay to seek out professional mental help. And, I also really want people to know that fear is not our forever home–and Jesus can free us from a lifestyle of fear even now.
There are healthy fears, like the kind that keep us wise around hot stoves and icy sidewalks, and there are fears that plague us and steal our peace. I’m talking here about the fears that steal our peace.
Throughout the Bible, a common message is given from God to His people:
“Do not fear.”
Abram, before he became Abraham, was told by God in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Genesis 15:1) God was with him, and God was for him.
Hagar, weeping in the wilderness with no way to keep her son alive, hears kind words directly from God in heaven: “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” (Genesis 21:17) God has heard you, Hagar, God is with you–go in peace.
Moses is told not to fear when King Og of Bashan marches to battle the Israelites (Numbers 21:34). God had already defeated the Canaanite king of Arad and King Sihon of the Amorites, and He tells Moses not to fear this king either–the Lord was in their midst and had given victory into their hands.
Joshua is told not to fear when he gets promoted to Israelite leader after Moses’ death. “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) Do not fear, God is with you.
Gideon is told not to fear when he realized that he had seen the angel of the LORD face to face. God says, “Peace to you. Don’t be afraid…” (Judges 6:22) Gideon found himself in the presence of the God who says, “I am here. You can have peace.”
Jeremiah, prophesying on behalf of the Lord, tells the Israelites not to fear the king of Babylon. “Don’t be afraid of the king of Babylon whom you now fear; don’t be afraid of him….because I am with you to save you and rescue you from him.” (Jeremiah 42:11) These Israelites had experienced captivity and freedom, and were–understandably–running from their fears. God tells them that He is with them, and that they were to stay put, and not to fear, so He could re-establish them. (Spoiler: They didn’t obey, and it didn’t end well for them.)
The priest Zechariah saw Gabriel, an angel of the Lord, and was told not to fear in his presence. “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.” (Luke 1:13)
Mary is also greeted by Gabriel and told not to fear, for God was with her. (Luke 1:28, 30) This highly favored young woman would become the mother of Jesus– Emmanuel–“God with us.”
When God is with us, we do not need to fear.
And He is with us.
Jesus’ disciples learned that because He was with them, they didn’t need to fear anything either. They were in their boat, rowing along at night, when a high wind came up and started to churn the sea (and perhaps their stomachs). On top of that, some human form appeared to move closer and closer to them on top of the water, which was quite possibly the most terrifying thing they’d ever witnessed. But while their minds were overwhelmed with terror, their ears heard Jesus’ voice: “It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Whew. It was Jesus. Their fear fled in His presence, and it was replaced with peace.
For all these instances of God reminding His people that He was with them, and that they did not need to fear, it would seem likely that Christians should be a very brave and fearless group. Instead, I’ve discovered that many of us are plagued by fear.
Oddly enough, mental health awareness is on the rise, and many of us have now been diagnosed with (or at least identify as having the symptoms of) anxiety.
It makes me wonder: How much of our anxiety is fear that hasn’t faced Jesus yet?
To be clear, I have no problem with people seeking psychological help or medication. In some cases, it can be very helpful–and sometimes necessary. Ten years ago I was clinically diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and spent nearly a decade feeling very out of order.
Disorder is a very important word, because it means something is not right. I was on medication for about eight years which helped the anxiety initially, but made the depression symptoms worse in the long run. I went through the process of coming off all my meds less than two years ago, and have made significant progress in managing my disordered emotions through healthier sleep habits, routine exercise, and intentional prayer. Again, sometimes people need medication, and that’s okay. (Just make sure it’s actually working for you, not worsening your symptoms.)
Ten years ago, when I started writing about mental health, it was not a trending topic in the church community. I wasn’t ashamed of my struggles, however, and I wanted to help give other people a voice for what I’d never heard discussed in Christian circles. I wanted to know if it was still possible to love God and not want to keep living. I wanted to say that God was enough for the worst of my mental terrors. Sometimes I just wrote to keep myself sane.
