No emotion or temptation debilitates me as quickly or comprehensively as fear does. Lust wages real and violent war against my soul – as does pride, jealousy, and bitterness. But fear breaks me. My heart immediately recoils into the fetal position every time anxiety rears its hideous head. I feel unable to think, read, pray, or enjoy my relationships with others. My fellowship with God deteriorates. I isolate myself from others. I worry. I overanalyze. I crumble.
Just this morning, even as I read my Bible, some random thought crept into my mind that nearly sent me into an all out frenzy. The thought wasn’t even remotely connected to anything that is currently going on in my life. It was just one of those “what if?” things. I hate those wretched “what ifs?” I know it is irrational and stupid to entertain them; but nevertheless, there is some strange and self-destructive inclination in me to do just that.
What if I never marry?
What if I was supposed to go to school and get a degree?
What if I’m not living in the city God wants me to live in?
What if I end up utterly alone in the last years of my life?
What if I get some terrible disease that turns my life upside down?
What if I make some mistake that ruins my future in writing ministry?
What if I can’t find a job because I’m not qualified to do anything?
Welcome to the whirlwind that is my mind on a getting-beat-up-by-anxiety day. Should I, as a believer in a good and sovereign God, be paralyzed by fear and tormented by “what-ifs?” like the these? No! And I know that. I’m well acquainted with the “do not fear, for I am with you” theme that runs rampant throughout the Bible. My head gets it. I intellectually grasp the concept. But there is [obviously] a colossal disconnect between the knowledge of my mind and my jittery, fearful heart.
I’m reminded by yet another weakness that my faith is imperfect. I struggle to fully believe the gospel, and this is why fear is sometimes a ruthless ruler of my soul.
However, I don’t write to moan and complain about my various struggles. How depressing would that be? A “Life sucks. The end.” themed blog wouldn’t be very appealing, much less helpful. I try to only bring my thoughts into public light only when I feel I have a hopeful word of encouragement for those who wrestle with issues similar to mine.
If you’re inclined to be a fretful mess like me, I’m writing this post today to tell you there is real hope for real change in this area of your life. I know because over the last ten months, I, the King of Fretters, have begun to taste it.
2015 started off with a bang – a big ole, ugly bang. I lost my job. I moved back home. I had massive financial troubles and zero idea of how to rectify them; much less what route I needed to take vocationally or educationally for my future. I was 25 years old and living with grandma, with no job prospects and a grand total of about $32 in my bank account. My destitute (not really, just in a “first world” sense) situation churned up tidal waves of fear in my heart that crashed over me day and night. For weeks, my waking thoughts and nightly dreams were consumed by anxiety.
Then one day I had a “duh” moment and realized God was allowing all this crap to happen for a reason. He wasn’t unaware of what was going on – he’s omniscient. He wasn’t distracted with bigger things happening in the world and didn’t have time to deal with my life – he’s omnipresent. He wasn’t powerless to solve all my problems – he’s omnipotent. God knows my weaknesses better than I do and he knew these situations were putting pressure on a very tender part of my soul. He had to have a purpose in all of this.
As soon as I came to this realization, these words pressed in on my heart: “I want you to trust me.”
I believe God was permitting all these fear-provoking circumstances into my life because he wanted to begin sanctifying a part of me that he’d pretty much left untouched (so glad he doesn’t work on ALL of our crap at the same time; that would be beyond miserable). God wanted to break me of Fear’s reign, and the only thing that could sever it’s rule was a deep, abiding trust in him – a trust that could only be forged in the fiery furnace of a trial.
I don’t mean God wanted me to develop some vague trust in his sovereignty. I whole-heartedly believe, and have believed for some time, that God is in total control of everything, everywhere, all the time. I do not believe that our [even poor] choices throw his plan for our lives off course. God is always on his game. No circumstance transpires without his sovereign stamp of approval on it and his providential hand guiding it for his purposes and glory.
However, I can believe the Lord is sovereign all day long, but if I don’t believe he is sovereignly orchestrating every situation in my life for my good, then that’s really no help at all. It’s possible to believe God is in control but doesn’t really care for you or have your best interest in mind. This is the mentality that I, for some reason or another, naturally tend to operate in. I know God is on his throne; I just doubt that he wants me anywhere near it. I doubt that he loves and enjoys me.
What I am in constant, desperate need of is a trust in God’s sovereign goodness toward me. I need to believe that his intent in everything he allows to happen to me is my ultimate good and joy. I need to believe that even in the hard things, his lovingkindness is ever-present. I need to stop believing that the presence of suffering somehow signifies God’s displeasure or disinterest toward me. My fear reigns over me because, in my heart, I falsely believe suffering somehow kicks me out of the realm of God’s favor.
Ok, great – problem identified. But what’s the solution? What can uproot this unbelief and distrust in my heart?
Because I’ve had incredible men disciple me and teach me about this crazy thing called “the Christian life,” I knew the remedy to my unbelief was to feed my soul the glorious truths I struggled to rest in. Not just once, and not just once a day, but continually. So I started to saturate myself in the Scriptures that speak of God’s unwavering goodness toward me in Christ. The following two passages began and continue to be the heartbeat of my prayer and thought life:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” – 1 Peter 5:7-8.
The truth of Romans 8:28 is super familiar to me, but I tend to believe in it shallowly. Do you? Do you breeze across it with a nod and “amen” but don’t stop long enough to let it’s power seep into you and change you?
The fact that God works all things – not just some things, not just the good things, but all things – for our good should be the key that continually unlocks the shackles of our anxiety. The fact that God redeems every stinkin’ disease, financial crisis, relational issue, or other fear-provoking thing that could possibly enter into our lives should be the antidote that cures us of Fear’s paralyzing power. On the basis of Romans 8, we can know there is absolutely no discomfort we will ever encounter in this world that is not permitted and guided by a loving God who has our best interest in mind.
When we really believe this to be true – that every trouble, struggle, and woe will be redeemed for our ultimate good and joy – we can obey Peter’s instruction in 1 Peter 5 and cast all of our anxieties on the God who cares for us. When we really believe we have a good God who sovereignly reigns over every bad and evil thing that could ever touch us, we can hand our fears off to him. We can release our stresses and find rest, no matter what kind of mess could or is taking place in our lives.
It is only by relentlessly preaching biblical truths like these to myself over the last 10 months that I’ve been able to begin breaking free from Fear’s power. This morning when I became panicky, it only took about an hour before the Spirit dug these truths up from deep within and comforted me with them. What could have turned into a day or week or month-long anxious episode was ended within an hour because the Spirt of God took these buried-in-my-heart truths of God and freed me from my fears. The Word of God really does have power to transform us – especially when it dwells in us. Passages like Romans 8 and 1 Peter 5 aren’t just words on a page. They are the living truths that the Holy Spirit applies to our hearts to strengthen our faith and perfect us in the love of Jesus.
If fear is paralyzing you, feast on the comforting truths of God’s Word. Devour them. Don’t relent until . . . actually, don’t relent. Ever. We are all so frail and forgetful. If we must do anything, we must endlessly nourish our souls with the gospel of God’s unwavering goodness toward us in Jesus.
“I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” – Psalm 34:4