The fear of man displays itself in many forms. In Ed Welch’s book When People Are Big, and God Is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man, he highlights a series of questions to help us identify signs of fear in us. Some of the questions include: Do you care what other people think of you? Do you feel empty and meaningless when you compare your journey with that of others? Is self-esteem a critical concern to you? If the answer to these questions is affirmative, then you have experienced the fear of man in one way or another. The need for recognition, honor, and acceptance demonstrates the hooks fear has in all of us.
In the bible, many people struggled with this vice. Obadiah, the servant of Ahab, shook at the thought of delivering the message of prophet Elijah to his master. Abraham lied about his wife because he was afraid of the king. Other servants of God were able to conquer the fear they had to glorify God. While serving in Potiphar’s house, Joseph was caught in the crosshairs of the master’s wife. Even knowing the consequences of choosing to honor and obey God, He did not sleep with her (Genesis 39). Caleb and Joshua went to Canaan among a team of spies sent under the orders of Moses. When they reached the land, they saw its beauty, its wealth, and the promise of God. In contrast, the other men saw their weaknesses and how frail they were compared to Canaan’s inhabitants (Numbers 13).
Let us go through six different ways we can overcome the fear of man in our lives:
- Bring all our anxiety to Jesus
Jesus gives a grand invitation for all those who are tired of carrying their burdens. He calls them who are weary, those who are fed up to give up their burdens for his light yoke (Matthew 11:28). When you come to Jesus with all your fears: Lay it all at his feet and leave it there. Do not become God’s timekeeper who lays their burdens at his feet with a stopwatch. When their set deadline passes, they pick the loads back up. Faith is evidence of the things not seen by physical eyes. When we look through the eyes of faith, we see the anxieties of this world through the lens of God.
There is nothing that we can not trust God with. Do not be anxious about anything, but in all things, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers. As you do that, a sense of God’s wholesome peace will overwhelm every fear and disappointment and settle you in place.
- God is with you
Fear overwhelms an individual the moment the enemy convinces them that they are alone. We give in to the demands of men because we think God is too far from where we are. King Aram was frustrated by Elisha. He had planned an elaborate course while at war with Israel. Then he would discuss the specifics of the attacks only with his close commanders. Yet, in the morning, Elisha would alert the king of Israel not to go through the place the Arameans had set camp. Then King Aram was convinced that they had a traitor among them. It was one officer who informed king Aram that it was the prophet who was revealing their secrets. The next day they set out for Elisha’s camp very early in the morning. When the servant of the man of God woke up, He was horrified. The Arameans had surrounded the city. It was at this moment that Elisha exposed the presence of the Lord’s army with them.
“And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17)
We can be tempted to fear different things, especially when they appear more prominent than we can handle. Let us remember that the one who keeps watching over us never sleeps nor slumbers (Psalms 121:4). And even if we walk through dark valleys and eerie seasons, we shall not be afraid, for He walks by our side. You are not alone.
- Look to God’s Word.
The word of God is living and active. Billy Graham wrote, “Anxiety is the natural result when our hopes are centered in anything short of God and His will for us.” What should we focus on to overcome fear? Paul’s letter to the Philippians summarises them in a list. We should meditate on the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and reasonable report. It is out of the abundance of our hearts that we speak. This is the reason the psalmist writes that he meditates on the statutes of the Lord day and night that he might not sin against Him. A life without the direction of God’s word is a life full of fear.
The promises in God’s word remind us that we are safe in his protection. God has promised to provide for our physical needs. The word of the Lord has promised us forgiveness of our sins. God has promised to grant us grace to overcome every temptation thrown at us. His word brings peace to the fearful, sad, broken-hearted, hopeless, and tired.
- Embrace Criticism
Many people fear being criticized. We should not be afraid when people say negative things about us; it is inevitable. Jesus, while on earth, received his fair share of rejection. When He ate with sinners, they wondered what He had to do with sinners (Matthew 9:11). And probably if He did not dine with the poor, they would have said, “He thinks too highly of Himself.” If people are left to give opinions on any matter, we can never reach a consensus. They also criticized His societal class of birth. Having been born in Nazareth, too, was an issue for some people.
As children of God, we must embrace and receive criticism. There is always trouble ahead for those who swim in the waters of people’s flattery (Luke 6:26). Our task as we walk with the Lord is to be authentic and not popular. Popularity is not a sign of godliness. Use every insult thrown at you for your profit. Learn to value the opinion of God above all else.
- Renewed Mind
When we embrace what the word of God says about us, we are transformed from the inside out. Sometimes we fear men because our faith is not built on the truth of God’s word but the behavior and customs of others (Romans 12:2). God has not given us a spirit of timidity and fear but that of power, love, and sound mind. A sound mind is well balanced, disciplined, and full of self-control. But the mind full of fear is the opposite. Its environment is like that of a whirlwind. A fearful mind will sweep away the stability of a person and predisposes us to think wrongly.
There is no shortage of people who bring gloomy and doomy news. There is no shortage of those who will announce to you that your failure is sealed. However, through the word of God, our minds are renewed, and then we can discern what noise from the report of the Lord is. When Moses died, the Israelites needed encouragement. Joshua also needed assurance from God. But when he went to seek the face of the Lord, God commanded him to be strong (Joshua 1:9). It was not a request or a suggestion; it was a command. The word of God is able to renew our minds to overcome fear.
- Fear the Lord
The final way we will overcome our fear of man is by redirecting it to God. You have not started the journey of wisdom if you have no fear of God. When we know God and not just about Him, we are able to revere Him and respect Him. The more we get closer to Him, the more we realize we are wholly dependent on Him.
Martin Luther said, “A young child has a fear or anxiety of offending the one he loves, not because he’s afraid of torture or even of punishment, but rather because he’s afraid of displeasing the one who is, in that child’s world, the source of power, security, and love.”
We are only beginning to comprehend the vastness of God’s love for us as each day of God’s grace here on earth passes. As a result, we fear the Lord. We stand in reverent awe and regard for all He has done, is doing, and will do for us, even when wicked notions arise in our minds. Despite everything, God forgives us. Knowing the Lord entails fearing and loving Him unconditionally. This is only the beginning. We learn more about God’s grace and wisdom every day.