THIS WORLD is a scary place. The simple act of reading the newspaper reminds us of an ever-growing list of things to dread - war, the volatile economy, natural disasters, and countless other calamities.

Sometimes fears are blatant, loud, and paralyzing - panic attacks, fears of terrorist attacks or our children's safety. Other times fears are more subtle background noise that never stops. Either way, fear and worry are daily features of our lives.

There are, of course, treatments for fears and anxieties. Medication dulls the physical symptoms; psychological treatments address the thoughts. But our fears challenge us to go deeper. There are real dangers that could affect our lives, but that is only part of the story. Why do we all have different responses to possible dangers? And why are some people petrified of some things, such as mice, that aren't dangerous?

To really understand fear we must also look at ourselves and the way we interpret our lives. We get anxious when something valuable to us - something we need or trust in - is threatened. Our fears reveal what we cherish. They speak about those things that are most important to us; they speak of the things and people we love. They wonder if God is in control, because if our fears are certain about anything, it is that we are not in control. And, of course, fear always keeps an eye out for death, both how we might die and what will happen after. These matters cannot be left to medication and positive thinking. They are simply too spiritual.

"The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want" is the well-known beginning to Psalm 23. When paralyzing fear strikes, those words come alive. There is a human instinct that turns to God in the midst of fear, and this instinct is worth preserving. Psalm 23 is a doorway into a world of beautiful, encouraging, and comforting words that God speaks to fearful people. A quick scan of the Bible, with its more than 300 encouragements to not be afraid and not worry, suggests that God has decided to focus his attention squarely on fearful people.

God tells us not to be afraid so often because he knows us - he knows we will be fearful. But he does more than command us not to be afraid. Many times in the Bible, he says that the solution to our fears is to trust him. Trusting God means knowing him in an intimate, personal way and trusting him because he is powerful and loving.

It's about knowing that the most valuable thing in your life is your relationship with God. Knowing God is not a quick fix for your fears, but a whole life change that will gradually free you from anxiety and worry. All kinds of fears can be faced and overcome by a growing relationship with God. Listen to God in the Bible, get to know him, and learn to trust his care for you and those you love through the hardest circumstances. Apply that faith to your fears and you will be free to live with courage and love. *

(Editor's note: Dr. Welch is also the best-selling author of several books, including "Depression: A Stubborn Darkness"; "Addictions"; "When People Are Big and God Is Small," and his newest book, "Running Scared." To learn more about Dr. Welch or to inquire about CCEF's counseling services and educational programs, call 800-318-2186 or visit the Web at www.ccef.org.) *

Each Saturday the Daily News offers men and women of faith the opportunity to share their words of life and comfort with our readers.

If you are a minister, a priest, a rabbi, or the head of another religious organization and would like to submit a faith-based column, contact Lorenzo Biggs at 215-854-5816, or by e-mail at biggsl@phillynews.com.