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Fear vs Courage
By Dan Vis
April 06, 2020
Comments: 14

As the world continues to wrestle its way forward in the grip of a global pandemic, it seemed appropriate to explore the topic of fear, and how to transform it into courage. May this week's memo be a blessing to you in these difficult times!

Man running in the woods at night...

Today, people everywhere are being confronted with increasingly alarming headlines. With infection numbers continuing to climb, and death tolls mounting, many are gripped with a deep and pervasive fear. Others see the collapsing stock market and massive layoffs and are anxious for their financial future. With as much as half the world on lockdown, and health care systems at the breaking point, one can't help but sense we are heading into extraordinarily difficult times. And worst of all, there is no clear end in sight.

Many try to ignore or deny their feelings of fear, thinking this is an indication of spiritual immaturity. But I don't believe that is a particularly helpful approach. It's normal and even healthy to feel anxiety when we are confronted with a very real danger. God gave us these emotions as an important early warning detection system, to help us identify risk and take appropriate precautions. Suppressing these natural responses is like disconnecting a blinking warning light in your car dashboard rather than addressing the root cause. And acting in a reckless or unsafe manner, in some misguided attempt to prove we are fearless, is even more unwise.

No, fine-tuned emotional sensibilities are a vital part of the human experience. And it has a place in the Christian response. What counts is what we do with those emotional signals. What actions they inspire us to take. In the paragraphs below, I want to share 4 steps you can take to transform your fears into courage.

1. Turn to God

The first step when confronted with danger should always be to instinctively turn to God. The Psalms are full of verses where the writer cries out to God in some trouble or distress, to seek God's deliverance. These verses show us that David did have fears, but he used those fears to motivate him to seek after God. Here's his testimony on that point:

Psalms 34:4
I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.

Our initial reaction to real danger should be fear, but those feelings should trigger us to turn to God. To seek His comfort, protection, strength. To entrust our lives into His care and keeping. As we do, God begins to fill our hearts with a calm assurance and confidence. To quote the Psalmist again:

Psalms 138:3
In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.

It is not a one time experience. Fear may return again and again, crashing in like waves on the shore. But if we turn those feelings to God, each time, we will gradually begin to develop a more abiding trust. It is a growth process, like every other aspect of the Christian life. But the end result is spelled out in the book of Isaiah:

Isaiah 26:3
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.

Use every instance of fear as a trigger to turn to God. And He will be faithful to loosen the grip fear holds on our heart.

2. Don't Feed It

In addition to trusting God, we need to make sure we are not feeding fear. This can actually be quite difficult, because the news headlines are flooded with never ending stories and images and projections about what to expect. And these tend to exacerbate and reinforce a negative emotional response.

Worse, there is a frightening amount of disinformation flooding the internet. Unfounded theories about the "real" source of the virus, home treatments with the potential to "spare" your life, alarms about secret government intentions, and much more. It's always been this way, of course, but in times of panic, these kinds of things proliferate.

My recommendation is to take firm control of your newsfeed and limit yourself to authoritative and respected news sources. Information is important in a crisis, but you need reliable information. Rather than exposing yourself to every fringe article that gets dropped in your newsfeed, choose instead to intentionally and deliberately pursue (research) the actual information you need. The more you wade out into the morass of bad information out there, the more troubling our situation will appear.

“Take firm control of your newsfeed and limit yourself to authoritative and respected news sources. Information is important in a crisis, but you need reliable information.”

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Some preachers too, are adding fuel to the fire--using the fear so prevalent today to motivate people to repentance and revival. It's always appropriate to seek God, to search our heart, and to plead for more of the Holy Spirit. But to invest this pandemic with an extra-biblical and speculative endtime significance, pronouncing it as some definite harbinger of the final scenes is theologically problematic, at best. Pestilences are listed as one of many endtime signs (Matthew 24:7-87 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.), but to give it more significance than that is unwarranted. More thoughtful students of Bible prophecy will realize there are other, better, indicators the final scenes are imminent.

