How to Fight Fear

*Originally posted at https://www.crosstownokc.org/crosstown-blog/post/how-to-fight-fear

 

In my previous post, we looked at some of the root causes of fear, how they reflect our incorrect perception of God, and how they influence our sinful behavior. For this post, I’d like to dive into how we can begin to combat and overcome these sinful patterns. Here are 3 points that have been helpful to me in my own battle with fear and anxiety.

#1. Paul’s 4-Part Strategy

Probably one of the most well-known passages on dealing with anxiety is this one from Philippians 4:6-9:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

You may be thinking, “Yes, I’ve heard that a million times, but I need practical help managing my anxiety!” But let me tell you, coming from someone who has struggled with clinically diagnosed anxiety and panic attacks, Paul is laying out a very practical, 4-part strategy for dealing with fear and anxiety.

First, we pray (v. 6). This should be a no-brainer, but often it is not our first response.

Second, we give thanks (v. 6). I have come to believe that he includes this here because it is very hard to be anxious and grateful at the same time. As soon as I begin listing out the things that I am grateful for in my prayers, my anxiety lessens. Gratefulness reminds us of the good God that we serve and all the reasons we have to trust him.

Third, we think about truth (v. 8). This is so very important that I’ve given it its own point below, but I think the order here is interesting. After we have made our requests known to God, thanked him for who he is and what he has done, we have a further responsibility. We are commanded to run our thoughts through this 8-stage truth filter (Is it true, honorable, just, etc.?). It is our nature to pray about something that worries us, “give it to God,” and then go right back to our anxious thoughts. This is Paul’s answer to that problem!

Finally, we practice (v. 9). Having grown up playing soccer, this invokes a lot of analogies for me, but I think the main point is this: this is not a one-time deal. Practice involves repetition. It involves doing things over and over, even things that you think you already know how to do. It involves hard work, diligence, and perseverance. We must practice to overcome fear.

#2. Discipline Your Mind

Disciplining your mind to think about God’s truth is key to overcoming fear. Like I talked about in my previous post, fear can be generated just by our thoughts about what might happen to us. This is dangerous because it means we have the ability to fear things that may never actually happen to us. Charles Spurgeon said, “Such strange creatures are we that we probably smart more under blows which never fall upon us than we do under those which do actually come.” We can hypothesize fear into existence!

This was another area in which Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book Overcoming Fear, Worry and Anxiety was extremely helpful to me. She writes this:

The problem with fears that exist only in our imagination is that, since they aren’t real, we must face them alone. God’s grace isn’t available to help us overcome imaginary problems that reside only in our mind. He will help us to put these imagined fears to death, but it’s only in the real world that His power is effective to uphold us in trouble. It’s only when He calls us to actually go through difficult times that His power is present to protect, comfort, and strengthen us.

This is why it is so important to discipline our minds. If we allow our thoughts of what might happen in the future to control our minds, we will live in fear. The Bible tells us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7). A sound mind encompasses a mind that has the ability to “take every thought captive” and run our thoughts through the filter outlined by Paul in Philippians 4. Is what we are worrying about true, honorable, and just? Does it reflect the truth about God? We have a responsibility to align our thinking with Scripture and not allow our fearful thoughts to control us.

#3. Realize Fear Can Be a Tool in Our Sanctification

Although this may cause anxiety in itself, we need to embrace the fact that God can use our fears and anxieties as a tool in our journey toward Christ-likeness. If every time my anxiety flares up I confess the idols I worship, search Scripture to assure myself of the attributes of God, and discipline my mind to think about what is true, then my anxiety is no longer a tool of Satan keeping me from obedience to Christ. It is now a means of my sanctification and growth. Psalm 34:4 says, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” For many years I rewrote this verse in my mind to say, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all of the things I was afraid of.” But it doesn’t say that. God may very well not deliver us from the things that cause us fear, but rather deliver us from the bondage of the fears themselves as we learn to trust the sovereign Lord on a whole new level.

Psalm 94:19 says, “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” This verse has been so true in my life. Often in the times of greatest anxiety, the presence of the Holy Spirit has been the most tangible. I pray as you combat the worries, fears, and anxieties in your life, you will experience the joyous consolation of the Lord and ultimately freedom from the bondage of fear.

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What Fear Does

Hey everyone!

