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Among our ever-expanding troubles, fear and anxiety have pride of place. They are quintessential human issues. They are not so much problems that occasionally seize us; they are regular features of daily life that can be either quiet in the background or loud and dominating in the foreground. In this era, they come attached to our humanity. They say that we are powerless and weak, there are troubles ahead, things cherished are at risk, and there is not much we can do about it. And they are correct. Their specific predictions are often off, and they don’t tell the whole story, but they are correct. In this world, we and the people we love will know trouble (John 16:33).
We might wish all our fears away, but our fears, of course, are not all bad. Their greatest good is that they remind us that we are small and that we need Jesus. Dependence on Him is life; independence is a deadly myth. Fear is also a critical alarm that warns us of danger. Without it, we are handicapped in our growth in wisdom because wisdom must discern what is good and safe from what is evil and deadly. Yet, while acknowledging these benefits, we can all agree on this: we would like our fears to be fewer and less intense.
Look around and see that your fears are everywhere. They live under words such as stress, worry, jittery, on edge, pressure, and dread. They are tied to guilt and so many other everyday struggles. If you feel guilty, you fear judgment. If you feel shame, you fear being seen and exposed before others. Anger is often fear that has some fight left in it. It sees that something you love is at risk, though it is inclined to take a stand rather than freeze or run. Depression can be fear that has given up. Today, it says, is dark and unbearable. The future is worse. It is dark, unbearable, and hopeless. Or consider post-traumatic stress disorder. It describes those of us who have had a brush with destruction, either in the form of physical danger or the evil actions of other people. The fear is that these memories will intrude, or the past will repeat itself in the future. Something bad has happened and something bad will happen. And then there are all our addictions. Addictions are desires that refuse boundaries, but if we look more closely, we’ll see that many of them also hope to distract or anesthetize us from a mind that is reeling, a body that can’t stay still, and a future that is bleak. Addictions are powerful but ultimately ineffective ways to keep fears and anxieties at bay.
Scripture agrees that fears are everywhere. The Psalms assume that we are afraid. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Ps. 56:3). Their goal is to merge fear with faith in our trustworthy God. Their most common theme is the fear of powerful enemies who slander and make life miserable. Even more, these enemies can kill. All good reasons to be afraid. When we read through Scripture with the topic of fear in mind, we see that some version of “do not be afraid” appears more than three hundred times. These words often appear as commands, but like Jesus’ words to the grieving widow of Nain (“do not weep”; Luke 7:13), they are actually words of compassion and comfort. We find them throughout Scripture when our circumstances are dire and we need reassurance that God is near us (e.g., Gen. 15:1; 21:17; 46:3; Matt. 14:27; 28:10).
When the Spirit takes you into passages about fear and anxiety, you will hear three persistent refrains. First, God speaks beautiful and attractive words to His fearful people. Don’t be quick to expect rebuke, though there is room for confession and repentance in all of life. Instead, expect compassion. Expect comfort.
Second, the Lord promises that He is with us, and He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). This is the promise that includes all others. Jesus Christ died for sins “that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Fearful people are the ones who are in a position to cherish the gospel.
Third, since the Lord is present and He is the God who is sovereign over tomorrow, we can give our full attention to our God-given mission today (Matt. 6:33–34). Today we have all the grace we need. Today we have the Spirit of power who gives us courage for small steps of obedience even when tomorrow seems quite bleak. When tomorrow comes, the Spirit will again give us the power and courage that we need. Grace is new every morning.
Fears and anxieties are everywhere in life and in Scripture. Since they are such constants, these three refrains are not merely a way to stand against our fears, but they summarize the pattern of Christian growth.