6 Ways to Conquer Fear with ‘I Can’ instead of ‘I Can’t

This article is by David Sanford and published by crosswalk.com


On a Wednesday evening, my wife, Renee, and I were as happy as could be. That changed within a couple of minutes. For the first time in my life, I found myself frozen with abject fear.

Now, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to freeze up over the years.

A few years ago, Peruvian soldiers pointed AK-47s at my head and chest. Their nation’s new president had just taken office that morning and immediately blamed the country’s problems over the past 400 years on Americans. At the airport and on the streets I kept my cool and slowly walked away from each pair of soldiers.

A few months ago, five Portland, Oregon, police cars trapped my car. Five officers jumped out and all pointed assault rifles at my head or chest for two full minutes. I froze—to stay alive another day.

On that Wednesday evening, however, for the first time in my life, I was frozen with incredibly intense fear. A wave of thoughts swept over me. What if the test reveals I actually do have cancer? I nearly died this past November. I’m still in the throes of recovery from that medical disaster. In many ways I still feel so weak. How will I take on cancer?

Then came the most frightening thoughts of all.

I can’t do it. I’m not strong enough to battle cancer.

Thankfully, freeze is only one of four options when faced with gripping fear. In my case, fight or flight didn’t come into play. Then again, it took a day and a half until I changed to the fourth option, focus.

You can face your fears like this, too. This isn’t bravado. Instead, it’s faith-based courage and focus. Here are six ways to change “I can’t” to “I can” with surprising speed.

1. Train yourself to ring an internal bell.

Anytime you think or say, “I can’t,” allow your own figurative bell or alarm to alert you. It doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong. Just the opposite. You’ve identified something you can change quickly.

2. Mull over why you feel “I can’t.”

Is it something truly impossible? Or is “I can’t” due to fear, past pain, and lack of courage? The latter almost always is driven by the first two. After all, no one wants to sign up for more pain and suffering. That’s true even though God often uses trials and tribulations to transform us more and more like His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

3. Remember God wants to make you a stronger, more Christ-like believer.

What are you facing now? Could God use it for good and for His glory in your life? Yes! Listen to Paul:

Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5

Listen to Peter:

Since [Jesus] Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. – 1 Peter 4:1-2

Listen to James:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. – James 1:2-4

4. Thank God that He will give you everything you need.

Listen to Hebrews 4:16:

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

As my good friend Scott says, God gives us the grace and strength exactly when we need it. All we need to do is ask.

5. Say, “I can count on the Lord to respond when I call on Him.”

The Bible affirms this in Deuteronomy 4:7, 2 Samuel 22:7, Job 12:4, Psalm 4:3, Psalm 31:17, Psalm 34:17, Psalm 55:16, Psalm 86:7, Psalm 91:15, and Psalm 102:2.

The Bible also affirms this in Psalm 116:4, Psalm 130:1, Isaiah 58:9, Isaiah 59:1, Isaiah 65:24, Lamentations 3:55, Habakkuk 1:2, Zechariah 13:9, Acts 4:12, and Romans 10:14.

Believe it!


6. Trust the Lord to empower you now.

Like Paul, you too can say: “I can do all this through him [Jesus Christ] who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). If you think you have it rough, read what Paul had been going through when he wrote that section of Scripture. Not fun. Yet, it’s exciting—because Jesus was working in and through him.

If you ever catch yourself caught up in an “I can’t,” realize you’re in good company. Moses (Exodus 3-4), Gideon (Judges 6-7), Hannah (1 Samuel 1), Elijah (1 Kings 19), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1), Esther (Esther 4), Job (Job 3-31), John Mark (Acts 13:5-13) and so many others have wrestled as well with how to change “I can’t” to “I can.”

But besides Paul, Peter, James, and the writer of Hebrews, who else readily said “I can”, thanks to focusing on the Lord at work in and through them?

Noah, Genesis 6
Joseph, Genesis 39-41
Rahab, Joshua 2
Caleb, Joshua 14:6-15 and Joshua 15:13-19

Deborah, Judges 4
Ruth, Ruth 1
Jonathan, 1 Samuel 14
Ezra, Ezra 7-8

Daniel, Daniel 1
Barnabas, Acts 11:22-30 and Acts 13-14
Priscilla & Aquila, Acts 18:1-3 and Acts 18:24-28
(and many others!)

Remembering our favorite Sunday school Bible stories is a great way to renew our faith, so we too can say, “I can!”

That’s exactly what I have been doing in recent weeks both before and after my doctor called to confirm that I have invasive carcinoma (grade 2).

I can do this. It won’t be easy. In fact, it will be very hard. In Jesus Christ, though, I am strong enough to battle this cancer.

What are you facing? Don’t wait. Change “I can’t” to “I can” today.

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