I have been taking a long break from blogging as we have been busy adjusting to life here in Ecuador. I’m hoping to be able to write a little more frequently in the coming months but for now I’d like to repost this article I wrote for our home church’s blog. It has been exciting to see this blog start up and all of the wonderful content being produced by our brothers and sisters in Christ! You can check the entire blog out here. Scroll on down to see my article.

 

*Originally posted at https://www.crosstownokc.org/crosstown-blog/post/what-fear-does

 

“Wow, I could never do that. You are so brave!”

I can’t tell you the number of people who have said that to me as we prepared to move overseas with our 3 children who were 4 and under at the time. What they didn’t know, however, is that I’m not a particularly “brave” person. A bit of a daredevil maybe, but when it comes to the everyday realities of life, and especially when it comes to my kids, I have a lot of fears. I worry for my kids about all kinds of things: their emotional and spiritual development, poisonous snakes, even them getting hit by a car. The threat of serious illness can trigger a panic attack.

Ironically, as people have marveled at our “bravery” over the past 2 years we’ve been overseas, God has taken me on a journey of learning and overcoming my fears. I initially boarded the plane to Costa Rica white-knuckling the armrests, but slowly God has helped me overcome my fears and live in freedom.

Not only am I not a particularly brave person, I’m also not a very original person. I’ve always been slightly jealous of those people (like my husband) who can take a pile of Legos or a blank sheet of paper and actually create something. I, on the other hand, am very good at following directions and executing someone else’s ideas. So, the majority of what you are about to read are not my original thoughts at all. As God has been teaching me about fear and how to overcome it, he has used a Bible study entitled Fear and Anxiety, a small pamphlet called Living in a Dangerous World: Moving from Fear to Faith, and a book by Elyse Fitzpatrick called Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety. Anything profound you read here probably came from one of those sources, but I’d like to give you the blog post version of all that God has taught me.

First, let me be clear about what kind of fear I am referring to. God created us with the ability to recognize a dangerous or threatening situation and programmed us to generate an emotional response: fear. This is a good thing! We need this fear response in many situations to keep ourselves safe; not walking off the edge of a cliff, for example. Sometimes, however, our perception of what is dangerous or threatening can get skewed. Fear and anxiety can become overwhelming, even debilitating. It can keep us from obedience to Christ and can actually be rooted in sin. This is the kind of fear I want to talk about. With this in mind, I’d like to share 3 things that God has taught me about fear.

#1. Fear Reveals Our Idols

Our fear can be a very helpful tool in pinpointing where we have placed something above God. This was a huge revelation for me and the one that most drastically changed how I approached my fears and anxieties. If we have put something in the place that only God should have in our lives, and we are placing our hope and trust in that, it is only natural that we will feel fear any time that object or idea is threatened. For example, if my kids have become an idol, then anytime their well-being is threatened, I will feel fear. Maybe you fear losing your job because your finances have become an idol. Maybe you fear sickness because your health has become an idol. Whatever your fear is, try to trace it back to the root of what in your life has taken the place of God. Acknowledge what you are placing your trust in and repent from worshipping some part of God’s creation rather than God himself (Rom 1:21-25).

#2. Fear Is Rooted in an Incorrect View of God

Fear is almost always rooted in an incorrect, too small, view of God. If we consider God’s attributes revealed to us in scripture, and if we truly believe them, our fear many times will vanish in the face of the reality of who God is.

Perhaps the most consoling attribute of God when we are anxious is his sovereignty. Elyse Fitzpatrick writes, “God’s sovereignty is the only safe harbor when we’re assailed by the winds of fear, doubt, and worry.”

God’s sovereignty, his perfect power to do whatever pleases him, means that he controls every event of our lives, determines the number of our days, is in control of the weather, and can overrule even our stubborn sin and rebellion (1 Chron 29:10-11Psa 68:20Gen 8:22Rom 9:18).

Coupled with God’s absolute power we find him to be absolutely wise, absolutely loving, absolutely merciful, and absolutely holy. The most powerful being in the universe is also our wise and loving Father who knows and cares for every aspect of our lives. Why then do we fear?

#3. Fear Reinforces Our Control Issues

Fear, according to the dictionary is an “unpleasant, often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.” In other words, it is our response to something that is happening or that we think might happen.

