When I was younger, I struggled with fear to the point of not eating for a few days. I’m thankful for that brief season because the truth I gathered then still brings encouragement to me today.
But I’ve never stopped adding to my arsenal of “courage notes” since fear grips in many ways. Thankfully, there are plenty of words from God about anxious thoughts (Ps 94:19). He even commands us not to be anxious.
However, we know the “what if” game (while helpful for creating plots in fiction) has been so easy to slip into lately.
Over the past few days I’ve pinpointed that I’ve been disguising courage and trust as something else! Something ineffective in the scenarios facing our world right now.
As I’ve filled in the what-if blanks in my mind, I’ve countered them with optimism, my logic, or denial. What if we run out of food? Eh, we won’t. What if the economy tanks? I’m sure it will bounce back. What if I or someone I love gets really sick? At least kids don’t get it. I won’t get it. What if we never get rid of this virus? The Congo just recovered from Ebola. Surely this will be easier. How long are we supposed to social distance? Pfttt…I’m an introvert — I’ll be ok for now.
Talk about some plot twists. As new information circulated my office March 13th, the what ifs grew a lot louder and a lot harder to shush with optimism, logic, or denial. Store aisles stripped, Disney World shut down, flights canceled, crisis management team formed, laptops prepared to work remotely, churches and schools closed, and suddenly throats started to itch (thanks a lot, allergy season). I began to be weary of hearing stories and reading headlines that felt like click bait (and I told my sister to remind me NOT to write about the coronavirus).
One of the gems in The Hiding Place is a story of Corrie and her wise sister Betsie. During a WWII air raid one night, Corrie slipped down to the kitchen to drink tea with Betsie. When Corrie returned, she found a jagged piece of shrapnel had broken through the window and landed on her pillow. Corrie rushed back downstairs. “Betsie, if I hadn’t heard you in the kitchen–“
But Betsie replied, “Don’t say it, Corrie! There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s world. And no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety–O Corrie, let us pray that we may always know it!”
Whether coronavirus is nothing or everything to worry about, what ifs are a shaky, uncomfortable (and even sinful) place to stand. And we can whack at them with optimism from the safety of living less than 5 miles from a hospital, but this doesn’t solve the greater issue of how to respond when hardship throws shrapnel at you.
I know that optimism, logic, or even humor aren’t wrong — but they aren’t permanent antidotes either. I mean, despite my best efforts to be sunshiny, I’ve felt my shoulders tense as I subconsciously carry the weight of the concern for all the missionary families that send me their prayer letters to proofread and the isolated communities our organization serves. What about them? What if…?
Don’t face your fears
The phrase “face your fears” is well intended. But I like to think that I won’t even give fear the time of day. Just like the faulty solution of “seeing the glass half full,” simply acknowledging, owning, or normalizing our fears is not enough to be rid of them. God equipped us with weapons of courage and power. He did not give us “the spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7).
“I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”Psalm 34:4
Notice the psalmist David doesn’t say that he was delivered or rescued from what he was afraid of, but he was rescued from his fear. And furthermore, oftentimes God delivers us from what we’re afraid of too, as David was celebrating in Psalm 34 after he had just escaped Abimelech.
Reasons to Always Bless the Lord (taken from just ONE chapter of the Bible, Psalm 34)
1. The Lord rescues — He’s known for answering, delivering, hearing, saving, giving — being near and a refuge to those in trouble and those who are brokenhearted.
2. The Lord is good — Verse 8 says, “Taste and see that the LORD is good!” The chapter promises that those who seek Him will not want anything good (10). Just a few verses down it states, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” God’s goodness envelops the afflictions, as I can personally attest.
3. The Lord is to be feared — He is to be revered in awe and worship. If you look to Him, your face will be radiant. He says that angels encamp around those who fear Him, and again, they won’t have any wants.
4. The Lord hears — It says His ears are open to the cries of the righteous. But I’m not righteous so this doesn’t apply. Right, Scripture says there is no one righteous. BUT GOD:
5. The Lord redeems — BUT GOD redeems and, in the great trade, He exchanges our sinfulness for Christ’s robes of righteousness. “The LORD redeems the soul of His servants” (v 22).
The Even If Stance
Instead of playing the “what if” game, can we take an even if stance like Daniel’s friends?
Shadrack, Meshack and Abed-nego replied to the king’s rage that they wouldn’t bow down to him. They said, “O Nebuchadnezzar… If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-17).
They could have applied some optimism, logic or denial here. “O King, you wouldn’t throw us into the furnace! Who does that?” They instead take a stance much like Job: “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15).
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers them out of all of them along with all the fears, too. He will not withhold what He only knows is good. Doesn’t this bring such comfort?
“O Magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.”Psalm 34:3
As next month (April) is sure to bring more news, cases, and hysteria, may we know EVEN IF our worst-case-scenario occurs, God is to be feared, and He will rescue us from our fears and afflictions.
“Fear God and fear no darkness.” –Tim Keller