Fear!—We don’t realize how much of it is subconscious until we analyze it and try to put it into words; yet we’re often afraid to talk about our fears, or even confess to ourselves that we’re afraid, because that would expose our innermost selves.
But being afraid to talk about our fears is one of the worst fears of all, because fear is like a disease: We can’t find the cure until we confess we have it and reveal the symptoms. And it often seems like a shameful disease, because if we’re honest, we know our fears are often the result of our failures—past failures or possible future failures.
The fear of failure is probably one of the greatest fears people have—the fear of failure in life, love, labor, and for Christians, failing the Lord. For the Christian, the fear of failing God is perhaps second only to the fear of failing others, because we know that God will forgive us, but others sometimes find it hard to forgive. The fear of hurting others because of our failure, the fear of letting them down, disappointing them, disillusioning them, discouraging them—the fear that because of our failure, others will also fail—this is hardest to bear. The fear of failing ourselves is least of all. In a way, that is fear of the truth about ourselves: We don’t want to admit our limitations and shortcomings.
But whatever your fears are, it pays to face them. That’s how you draw a line of distinction between the truth and the lie, between reality and the imaginary, between fact and fear.
An incident from my childhood illustrates this principle: As a boy, I delivered papers and handbills door to door, and I frequently encountered big dogs that would chase me and nip at my heels. Occasionally they actually bit me, but most of the time their bark was worse than their bite. I soon discovered that if I turned my back on them and tried to run from them, they were more apt to bite me than if I faced them.
Actually, a dog barks and growls at you because he is afraid of you, and the more afraid you are of him, the more afraid he is of you. If he senses that you’re afraid, he knows instinctively that you’re apt to do something to protect yourself; you’re apt to hurt him. When a dog is afraid of you, he is much more apt to bark and growl and possibly even attack you. But as long as you face him and stand your ground, he usually won’t attack. The very fact that you face the dog lets him know that, though you may be somewhat afraid of him, you’re not too afraid, and that lessens his fear of you. I’ve had this happen numerous times, with big and small dogs. If you stand firm and face the dog, though he will probably still growl and snarl a little, he will often turn his head and find a way to get out of your presence, watching you out of the corner of his eye all the time. He will usually back down, turn around, and leave you alone.
But if you’re so afraid that you turn your back on him and run, even the littlest dog will probably chase you and possibly even bite you, because he knows you really are afraid of him, therefore you are an enemy. His fears of you were well founded; you proved that by running! So he promptly takes advantage of your fear as you retreat by leaping to the attack. Nearly everybody who gets bitten by a dog gets bitten not on the toes, but the heels; not on the shin, but the calf of the leg. Of course, some dogs are so mad or so diseased or so trained that they’ll attack you to the face, but even these can be faced down in the power of the Spirit of God!
Now back to that childhood incident: I was about 12 years old. I had gone into a certain yard to deliver a handbill, when out from the backyard came a huge Great Dane, barking and growling furiously. He was coming at me full speed, leaping and bounding, and I thought, This is it! I knew I didn’t dare turn my back on him or he would bite me for sure, but on the other hand, he was too big for me to face and I was invading his territory! Thank God I remembered to pray for the Lord’s help. I suddenly jutted my hand out toward him and yelled, “I rebuke you in Jesus’ name!”—And did he put on the brakes! He skidded to a stop and looked absolutely startled, turned tail and ran.
So it not only pays to face your fears, acknowledge and confess them, but to take a positive stand against them, especially in the power and Spirit of the Lord, claiming the promises from His Word. It wouldn’t have done me a bit of good to try to take the “positive thinking” approach and say, “Big old dog, you just don’t exist, so I’m going to ignore you!” He would have promptly finished me off to prove that he did exist!
It doesn’t pay to try and say there’s no such thing as evil, sin, or sickness, and just try to ignore the facts. That would be like trying to ignore that you have a disease when you’ve really got it. As long as you try to hide it, you can’t very well find the remedy.
