by Founding Pastor, Rick Duncan
“Do not fear!”
“Don’t be afraid!”
You may have heard that “fear not” occurs 365 times in the Bible – one for each day of the year. But that’s just not true. In the New American Standard Bible “fear not” occurs 4 times, “do not fear” occurs 57 times, and “do not be afraid” occurs 46 times. That’s only 107 times where the Lord tells us to not be afraid.
But that the command “fear not” doesn’t occur 365 times shouldn’t disturb us. God only has to command something one time for His word to be obeyed. Even if “fear not” is not in the Bible 365 times, it is still one of the most often repeated commands in the Bible.
Why is it commanded so often? Because we are so often afraid.
Yet aren’t some forms of fear actually good? Fearing the Lord is certainly a good thing for it is the beginning of wisdom. But could other feelings of fear actually be beneficial for us?
I recently read a book called The Voice of the Heart by Chip Dodd. It’s about allowing ourselves to feel our feelings.
He has a chapter on fear. Dodd makes a distinction between what one might call “healthy fear” and “unhealthy anxiety.”
He says that when you are boarding a plane, you want to have a pilot who has a healthy fear so he will pursue safety for himself and for all those who are flying. We know as parents, we have a fear of seeing our children being run over in the street or in a parking lot. So, we leverage that fear to protect them. If our teens are running with the wrong crowd, we want to limit their access to the wrong crowd because we are afraid (I think, in a good way) of the influence of those negative friends. If we are teaching children how to hunt, we teach them gun safety because we have a healthy fear of what a gun can do if it’s handled improperly. If you meet a bear in Appalachia, a mountain lion in Arizona, or a tiger in India, you should be afraid!
When God says “fear not,“ He’s not talking about this kind of fear. This kind of fear is actually good.
I made a few notes when I was reading Chip Dodd’s chapter on fear.
- A healthy fear of the enemy can help us prepare for future battles.
- Fear can help us look out for the well-being of ourselves and others.
- Fear can cause us to ask others to help us.
- Fear can move us to pray and seek God.
- When a leader has a healthy fear, it will help the people who are following him trust him.
- Fear can prompt us to find more resources and help when we are facing difficulty fear.
- Fear can lead us to courageous acts.
- Fear can cause us to admit our weakness and humanity.
Dodd does go on to write about how unhealthy anxieties (how the “fear nots” of the Bible) take us away from what is true and makes us distrustful and impulsive. He says unhealthy anxiety causes us to try to control our future in order to prevent the recurrence of painful past experiences.
Dodd maintains that it’s better to admit our healthy fear so we can go ahead and move toward positive solutions regarding the circumstances we are experiencing. Dodd would say that a denial of our fear is actually what makes us anxious and turns us into people who want to control situations that we cannot control.
He writes, “The recognition of our deep limitations that come from admitted fear is the awakening of our need for God and others. This is not a mental acknowledgment; it is a heartfelt neediness. As we discover our neediness, we find a God who is always in charge, in love, and on duty. As our neediness is turned into dependence, the dependence is transformed in the hope for good and trust that goodness is coming. As we allow ourselves to discover goodness, we also discovered faith. This certainty eradicates anxiety. Fear used well is the antidote to worry.”
If a person gets a diagnosis of cancer, I don’t think it would be sinful for that person to experience some form of fear. That kind of fear can cause one to trust God and run to Him or that kind of fear could cause one to doubt God and run from Him.
In fact, in the Bible there appear to be some uses of the word “fear” or “afraid” that support the idea that some forms of fear can be healthy. It was the fear of an enemy that caused Jehoshaphat to call out to the Lord.
“Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar” (that is, Engedi). Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (2 Chronicles 20:2-3).
Nehemiah had a “healthy fear” that informed his approach to the king and his prayer to God.
“And the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.’ Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, ‘Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’ Then the king said to me, ‘What are you requesting?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 2:2-4).
The wise men demonstrated a fear of Herod when they did not return to him after they worshipped baby Jesus. Joseph and Mary had a fear of Herod when they took Jesus to Egypt. And after Herod died, fear caused Joseph to take his family to Galilee.
“But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee” (Matthew 2:22).
Jehoshaphat, Nehemiah, and Joseph seem to be displaying a healthy kind of fear that led them to act in prudent ways to accomplish the will of God. So, a fear that fosters wisdom and healthy responses to God and others seems to be a good thing, even godly.
A fear that immobilizes us and causes us to doubt God and His goodness is, to put it bluntly, sin.
If you are still not comfortable using the word” fear” in a good way because of all the “fear nots” in the Bible, maybe “godly caution” is better for you. Or “healthy concern,” “practical discernment,” “prudent vigilance,” “loving watchfulness,” or “heedful forethought.”
So, what fears are producing faithfulness in you? And what fears are producing faithlessness in you? What concerns should you bring to the Lord today? Based on a healthy fear or a godly concern, what’s the wisest course of action for you to take today?