“To invest this pandemic with an extra-biblical and speculative endtime significance, pronouncing it as some definite harbinger of the final scenes is theologically problematic, at best.”

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Furthermore, in my experience, fear is a poor motivator for real revival. People may respond in the moment, but as soon as the source of their fear recedes, people quickly revert to their former ways. What's needed is a more intelligent study of endtime events combined with a more principled appeal to revival.

Granted, there could be more to the story than meets the eye, and this crisis could be a turning point in prophetic history. But to constantly feed yourself with unverified news stories and manipulative sermons will only grow the fear in your heart. Instead, "keep thy heart with all diligence" (Proverbs 4:23Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.). Protect yourself from the sensationalism rampant everywhere.

3. Act Prudently

Every person's situation is different, so I'm not going to try and give specific recommendations about what actions to take or not take during this crisis. But the Bible teaches a simple, clear, principle: prudence.

Proverbs 14:15The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.
The prudent man looketh well to his going.

Proverbs 15:5A fool despiseth his father's instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent.
He that regardeth reproof is prudent.

Proverbs 18:15The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.
The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge.

Proverbs 22:3A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished.
A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself.

A prudent man will acquire whatever information he needs to assess his risk, develop the best plan he can to mitigate that risk, and follow that plan carefully. Information about best practices during this time are widely available. Do your research, and think through strategies for various potential contingencies.

“A prudent man will acquire whatever information he needs to assess his risk, develop the best plan he can to mitigate that risk, and follow that plan carefully.”

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There is a reason this step is so important. Strong emotions like fear interfere with the proper functioning of the prefrontal cortex of your brain, making it difficult to make good choices. Poor decisions lead to poor outcomes, which only tend to make your situation worse. And that only aggravates your anxiety and stress, leading to even poorer decisions, worse outcomes, and still more negative emotions. It's a vicious cycle, and it can cause things to quickly spiral out of control.

But when we see fear as simply an indicator we need to take precautions, that negative cycle is broken. We take appropriate steps to develop the best plan possible, and then work to implement that plan. Those actions lead to an improved, more protected situation, which leads to greater safety and security. Which reduces our fear, enabling us to think more clearly, develop better strategies, and improve our situation even further.

Fear paralyzes, and that paralysis makes the threat that much more terrifying. Action breaks the power of fear, turning it into something productive and helpful. Emotion then fulfills the purpose God designed it to serve.

4. Shift Your Focus

Last but not least, shift your focus from self to service. You see, fear is typically a self-centered response. How is this going to affect me? Am I going to get sick? What about my job? Or my retirement savings? How am I going to deal with what's coming? And what if things get worse?

Fear exists when our focus is on self. Notice the observation John made in the last part of the verse below:

I John 4:18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
...Fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

The moment you shift your focus from self to the needs of people around you, however, the power of fear begins to break. How are my parents doing? Or my grandparents? Do I know some older folks who might need help right now? What about neighbors? How is my church family doing? Who could I reach out to and assist in some way. There may even be opportunities to volunteer in your community in some more organized role. Our thoughts turn toward how we can step up at this moment in time, and make some difference for good.

“The moment you shift your focus from self to the needs of people around you, however, the power of fear begins to break.”

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Something miraculous happens when our mind changes it's focus from what is going to happen to me, to what I can offer others. The power of fear is broken, and replaced with courage. The courage to serve. Notice now the first half of the same verse above:

I John 4:18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear...

This does not mean acting courageously won't still be a bit scary. Courage is not the absence of fear, but acting in spite of fear. But shifting our focus to the needs of others, breaks our obsession with self. And the more we shift our focus from self to others, the weaker our fears will become. And the more our courage will grow. The courage to serve.

Conclusion

These steps need to be taken in order. It starts with committing ourself into the care and keeping of a loving God. The more we can fix our focus on Him, the greater our peace will be. Then we need to be careful to get only the most helpful and appropriate information possible. From reputable and authoritative sources. This information will then help you to formulate a plan to maximize your safety and the safety of your family. And from that position you are in the optimal position to begin finding ways to serve others.

