Feeding Your Fears

By: Jenni Walker

“When I am afraid, I will trust in You.  In God (I will praise His word), in God I have put my trust; I will not fear.  What can flesh do to me?”  (Psalm 56:3-4)

“If you would live in victory . . . you must refuse to be dominated by the seen and the felt.” (Amy Carmichael) 

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It all began with Preena, a little girl of seven years old who had been sold by her mother to the Hindu priests in her region of India.  With branded hands and a captive life of temple prostitution ahead of her, she had only hopelessness, abuse, and despair to look forward to.  After already trying to escape once and failing, little Preena attempted escape again, this time finding her way quite literally into the hands of her rescuer.  She describes her first meeting with the woman who she would later call her “true mother” in the following way: “Our precious Ammai [‘Ammai’ means ‘true mother’ in Tamil] was having her morning chota. When she saw me, the first thing she did was to put me on her lap and kiss me. I thought, ‘My mother used to put me on her lap and kiss me – who is this person who kisses me like my mother?’ From that day she became my mother, body and soul.’”  (http://www.christianvoice.org.uk/index.php/heroes-of-faith/) You may have heard of this woman before.  Her name is Amy Carmichael: tireless missionary to India, author of 35 books and poems, and rescuer of over 1000 children like little Preena.

Amy Carmichael was a woman who did not trifle with fear.  She was a real woman with both a heart that experienced loneliness and loss as well as a body that was susceptible to ongoing pain, illness, and injury.  And yet, her entire being was consumed by passion to be used by her Lord for His purposes and by a holy love for the children that she was “Ammai” to.  There were plenty of opportunities throughout the course of her lifetime for her to be stopped by fear: She could have given up missionary work for fear of failure after having to leave Japan just over a year after her arrival there in her early years.  She could have easily grown despairing of the critical and unsupportive things often said of her ministry by fellow local missionaries.  She could have become despondent in her efforts when one of the orphans in her care died of disease.  She could have simply chosen to not even attempt to rescue children from being “tied to the gods” in temple prostitution for fear of it being too hard, of being discovered by local authorities, or from thinking herself ill-equipped or incapable.  But because she refused to be governed by fear, we today know her story and the eternal fruit that was produced through her life’s work.

Feeding and Festering

I think we as women often rationalize our fears.  We often treat each one of them like a pet goldfish – just a pinch of worry here, a fearful thought that we choose to ruminate about over here, a decision that we decide not to make for fear of what others may think.  We can still keep it together with our fear in the bowl like that goldfish, not really getting in our way, but giving it occasional attention by watching it, feeding it, and keeping it around.

But fear does not stay contained like a pet goldfish.  If unchecked, it is something that can grow and begin to ingrain itself in our thought patterns, in our speech, in the actions we choose to take (or not take), and ultimately in the course and calling that God has for each one of us.  Hmm, that sounds kind of extreme, you may be thinking to yourself.  Besides, how am I supposed to not fear or worry sometimes?  To be sure, the uncertainties of life can easily produce fear in each one of us.  Our bodies even have natural heightened responses when there is a perceived threat:  Your body may be in shock after a car accident; your heart may race as you jump into action the moment when it looks like your child is about to take a tumble from the top of the swing set; your palms may sweat when you have a presentation to give to a large audience.  There will be times when we have to face some fearful realities in our lives.  But the problem comes when we begin to live with the habit of feeding our fears.

Ladies, we cannot make light of fear, worry, and anxiety.  Fear is not something to address just because it is unwanted or feels unpleasant.  Any fear, anxiousness, or worry that is allowed to fester divides our focus, holds us captive, and stymies the eternal impact that God has ordained for each one of us in our time here on this earth.  So what do we do when we are faced with fear?  That will depend on the habits and attitudes we have been cultivating day-in, day-out.  We must build up our trust in the Lord and combat our fears with the truth of His Word!  Psalm 56:9-11 provides us with a beautiful description of how to do this in the face of fear: “When I cry out to You, then my enemies will turn back; this I know, because God is for me.  In God (I will praise His word), in the Lord (I will praise His word), in God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?”

Is there an area of your life that you have been experiencing fear instead of unshakeable trust in the Lord?  Like the little goldfish, do you regularly feed your fears?  Let’s look at three fear-feeding habits that we as wholehearted women need to be on guard about…

Habit 1 — Playing it out in our minds.

All of us experience fearful or anxious thoughts that slip into our minds at various times.  But rather than combating them immediately with the truth of God’s Word, many times people choose to entertain those thoughts.  They mull them over, play out the various scenarios, and slowly that fear gets fed.  Many of these begin with thinking about the “what-ifs” of life – what if I experience…

Physical harm from a natural disaster or a sudden illness?

A broken relationship like the one on that television program?

