Can fear distort your perception? Yes. Anyone who has ever been alone at night knows a creaking house seems louder and more concerning in the dark than it does the next day. But beyond the personal experiences of having been startled in the dark, research conducted recently proves fear changes the way we perceive reality.
In 2008 researchers performed an experiment at the top of a hill, using a skateboard, a short box, and multiple participants unaware of the nature of the test. One group was asked to stand at the top of the hill on a short box the same height as a skateboard. The other group was asked to stand on the skateboard (which had been secured so it wouldn’t roll). Both sets of volunteers were asked to judge the distance to the bottom of the hill. Without exception the participants who stood on the skateboard estimated the hill to be much more steep and further to the bottom. The research team concluded the people standing on the skateboard had a natural since of danger, and thus their perception was affected by fear.
In a similar series of experiments in 2012, an Emory University psychologist teamed with a colleague from the University of London and found reaction time to approaching objects was measurably different when fear is a factor. People were shown various objects on a computer screen, simulated to seem as if they were moving toward them. They were instructed to push a button at the point they would naturally duck or dodge the object if it were actually coming at them. Whenever the image shown was a snake or large spider, two things most people naturally fear, people responded much sooner. These repeated findings led the psychologists to conclude that people perceive frightening objects closer than they are when thrown toward them. In other words, fear fakes us out!
Scripture teaches the same lesson. When the young shepherd David arrived to the battle between Israel and the Philistines, Goliath had already issued the challenge to fight for 40 days. There was no battle, however, because everyone in the Israeli army (including David’s older brother, Eliab) was “terrified” by the giant (1 Samuel 17:11). When David challenged the men about their unwillingness to fight, Eliab interrupted in an attempt to demoralize and silence David. Eliab chided David that he had only tended to sheep and therefore had nothing to base his confidence on regarding fighting the giant (v.28). Eliab, in his anger, sibling rivalry, pride, and fear saw tending sheep as a liability.
On the other hand, when David went before King Saul, confidently assuring the King that David would rid the Israelites of their enemy, the sheep were his proof- they were “exhibit A” in David’s argument.
The Scripture tells us, “Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”’
“But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them…'” (1 Samuel 17:33-36).
Eliab was filled with fear and thought the sheep were meaningless. David was filled with faith and concluded the sheep were proof of his readiness for battle. Fear misses what faith sees!
When you have to face the big challenges of your life you will always have one of two choices- fear or faith. Fear blinds you and makes your problems seem bigger than they are, while faith gives you eyes to see things as God sees them! To conquer fear you should gaze at God and glance at your problems. The more you focus on Him, the more you realize just how great our God is! The problems that frighten you are minuscule compared to God’s power. Faith sees the resources at your disposal that fear overlooks every time.