I’m looking at fear in a different way this week, because fear has visited in a different way this week. Yes, very often fear creeps into our lives, slithering like a snake, quietly, almost imperceptibly. But sometimes fear pounces from out of nowhere like a wild animal on the hunt. Like when a baby is born too early and her little lungs struggle to breathe this new world in and out. Or when a father’s headaches cruelly and unexpectedly turn from stress to cancer in one quick beat of the heart. This is how fear has come calling for my family and friends this week.
This is fear that grabs you by the throat and threatens to wrestle you to the ground in an instant. What do we do with this kind of fear? How do we navigate the endless avenues of “what ifs” and “whys”? What do we even say to the young mom in pain who is still waiting to hold her tiny daughter for the very first time? How do we possibly comfort the daughter whose father is having a tumor removed from his brain, awaiting the next step?
I have to be honest. For a while all Bible verses leave my mind. I am overcome. Then, slowly, intentionally, as I begin to lean into this God who has been so amazingly faithful, bits of truth begin to swirl around in my heart. Hope forms from the puzzle pieces of His Word. I have no formula for those who are pierced by fear—except to cling to, stand firm on, and dive headlong into the everlasting, unchangeable, completely reliable Truth.
In His Word God commands his people (ultimately, us) to be courageous, to be strong, and not to fear. (Joshua 1:6-7, 9; 8:1; Isaiah 41:10, 13; Isaiah 43:1-2) It’s the how of this that can be hard. How do I be courageous? How do I stay strong? How do I resist fear?
The apostle Paul certainly had reason to fear. He saw his share of troubles. “…in hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger…through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5, 8-10) “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. “ (2 Corinthians 11:23a-27)
And on top of all that, Paul dealt with what he called a “thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” Exactly what this was, we don’t know. Only that three times Paul pleaded with God to take it away. God’s answer, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Not the answer I would be looking for, how about you? But, Paul embraces God’s answer, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)
Ok, but I’m still wondering how? How did Paul have what it took to embrace that answer? To boldly move forward in faith and trust without fear?
I believe the answer is in some more of Paul’s writings. In 2 Corinthians chapter 4 Paul explains how he is able to “not lose heart.” In the midst of his very real and human hardships, Paul’s spirit is resolutely laser focused not on what he sees, but on what he cannot see. Not on the temporal, but on the eternal. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) Does this take away the pain? No. Does this stop the tears? Probably not. But I believe it is key. By “fixing our eyes,” our spiritual eyes, on what we cannot see, on Who we cannot see—on Jesus—we are able to be courageous in the face of fear. All things are under His control. (Colossians 1:16-17) And, even in the midst of pouncing, fierce, unexpected fear, we can be assured that He has already, somehow, worked everything out for good because He loves us that much. (Romans 8:28; John 3:16)
So, dear friends, as much as I would like to offer you a neat little three-point pocket guide for how to overcome fear, I can’t. It’s messy—and it will probably look different for each one of us. You may have tears. You may have questions. You may feel like you are in rough, uncharted territory. But this I do know: God is faithful. His Word is true. His love is real. Fix your eyes on Him. He is with you. He will never leave you. He will not fail you. He, Himself, will be your courage.
But now, this is what the Lord says he who created you, Jacob,he who formed you, Israel:“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.When you walk through the fire,you will not be burned;the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… Isaiah 43:1-3a