How to Tackle Unproductive Fears the Biblical Way

How to Tackle Unproductive Fears the Biblical Way

Time management isn’t just about avoiding time wasters. It’s also about zealously investing your time into what matters.

It’s about taking on the fruitful but scary projects, doing the hard work, and pouring your life out for the glory of God.

You may feel a call, a passion, a ripe opportunity to dive into something – but there’s the fear. The fear that you can’t handle it. The fear that you’re inadequate. The fear that you’re a nobody.

The surest way to waste your time is to give in to this fear. We need to fight it, but how do we do that?

Seeing Your Inadequacy Is Good

First off, it’s okay to feel inadequate. The scriptures and the history of the church are full of people who felt that way.

In fact, a biblical view of humility says that feeling inadequate is a good thing. Christ said that “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Don’t Focus on Your Shortcomings

But staying here isn’t productive.

Keeping our eyes on our own inadequacies leads us to a life of procrastination and timidly going through the motions. Focusing on our fears and our shortcomings is a recipe for a wasted life.

The Self Esteem Answer

So what’s the solution?

At this point, many advocate self esteem.

Many tell you to believe in yourself. Never give up. Keep your dream in focus. You can do it.

This is often combined with self-discipline. We’re told to wake up early and stay up late. Hustle. Strive and fight.

And we’re told to do all this because deep down, we’re tough. Deep down, we’re strong.

In short, when the voices in our heads tell us we’re inadequate, we’re supposed to label that as a lie.

The Biblical Answer

Yet the biblical model is different.

When Moses was called to confront Pharaoh, Moses replied, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

God’s reply wasn’t “You can do it, Moses! Believe in yourself! Deep down, you’re a strong person!”

No. God’s reply was, “But I will be with you.”

When Gideon was called to lead the Israelite army against the Midianites, Gideon asked, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.”

Again, God’s reply wasn’t to bolster Gideon’s self esteem. God’s response was “But I will be with you.”

Through His Power

God’s answer to our inadequacy is not to raise our opinions of ourselves. He don’t yell “Liar!” when our inner critic says that we’re not up to the task.

The biblical response to our fears is to take our eyes off of ourselves and put them on God.

Our inadequacies are real. In fact, we probably overestimate our own capabilities. But they don’t matter.

Our inadequacies are no match for God.

The Trap

Boosting self esteem seems at first like a plausible solution because the results often appear from an external perspective to be fruitful.

Self esteem can temporarily make it look like worthwhile things are happening.

But self is being glorified, not God. And eventually the house of cards will come crashing down.

Have you ever been tempted to escape your fears by bolstering your self esteem and self sufficiency?

Note: This post was heavily inspired from David Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s Studies in the Sermon on the Mount and John Piper’s sermon, Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit Who Mourn. Check them out for some wonderful edification.

Photo Credit: Capture Queen (Creative Commons)

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  • Juan Cruz Jr.

    I haven’t tried to escape my fears by bolstering my self-esteem or self-sufficiency, but I have tried other in appropriate ways. I’ve been rude and many times unloving, but God is continuing to work in from that end. Great post. 

    • Loren Pinilis

      A lot of times I wonder if that rudeness and unloving nature really stems from a heart of pride. So perhaps the two could be related in a distant way?

  • Thomas Mason

    “First off, it’s okay to feel inadequate. The scriptures and the history of the church are full of people who felt that way.” It seems I hear and read a lot these days about relying on self to do all you can and be all you can. It’s refreshing to read this article today.

    I’m reminded of this in a real way. Just yesterday while driving to church and listening to my music in iTunes I was reminded that I need to let go of the reins and depend on the greatness of God. One of my favorite verses is 2 Cor. 12:9-10 where even the apostle Paul admits his weakness and relies on God’s strength.

    • Loren Pinilis

      I think that process of “letting go” is actually a process of our sanctification. It’s actually us growing! It’s exciting to think of it that way.

