The Gospel and Fear, Worry and Anxiety

Today's post is by my guest blogger, Pastor Bruce Roeder. Bruce and I worked together for many years in our counseling center in Wisconsin. Bruce has written a wonderful booklet on the subject of fear, worry, and anxiety that is available at If you are interested in an excellent treatment of this topic I highly recommend picking that little booklet up.
These are just a few of the labels the DSM-IV[1] uses to describe fear, worry and anxiety:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Agoraphobia, Social Phobia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Sexual Aversion Disorder, Sleep Terror Disorder, Avoidant Personality, Persecutory Delusions, Panic Disorder, Paranoid Schizophrenia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Nightmare Disorder, Paranoid Disorder, Separation Anxiety Disorder.

Ed Welch and Susan Lutz authors of a book on fear, worry and anxiety titled Running Scared[2] quotes Stephen King in an opening chapter.

“I like to scare people and people like to be scared.” Stephen King

It may seem odd but there is truth in Stephen King's words. On one hand we've taken our fears, worries and anxieties and defined them as disorders or diseases that we see doctors for. The doctors treat the fears, worries and anxieties as sicknesses and issue drugs to cure the fears, worries and anxieties.

Welch goes on to say that one in ten Americans suffer from one of the labels mentioned.

So it seems that Stephen King could not be more wrong and we really don't like to be scared given how many of us seek treatment.

On the other hand scary novels and scary movies are extremely popular. Stephen King's books total over 100 million in print. So maybe he's right after all, Americans like to be scared.

The third possibility is that sometimes we like to experience the emotion of fear and at other times we do not.

Emotions in and of themselves are neither good or bad. They can be positive or they can be negative and at times even a negative emotion like fear can be a positive in certain circumstances like reading a Stephen King novel.

Whether positive or negative, fear is a powerful emotion. It's one of the most powerful emotions God placed within man. In the normal sense of the term, fear is just fine because it warns us of potential danger. On the other hand fear can be irrational and not have much connection with reality. What we are afraid of often times determines how we respond.

For example...

A few years ago our counseling ministry went to Colorado for a conference speaking engagement. The four us took a side trip to the Rocky Mountains. Wisconsinites like us are basically flat landers so going to the mountains was a big deal and a rare experience. How the four of us reacted to the experience is an interesting study in fear, worry and anxiety.

As you make your way on the highway up the mountain you come very close to the edge of the road and then a sheer drop off that is not protected by side rails. As we went up the mountain two us were exhilarated by the “near death” experience and loved the feeling of looking down 12,000 feet from a car driving on the edge of the road.

The other two responded to the experience not so quite exhilarated! In fact, when the car came close to the edge and you could see down 12,000 feet these two leaned the other way as if that would keep the car toward the center line! Same experience, two very different reactions.

We make judgments as to what scares us or worries us. We assess the situation in the blinking of an eye and our emotional response is the result of the judgment. Two of us could not have been more thrilled and the other two wished they were somewhere else.

The two who wished they were somewhere else experienced anxiety. Anxiety is fear on steroids. It is based on “what if.” 

Anxiety is often the result of wrong thinking. We get an anxious thought, and begin to ruminate on it, meditate on that thought. As we roll it over and over in our minds it becomes more real and more probable that it will come to pass. We begin to tell ourselves it will become reality when we have little to no factual reason to think so. (after all, if people drove their cars off the mountain there would be rails, right?)
This causes our heart rate to rise, palms to sweat, breathing to become rapid. By our thoughts, we have manipulated our bodies into responding as though we are in trouble.
It if it gets serious enough the two who did not enjoy the mountain experience  will experience an escalating condition that could lead them into cowering in the bottom of the car rather than look outside.

You might be thinking well, lots of normal people might be uneasy going up on the mountain and driving close to the edge of a cliff but what about people who seem fearful, worried and full of anxiety who are not experiencing an immediate threat of any sort?

The answer to that goes back to what scares us when we don't wish to be scared. For example, your baby is sick and the doctors are not sure just exactly what is wrong. Or, your fifteen-year-old is acting “funny” staying out late, grades are declining and you are not thrilled with whom he is hanging with.

Isn't this normal worry you may ask?

Worry is related to fear because the person is fearful that something will occur in the future. Like anxiety its based on “what if” this or that happens.

Whatever we attach value to and that something is threatened that's what creates fear, worry and anxiety. In the mountain story two people feared they could lose their lives. The mother feared for her baby and the father feared for his son and perhaps feared for the family reputation as well. While these fears are normal and God given they become dangerous when they control us.

Not surprisingly there is a divine perspective on fear, worry and anxiety and it's found in Matthews gospel.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life. 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matt. 6:25-34, ESV

[1]    The DSM-IV is used by psychiatrists and psychologists to assess disorders by describing symptoms. It's been referred to as the bible of psychiatry.
[2]    Welch, Ed and Lutz, Susan, Running Scared, New Growth Press, 2007