Overcoming irrational fears and phobias
Fears and phobias can terrorize Christians, but the Bible assures us that God will help us to deal with them.
When I was in my early twenties, I decided to join some friends who were attending a church event far from home. We all travelled a day and a night by train to our destination. One of the group was Anna (not her real name). We were the only ones without berths, so we curled up in the plush train seats to sleep. I was dozing when I was shocked awake by the pain of Anna’s hands encircling my wrists.
“The train is going to go off the tracks. We are all going to die! ” she cried in terror. In my dozy,more-than-ready-for-sleep state, I thought she was kidding. "The train is going to go off the tracks! We are all going to die,” she said again. She was so scared that her eyes bulged and her face was paper white. The fear was real. I felt totally helpless against this panic attack.
“The train is not going to go off the tracks, Anna,” I said. Anna was shaking uncontrollably. She leaned forward, her face close to mine. “I know the train is going off the tracks. We are going to die,” she kept repeating. My muddled brain floundered. I sent up a silent, desperate prayer to God for insight as to what to do next.
Do you think it is God’s will that the train go off the tracks right now?” I asked.
“No,” she admitted reluctantly.
“Don’t you believe that God will keep us safe from harm?”
“And if we died and went to be with God, wouldn’t that be a good thing?”
“Yes.” Her grip on my wrists slackened a little.
“Let’s pray for God’s protection right now,” I suggested.
We prayed together. We asked God to calm her fears and claimed God’s promises for peace of mind and protection from harm. Anna let me go and stared vacantly forward. Her eyes darted about nervously. She then covered her face in her hands.
“We are going to die! The train is going to go off the tracks. ”
“Have you heard any news stories about trains jumping the tracks lately?” I said, trying a new tack.
“Wouldn’t God take care of us if something does happen?”
I repeated the same questions over and over again, challenging the fear. I tried to convey a total confidence in God in my shaky voice. I felt totally inadequate to handle this situation. Anna finally calmed down and felt comforted.
While staying at the hotel, it became clear that Anna’s life was controlled by many phobias. We were staying in rooms halfway up a high rise hotel. While I used elevators, Anna took the stairs. I spent a lot of time waiting for her in lobbies and hallways. Her phobias affected where she sat in a car, the restaurants we could eat in, and the attractions we could enjoy.
After that experience, Anna realized how much her fears were hurting her life and prayed to God to help her to overcome her fears. She felt reassured and comforted by Biblical promises that she could conquer her phobias. She sought professional help on her journey. Over time, she has been able to develop tools to challenge and control her fears.
There comes a time in our lives, as it did with Anna, that we need to face our fears. First, we need to sort out which fear is justified or whether our fright is irrational. The Bible says to “fear” the Lord, meaning that we should honor and respect God. Other kinds of fear benefit us because they warn us of danger that puts us in harm’s way. However, irrational fear is often a destructive force, destroying our peace of mind and sense of safety.
Fear is related to anticipating judgment and punishment (1John 4:18), or sense of impending doom that something really bad will happen to us.
Our human reaction is to run from our fears. The problem is that our anxiety levels start to go through the roof. We may even turn to obsessive compulsive behavior for relief, but these rituals only provide a temporary solution. Our terrors increase with time and become unbearable. God gives us several tools that give us the strength to overcome our fears.
Living by faith
When fears loom, it is time for faith to kick in. We Christians have the assurance that whatever situation we are in, God will give us the strength to endure it. God doesn’t allow us to go through anything that we can’t handle (1 Corithinans10:13). When our fears threaten us, we can cry out to God and have confidence that He will deliver us from the things that terrify us (Psalm 34:17). When we cast all of our cares on God, He will sustain us (Psalm 55:22).
The peace of God will descend on us and guard our minds from unwanted fears and phobias (Philippians 4:7). People can feel secure and face their challenges without fear and will triumph in the end (Psalm 112:7-8). We can learn more about the nature of God by studying the Bible, and rest in the promises of deliverance in the scriptures.
God has promised a way out of every situation if we seek Him in prayer (Psalm 61:1). God is faithful – He will respond and help us if we ask Him for His help when we need it (Psalm 145:13).
Reach out for help
Sometimes God works through other people to comfort us and talk us back to sanity. A good talk with a friend can quiet our fears and restore our faith. In some cases, professional help may be needed for obsessive compulsive behaviors and deep-set phobias. Some of us fear physical harm or death.
For Christians, physical pain can be endured if we lean on God and death is not something to be feared. It is an event we can look forward to, because we will be with God and eventually, our loved ones.
Overcoming irrational fears and phobias doesn't happen overnight. It takes effort though exercising our faith, prayer and the help of other people. We can however, feel assured that God will help us if we ask Him.
The Holy Bible, New International Version
Five Ways to Handle Irrational Fear, Rebecca Barlow Jordan, Crosswalk.com