How to Reduce Fear and Increase Faith

In Mark 4 Jesus asks His disciples two questions I think He asks you and me pretty regularly, too.

His inquiries are made to the disciples at the end of the story of how He speaks to the wind and the waves in a “furious squall” and they immediately die down.

After calming the storm with just three words, “Quiet! Be still!” Jesus says to His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:39-40).

It struck me that what Jesus is implying is that if they had faith, they wouldn’t have fear. Faith and fear, then, are opposites.

If we find ourselves fearful about something, the best prayer we can pray, it seems, is, “Lord, increase my faith!”

How does God increase our faith?

First John 4:18 reads, “…perfect love drives out fear…” And this description of what love does comes right after John’s defining what love is: God. “God is love,” (1 John 4:16).

So, God is love – perfect love, of course – and perfect love drives out fear. Logic tells me, then, that God drives out fear. But it’s a particular aspect of who He is that removes fear from our hearts: Love.

If you’re still with me, I believe God increases our faith in Him by driving out the fear in our hearts via His making us more and more aware of His perfect love. 

The better we understand His love for us, the calmer we are and the more easily we trust Him, whatever may come.

I think it’s worth noting Jesus’ second question is, “Do you still have no faith?” He didn’t expect the disciples to have perfect faith, just some faith. But, apparently, they didn’t have any at all.

It would make sense to me that fear and faith are inversely proportional: the more we have of one, the less we have of the other.

I was tempted at first to write they cannot coexist, that when we feel or have one, we cannot feel or have the other. But I don’t think that’s true.

We are fallen and will never have perfect or complete faith in God about anything. Our flesh and Satan whisper doubt to us all the time, scaring us. But the more we focus on God’s love, the louder our faith will be and the quieter our fear will get.

The last part of these questions that caught my eye is the word still. “Do you still have no faith?” I can sense Jesus’ exasperation that after all the disciples had seen Him do, all they’d heard Him say, all they’d experienced with Him, they still didn’t believe Jesus knew what He was doing when He told them to set sail that night? They still didn’t believe Jesus would protect them no matter how terrible the storm got or how soundly He slept?

Why didn’t they have faith in their teacher who was obviously divinely anointed?

Because in the moment they forgot everything they knew about Him. They forgot the miracles they’d witnessed Him perform, the healings they’d seen Him do, the wise teachings they’d heard from His mouth, and the hints He’d been dropping that He was the Messiah.

Instead of recalling the truths about Jesus – the things that would have given them faith – the disciples focused on the wind and the waves threatening their lives. They focused on the fear.

We have to train our minds to remember all the ways Jesus has been faithful to us throughout our lives. We have to think about all we’ve been through with Him, how He has blessed us and protected us in the past. Especially in the middle of a fear-inducing storm, we have to focus our thoughts on His impeccable character and unfailing love for us.

To reduce fear and increase faith in our lives, we need to study His perfect love and remember all He has brought us through.  

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Dream

It was about 2 o’clock in the morning, and I hadn’t slept yet. I stared at the ceiling, weighing pros and cons of a major pending decision – where to get my master’s degree.

I rehearsed the countless variables and possible outcomes; I recalled the details of the diligent research I’d done; I reflected on the conversations I’d had with many people who had done what I want to do, who had been where I am going, weighing their advice carefully. Between making my own guesses about what would be the most practical and affordable choice, I asked the Lord to reveal His wisdom and will.

Not getting very far, I tried to focus my mind elsewhere, hoping to relax enough to finally fall asleep. I was almost there when a thought was emblazoned in my mind. I came to and wrote it down because I didn’t want to forget it by morning.

Too often I dream too small because I think God is limited by dollar signs. He isn’t. He has a way of providing the funds for me to become all He has created me to be. Dream on.

Huh.

I’m not sure where this thought came from (and I didn’t care for the Aerosmith reference one bit), but I knew immediately it was true of me.

I’ve always dreamt small, aimed low, settled for low-hanging fruit.

I’m not saying I haven’t worked hard – I have, especially in academia. I’m saying I’ve always made my decisions based strictly upon practicality.

“I can’t” is central to my vocabulary, not because I lack ability or drive, but because I limit myself based on what I think is reasonable to assume can be accomplished with the resources I have – time, money, circumstances, experience, level of education, etc.

In this grad school case, I have let my estimations of what would be practical financially for our family limit my decision as to what program I enroll in. In other words, I’ve picked the cheapest, shortest degree possible in my field.

I began to groggily wonder at 2:26 AM if perhaps the Lord was nudging me to rethink my practical approach…

Six-something AM came too quickly, and I knew two things immediately: 1) There would not be enough coffee that day, and 2) I had to make a decision sooner than later or nights of little sleep would continue.

I got the girls off to school and sat down with a cup of coffee and my computer to check the news (which really means to scroll through my Twitter feed).

I follow a guy named Michael Hyatt, a big wig in publishing, platform building, leadership, and the like, and, wouldn’t you know it, he had posted an article with the tag line, “Are you dreaming big enough?” (The actual name of the article is “Don’t Leave God Out of Your Plans“.)

Huh.

I clicked on the short article, which basically says work hard, but don’t forget it is God that chooses whether or not an endeavor will be successful. In and of ourselves, we aren’t enough.

Michael quoted Psalm 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”

What struck me about this verse is the Lord has to be behind the building of the small house as well as the protection of the large city. He must be the foundation of all things, no matter their size or perceived importance. He is just as capable of building the house as well as guarding the city, and He must or neither effort will be successful.

