Category: Confidence

Fighting Fear with God’s Help

Betty blue bordered (2)Only two days until we celebrate Easter, complete with rabbits, chicks, and lambs. Our final post in the Fighting Fear series asks, “What do we, as lambs with a Good Shepherd, have to fear?”

In A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm, Phillip Keller analyzes the psalm from both his perspective as a shepherd in Africa and later as a lay minister. As the psalm follows a flock of sheep through a year of care, Keller helps us understand the goodness of our Shepherd as the rural culture of biblical times would have understood the story.

He explains the psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd–

David, the psalmist and a shepherd, understood how much his people and we are like sheep. He’s proud and jubilant that our Shepherd is the one who created the immense universe and yet He cares about and for each of us. As Jesus asserts that He is the Good Shepherd, we learn that this guardian and guide of ours is willing to die for us. We belong to Him because He created us and because He bought our redemption with His death. He is a shepherd of compassion and integrity.

I shall not want–

The author suggests a double meaning to these words. I shall not lack anything (though tribulation will come our way) but also, if I accept the Lord as my shepherd, my contentment should be obvious to others. I don’t need to pursue my own desires.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures–

Sheep only are willing to lie down if they are free from fear, tension from the dominance of flock mates, aggravations from parasites and insects, and hunger. Only the shepherd can alleviate these needs: he protects, rebukes contention, applies oil to prevent infestation, and provides rich, lush fields through hard work in the typical dry lands where sheep flourish. Simply seeing him in the field will calm them. Like the sheep, we have our fears, our fights for status, our petty irritations and challenges, and a spiritual hunger. Through His Spirit and His Word he calms our fears, encourages love, guides us through our challenges, and delights in being with us, satiating our hunger.

He leads me besides the still waters–

A good shepherd brings his sheep to pasture while the grass is still heavy with dew. He leads them away from polluted puddles and guides them to fresh water. He maintains the streams and pools of his land so that they are clean and safe for his flock, or labors to draw heavy buckets of water from wells. Our Good Shepherd satisfies our thirst by drawing us to Him. Like sheep led to grass while dew is still heavy, we are encouraged to turn our thoughts to Him before our day begins, studying his Word and conversing with Him.

He restores my soul–

We are not always at peace. Sometimes we are downcast and disheartened. Sheep, too, are frequently “cast,” which means they lie down and either because of the hollow they choose, the heaviness of their fleece, or being overweight, they flounder with legs up and unable to right themselves. Left this way they can die quickly from abdominal gas buildup or predators. When we find ourselves to be helpless, unable to recover from a mistake or sin, our Shepherd leaves the 99 sheep to search for, find, and set us lovingly back on our feet. He restores our souls!

He leads me in right paths for His name’s sake–

Sheep tend to stay in a rut. They will follow the same path, drink in the same spot, and forage down to the roots rather than move on. Left long in the same area, they will devastate the land, pollute the waters, and beat paths into gullies. If the shepherd rotates them through different pastures, they enhance the soil and the fertilized grass can regrow.

Our Good Shepherd also wants to lead us in healthy ways. However, like sheep, we would rather stay in our ruts than allow ourselves to be led. In order for us to enhance His Kingdom, we need to love our Lord and others. And by love He means self-sacrifice. He leads us to fresh experiences of service, humility, acceptance, and trust through the enabling help of his Spirit.

Yea, though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil for you are with me–

As summer comes, shepherds drive their sheep through valleys to reach higher ground. The going isn’t easy; it is uphill, and often fraught with danger from storms, flash floods, and predators, but it’s the fastest way to reach the better grazing. We too may want to move to “higher ground” with God, but we forget that the way to higher-ground, closer relationship is through our struggles up the valley. Yet He is with us as we walk through the valley. When faced with true death, either of loved ones or our own, we have faith that we pass through it into eternal life. Our struggles and sufferings become the road to God. We have no need to be afraid. In fact, when we have passed through the valleys, we can become encouragers to those still struggling through their own valleys.

Your rod and your staff they comfort me–

A shepherd’s rod was a strong club for redirection or protection for the flock. The rod symbolizes the Word of God. We take comfort and assurance from His Word that He is all powerful and will lovingly redirect us onto the right path.

The staff with its hooked end was used to rescue sheep trapped in briars or struggling in water, as well as to move a newborn lamb closer to its mother without the risk of the shepherd’s scent on the lamb causing the mother to reject it. The staff symbolizes the Spirit of God, reminding us of God’s comfort, consolation, and tenderness. The Spirit draws us together into an intimate relationship with our parental God and with other members of His flock.

When we truly believe that we can trust our loving Shepherd, the rod and the staff are comforts.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies–

In the highlands, or table lands, flocks spent the summer on land the shepherd had prepared for them by removing poisonous plants, seeking out snakes, and adding salt and minerals to the soil. The sheep and shepherd spend days and nights together, away from their farm, and the psalmist reflects this intimacy as his words change from sheep boasting about their wonderful shepherd to praise spoken directly to the shepherd. Though grazing was rich on these table lands, predators stalked the flock and were kept away only by the vigilance of the shepherd.