Often, the result is we try to control and manipulate every possible unpleasant scenario, especially ones that in reality we have no control over. For example, I fear that I or someone in my family will contract some illness like dengue fever, malaria, or something as simple as parasites. Fear causes me to spend my energy attempting to control all aspects of our life that could possibly be connected to getting sick: bug spray always, washing everything, not eating certain foods at specific restaurants, etc. Fear causes me to believe that if I work hard enough to control the situation, I can avoid the object of my fear. But the Bible says just the opposite. Proverbs 1:33 says, “But whoever listens to mewill dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” And Proverbs 3:7-8 says, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”

Fear causes us to try to control rather than trust the One who is actually in control.

Thankfully, God does not leave us to struggle with our fears and anxieties on our own. In the next part of this blog post, we will look at 3 ways that I have learned to combat my fear.

Ice Cream Princess

We celebrated Zoe’s 3rd birthday this past weekend. I cannot believe she’s three! Yet in other ways, just like all of life’s changes, I can’t imagine life before her. She is definitely the firstborn-girl of the family, the little momma-in-training. She is sweet and spunky, princess-loving, yet comes home from school covered in dirt from playing hard. Whatever she does, she does with all of her energy and emotions. Which means, when she is happy, she is SO very happy. And when she is upset, the world is ending. One of our favorite Zoe quotes is this one: as we are walking to the park on day, she looks up at the sky and says, “Blue!! I love blue!!”

And that is exactly her outlook on life. Everything is exciting and joy-bringing and full of life.

She asked for an “ice cream-princess” party so it was a fun challenge finding a way to bring those two loves to life. Here are some pictures of her big day and all of the friends who came to celebrate her.

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Anyone who knows us knows we love a good party! But we are done with the party-throwing for this year. Tune in next year for more crazy Souza parties.

Our U.S. Visit

Thank you all for your prayers over our recent visit to the U.S. Everything went smoothly and it was such a blessing to get to spend time with family and friends before the big move to Ecuador in just 4 MONTHS! It’s getting close!

Since we were practically AWOL from social media during our entire trip, here’s what we were up to during our time away.

Can’t you tell it was a great flight from the faces in the first picture?! Actually, the kids all did really well. The big two are pro flyers (I think this was their 20th airplane!) and Clara did really well in her carseat for most of the flight. If you ever need tips for flying with kids, we’d love to pass them along but the basic rules are: there is no fool-proof plan, you make it up as you go along, and it will all be over eventually. Oh, and take lots of snacks.

 

We arrived in the US with no issues and were all so excited to see the grandparents (and, ahem, chick-fil-a)!

Our first stop (after chick-fil-a) was the Brazilian consulate in Houston to finish the paperwork for our kids to become official Brazilian citizens. We had a small hiccup on the consulate’s end and weren’t able to complete the process that day so we did the next logical thing…go to space!

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Well, the NASA Space Center in Houston, that is. The kids had a blast.

In the middle of all of the unplanned, we were really surprised to realize how much we’ve changed in just the past 8 months. For example, our ability to handle stressful or uncomfortable situations has really increased by living overseas. Because we live every day here in Costa Rica with just a little bit of underlying culture stress, when you take that away back in the States, we’re able to handle a whole lot more “extra” stress than we can when we’re here. Which is a really nice feeling after feeling like you’ve barely been keeping your head above water for 8 months! We give all the credit to the Lord as He continues to grow and stretch us out of our comfort zone (something that especially I (Maddie), am not a fan of!). We know that these changes in our personalities and the way we view life and handle stress are just more preparation for what He has ahead of us!

The next day, with the Lord’s favor, we were able to complete the registration for these cuties to be Brazilian citizens! Notice the process of Clara’s independence…

 

The next few weeks were filled with family and friends…Easter celebrations, science museum trips, cousin playtime, a train ride, visiting grandparents, catching up with friends, and so much more! Here is a really quick photo overview.

 

We also had a few other paperwork issues we needed to handle while being in the States and those went smoothly as well. Again, thank you for praying.

Our church in OKC provided a night for us to share with them and for them to pray over us (of which I have exactly zero pictures). It was so refreshing to our souls. Thank you, Crosstown family!

One of the most encouraging things about the whole trip is that by the end of it, we were all ready to come “home”…to Costa Rica! Praise God for that huge answer to prayer that we, and our kids, felt a sense of missing this place that at times still feels so foreign to us. That is exactly what we prayed would happen!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Until next time,

Maddie