The cure for fear

The cure for fear

What’s the most common command God gives his people in scripture?

Do. Not. Fear.

Of all the things God wants to impress upon those who love him, this is the one he repeats most frequently. Why? Because if you’re anything like me, your heart naturally bends towards fear. We don’t have to work at it, it’s self-establishing, self-fuelling. Fear is a future focused emotion that comes instinctively to us because, if we’re honest, we’re attracted to the idea of imagining our worst futures. We play them out on the stage of our mind’s eye: all that could go wrong, everything we could lose or fail to gain. We love to paint our possible tomorrows because envisioning them gives us a tiny sense of control, of knowledge.

I recently heard Ed Welch describe fear as the prediction of a bad future. We know it’s foolishness really, if we think about it logically fearing the future doesn’t change anything. And yet there’s something so enticing to us about imagining the worst that tomorrow could bring. It’s alluring, even addictive.

So how do we stop it? What’s the Biblical cure for fear?

Well, I’m wondering if in fact the cure for fear, is fear.

Track with me a moment. Fearing the future is essentially foolishness, we know it changes nothing and does us no good. We don’t know what tomorrow will hold, nor do we have any ability to control it, and yet we allow the fear of tomorrow to consume us. Fear makes us into fools. And what’s the opposite of foolishness? Wisdom. And where does wisdom begin? With the fear of the Lord. Surely this isn’t a coincidence?  Proverbs 9:10 says:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the Holy one is understanding.

So, there are two kinds of fear, fear that makes us fools and fear that makes us wise. When I indulge in foolish fear I’m allowing myself to envision a future where my good and wise God is largely absent, or where the true God of the Bible has been replaced with the vindictive cruel creator of my nightmares.

When my fears make me a fool I need my knowledge of the true God to fill my eyes so that I stand more in awe of him than my unknown tomorrows. This is the heart of the issue. This is the cure for my fears. Fearing God is the cure for all other fears.

So how does it work? How do I fear God more than an unknown future?

Thomas Chalmers talks about battling sin with ‘the expulsive power of a new affection’. This is essentially the idea that we need to love Christ more than we love sin. If our affection for Christ is stronger than our affection for our sins, we will choose Christ, because we do what we love. I can’t help but think that I need the expulsive power of a new fear.

When the Bible talks about fearing God it’s most often speaking of the sense of holy awe you get when confronted with the bigness of God in comparison to the smallness of you. It’s like a raindrop staring out at the vast ocean and recognising its own insignificance. It’s about orientating yourself. Looking up. Looking out. It’s about recognising who you are, and who God is by vast comparison. He is the creator, I am a creature. He’s all-knowing and stands outside of time. In comparison I am in every way limited by design.

Foolish fear makes me look down and in on myself, what do I think will happen, how will I cope, what will I do?

Wise fear makes me look up and out of myself, who is my God, what has he done, what does he say?

When I wisely fear God, I look at him, I recognise who he is, the all-knowing, unlimited God who stands enthroned outside of time. He’s in my past, my present and my future all at once. He holds it all, and he is doing good to me in it all. My fears for the future retreat when I recognise and respond to the truth of who my God is. I stand in awe of him, I love him, I trust him with my future.

A wise fear of God is the only thing powerful enough to expel foolish fear from my heart. I may have to stare at him a while in order to reach a place where wisdom defeats folly, but the truth of who my God is will always accomplish this. Gaze at him until your awe of him expels your awe of all else.

 

A dawn like no other

 

The rising of the sun is a daily phenomenon that we take entirely for granted. And yet without it our world would remain dark and cold and our days would go so differently. In Luke 1:68-79 Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist) bursts forth from a God imposed silence with a glorious prophecy about the coming Christ. Within it the incarnation is described as a sunrise.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The prophesy speaks of two births, both of which result from divine intervention. John the Baptist is born to the previously barren Elizabeth. Here his father Zechariah describes how his son will be a herald to the way of salvation brought by the coming Messiah, the Messiah whose birth is painted here as a sunrise.

Have you ever watched the moment when day breaks out of darkness? Before light dawns, the world is dark and cold, silent as death. And then, on the horizon breaks the first beam of the dawn, a piercing ray that carves a path through the dark sky. The sun breaks forth and with every passing second the night is pushed back as light and life burst out, beams of hope that cause the shadows to run for cover. The sky is filled with colour, the earth bathed in warmth. It’s no wonder the birth of Jesus is described as a sunrise, is there a more fitting image to help us envision the dawning of salvation?