You have to differentiate between reality and the imaginary, the truth and the lie. It doesn’t do any good to just shut your eyes and hope the problem goes away, or hope that when you open your eyes again you’ll find out it didn’t exist, that it was just your imagination.
That big dog existed, and he was coming right for me, and it wouldn’t have done a bit of good to shut my eyes and hope he would go away, or to tell myself that he was just a figment of my imagination. He was there, as real as you or me, and he was headed for me! In that situation, the best thing I could have done was to face him and take action to eliminate the danger, and I did so by launching a counterattack by the power of the Spirit. At first he was on the offensive and I was on the defensive, but the Lord helped me turn the tables. Suddenly he was put on the defensive, and that’s when he turned and ran.
As any military strategist knows, it’s impossible to win a war as long as you stay on the defensive. Defensive warfare is doomed to defeat. To win a war you have to launch an attack; you have to go on the offensive. You have to attack the enemy! You have to take the initiative! You have to be positive! You have to attack and invade and overpower! You can’t just sit there and try to ward him off while he attacks and invades, or he’ll eventually overpower you. A passive defense never won a war.
Attacking initiative is what wins a war. This is why commando and guerrilla warfare is so successful, even when greatly outnumbered and outgunned. By sudden surprise attacks in unexpected places and weak spots in the enemy’s defenses, a few commandos can do a lot of damage. They can hit and run before the enemy even knows what happened, and before the enemy has a chance to retaliate.
It’s like little David with Goliath: One little guerrilla defied a whole army (1 Samuel chapter 17). Or like Gideon and his little band: A small bunch of guerrillas defied a whole army (Judges chapter 7). Or like Jonathan and his armorbearer: Two more guerrillas defied a whole army (1 Samuel 14:1-1). If you’ve got God with you, you’re unbeatable, no matter how small you are! God is not limited to save by many or by few (1 Samuel 14:6). Any military strategist knows that no matter how small his forces, if he takes the initiative and attacks first, if he goes on the offensive, he has a definite advantage over his enemy.
So it pays to face your fears, recognize they’re there, decide between the real and the unreal, the truth and the lie, and then to go to the attack to dispel the vaporous fiction of the fairy tale and to drive away the genuine reality of real threat!
Fear is the exact opposite of faith. Just as “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10), fear of Satan is really the beginning of death. The Hebrew word translated as “fear” in this verse is yirah, which means “reverence.” So to fear God is to give Him the respect He deserves. It’s a form of worshipping God. Therefore, to fear Satan and his devices is to give him just the kind of worship that he wants.
So you must rebuke that kind of fear just as Jesus did when the Devil tried to get Him to worship him on the mount of temptation. Jesus put the Devil in his place: “Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve'” (Luke 4:8). The implied meaning from the original is: “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you fear.” You’re only to fear God. When we’ve done something wrong, we should be afraid of God. But we’re not to be afraid of the Devil, ever!
God’s Word says about other kinds of fear that “fear involves torment” (1 John 4:18). Fear of the Devil will wear you down and wear you out. It is damaging and disastrous to you if you harbor it! Fear of the Devil is not of God, “for God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). And, “You [God] will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You” (Isaiah 26:3).
Fear was one of the terrible problems of a girl I once prayed for, Helen Jones. She had been in bed for eight years and had gotten so thin that her skin was stretched over her bones. She looked like a skeleton. She wasn’t able to eat any kind of solid food, and could hardly even drink water.
Doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with her. They examined her, tried every test, and finally said, “There’s nothing medically wrong with her. We don’t know what’s the matter.” Well, God is the Great Physician who can heal all our diseases, and forgive all of our sins (Psalm 103:3). He is the greatest Doctor, and He showed us that her main problem was fear.
Just before several others and I went to pray for her, the Lord reminded us of the Scripture that describes people “who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:15). As I laid my hands on Helen and began to earnestly pray for her, suddenly I felt the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, and I rebuked the Devil and this fiend of fear that was tormenting her. In the name and authority of Jesus, I ordered him to depart from her and from that house. Because of our faith in God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, Helen was instantly delivered!
