During breakfast this morning, John shared with me the insights that he gained in his middle-of-the-night meditation on Scripture, and we reflected on them. Our discussion centered on the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John—“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27 NIV). (A better interpretation of the word troubled is “anxious.”)
Evening news reports let us know that there’s plenty that could make us fearful and anxious—spread of the Zika virus, a 6.4 earthquake in Japan, Russian jets flying close to US warships, political protests in NY City—on and on it goes. In days like these, how can we not be afraid? My post, today, is an expansion of our discussion and a challenge to not let fear and anxiety overpower us.
1) This is the way that fear overpowers us: fear comes from outside threats—from power-hungry people and dangerous events in the world around us; that fear attaches to the fear that’s already inside of us—the fear/anxiety generated by our heart beliefs. In this increasingly unsafe world, there will always be things that cause us to fear. But Jesus tells us we must not allow this fear to take root and grow in our hearts (our inner core). Fear overpowers us when we continually focus our minds on the danger(s) around us.
2) In order for our hearts to be at peace, so that we can face outer threats without being overcome by fear and anxiety, we must take action. The action that we must take is to pay attention to our thinking and focus on truth. If we believe that we are powerless and think we will be injured in a situation, then we will be afraid. But if we, as Christians, believe the truth that God’s Spirit is within us and that by his power we can handle anything, then we will have, as he promised, power, love, and self-control “(2 Timothy 1:7 ESV). Focusing on this truth may not be our tendency, and it’s not necessarily an easy choice. But if we practice making this choice, our hearts will eventually feel secure.
3) Some of us, because of our temperaments, struggle more with anxiety than others do. Why is this so? Theologian D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones believes it has to do with temperament and that becoming a Christian does not result in a temperament change. In his book, Spiritual Depression: Causes and Cure, he says, “The fact that you have become a Christian does not mean that you cease to have to live with yourself. You will have to live with yourself as long as you are alive, and your self is not somebody else’s self . . . there are some people who by temperament are nervous apprehensive, frightened.”[i]
When speaking in front of a crowd of people, even if I know them, my tendency is to feel anxious. Why? It’s not a physically threatening situation but an emotionally threatening one. I face a possibility of rejection, criticism or disapproval. When I tell myself that I can’t tolerate the pain of being rejected, criticized or disapproved of and think about how painful it will be, my anxiety level increases and interferes with my ability to prepare for the upcoming presentation. But, when in my heart, I believe that God has given me good things to say and that I already have his acceptance and approval, then I have peace, can think clearly, and can focus on what will benefit others.
4) It’s important for us to overcome anxiety not only for our own comfort but also for the effect that it has on our relationships. When we’re anxiously concerned about our personal safety or reputation or acceptance, it’s impossible to think about what that other person needs and how we can act in a way that will be loving and helpful; instead, we focus on self-protection. I love the Psalmist declaration, “In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?” (Psalm 56:34 NKJV) That is one of the verses that I am focusing my thoughts on today.
[i] P. 95 and 96