So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
No one wants to be afraid. When I was growing up, other kids occasionally teased me with names like "Scaredy-Cat" or "Chicken" and I was bound and determined not to live up to those labels. But if we are honest with ourselves and we pause and look behind the curtain, we see fear in our own hearts. Fear can run our lives. It is silent and subtle, but it is often a determining factor in many choices we make and in how we relate to others.
God knows we are prone to fear. In His Word He says "Fear not" or "Be Anxious in Nothing" many times over. He tells us that He hasn't given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind. Yet, we can still experience fear, and He knows we will. That is why He spent so much time telling us not to be afraid. But He doesn't just say, "Don't be afraid," He also says what to do instead.
I spent some time this week looking at the passages where God says not to fear. In almost every instance there is assurance that He is near. Do you remember being afraid of the dark as a child? I do have strong memories of what it felt like to be alone in my room and to awaken with a nightmare. I didn't feel settled until I had gotten my parents up and they were near. God is near. He is near in the moment of our fear. He promises to strengthen us in these moments of fear and to uphold us.
What is fear? I have heard it called "Fantasized Events Appearing Real." I'll agree with that. When I am in fear, I am not thinking about the moment at hand or usually even the day at hand. I am ahead of myself in the future and I am trying to manage that not-yet-happened-tragedy from where I stand right now. That is wrong on so many levels. First of all, this event hasn't happened. Secondly, it is in the future, where I have no control. Thirdly, it is imagined. I can't tell you how many things I have thought about which have never come to pass. And when I worry over those things, Jesus tells me that I am wasting time. The worry does nothing to solve the problem nor help me overcome my fear. He tells us not to worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will take care of itself.
I am reminded of a story told by Corrie Ten Boom. She and her family used to ride the train in Germany when she was a girl and her father would never give her the ticket until they were right at the door ready to board the train. Corrie said that her father would not give the ticket prematurely so she wouldn't drop it or lose it. He told her that she didn't need the ticket yet, so he would give it to her when she needed it. When Corrie grew up, she harbored Jews in her home during the reign of Hitler. She was taken to a concentration camp and she suffered a great deal. When she was later asked about this experience and how she survived, she related the story about her father and the ticket and she then said that God's grace was like that ticket. He gave the grace for persecution right when she needed it and not a moment before. Had Corrie worried over that time it wouldn't have lessened her suffering -- it would have doubled it! She would have suffered the worry and the persecution. And, in the time of suffering, God was with her and she was given the grace she needed to endure. He gives what we need in the time we need it and we need not fear in advance.
Instead of fearing and worrying, God has laid out a wonderful step-by-step answer to fear and anxiety. He says (in essence): "Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. I am near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to Me. And My peace, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in My Son, Jesus."
He is inviting me, inviting you, to know He is near. Because He is near we don't have to fear or be anxious. We can lean into His presence and protection. And we can be gentle. We don't have to rely upon ourselves. We can rely upon Him. If we are in self-reliance, we ought to tremble and feel very, very uptight. But, if we are in the hands of the Creator of all the universes and of all the unseen order in this world, well, that is a very, very safe place to be. He is able to crush us, but He chooses to save us. We are saved by Him. How much more will He preserve us and care for us! We can be safe in His care and love.
I was not always safe under the "care" of those who should have been protecting me. Their brokenness impacted my ability to trust. I projected onto God that He was like these people -- unpredictable, vindictive, judgemental, angry without love and not at all safe. When I needed God most, in my dark hours and seasons, I was afraid to cling to Him. I would actually shut Him out without even meaning to and then I would feel He was too far out of reach. I would question His love -- even question His existence at times. All this was due to deep hurt in my heart and painful wounds not yet healed. So, God, in His perfect sweetness sent me a dear mentor who stood with me and made herself into a bridge that I could cross. When I couldn't reach God or when His true care for me was foggy, she stood the gap. She never forced herself on me and never forced me to say God was there or that He was loving. She just sat with me as I processed my painful past and she prayed with me and patiently held the space where God would move. So, sometimes it is more than merely praying in faith and trust. Sometimes the trust won't come without some healing fellowship. God does not prescribe a life of solitude even though solitude is a big part of our walk with Him. We heal in community and fellowship with one another.
When we are anxious or fearful we are encouraged to pray. From that place of anxiety, we can pray. We pray knowing He promises that He is near. We make our requests known, asking for all that concerns us and handing those over to Him with confidence and thanksgiving. And when the confidence won't come, we can wait and ask Him, "Lord, please help my disbelief." And, He will. We can know that whatever the outcome of our situations, it is for our highest good. Will we still endure hardship? Yes, we will. That is actually a promise. But, His will trumps everything else -- His long-term will for us will not be hindered. We need not fear because He is with us and He loves us. Even when our feelings don't confirm His presence or His care, He is with us -- Emmanuel -- always present, never forsaking, patient and faithful. Then this promised peace -- His peace -- the peace beyond description or definition, enters our soul. This peace is definitely available to you and to me. He is our guard through that peace. He guards those most precious places of heart and mind through the peace that comes as we step into trust.
Fear not. Be anxious in nothing. The Lord is near to you.
We can say with the Psalmist: "When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul."
Take some time today and look at what worries you and what you fear. Hear Jesus reminding you that He is near in this moment of fear and He is your strength and protection. Cast those cares on Him as He cares for you. Pray over those concerns and release them to Him. Find a trustworthy sojourner to walk with you. Uncork the painful past if it blocks you from trusting Him fully. Thank Him for His answers. Rest in Him and find peace. Remember He is guarding your heart and mind. Focus on the day at hand and let tomorrow care for itself. He's already there and He'll meet you there with provision and protection. Fear not.