We take comfort knowing our Good Shepherd has gone before us, and knows of every danger we will encounter, praying for us like He did for Peter that we might not fail in faith. Because of the predator of Evil, it is wise for us to walk closely to Jesus. Work to always know Him better through the Word, the Church, prayer life, sacrificial love, and holy mentors.

You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows–

Summer flies and pests torment sheep. Nose flies can lay eggs that will become parasites that drive the sheep mad. Also, affectionately rubbing heads, sheep infect each other with scab. To protect the sheep, a conscientious shepherd will repeatedly anoint their heads with oil, which repels the insects and infection and brings them relief.

Haven’t we all had pesky irritations that prevented us from being our best? Haven’t we or our children “put our heads together” with people who do not believe as we do and come away exposed to destructive thoughts? We too need the balm of the Holy Spirit to calm our minds and refocus our beliefs. Rather than frustration demanding our attention, we can, through the Spirit who comforts, claim the fruits of joy, contentment, love, patience, gentleness and peace.

Not only will our own cup be full, but it will overflow for the good and blessing of others.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life–

As the shepherd has diligently cared for the flock, the sheep trust him and don’t fear for the future. We too know our Good Shepherd showers goodness and kindness upon us daily and we must trust He will continue to do so all the days of our lives, no matter what difficulties lie ahead for us.

Yet, perhaps the psalmist meant more. Sheep enrich the lands they travel through. Perhaps we, by being so tenderly loved, by having our cups overflow, will also provide goodness and mercy to others. Goodness should follow us wherever we go and whatever we do, a legacy of blessing for our fellow sheep.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long–

In the fall the sheep return from the tablelands to their homeland, full and healthy and ready for winter. The speaker sheep proclaims how proud he is of his shepherd. Shepherds also take pride in and joy from their flock’s well-being.

We too should take pride in belonging to our Shepherd’s fold, “enfolded” by His love, and being welcome to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. We should be like the boasting sheep. Our love and contentment should proclaim to the world how good our Shepherd is.

With a loving Good Shepherd to watch over us, what or whom should we fear?

Thank you for reading these weekly Lenten posts. I hope they have helped you. May the Easter season fill you with new courage!


Worry Free Living

Betty blue bordered (2)

This is our penultimate week of preparation for Easter. It’s also our next-to-last look at how to fight fear in our lives. I just listened to Chris Tomlin’s song, Whom Shall I Fear, with the line, “The God of angel armies is always by my side.” What more could we ask to uphold our courage?

The book we focus on this week is Worry Free Living, by Frank Minirth, M.D., Paul Meier, M.D., and Don Hawkins, Th.M.  Though it was published in 1989, it still holds great insight, and used copies are available on Amazon. Written by two psychiatrists and a minister, this book pulls together guidance for our minds and our hearts.

The authors believe we experience anxiety when we are afraid to look at a negative emotion inside us, such as, anger, guilt, lust, or resentment. The Holy Spirit uses anxiety to draw our attention to something that needs to be aired. Though we might not want to admit a hidden truth, we must uncover it, and forgive ourselves or someone else or ask for forgiveness, in order to rid ourselves of anxiety. Forgiveness involves becoming aware of our anger and then choosing not to hold the offense against the person, in order to unburden ourselves. We decide not to seek revenge or even dwell on the offense. We don’t lick our wounds.

As we’ve read from other authors, a little anxiety can be a good thing, if it helps us prepare or encourages us to work in order to dispel the worry. Too much anxiety can lead to defense mechanisms, phobias, mental disorders, addictions, physical complications, and spiritual hopelessness. Sometimes professional help is necessary, but the authors suggest steps of self-help can prevent or alleviate anxiety for most of us:

  • Meditate daily, including meditation on Scripture.
  • Condition yourself to relax, using a repetitive phrase (like our affirmations) or visualizing a beautiful place to calm yourself.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Talk through problems to vent the pressure with someone you trust, and listen to theirs, too
  • Limit your worry to a 15-minute time slot and push aside worries until that time (As a parent, when my girls became highly anxious we would walk around the block once or twice, limiting our expressing-worry time to that walk.
  • Live one day at a time, not thinking “what if” about the future, or “if only” about the past.
  • Design an Action Plan. Do something to lessen your anxiety, for instance take an assertiveness class if you have trouble expressing your wants and needs.
  • Cultivate awareness of God’s presence with you. (Our God of angel armies!)
  • Decide to obey God, both to avoid guilt, a source of anxiety, and because He commands us not to worry.
  • Replace worry with prayer.
  • Give up faulty beliefs, like perfectionism or the necessity of winning approval from all.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle in the areas of sleep, diet, recreation, and exercise.
  • Examine your self-talk and replace the negative with positive. Replace a low self-image with a sense of your worth as a child of God.
  • Grow in intimacy with others. Reach out, build healthy friendships. If you aren’t able to do this, then reach out to a counselor to help you learn how. A good friend offers love, peace, open communication, mutual improvement, and refreshment.
  • Grow in intimacy with God through prayer, Scripture, and meditation. Since God is for us, who can be against?

