Fear. God. Love.
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Test your knowledge. Put your hand over the screen and guess the three most common mental disorders in the US.

Image © Lars Justinen from GoodSalt.com

Image © Lars Justinen from GoodSalt.com

They are, in order, with lifetime prevalence rates: Anxiety disorders (about 18%), mood disorders (about 10%), and ADHD (about 5%).

It might come as a surprise that anxiety rates higher than depression. Actually, anxiety diagnoses multiply like rabbits in the Diagnostic Manual put out by the American Psychiatric Association. Here are the primary ones: acute stress disorder (“shellshocked,” “gunshy,” “once-burned, twice shy”), agoraphobia (fear of being trapped), panic disorder (panic attacks), social phobia (extreme shyness), specific phobia (such as fear of snakes), obsessive-compulsive disorder (using rituals to stave off fear), post-traumatic stress disorder (trauma-induced flashbacks and nightmares, etc.), generalized anxiety disorder (fear of everything). Sum up these diagnoses and you have the staggering near 20 percent lifetime prevalence rate.

Make a fearful face for a moment. Notice your eyes—they’re wide open. Notice the “o” of your lips and your flared nostrils. Fear literally opens up the orifices of the face so that we can take in more information about the potential threat. We can see, smell and taste it better, process the information, and scream if necessary. In other words, when afraid we pay extremely close attention to the object of fear. Fear engages focus.

Focusing on a car barreling down my lane enables a life-saving swerve. Noticing a snarling Doberman, I pick up a rock. Fear can be a good, protective thing. But pathological fear leads us to focus exclusively on non-threats such that we miss actual threats. Post-traumatic stress possesses this tragic feature, leading victims into dissociative hypervigilance. We can be so afraid of thugs in dark alleys that we miss the white-collar criminal at the front door. In addition, long-term, unabated stress causes a plethora of health complications.

I believe the Bible contains a very simple formula for anxiety management. It involves redirecting our fear to a place where fear can be ultimately resolved. Recall Jesus’ words: “Fear not those who can kill the body but not the soul, but fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell,” Matthew 10:28. Here Jesus redirects our fear from “them”–human threats, to “Him,” God. The reason? God is actually more threatening than “them.” He can do more damage. He “is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Don’t fear the house cat, fear the lion. Don’t fear the bb gun, fear the assault rifle. Don’t fear the common cold, fear cancer. If you’re going to fear, fear intelligently.

The problem is, this hardly puts God in a flattering light. We might think He’s encouraging a kind of mindless terror of Him simply because He can dominate. But remember that fear serves the valid purpose of arresting our attention. And remember that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” Proverbs 9:10. Once He has our attention, He can speak to us. He can pour in new information. He can tell us things like: “I laid aside my divine power so I could suffer alongside you as a human. I lived a life of self-sacrifice and compassion such that children and small animals trusted Me. I submitted myself to hate and persecution, and ultimately carried your sins to rough, lonely cross where they crushed Me. My eyes grew wide with terror as I felt God’s wrath. My nostrils flared with the fear of separation from Him. My mouth froze into a woeful circle, never to smile again in this life. I finally yielded up My spirit and lay in a grave where I kept Adonai’s Sabbath. When the sun rose I burst forth, carrying with me a new, glorified humanity, sealing you to everlasting life. I am love. Far from wanting to destroy, I was willing to be destroyed in order to save.”

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear,” 1 John 4:18. Fear intelligently and God will put your fears to rest in the warm embrace of His everlasting love. He’ll turn your fears to tears of repentance for ever doubting His goodness. Go to Him now, submit to His Word, surrender yourself, “and you will find rest to your souls,” Matthew 11:29.

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Fear. God. Love. — 7 Comments

  1. Agoraphobia is a morbid/irrational fear of open spaces. Claustrophobia is a morbid/irrational fear of closed spaces [the latter is what you most probably/really meant to be the "fear of being trapped" NO...?!]. God bless.

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  2. I tried to guess the top three mental disorders but got distracted before I could get to number 3.

    Seriously, thank you Jennifer for an important posting addressing an issue I have not really seen addressed before or at least not like this, and this is misplacing your fears. We need to fear intelligently.

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  3. I have come to view "the fear of the Lord..." as being that which was demonstrated by Joseph when tempted to violate the Law of God. He feared to offend the One who had shown him such grace through wonderful blessings, who had blessed his father Jacob and preserved him from all who could have harmed him. Joseph had placed himself in the care of his father's God, so how could he now sin against Him? This is a healthy "fear" for any of us living in a sinful world where temptation abounds. This proper fear is only motivated by love which is the result of a personal knowledge of God, and always leads to obedience. (Prov 2:1-5)

    I would expect it's the same with anyone who would fear to offend or hurt their spouse, parent, child or a good friend.

    We are sinful by nature but saved by grace if we maintain faith in God's promises, but a wrong choice in a weak moment can quickly bring great offense and we do well if we fear to do this. In this life our natural tendencies may require this type of fear at times.

    It is better to fear to offend a loving Father than to simply fear God's "wrath". For many, the latter can lead to the former.

    On a different note; I have learned that of the 3 top disorders you listed, at least numbers 2 & 3 are often due to nutritional/lifestyle issues. Perhaps in even as many as 75% of the cases or more. Maybe even the number 1 disorder as well? It would make sense that a physically deficient brain would have it's adverse symptoms.

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  4. "I am love. Far from wanting to destroy, I was willing to be destroyed in order to save.”

    That's a very powerful statement; sent a chill down my spine.
    ===
    I was a very fearful man because of my chaotic childhood. Parents never expressed love. In fact, they showed distrust. Once I became adult, I found it weird when people trusted me. And I never ever took a step of faith. I always viewed the future as a very dark place.

    But Jesus is awesome. He gave me a fervent prayer life. And, as a result, He took me through real-life steps to unlearn all those negative personality traits. It's like what the hymn says, "what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer."

    Fix your psychological disorders with prayers, not pills.

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  5. [Thank you for your comment. Next time please submit your full name with your comment.]

    It's amazing how much fear can sap one's quality of life away. What a dichotomy the prosperity so many of us enjoy along side with the eroding of our ability to enjoy these gifts because of the hosts of mental disorders so many of us suffer from. Right now I'm struggling with caffeine habits that go way back to my youth. Just staying away from stimulants and of course prayer is an enormous way to stay calm. Even these small substances like tea and coffee have the ability to destroy one's inner calm.

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  6. Hi Jennifer,
    Thank you for such a well described post on disorders. But this one puzzled me... "obsessive-compulsive disorder (using rituals to stave off fear)", so I had to google it. Mayo Clinic offered up a good description of what you meant...http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/DS00189.

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