The extent to which many of us worry can hardly be overstated. We are concerned for our future, fuss over politics, and wonder about our health. We fear violent crime, bemoan racial divisions, and fret over the economy. Insecurity abounds and often wreaks havoc on our psyche and our relationships. Molly Bell, writing in the “Atlantic,” recently noted, “Fear is in the air, and fear is surging. Americans are more afraid today than they have been in a long time.” And now, with the Coronavirus outbreak, many lives are filled with unmitigated stress and for some, downright terror.
There are times when fear is well-placed, acting much like our bodies do when relaying the sensation of pain, signaling something is wrong and needs attention. But at other times we fear things that haven’t happened yet and may never happen at all. Fears powerful emotional output shaping – or misshaping – us all, sometimes in profound ways; inspiring us to overcome national catastrophe’s, an aggressor in war, or righting a wrong within our own borders – or paralyze us; not failing in our efforts but causing us to refuse to even try. Keeping us from the enjoyment of God’s blessings and a full life regardless of whether anything’s wrong or not.
We all fear failure to one degree or another, as well as irrelevance, illness, growing old and death; all of which can be legitimately concerning. But those concerns don’t have to control us. One of the most repeated refrains of scripture being “Do not be afraid”, which appears over 140 times throughout our Bible; fear, and finding peace and courage in the face of it, appearing over 400 times. But God doesn’t just scold us by saying “Do not be afraid.”, but explains why every scary situation can be faced with confidence; “…for I am with you.” Genesis 26:24
Jesus promising, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27 Because, “…surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 (See also Acts 18:9,1 Peter 3:14; Matthew 14:27 & Hebrews 13:6)
But it’s not enough to merely believe Jesus is somehow present in our daily circumstances, we must then intentionally walk in his footsteps – following him wherever he leads – participating in the life he directs us to. John insisting that, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:6 Scripture relating how we are not merely associated with God through the institution of the church, but are filled with his Spirit and even made in his image. That “likeness” reflecting, however poorly, the essence of his being even as it expresses itself in a yearning for purpose – the belief that humans are meant to make a difference and have meaningful interactions with others. James going as far as to declare, “Faith without works is dead.” James 2:7
The opposite of the sureness of God’s involvement in our lives and his consequent expectation of our following his lead in ministry to others – even in the face of less-than-pleasant circumstances – is pessimisson, hopelessness and despair; a wallowing in self-pity. Which has no power to enrich, protect or save us from anything, more often than not hindering us from living genuinely in any way whatsoever. (Like the Israelites, who had been miraculously rescued from slavery in Egypt and just as miraculously led across the Red Sea to escape the Egyptian army, arriving at the very edge of the Promised Land. And then stepped back, not because they were met by an enemy army, but because of their fear of the possibility of one. They had heard a good report from a few of the men sent in as a reconnaissance party but disturbing and frightening reports from others. The result being that despite God’s promise to lead them and having seen how he had blessed them in that leading up to this point, they refused to go on and spent the next 38 years wandering the wilderness around Kadesh Barnea – virtually in sight of their intended destination.)
Fear induces bad decisions, keeping us from taking the calculated risks that have at least as good a chance of success as failure; depriving ourselves of opportunities to do things of great value, real meaning, fulfillment and joy. This happens, in part, when we allow our imagination to focus on something/someone other than God, rather than imagining all we might accomplish through Him. God’s presence fostering abilities we never knew we had, giving us hope to be more than we ever thought we could be; instilling in us courage in the face of difficulty and danger as we focus on Him and His ability instead of our limitations. After all, being courageous simply means doing what is right – or what must be done – even when we’re afraid.
Our confidence and trust in God should fundamentally change our perspective of life and its vagaries. And like the Israelites, we too can learn to finally proclaim, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise; in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” Psalm 56:3,4 Paul summing up the early church’s similar mantra by writing, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39
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