But now, as we’re emerging from the social upheaval from the Covid Era, the general population has realized that their mental health is not doing well. “Depression and anxiety are on the rise,” we read–and suddenly social media is full of reels, stories, and TikToks generating comment threads of people bonding over their mental health disorders.
However, this uptick in mental health awareness is not necessarily making us healthier. Schedule a counseling appointment, yes. Meet with your pastor, yes. Maybe take some medication for a time to help your body adjust to a peace-filled mind.
But let’s not call every fear “anxiety” and give it a seat at our table.
Fear tells us “the worst” will happen. But what is the worst that could happen? The absolute worst that could happen is if we had to die and be eternally punished for our sins by the wrath unleashed from a holy God. That is a terrifying thought–and that was our reality before Jesus. (To be clear: God has always loved us. But we can’t love our sin and God at the same time, and we weren’t able to get rid of our sin on our own.) Jesus eliminated “the worst that could happen” when He was punished for our sins, and we’ve been given peace with God.
Will there still be hard things in life? Yes–and plenty, Jesus confirmed. But He has overcome the world, and we do not need to fear anything. We’ll be on this earth for a short time while we tell others about Jesus, and then we’ll spend eternity in His full presence.
For the Christian, this hope is a fierce and forever promise–regardless of how we feel in the moment.
So, whether we are struggling with fear or anxiety, we need to pray for God’s peace to surround us. In an earlier post, I wrote about meeting Jesus in multiple public bathrooms on multiple occasions this past year. Panic attacks have found me clinging to the promises of God and begging that the peace of His presence would surpass the feelings of fear and terror.
Remember: we are not without holy firepower. We can ask God to free us from our anxious thoughts and our racing mind. We can ask Him to calm the churning waves in our stomach like He calmed the sea by Capernaum. When Jesus is Lord of our life, He gets to be Lord of our feelings, too. He renews our minds. He transforms our lives.
When we feel anxious or afraid, we can pray something like this:
“Jesus, You’ve said that You give us peace. You’ve said our hearts don’t need to be troubled or fearful. Help me to feel Your presence and find Your peace.” (this is based on Jesus’ words from John 14:27)
Or we can pray like David in Psalm 23:
“God, help me to not fear, for You are with me. Comfort me with Your protection and strength.”
Another one I’ve prayed over myself (in a bathroom, yes) is from Psalm 103:
“Bless the LORD, oh my soul. All that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, oh my soul, and do not forget His benefits. He forgives all your iniquity; He heals all your diseases. He redeems your life from the Pit; He crowns you with faithful love and compassion. He satisfies you with good things; your youth is renewed like the eagle.”
Anxiety might be your story now, but it will not be your forever story. Jesus is making all things new and one day–whether soon or when He returns–all anxiety will be healed.
And while we wait for all things to be made new, we still have to pay attention to our feelings and keep them in check. Sometimes our feelings speak truth to us. Sometimes when we are scared, we need to know we’re scared, and we need to ask God to give us peace in our fears.
But sometimes our feelings mislead us. Sometimes they tell us we have to be scared–and often. My friend quotes a pastor who once said, “Feelings make great servants, but poor leaders.”
Our feelings can tell us what we feel, but they don’t get to tell us what to do next. Submit every feeling to Jesus. Take every thought captive and give it to Him.
Even if you truly have anxiety, you do not need to be afraid. When you find yourself in the bathroom with another panic attack, Jesus will be there with you, too. He always walks through the hard things with us. Take those anxious thoughts and give them to Jesus–He’s gentle enough to handle them. He’s trustworthy.
Satan’s playing field has always been in our minds. The very first deception was whether or not God could be trusted. “Yeah, sure, God said that…but should you really believe Him?”
When we don’t believe God, we don’t obey God. When we don’t obey God, we choose every not-best option for our lives.
Believe God. Believe in Jesus. Do not fear.
Finally, I want to close with the question that’s been haunting me:
“What happens when an entire generation believes the God who says ‘Do Not Fear’?”
Please have this conversation with God and let me know what He tells you. I’ve already gotten my answer.