Fear can be antagonizing and paralyzing.
It can affect our physical, emotional and spiritual health. And most important, fear can distract us from our mission.
Perhaps the disruptive effect of fear prompted Paul to underscore, “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).
An old German proverb says, “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.”
Depending on the translation we are reading, the Bible specifically urges us to “fear not” over 100 times.
This doesn’t mean that as believers we never feel a wave of fear. It means we should never give into our fears or be dominated by them.
Fear is an engrained biological reality that helps us recognize potential dangers and take necessary precautions.
Our response to fear becomes unhealthy when we allow this innate sense of caution to cause us to act irrationally and out of proportion to the degree of threat we are actually facing.
Many things strike a chord of fear in our world: the threat of war, the perils of financial collapse or the risk of exposure to a potentially pandemic virus.
As with SARS, bird flu, and Ebola in the past, the COVID-19 virus has certainly and rightly stirred concern with population groups around the world.
Fears related to COVID-19 have adversely influenced world markets, limited travel abroad, restricted public gatherings and closed numerous schools and universities.
The virus has spread rapidly in China, Iran and Italy. While the U.S. has not had as many cases as these nations, the numbers are expected to increase as testing ramps up.
Our faith urges us to resist the temptation to give into fear. Rather, we should educate ourselves in the facts of the virus and we should take proactive precautions.
Here are a few practical suggestions:
- Prioritize prayer and refuse to panic. Pray for those infected, those who are working toward an effective vaccine and those who live in more at-risk regions of the world. Dorothy Bernard proposes that “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”
- Practice rigorous hygiene. The recommended precautions are similar to the precautions recommended for the flu. Switch from handshakes to fist bumps; wash hands regularly and rigorously.
- Postpone travel to high-risk areas. Don’t be afraid to take your family vacation but avoid the high-risk regions of the world.
- Proceed with your schedule. Continue your daily responsibilities as normally as possible until advised to take additional precautions.
- Persist in maintaining a positive attitude. Fear makes us cranky and irritable. Some even suggest fear and other negative emotions may compromise our immune systems. However, a positive attitude and an informed mind help us to counter our fears and to be salt and light in our church and community.
Frederick W. Cropp said, “There is much in the world to make us afraid. There is much more in our faith to make us unafraid.”
In any and every circumstance, refuse to be dominated by fear. Take courage, stay informed, be wise, follow the guidance of health professions, but “fear not!”
Barry Howard serves as pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta, and as a leadership coach / consultant with the Center for Healthy Churches. He served previously as an EthicsDaily.com board member.