  • Tom Dixon

    I thin that’s the biggest temptation for me when facing fear, to rely on myself to power through…it is much harder for me (and not as natural) to realize that I have God who is infinitely more reliable!

    • Loren Pinilis

      It’s a great struggle for me as well. I think that’s partly the reason why God breaks me so much through failure. 🙂

  • TCAvey

    I tend to have perfectionist tendencies which is just a nicer way of saying I’m a control freak!
    Feeling “in control” bolsters my esteem but it’s all a facade. Daily I learn that I really have no control- even my perceived control is an illusion. I must surrender to God and keep my eyes on Him because He is in control and He’s for me! He wants what’s best for me, so I need to relinquish control to Him and stop fooling myself that I can do anything apart from Him. I just mess things up.

    • Loren Pinilis

      I wonder why we want to hang onto our self esteem so much. You make some great points about control – perhaps retaining control is part of the issue. It really goes back to the garden, I think. The serpent promised that Adam and Eve would be like God – and ever since we’ve been trying to do essentially the same thing.

      • TCAvey

        Very true…it all goes back to the beginning.
        I’m still trying to process all this stuff in my own life. God has been giving me some great personal insights about things in my life that are rendering me from completely trusting Him. I have so much to learn!

        • Kari Scare

          I get what you’re saying about control. I am learning that any sense of control I have is my creating a reality that is simply not true. Being honest with myself and transparent with others is one way I am learning to defeat this illusion of control, and in that am gaining true freedom. I must move forward in what I know to be true instead of what my feelings are saying.

          • Loren Pinilis

            I think it’s wise to remind ourselves about how little control we really have. I could die seconds after typing this. You could die seconds after reading this. We’re exposed to so many variables and risks every day of our lives. Even most of the portraits of success are people whose hard work is punctuated by “lucky breaks.” Sure we can put ourselves in a position to benefit from blessing, but ultimately there’s only so much that we’re in control of.

          • TCAvey

            AMEN, Kari. Honesty with self and transparency with others is vital to realizing we are dependent upon God. Our feelings sure can fool us.

        • Loren Pinilis

          I think there will always be much to learn. I have yet to hear an old saint say, “Yeah, I got this down.” 🙂
          I know it’s a roller coaster ride for me. I will come to a point of being humble and broken, but then it’s so easy to slip into self sufficiency again.

  • David Rupert

    I’m inclined to focus on what I dont have, rather than what God has given  me. It really short changes His will and purpose, when I act like E-yore…kicking dirt and looking down at the ground.

    • Loren Pinilis

      I think discouragement is a silent killer of our time and lives as well. I know I’ve spent way too much time moping around instead of leaping in with both feet.

  • Bernard Haynes

    Great post. I realized several years ago that God wants me to trust in who He created me to be. When we learn to focus on Him, we will see Him as greater than our inadequacies. Knowing that I am inadequate helps me to focus more on Him because  I cannot do what He desires without Him.  I am learning more and more everyday that if I live the vision He designed for me then I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me and not through Bernard’s self esteem or strength.

    • Loren Pinilis

      That’s the concept boiled down well, Bernard. When we focus on him, we will see him as greater than our inadequacies. And that opens us up to be used mightily.

  • Kari Scare

    Once again, a very timely topic. Believing I’m qualified has been a long-time struggle of mine and one that recently resurfaced when I started talking about writing a book. The thing with tackling this through bolstering my self esteem and self sufficiency is that it never really addresses the root cause of my struggle. Simply put, I am not qualified to write a book. But out of simple obedience to God, I must move forward in doing so knowing that He qualifies the called. That doesn’t at all mean to me that I am actually qualified but that His message will go forth in spite of me and my lack of qualifications. Am discovering His strength through admitting my weaknesses and moving forward in them anyway knowing His purposes will be fulfilled. Wow! There is power in that for sure.