I suspect each reader has methods they use to counter fear and anxiety. As we mature, we adopt methods of self-soothing. I tell myself, “I’m safe right now.” One reader emailed that she prays, “Jesus, I trust in You.” Another reminds herself to “claim my power” or “take control of my life”.

How do you fight fear?



Fighting Fear with Fear

Betty blue bordered (2)We’ve looked at fighting fear from a psychological perspective; we’ve talked about thinking positively, acting in spite of fear, and respecting reasonable fear.

This week, let’s turn to fighting fear spiritually. In Courage: Fighting Fear with Fear, authors Wayne and Joshua Mack remind us that nurturing fear is not part of God’s plan for us. Repeatedly, 365 times even, the Old and New Testaments instruct us not to fear. For the Macks, when Jesus tells us, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me (John 14:1),” He is giving a command, not a soft encouragement. God wants us to be in relationship with Him, and that relationship is meant to be one of love and trust. Worrying shows a lack of trust, a disbelief that God is all-powerful, loves us unconditionally, and wants what is best for us. To be afraid of people and what they think of us borders on or is outright disobedience, because we should only be concerned with following God’s guidance. In fact, by nurturing fear, we often fail to be our best selves, and fail to live out the life of meaning that God intends us to live, thus cheating ourselves and others of the graces He wishes to bestow.

The words of the title, Fighting Fear with Fear, refer to replacing our fear of man with a healthy, holy fear of God. This concept has bothered me since I was a child. Why should we fear God, if He is all loving and all good?

An alternate translation of “It is the Lord of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread,” (Isaiah 8:13) is instead, “The Lord of Hosts, Him shall you hallow.” To hallow means to make holy, to have great respect or hold in reverence. It can mean to sanctify, as in setting apart as holy. If we “fear” God, as in hold Him in respect and awe while setting Him apart as exalted above all else, we recognize his complete power and control of every situation. If we set God apart as holy, He becomes our holy place. Our refuge. We turn away from sin because we “fear” God, respecting and honoring Him with our actions and choices. Yes, we may suffer, but we trust His plan will transform our suffering to good.

The authors point out that frequently in the Bible, the commands for us to fear God are followed by promises of consequential blessings to us:

  • God will instruct us and guide us in our choices. (Psalm 25:12)
  • Our souls will abide in prosperity. (Ps 25:13) And what is soul prosperity? Direction and meaning in life, inner joy and satisfaction, inner peace.
  • Our descendants shall inherit the earth. (Ps 25:13, Ps 112:2) The positive influence will affect our children and our grandchildren
  • The psalm continues saying the secret of the Lord is for us. This implies a very close intimacy, for it is only with our dearest that we share our secrets. (Ps 25:14)
  • He hides us from the conspiracies of man. (Ps 31:20)
  • We will influence others, even after our death. (Ps 112:6)
  • We will not fear evil tidings. (Ps 112:7,8) 

Our fears put the focus on us, rather than our trust in God. Fear can be selfish and debilitating to what good we can accomplish. It runs counter to the two great commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 10:28) The Macks write, “When you fear man, you are not loving God with all you have, and you aren’t loving your neighbor as yourself.” The opposite of a spirit of fear is a spirit of love. The former is self-protecting, the latter is self-giving.

How do we rid ourselves of unhealthy fear?

  • Exercise our faith daily; trusting God’s Word that He is in control of everything.
  • Remember heaven and how eternal it is, compared to our current short-term worry.
  • Be prudent, protecting ourselves from real danger, but not to the point that it keeps us from serving others in need.
  • Ask ourselves if our fear keeps us from obeying God’s commands, or causes us to disobey them.
  • Replace sinful fear with holy fear, that which puts or keeps us on the right path.
  • Feel sorrow and repentance when we don’t trust God enough to overcome our fear of man. 

How do we attain a healthy “fear” of God?

  • Ask for a change of heart from God, that we might fear Him rather than anything or anyone else. We must ask for forgiveness and for this grace to fear Him.
  • Revere God and respect those whom God has given authority.
  • Devote ourselves to prayer.
  • Study God’s word.
  • Meditate on the truth: our sinfulness, God’s salvation, God’s goodness, His mighty works, His judgment, and His blessings. “Be still and know that I am God.” Ps 46:10
  • Follow Christ’s example, which includes taking up our cross and dying to ourselves. We must trust that since God is good, when we suffer it is for his purpose, and that purpose will be for our best, even though we don’t understand.

    Here’s my favorite quote from this week’s book, which wouldn’t be a bad addition to our daily affirmations:

    “God knows, God cares, God understands, God is loving, God is good, God is sovereign, He is in control, and He will deliver my soul from destruction and keep me in my times of difficulty. There is a way out. God will work all things together for good. He will not abandon me.” 

    Finally, in the words of St. Pope John Paul II: “Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”


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