A disappointing reaction to something I worked really hard at?

The harm of a child when he/she is at a friend’s home or is learning to drive?

The fear of what others may think of you or might be saying behind my back?

King David of the Old Testament had plenty of opportunities to play out fearful scenarios in his mind.  Did you know that many of his Psalms were written in the midst of great difficulties?  And yet his responses demonstrate to us how to feed our trust in the Lord in the midst of circumstances that could easily produce fear:

  • In Psalm 7, when a Benjamite named Cush was intentionally speaking slanderously against him, David prays, “O Lord my God, in You I put my trust; save me from all those who persecute me, and deliver me” (verse 1).
  • In Psalm 56, when he has just been captured by Philistine enemies, he writes: “You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book? When I cry out to You, then my enemies will turn back; this I know, because God is for me” (verses 8-9).
  • In Psalm 57, David has fled from Saul’s murderous pursuit into a cave, and he writes: “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge, until these calamities have passed by” (verse 1).
  • In Psalm 63, when David is in the midst of the wilderness of Judah, he pours out his heart to the Lord: “When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches. Because You have been my help, therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.  My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me” (verses 6-8).

King David was showing us how to do what Amy Carmichael referred to as “steeping your soul in His eternal truth.”  Stop those fearful thoughts with the most powerful anecdote there is: the living and active Word of God (Hebrews 4:12-13)!  Courageously, intentionally, and habitually feed your trust in the Lord in this way.  In the words of Amy Carmichael, “We say, then, to anyone who is under trial, give Him time to steep the soul in His eternal truth. Go into the open air, look up into the depths of the sky, or out upon the wideness of the sea, or on the strength of the hills that is His also; or, if bound in the body, go forth in the spirit; spirit is not bound. Give Him time and, as surely as dawn follows night, there will break upon the heart a sense of certainty that cannot be shaken.”

Habit 2 — Talking about it with others.

While it is not wrong to seek wise counsel, many women easily make airing their thoughts and opinions with one another about worrisome topics a regular habit in a way that elevates their fears over the lordship of Christ in their life.  Does what you say align with the truth of God’s Word?  Is it feeding your trust in Him?  Is it demonstrating that your soul has found its rest and hope in God alone?

Well, I’m just a worrier, you may be thinking to yourself.  Many times, we process our worries and fears by making light of them.  Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

“Oh, my co-teacher probably won’t come through, and then I’ll have to do everything for this weekend’s Sunday school lesson.  We’re going to look completely unprepared!”

“My kindergarten son told a lie last night – again.  I’m like, ‘Am I raising a delinquent?’ sometimes.”

“My daughter just got her driver’s license, and I can’t stop picturing her getting into an accident this winter.  There are just so many reckless drivers out there, and her response time isn’t good yet.  I can only imagine the car crashes she could cause when you add ice to the mix!  Plus, she’s already kind of a worry wart.  After that, she may never want to drive again, and then I’d be the one driving her around again all the time!”

In each one of these situations, there is a valid concern.  But each woman is not practicing a godly response.  Psalm 56:3 says, “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.”  Proverbs 3:5-6 commands us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  How do we keep a surrendered heart that trusts the Lord in the face of fear?  Again, the answer is the same: we stop feeding our fears and, instead, feed our trust in the Lord!  “Blessed be the Lord, because He has heard the voice of my supplications!  The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped.  Therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him” (Psalm 28:6-7).

Are the words that you speak demonstrating your trust in the Lord?  Are they a reflection of your choice to meditate on God’s Word and to feed on His faithfulness in all circumstances (Psalm 37:3)?  No matter what circumstances, uncertainties, or opportunities for worry that you are facing today, remember that God is your everlasting strength, that He is with you, and you are His (Isaiah 26:3-4; 43:1-3).  Meditate on the truth of His Word and keep a singular focus of mind, heart, and word on the Lord.  Make sure that your words and everyday conversations are aligned with the promise of His faithfulness!  “Blessed are the single-hearted, for they shall enjoy much peace. If you refuse to be hurried and pressed, if you stay your soul on God, nothing can keep you from that clearness of spirit which is life and peace. In that stillness you will know what His will is.”  (Amy Carmichael)

Habit 3 — Letting it influence our choices and decisions.

At any given time, a thought like one of these might pop into your head or out of your mouth:

“Oh no, I could never do that.”

“I’m just a mom/wife/employee…”

 “I’m afraid that this is not going to turn out the way I’d hoped for.”

“I’m just not that kind of person.”

“What I have to say probably won’t be accepted, so I’ll just keep it to myself.”

 “I just don’t have what it takes.”