    • Loren Pinilis

      The truth is we ARE inadequate. I don’t think anyone called by God has properly said “Yeah, I can do that.” All throughout scripture, we see again and again that saints cry out due to their own inadequacies but yet proclaim the grace and strength of God. Realizing that inadequacy is actually realizing the truth!
      What’s the book about?

      • Kari Scare

        Realizing that I am inadequate is truly freeing, and for me, also very empowering. I think the book is going to take some of the themes from my blog and delve deeper into them, amplify them if you will. Still wresting with format and developing an outline. Hoping the Holy Spirit just reveals it all to me at once 🙂

        • Loren Pinilis

          It can happen – I’ve had things just “click” all the sudden before. I hope it all goes well.
          It was interesting what you said about it being empowering. Why do you think that is?

          • Kari Scare

            I think it’s empowering because it allows me to do the best I can and know that God fills in my weaknesses. It also means that I can know and accept that my best isn’t good enough, and that still God fills in the spaces. Not only that, but he takes my best and makes it better. I realize He could do it all without my help, and I am truly amazed that He chooses to use me in the process. I don’t always understand why, but I am so grateful that He gives me that purpose. I feel like I can dive in and do my best at life and know that like with Moses, God will be with me too. That’s empowering! And, that only is the tip of the iceberg, I’m sure.

          • Loren Pinilis

            Ah, I see what you’re saying. That is very empowering indeed.
            It’s wild to think that the God of the universe works through us, isn’t it?
            Another way I look at the concepts you just explained is that I’m a steward. That is empowering to me because it reminds me that I’ve just got to do my best and that God will take care of the rest. Remembering that he is watching over me, filling in the gaps (like you said), and even steering my mistakes for good – wow, that’s pretty motivating.

          • Kari Scare

            Wild & humbling. I’m also empowered when I realize thst even though my best fails to be good enough, He amplifies it to make it enough. In all things, He completes me.

  • Ngina Otiende

    Great post Loren. in the past, I thought my answer to success was better self-esteem, confidence, discipline and all things “self”. I just didn’t understand God’s ways and modus operandi :). Not that am perfect now, i still stumble. But by far, I’ve learned that my inadequacy ought to lead me to His sufficiency. I am woefully unable, will never “measure up” by myself (and if I think I do, it’s all rags) – basically I will ALWAYS need Him. And that’s a good place to be. Great post

    • Loren Pinilis

      Even when you think you do, it’s all rags. Great point. The truth is that we ARE inadequate. The people who don’t realize their inadequacies are the people who don’t have a good grasp on reality. Seeing our own lack of self-sufficiency isn’t being depressed or pessimistic or always looking on the down side – that’s being honest enough to see the truth. That’s wisdom.

  • floyd

    Guilty as charged… I tend to want to take the reins and after God hands them over I’ve already run myself into a ditch and am calling for His help like a toddler with no wisdom. The best things that have ever happened to me would be considered the worst by the lost world. If we find God and our reliance on Him, life begins to get peaceful regardless of the circumstances. Good word, Loren. A needed reminder.

    • Loren Pinilis

      Haha, I love that picture you painted of taking the reins. So true.
      It was also interesting what you said about the best things being the things that most people would think were the worst. That just shows God’s wisdom. It feels strange for a God to say that he does all things for our good when we go through trials. But it’s great when you can have the perspective to see that, yes, that was for my good.

  • Melanie Wilson

    So, so true. I was blessed to try to solve my own problems with my own strength and with the help of psychology. It didn’t work. I knew that if it didn’t work for me, a psychologist who was really pretty confident, it wouldn’t work for anyone. God is the answer to our fears.

    • Loren Pinilis

      Haha. It reminds me of Paul quoting his Jewish “credentials” in scripture. He has the ability to look at it all and say that it was worthless. He could compete at your game, excel at it, and then say it was meaningless.
      And it seems like you have the ability to do the same. You’ve got the credentials that the world would think should work – but you can tell them NO!

