Okay, here is part 2b or not 2b that is the question. (Sorry I couldn’t resist.) This part of the series is focusing on how fear contributes to our unbelief or lack of faith. While we may not let fear shipwreck our faith completely, it can weaken it to the point where it becomes inactive or almost non-existent.
As we discovered last week, the disciple’s world was rocked when Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified. Understandably, fear overwhelmed them, especially Peter. Their faith in Jesus was temporarily abandoned because of it. All but one of them ran away and hid. Peter even denied knowing Jesus. They’re worst fears were realized, and their faith took a hit like a sucker punch out of nowhere. Would their faith get knocked out for good? Would the message of Jesus Christ end then and there?
Fortunately, no. They would recover and bounce back. The message and memory of Jesus would continue and ultimately change the world. Of course, Jesus’ reappearing to them after His crucifixion helped, but now they fully understood what Jesus meant when He said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26 NIV) All but one of the disciples would eventually endure a similar fate as Jesus losing their lives for the sake of the gospel. Only John, who did suffer torture and exile, would die of natural causes. God would keep him alive to write the book of Revelation.
Even though the disciples bounced back and came out of hiding, it didn’t mean that the road ahead would be any less difficult. Their battle with fear and uncertainty wouldn’t “end” there. In fact, it was just beginning, but just like Jesus in the garden they found a way to get through it and break through the walls of circumstance. Even after Jesus accepted His purpose and fate on the cross, He still had to endure it. His suffering continued and even led to despair. As He hung on the cross, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 NIV) Nevertheless, He endured the cross and completed His mission.
Jesus tried to prepare the disciples for what was coming on several occasions. In John 16:31-33 He tells them that “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone”…”I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Whether it registered in their brains or not, He wanted them to know that He had their backs even though they would be overwhelmed by fear and abandon Him.
There is a movie called “Next of Kin” (1989) where the main characters Truman Gates (Patrick Swayze) and Briar Gates (Liam Neeson) avenge their brother’s murder. He is killed by a group of gangsters in Chicago. There is a great line in the movie where Truman Gates tells one of the mobsters, who sarcastically apologizes to Truman for his brother’s death, “You ain’t seen bad yet, but it’s comin.”
The Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 2:12 to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”. Notice that Paul doesn’t exclude fear and trembling from the equation. He says “with” not “without”. Unfortunately, it’s not optional. According to Jesus we “will have trouble”. If we haven’t seen “bad” yet, it’s coming. I’m not trying to be fatalistic, but fear is a part of life. So, how do we deal with fear and anxiety? How do we overcome it so that our faith can be vibrant, active, and alive?
First of all, we have to remember that fear doesn’t come from God. It’s not “in Him”, and He didn’t “GIVE it to us”. It wasn’t included when He created us in His image. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7 KJV) Fear and all the comes with it is a byproduct of sin that originated in the garden with Adam and Eve. The fear and shame that caused them to hide from God and aware of their nakedness was brought on by disobedience. So, without sin there is no fear.
When Jesus faced difficult circumstances, temptation, fear, and anxiety, He talked to his Father. He prayed. He also used the word of God. In Matthew 4 Satan tempts Jesus by saying, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ After Jesus said,“it is written” He quotes directly from Deuteronomy 8:3 in the Old Testament. So, following His lead we need to use prayer and the Bible-God’s word as our first line of defense against fear and temptation. (Check out the “Full Armor of God” in Ephesians 6) God’s word also serves as a reminder, a constant source of encouragement that we can use when we face adversity.
Psychiatrists, counselors, and therapists talk about “coping mechanisms” or any conscious or unconscious adjustment or adaptation that decreases tension and anxiety in a stressful experience or situation, like breathing exercises, meditation, journaling, finding a hobby, exercising, etc. Likewise, the Bible is filled with coping mechanisms or practical guidance to help us in times of trouble, like this one from Philippians 4:6-9.
“6Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
While this may sound like a religious platitude encouraging us to just “not be anxious” or “stop worrying” like it’s no big deal. We know that it’s not always that simple. Paul knows it too because as a human he’s experienced it. So, he isn’t telling us to just “get over it”. He is giving us some practical steps or a plan to attack or defend against it. In verse 9, he tells us to put these things “into practice”.
First, he encourages us to “present your request to God”. Pray about it. Talk to God about what we’re afraid of. 1 Peter 5:7 says to “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” I don’t know how you pray but I talk out loud to God all the time and it helps. Have you felt better when you talked to someone about what is worrying you? Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that just talking fixes everything, but it can help especially when we talk to God.
Secondly, Paul makes a statement that after we make our “petitions to God” or pray that the “peace of God” that we won’t necessarily understand will protect us from anxiety. Since this is said so quickly after we’re told not to be anxious it may sound like the peace of God or relief will be immediate. One prayer and our fears are gone! I’m not saying it can’t work that way, but anxiety or fear usually doesn’t retreat that easily. If the anxiety I’m experiencing is more than just worrying about where I put my car keys, then I may have to spend a little more time with the Lord. Paul is not suggesting that it is a one and done prayer to peace progression. In 1 Thessalonians Paul tells us to “never stop praying”. Then Paul gives us step 3 in verse 8.
Step 3 is getting a handle on our thought life. What is causing our anxiety? How much of what we’re thinking is actually true? Are we making it bigger than it really is? Is it worth thinking about or worrying about? Paul is encouraging us to replace our negative thoughts with things that are true, right-correct, pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy, etc. He’s not talking about the power of positive thinking, but honestly examining our thoughts and anxiety. It is a battle for the mind and In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul tells us to “take every thought captive”.
I can be pretty hard on myself and have thoughts that aren’t entirely accurate. There are times when I think my world is coming to an end, that I won’t survive whatever it is that I’m worried about, but that’s not true or right thinking. How do I know this? Because I’m still here. It doesn’t mean that I have mastered anxiety or fear by any means, but I’ve learned how to cope with some of it with the Lord’s help. It’s definitely a work in progress.
Last week, we looked at Matthew 26:38 and learned that Jesus was overwhelmed because of the difficult circumstances that He was facing. He never say’s that he’s “afraid” but He is clearly in distress. He told his disciples “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Reading further in this chapter reveals that Jesus really wanted the disciples to be more supportive, but they kept falling asleep. Jesus needed His friends just like we do. Sometimes we need psychiatric help and medical treatment too, so I’m in no way discounting that. This is just a reminder that we, as believers, have other tools in our spiritual toolbox to use against fear, doubt, unbelief, sin, etc.
Next week we will look at another faith killer and it’s not a what but a who.
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC