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How to Deal with Fear and Anxiety

christian living emotional health Mar 16, 2023

What are the things that scare you? What are you afraid of? What keeps you up at night? Do you ever struggle with anxiety?

I don’t like to be afraid. I guess that’s why I don’t like scary movies. My wife and daughter love them. I let them go together. I prefer to get my adrenalin rush in other, less terrifying ways. This is why I will never jump from an airplane or dive off a cliff. There’s absolutely nothing appealing to me about those activities.

But, then again, a lot of people would be terrified to do what I do on a weekly basis – stand before a thousand people and speak. So, I guess we all have things that terrify us.

Did Jesus have them? Was Jesus ever afraid? Was Jesus ever anxious about anything?

I think he was. I’m going to tell you why I think so and then I’m going to tell you how he dealt with his fears. In watching and listening to Jesus we can learn how to deal with fear and anxiety when they hit us.


Did Jesus Experience the Human Emotions of Fear and Anxiety?

I know some of you disagree with my premise — that Jesus experienced both fear and anxiety. Perhaps the thought of that makes you a little uncomfortable and you’re not really sure why.

Let me begin by explaining what I mean when I say that Jesus experienced both fear and anxiety, and then I'll take a look at how he dealt with it. 

Jesus was the perfect Son of God. Jesus was divine. Jesus knew much about the future. Jesus had a perfect relationship with God, the Father. So, how could he have been afraid or anxious?

The Bible does say all those things about Jesus, but the Bible also tells us that Jesus was human. In fact, the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus experienced everything we experience — even temptation — but was without sin.

So here’s the important question — Is it a sin to feel afraid or anxious?

Because if it’s not a sin to feel fear or anxiety, then Jesus could have felt it. Remember, he experienced everything we feel, except for sin.

I do not believe that being afraid or anxious is a sin.

You might argue that God says repeatedly, "Do not be afraid, and do not fear."

Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything." And Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life.”

In fact, in both those instances — it’s the same Greek word that is used. The word, "merinao," means “to seek to promote one’s interest.” In both cases, it’s not describing a feeling or an emotion. It’s describing a mindset.


Defining the Terms

It seems appropriate, at this point, to define these words. 

Fear is a normal human emotion that is a response to a perceived threat. In fact, fear is one of the most basic human emotions. It is programmed into the nervous system and works like an instinct. From the time we're infants, we are equipped with the survival instincts that we need to respond with fear when we sense danger or feel unsafe.

Fear helps protect us. It’s a good thing.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is more of a mixed bag.

Anxiety is the feelings of fear, dread, and uneasiness that may occur as a reaction to stress.

Anxiety can be normal in stressful situations such as public speaking or taking an important test. In fact, a little anxiety (what we typically call nervousness) can help us better perform.

Anxiety becomes an indicator of something bad only when those anxious feelings become excessive, all-consuming, and start to interfere with daily living. That’s when anxiety becomes a mindset.

And that’s what the Bible calls "worry." Worry is fear and anxiety gone bad. It's when fear and anxiety become excessive and all-consuming.

I think this is especially true when those feelings of anxiety are triggered by past events or irrational concerns for future events.

There’s also a difference between "worry" and "concern."

Jesus, from the cross, asked one of his disciples to take care of his mother. Was he worried about her? No. But obviously, he was concerned. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have asked.

SO — You even if you give me that — fear and anxiety are NOT a sin. They are normal, and sometimes even helpful emotions that only go bad when they become excessive.


How Can the Son of God be Fearful or Anxious?

You might concede to my contention that fear and anxiety are normal human emotions. But you could still object because Jesus knew the future. Jesus knew his Father was in control. So, why would he be fearful or anxious?

He would be fearful and anxious because he knew the future.

Anxiety and Fear are not just tied to uncertainty. If I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that something bad is going to happen to me tomorrow, I’m going to have a hard time sleeping. Any human being would.

Remember, Jesus was a human being. He wasn’t 50% human and 50% divine. He was 100% human and 100% divine.

So, what does the Bible say? Is there any indication in the Biblical narrative that Jesus was ever afraid or anxious? The answer is, yes ... several times. 


Jesus' Most Fearful Moment

The most obvious moment that Jesus was described as fearful and anxious was the night before his crucifixion. He knew they were going to capture him. He knew they were going to crucify him. He was afraid not of the unknown. He was afraid of what he knew was going to happen.

He goes to the Garden of Gethsemane that night. The garden is located on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem. If we study what happened there, we will discover some things about how to deal with overwhelming fear and anxiety.

Jesus brings his disciples with him to the Garden and asks them to pray and watch. He tells them why he needs their help —

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” (Mark 14:34)

“Overwhelmed with sorrow” is a word that comes from two Greek words “peri” which means “around,” or “surround” and the word “lupay” which can mean, "sorrow, pain, grief, annoyance." Put them together and it means “surrounded by or trapped by sorrow, pain, grief, annoyance.”

It’s a description of fear and anxiety.

So, what does Jesus do with this? In a word — he reflects on it. He goes to the safest place he can find and reflects on his fear and his pain and his sorrow.


Best-selling author, Ray Dalio said, "PAIN + REFLECTION = PROGRESS."

The first thing Jesus did was to make a strategic retreat to a safe place so that he could reflect on his fear and anxiety. 

Jesus needed time to think. He needed a few more minutes with his Father. He needed to be sure he was doing the right thing.

The garden was called "Gethsemane," which means “oil press." There was most likely a stone slab in the garden that was used as a community oil press.

The Bible loves irony. That night it was Jesus who was being pressed. He was being squeezed by his fears, sweat pouring down his face like blood pouring from a head wound, Luke tells us. He was scared out of his mind. Any human would be.

This isn’t a way of running from your problems. The key word is “strategic.”


You need a safe place so that you strategically retreat and reflect on what you are feeling.


What does Jesus do to create this "safe place?" And once he has created it, what does he do in the safe place? 

I'll answer those two questions in order.


What does Jesus do to create a safe place?

First ... 

Jesus goes to a familiar place.

John tells us that the Garden of Gethsemane was Jesus' favorite place to be. That’s why Judas has no problem finding him. He knew exactly where Jesus would be at that moment. It was a familiar place.

After a long and stressful trip, there’s nothing more comforting than arriving home. Vacations are nice, but they can never replace that familiar recliner or the bed you’ve slept in for twenty years. There’s nothing like the warmth and familiarity of home.

The garden was a familiar, comforting, and safe place for Jesus at the moment he needed it most. Jesus retreated to his favorite spot at his most fearful moment.

Jesus goes to a beautiful place.

It was an olive grove. Trees. Flowers. Beautiful aromas. It was all very soothing. I’ve been to the Mount of Olives. I’ve sat in the place where we believe the Garden of Gethsemane was located. It’s a naturally soothing place. Quiet, with muted earth tones all around.

You need to create that place for yourself. The place you can go to in times of anxiety.

As you create this safe place consider three things: sights (beauty), sounds (soothing), and smell (pleasant).

Jesus surrounds himself with trusted friends.

Jesus creates 3 rings of protection that night.

The first is the mountain itself. It wasn't easy to get there and in the garden, located at the crest of the mountain, he could both hide and see anyone who was coming.

The second is the disciples. Jesus told them to watch and pray.

The third is his closest disciples. Jesus led Peter, James, and John further into the garden and told them to watch and pray. They formed his third and final ring of protection. 

Once Jesus created this safe place, what does he do in it?


What does Jesus do in his safe place?

First ...

Jesus confronts his fear by naming it.

Jesus was realistic about his situation. He knew that he had come from God and he knew that he was returning to God. He knew that his fears were justified and normal. He wasn’t afraid to admit it. He told his disciples — “I’m overwhelmed.”

Jesus didn't run to the Garden to escape his fears. He went there to confront his fears.

He called his fear by name. He said, "May this cup be taken from me" (Mt. 26:39). Jesus didn't want to go through the torture and pain of the cross. He named his fear.

When you pull the monster out of the closet you find that it is not as ugly or as scary as you thought. It never is.

You can’t let go of it until you name it.

Mark 14:36 — “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

What do you need to let go of?

We have 60,000 - 80,000 thoughts per day. These thoughts are not only repetitive they are also negative. Find the triggers and then trace those triggers to the root cause.

If some root cause is plaguing you try changing the way you look at it.

Once you’ve named it, you need to reframe it.

Wayne Dyer said, "When we change the way we look at things the things we look at change."

When you reframe a fear, a critical shift happens in your brain. It moves the fear and anxiety from the amygdala to the pre-frontal cortex.

It moves it from the place in the brain that deals with reactions and emotions to the place that deals with critical thinking and logic. 

Simon Sinek observes how elite athletes do this when they are asked before a big race, "Are you nervous?" They inevitably respond, "No. I'm excited."

Sinek points out that both nervousness and excitement have the same physiological reactions -- butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, and jittery nerves. The elite athletes choose to reframe nervousness as excitement, and it makes all the difference in the world. 


How to Let Go

Jay Shetty, in his book, "Think Like a Monk," offers an acronym, T.I.M.E., that helps to reframe anxiety and let it go. 


Thankfulness has a way of grounding us in the here and now. Start a thankfulness journal.


For a lot of people, it’s music.

This is the only time the Jesus story records Jesus singing. And it was at the moment when he was most stressed that he turned to music.

When I’m studying or writing a sermon — it’s Chopin or Rachmaninoff. When I’m stressed, I get in my car and drive down the freeway singing as loud as I can to the Eagles or Queen or Pink Floyd (I know, I’m showing my age, and by the way — watch your speed limit and don’t close your eyes).

So, whatever music genre inspires you, start singing it! It is really good for the soul … and the nerves.

If singing is not your thing, try inspirational stories or videos, or quotes. Whatever it is that gets you going!


It’s important to breathe. Meditation gives you the space to breathe.

According to Therese Borchard, associate editor at Psych Central and author of "The Pocket Therapist," deep breathing stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system (PSN), which is responsible for everything that happens in your body when you are at rest. It’s the opposite of your sympathetic nervous system, which basically stimulates your body’s fight-or-flight response.


The steep walk up the Mount of Olives was a part of Jesus’ routine. Don’t miss the fact that when things were getting hairy Jesus took a walk. This was a regular habit for him.

When the Pharisees were pressing in, he climbed a mountain (Matt. 17:1). When the crowds were wearing him out he sailed across the lake (Matt. 14:13). When life got too crazy, he took a journey to a foreign land, walking about a hundred miles over mountains and across rivers, to do so (Matt. 15:21).

You get the point. When trouble hit, Jesus got physical.

Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins—chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers—and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.

So, when you’re feeling anxious — get physical!

Jesus confronts his fears. He lets go of his fears. And finally ... 


Jesus takes action.

At some point, Jesus knew it was time to stop praying and start doing. He saw the approaching torch lights of the posse coming for him. He said to his disciples, "C'mon, Let's go. It's time to make it happen."

There is a time to get it all out — to fret and worry and plead with God. Don’t feel bad about that. Allow yourself that time. It’s healthy.

But, set a limit.

At some point, it’s time to get on with your life. It’s time to wipe away the tears and get to work.


Jesus Refocuses on His Life Purpose.

Luke, in his gospel, describes the moment like this — “Jesus said, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22:42-43).

I don’t think it was a coincidence that it was when Jesus prayed “not my will but your will be done,” that God sent his angels to give Jesus strength.

God will do the same for you!



It is not a sin to feel afraid or anxious. It is a part of the human condition.

However, being overcome by fear and anxiety is not God’s ideal for your life.

What is your biggest "takeaway" from the way Jesus dealt with his fears?





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