It's difficult to say how much worse things will get, or how long the lockdown will continue. And even after things begin to recede, a full economic and social recovery will likely be a long process. But that just means there will be ample needs. Ample opportunities to serve. Ample ways to make a difference for God.

Yes, there are going to be many opportunities for service. Many opportunities for heros and champions to rise and help meet the needs of others. Some needs you may be able to meet right now. But to fill that role, as believers, we must learn how to process fear. And tranform it into true courage...

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Comments

How important is it to be emotionally alert? To see fear as an indicator we need to take precautions? How important is it to respond wisely to fear? Which step in transforming fear to courage seems most challenging to you? Share a thought...

Posted by Dan Vis on 05/03/20 
Praise God Jeanie! Stay encouraged. We'll all get through this in time... And in the meantime, let's do what we can to help someone out, less fortunate than ourselves...
Posted by Jeanie Stivers on 05/03/20 
Just what I needed to read right now!
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/12/20 
Thank you Marty! That's a really great point, and probably one I should have emphasized even more. No matter what happens in this world, if our faith in Christ is secure, our ultimate healing and deliverance is assured. Excellent post!
Posted by Marty Sexton on 04/11/20 

Pastor:
Great article. Great advice set out in a very logical progression.
Recommended reading for all.

We all need to keep in mind, believers remain under the saving blood of the Lamb & will ultimately be healed from any disease that takes our life, at the return of our Lord. No disease can separate us from the love of God, unless we allow it to affect our relationship with God in a negative way.

Keep up the great work.
Marty Sexton

Posted by Dan Vis on 04/07/20 
You are very welcome Judy. And you are absolutely right. The worse things get, the more opportunities we have to serve. We want to do that wisely and stay safe, but shifting our focus from our problems to our opportunities is a really helpful shift!
Posted by Judy Gorbenko on 04/07/20 
This is a wonderful opportunity to reach out to others. Making phone calls, praying with people, sending encouraging messages, preparing food or whatever else God is impressing you to do is a great way to get our attention away from ourselves and calm our minds. Thankyou for these practical words Dan.
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/07/20 
That's so true Joan . God's Word does give peace. And praying for others is one great way of turning our focus away from self and to service. IE, courage... :)
Posted by Joan on 04/07/20 
At the start of this pandemic I was fearful but after reading God’s words it calmed my soul. The more I pray for someone everyday I feel encouraged.
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/06/20 
You are very welcome Vivienne! :)
Posted by Vivienne Fowler on 04/06/20 
Thank you Dan. I appreciated these insights :-)
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/06/20 
Promises like that are such a comfort in difficult times, aren't they? The more we turn to God the more peace and calm we will experience. Thanks for sharing Del Jeanne!
Posted by Del Jeanne Mathews on 04/06/20 
In the darkest days, when appearances seem most forbidding, have faith in God. He is working out His will, doing all things well in behalf of His people. The strength of those who love and serve Him will be renewed day by day. {MH 482.1}
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/06/20 
Prayers are definitely with you Berith. It's easy to get consumed with all the frightening headlines, but as soon as we start looking for ways to help others, something happens to that fear, and it gets replaced with courage. Thank you for your example, and for your service! Be careful and stay safe!
Posted by Berith Bermejo on 04/06/20 
So true, about the last one. I was shocked when we started the lockdown. And being a healthcare worker, reading news about the pandemic consumed me for about a couple of days. It was not a good place to be in. But thankfully, God gave me wonderful verses to hold onto like Psalms 56:3What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. and Psalms 91. Of late, He has opened my eyes to the need around me like the people receiving food packs at our village hall. As they waited in line (with appropriate distances in between), maybe they can read on how to keep healthy to boost immunity. So I suggested this to the Health Ministries director in our Mission, and she gave the posters used for Health Expo to be hung in the village square. God is indeed good in turning our fear to courage!


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