      • Melanie Wilson

        Yes. I didn’t realize that this is the essence of my testimony until this year. But I have to keep telling people. They still think my Ph.D. should count for something. 😉 

  • Dannoman88

    There are millions with high self-esteem in our prisons.  We need steady God-esteem to continue to do as we were made to do.  I have dealt with extreme fear, even to the level of schizophrenia in the past, but it was always my internal focus on God the pulled my up and never once a self-help book.

    • Loren Pinilis

      “God-esteem” – I like that phrase.
      Thanks for being vulnerable enough to share your experiences with fear. And it’s wonderful to see that you’ve found the true source of victory over it. That’s great! What a testimony for others.

  • AsHeIs

    Thank you for the helpful tips and for serving Our Father! God Bless!

    • Loren Pinilis

      Thanks! I’m glad it was helpful 🙂

  • mickholt

    Fisrt time visitor, and I have to say this spoke to me. A lot of what I have read today has served to remind me why I started doing what I do and inspired me to restart some of the things I have stopped doing.

    Well done, thanks.

    • Loren Pinilis

      Great to hear, Mick! I’m glad to be of service and it’s humbling to be used in that way.
      I think every now and then God gives us some of these gut checks and we have to recalibrate our hearts, minds, and actions.

  • Barb Raveling

    I like the way you approached tackling our fears, Loren – we can do all things through Him who strengthens us! 

    By the way, I’m in the middle of reading Kevin DeYoung’s book on God’s will that you recommended and I’m loving it. It’s the first book on God’s will I’ve completely agreed with – at least so far! Thanks so much for suggesting it. I ordered a book at the Christian bookstore today to send to my college age son. I wish all college kids could read this book!

    • Loren Pinilis

      Glad you’re enjoying it. It was really helpful to me, so I love to spread the word!

  • Dan Black

    I find fear and worry come when I try and do things with my own power. It’s when I focus on God and surrender my plans for God’s guidance and direction that true confidence comes. I have to be careful not to rely on my personal growth to be my source of confidence or reliance and to comletly rely on God.  

    • Loren Pinilis

      It’s so easy for us to slip back into relying on our own power, isn’t it?

      • Dan Black

         It sure is.

  • Lincoln Parks

    Great advice here Loren. I am always focusing on what I am not good at and it was not until recently as my group and I are studying Discovering God’s will by Andy Stanley that I am realizing some of these things. I realized that I was not in a productive place.

    • Loren Pinilis

      It’s not bad to be aware of your own inadequacies – just don’t focus on them, focus on God!

      • Lincoln Parks

        Amen to that, Always!

  • Stephen Haggerty

    Well said, my friend. I love the idea of being meek, but also being proud of what we can do via God’s strength. We can’t. He can.

    • Loren Pinilis

      I think the more that God does through me, the more amazed I am that the God of the universe would choose to work through me!

  • Women Abiding

    What wonderful challenges here, Loren! I think that I may be guilty of bolstering my self sufficiency at times. I trust all too often in my own intelligence, “wisdom” and “success” rather than rely on God’s power and surrender my ideas and aspirations, and fears to the Lord! This post has really opened my eyes, and I appreciate you confronting the issues!

    • Loren Pinilis

      Sometimes, I think our strengths can actually be hindrances – they’re so easy for us to rely on. We can get through life without ever having to really face our own dependence on God.

  • Dan Erickson

    In your intro, you say we need to “fight” our fear, but I think your post rightly suggests the opposite.  When we fight to do better, it usually includes trying to bolster our own self esteem and that usually backfires.  We need to trust in God and just do.

    • Loren Pinilis

      Good point. I guess it depends on what you mean by “fight.” The idea, to me, is that we are fighting our fears but with a different weapon. We’re not saying to our fears, “I can handle this.” But we do speak truth to our fears and say, “God can handle this.”