This list of fear-based thoughts and phrases that is only a scratch on the surface.  The enemy will use certain tactics to affect how we see ourselves, to rattle our cage, and to keep us from action!  (Check out C.S. Lewis’s intriguing and insightful Screwtape Letters from more thoughts on the matter!)  Has fear become your master in a thought pattern?  In the way you talk about a certain area of your life?  When we let habits 1 and 2 go unchecked, we can find ourselves allowing those fearful or worrisome thoughts and spoken words to keep us from making courageous choices, choosing wise decisions, and walking in fruitful freedom!  Perhaps there is something that the Holy Spirit has been tugging at your heart about, but you have been feeding your fears instead of a cultivating a courageous willingness to step out in faith. God calls us to be a holy and courageous people who refuse to let God’s plans and purposes for their lives be stunted, stalled, or hindered by fear but who, instead, seek Him in their decision-making and are on-mission for Him in all that they do!

Pastor Chris Hodges puts it well in his book entitled Four Cups: “Fear-based procrastination keeps people from living life to the fullest.”  He goes on to explain that “everything changes when Jesus arrives on the scene.  He looks at ordinary people and says, ‘You are the light of the world…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be My witnesses…to the ends of the earth’ (Matthew 5:14; Acts 1:8).  [God] loves taking ordinary people and using them to do extraordinary things” (p. 88, 95-96).

Is fear or worry holding you back from being who God has called you to be?  From doing what He has called you to do?  From getting out of your comfort zone and putting the results in His hands instead of yours?  In addition to feeding your trust in the Lord through the promises of His Word, one of the best ways I know to be spurred toward action is to learn about heroes of the faith who have gone before me.  As I read about them, I observe how they kept their souls stayed on the Lord (Isaiah 26:3-4) in their mind, emotions, and words, and how they refused to let their actions be mastered by any surfacing fears, worries, or uncertainties.  They knew what to do with those fears: to refuse to feed them and, instead, to feed their faith and trust in the Lord!  In doing so, they each became examples of great and courageous faith for us to follow.  Here are just a few of my personal favorites:

Elisabeth Elliot – She stayed for a time as a missionary with the Auca Indians in South America even after her husband had been speared to death by them in attempt to reach them with the gospel.  But this was only the beginning of her story.  Much of her life after that was comprised of diligent service to the Lord as a twice-widowed wife, a mother, speaker, author, mentor, and grandmother.  Every part of her life was done in service to the Lord according to His precepts, and He expanded her audience tremendously.

Ruth Bell Graham – She had desired to be a missionary and gave up that dream when she felt God calling her to marry Billy Graham and to be a stay-at-home-mom and homemaker.  While her husband traveled as a world-renowned evangelist, she did not fear loneliness or insignificance but lived each day with a holy purpose and with a deep love for the Lord, His Word, and for others.

Gladys Aylward – A missionary to China who, among countless acts of courage for Christ, infamously walked into the midst of a murderous prison riot, took authority over the situation as she commanded each of the men to stop fighting, and then continued to demand of the prison guards that the men receive better and more humane treatment to prevent such outbreaks in the future.

Amy Carmichael – Before her missionary work in India even began, Amy faced seasickness and the possibility of her ship capsizing near Japan in the midst of a typhoon.  Upon reaching Japan, she experienced great difficulties not only with the language, but her time there was both physically and mentally taxing.  She was sent home fifteen months later and could have given up her belief that she was called by her Lord to “go ye…” as a missionary.  But she continued on courageously, finding herself in India soon thereafter and spending the rest of her days there on mission for God’s kingdom purposes!

No Mere Trifle

I would like to close with the words of Amy Carmichael, who wrote “What is the secret to great living? Entire separation to Christ and devotion to Him. Thus speaks every man and woman whose life has made more than a passing flicker in the spiritual realm. It is the life that has no time for trifling that counts.”   Wholehearted women of God, don’t trifle with fear. Fear is not something that you can keep around just a little like a pet goldfish; it grows when it is fed, and it is a tactic of the enemy of our souls!  Are you playing out fear-based scenarios in your mind?  Do you frequently hash out your worries with others in a way that builds up the fear rather than your trust in the Lord?  Have your fears become consultants in your decision-making?  Identify any of these thought patterns and habits, refuse to feed your fears and, instead, feed your trust in the Lord!

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Scriptures to Feed Your Trust in the Lord: 

“You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.”  (Psalm 32:7)

“In You, O Lord, I put my trust; let me never be ashamed; deliver me in Your righteousness (Psalm 31:1)

“The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.  I opened my mouth and panted, for I longed for Your commandments.  Look upon me and be merciful to me, as Your custom is toward those who love Your name.  Direct my steps by Your word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me.”  (Psalm 119:130-133)

“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.  My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear of it and be glad.  Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.  I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.  They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed.  This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.  The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him and delivers them.  Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”  (Psalm 34:1-8)