She got out of bed that day and walked for the first time in years! She had been bedridden, with her feet under the weight of the covers so long, that her feet looked almost like hands. But thank God, that day the Life Giver—Jesus Christ, God’s Son—came into that room and delivered her from that horrible spirit of fear that had kept her so bound!
When we saw her just a few weeks later, she was well and strong. Her appetite had been restored, she had gained 40 pounds, and she was absolutely beautiful and charming. She entertained us in her home—perfectly well, fully restored. She even had a new boyfriend.
The Lord promises “perfect peace” to those whose minds are fixed on Him, to those who trust in Him (Isaiah 26:3). So if you are troubled by a spirit of fear, put your trust in the Lord. Just tell Satan, “Begone, Devil! Get out of here! I’m putting my trust in God, in Jesus!” The Bible says that if you submit yourself to God and resist the Devil, he will flee from you (James 4:7).
God’s Word makes it clear that we are in a spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:12), and that our weapons are not physical, but spiritual and mighty, to the tearing down of strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). This is a picture of Christians attacking the spiritual strongholds of the Devil and ripping them apart.
Jesus said of the Church—which is true Christians, not an institution—”The gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 KJV). When I was a boy and I heard preachers use that verse, the way they interpreted it made it sound as though the Church was standing firm on the defensive. They pictured the Church as a church building, standing on a big rock, and though all Hell was pounding on its gates, Hell couldn’t triumph over the Church. The fires of Hell lapped against its fortifications, but the Church was all bottled up in its little fortress, and the Devil and all the demons of Hell couldn’t get in. And that’s exactly the way many Christians act. Theirs is a hold-the-fort, purely defensive warfare—a battle for mere survival!
But this is not God’s picture at all! In that verse, Jesus is referring to Peter’s declaration that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God. Jesus told Peter, “Upon this Rock—the fact that I am Christ, the Savior, the only Foundation—will I build My Church!” He was literally saying, “Upon Me will I build My Church!”
But now notice the rest of the verse: “And the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it [the Church].” What this really means is that the gates of Hell will not be able to defend themselves against the Church. The gates of Hell itself, the Devil’s territory, his fortresses, Satan’s strongholds, his gates, will not be able to withstand the onslaughts of God’s people. The gates of Hell shall not prevail. The gates of Hell will not be able to withstand our attacks!
It’s a case of mistaken identity, due to people assigning the most common modern usage to the word “prevail”: to overcome, to triumph. What Jesus meant was closer to the meaning of the Latin word praevalere, from which “prevail” was derived: to be stronger. What He was saying was that the gates of Hell would not be able to be stronger than, or to stand strong against, the attacks of God’s people.
So the picture Christ painted was not of the Church standing fast behind its closed doors while all Hell attacks, but of Hell trembling behind its closed doors, while the Church is in an all-out attack against Hell’s gates, which are collapsing and crumbling under the weight of the power of God through His Church. The people of God are on the offensive. The people of God are invading Hell’s gates. Do you get the picture?
Jesus said, “I give you authority [power] over all the power of the Enemy” (Luke 10:19). Through Jesus’ name and authority, you have power over the Devil and can order him what to do. The demons and evil spirits are subject unto us; they have no free will of their own. They cannot do as they please (Luke 10:17,20). They have to do what we tell them to do in Jesus’ name.
If you love God and know that He loves you, you know that He’s going to take care of you; you know that everything is all right, because God loves you. So why should you be afraid? There’s no reason to fear! His perfect love casts out all such fear (1 John 4:18).
So face the Devil! Attack him! Resist the Enemy and he’ll flee from you! Face your fears in the power of God’s Spirit, standing on the promises of His Word, and you cannot fail!
And tho’ this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim—
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure.
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours,
Through Him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
And we will win the battle!
—Martin Luther (1483-1546)