Before the incarnation our world was gripped by sin’s darkness, and all of life was shrouded in death. We couldn’t escape the curse or find a path out of fear. Deliverance had been promised, but the wait had been long. Abraham and David were just two of God’s servants who pointed forwards as generation after generation fixed their eyes on the horizon, awaiting the promised dawn.

And then, finally, the Son of God steps down, fully flesh yet purest light, a baby born in the dead of night. Divine hope dawns in the birth of a boy. A baby of king David’s line, heir to the promises of old. And at his birth the cosmic shadows tremble, for the visiting of God’s mercy sets in motion the destruction of death itself. Sin’s bondage over the human heart begins to unravel as this dawn brings the birth of redemption.

On Bethlehem’s hills this sunrise from heaven is accompanied by a dawn chorus of angels heralding the birth of this long-awaited day. He has come. The tender mercy of God has visited us.

This is a dawn like no other, for this sunrise shouts salvation from the enemy of sin, it speaks forgiveness to all who turn and whispers freedom to those encased by fear. As light breaks forth from the manger night begins to flee, for this sunrise illuminates a path, a way of escape, a way to peace.

Long ago Isaiah spoke of a day when light would dawn ‘on those living in the land of deep darkness’. The incarnation is this long-awaited sunrise from heaven. This birth brings mercy into our mess and extends forgiveness and peace to those bound by sin and fear. May we join his dawn chorus and with loosened lips accompany Zechariah in blessing God for his risen Son.

Why I’ve given up trying to ‘just trust God’.

As someone who struggles with anxiety I’ve often been given the advice to ‘just trust God’ with my worries. But if I’m honest when I try to do this, I flounder. In moments of anxiety my mind is clouded by a thousand different thoughts and my heart becomes a frenzy of fear. When I try to ‘just trust God’ what I functionally do is attempt to muster up a sense of abstract trust in a distant deity, and, more often than not, it doesn’t work. I know I should trust God – that surely is the answer, so why doesn’t it work?

The skipped step – trust requires a transaction.

We love immediate results, the instant satisfaction of a ‘buy now’ feature. But real relationships don’t work like Amazon Prime. I can’t ‘just trust God’ with one easy click. To trust someone, I have to know them, to communicate with them, to transact with them. Trusting in God when I feel anxious requires a transaction between him and me to take place in that moment of fear. This is how meaningful change happens.

So what does this look like?

1)      Slow down – hit pause on the carnage. Step back, stand still and ask God to help you talk to him.

2)      Acknowledge your fear – there is something powerful about coming before God and naming exactly what it is you’re afraid of. Identifying what we’re afraid of often helps us see where exactly our hearts have derailed. Name your fear before God.

For me this morning it was ‘Lord I’m afraid of not knowing the details of my future, I’m afraid of things being out of my grasp, out of my control’.

3)      Acknowledge your Sin – we are commanded to not be anxious about anything, occasionally our concerns are good, but most often when we find ourselves fearful, we do not have God in his rightful place. What or who has taken his place? What are you fighting for? What are you functionally believing would bring you peace if you could only achieve it? What lie have you believed about who God is or who you are? Name your sin before God, then seek his forgiveness.

For me it went like this: ‘Lord I’m sorry, I’ve believed the lie that I’m in the postion of Creator, not creature. I tried to be something you never designed me to be, I’ve tried to be all knowing (I know – stupid right?). I craved sovereignty over the details of my future, and when that proved impossible I grew fearful at my lack of control and I lashed out at others in my frustration. Father, forgive me.

4)      Apply a specific truth – counter your fear with a concrete truth about who our God is. Don’t go for something too vague or general. Pick an particular aspect of his character which directly relates to where you are right now. What about his person speaks stillness to your soul? What about his work in Christ brings you the comfort you crave? Replace your fear of XYZ with the fear of God. Fill your eyes with him, stand in awe of him. Pray for his help to believe the truth. Then praise him for that truth.

Today for me I clung to the truth of Acts 17:26. ‘And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place’.

My God is perfect in his knowledge of this earth, perfect in his knowledge of me and my future and this means there will be no mistakes, nothing will get overlooked because the details belong to him. He even knows the house we’ll live in. He is good, and I can trust him.

Fear is the absence of trust in God, and meaningful trust that results in change requires transaction. For more worked examples of what transacting with God can look like see Psalms 51 and 73.

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The concept of transacting with God is one taught by David Powlison amongst others at CCEF.