I am going to have to rely on Him just as much to provide for the “cheap” degree as I am the “expensive” degrees. Ultimately, if He is not building my education, I am building it in vain. But if He is building my education, there will be no stopping Him. The Lord is not limited by dollar signs.

A little while later I picked up a book I am reading for advent called The Greatest Gift (Voskamp). The scripture for that day was the story of Abraham setting out to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Right in the nick of time, God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead, so Abraham named that place The Lord Provides (Genesis 22:1-14).

Huh.

I paused and thought about my early morning musing – God has a way of providing everything we need to become all He has created us to be. Isaac needed that ram. Without that ram, Isaac never would’ve become the ancestor to Christ God created him to be, and Jesus’ lineage would’ve stopped right then… the story would’ve been over. Redemption would’ve become an impossibility. All would’ve been lost. Forever.

I read on.

Voskamp wrote, like only she can, “The Lord sees. And He will see to it. And He will be seen.” The simplicity of the words juxtaposed against the complexity of the thoughts behind the words stopped me. I re-read them. I considered each sentence slowly, absorbing the full weight of the truth she’d encapsulated.

The Lord sees… He sees my situation… He sees yours… He is not blind… He isn’t disinterested… He is paying attention… He is aware… The Lord sees.

And He will see to it… He will take care of your dilemma… He will provide what you need… He will not forget… He will not drop the ball… He will see to it.

And He will be seen… He will be glorified through your situation… Your heart will respond in praise to His faithfulness… Others will see His hand and marvel, too… He will be seen.

Huh.

At this point I acutely (hear the sarcasm) observed the Lord was telling me to dream big and trust Him to provide.

So I committed to the school I felt would help me do that best, enrolled in my first class, and shelled out a lot of money.

And then my husband came home and told me he’d gotten a Christmas bonus for the price of the class minus $50. Sure, we could stand to put that money toward other things, but the timing of the provision of this particular check was not lost on either of us. It was as if the Lord said to me, “Go. I got this.”

I share all this to give Him glory and to encourage you in your situation where you need to be dreaming bigger and trusting Him more. God will provide everything you need to become exactly who He created you to be. 

Thoughts for the Anxious Christian

Anxiety is a broad term for a lot of different psychological and physiological responses. And people use it in a myriad of ways.

Psychologically speaking, some people say they are anxious when they are mildly worried about something. Others don’t consider passing worry to be anxiety until it becomes obsessively debilitating worry – worry that’s often irrational or over the top.

Still others reserve the word anxious for when their bodies are responding to the fear in their minds – increased heart rates, feeling hot, feeling claustrophobic, feeling unable to breathe, feeling like your having a heart attack, stomachaches. When physical anxiety is at it’s worst, most people call that experience a panic attack.

The nice thing (if there is one) about anxiety is that the Bible speaks to it in more than one place. To be honest with you, I’ve always read verses about anxiety from the stand point of mild worry. But the Lord has me in a season where anxiety means more than that to me, so I am looking afresh at the “anxiety verses”. Just because I’ve limited their meaning in the past to mild worry doesn’t mean that’s the only way God intended them to be interpreted.

On that note, I read this today:

6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1Pe 5:6-11)

Verse 6: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” 
  • We should submit to the idea that our anxiety (however we experience it: mild worry, obsessive worry, depression, panic attacks, debilitating anxiety disorders, etc.) is God’s doing (either directly or indirectly); He is in control. He knows what’s best, and, as hard as it is, He has deemed this best for us right now.
  • He will deliver us from this suffering at the proper time. (The NIV isn’t a great translation here; thankfully, vs. 10 clarifies Peter’s meaning.)
Verse 7: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
  • We are to continually place our anxiety on Him, not keep it ourselves. Whether it’s worrisome thoughts or physical anxiety, we should consciously give those things to God. We can do this through prayer: “Lord, I don’t want to worry about ____. I don’t want to be afraid of ____. I don’t want to feel ____. You take these things.”
  • I have a hunch that if God tells us to cast our anxiety on Him, it’s because He is willing to take it from us. In other words, it will be a fruitful exercise. I can’t prove this. So don’t go hanging your hat on it.
  • He cares for us! As alone as we may feel in the midst of anxiety, we are not. And because He cares about us, He wants our anxiety. He wants to free us from all levels of worry, just as we long to ease our childrens’ worried minds and take their physical pain from them.   
Verse 8: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
  • Satan wants to devour us in the midst of our experiencing anxiety. This is an opportune time for him. I don’t know that he can cause our anxious symptoms (particularly physiological responses), but I am certain he tries to exacerbate them by drumming up our fears concerning them.
  • We need to say to Satan, “I will not be the one you devour!” in the midst of our anxious episodes.
  • We are not picked on by Satan because we are weak or less than; I believe we are targeted because we unashamedly identify ourselves with Jesus. We should consider Satan’s attacks an honor and not feel ashamed in anyway that we are experiencing them (1 Peter 4:12-19).
Verse 9: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
  • We can resist Satan by declaring truth out loud, “God is good. He only allows that which is in my best interest. I refuse to believe otherwise. He is in total control, and I am safe with Him.” (Psalm 107:1, Romans 8:28, Proverbs 19:21, Psalm 4:8)
  • We are not alone! Believers all over the world and all over our own churches are experiencing the same kinds of anxiety in all its forms. As a side note, Satan seeks to divide and conquer us by isolating us. The more we share our stories with each other, the braver we all become to get the help we need to overcome our anxiety, especially the more debilitating forms.
Verse 10: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
  • We will suffer, but not forever; only for a little while.
  • We are personally called and chosen by God, and He Himself will restore us from this season of suffering. And when He restores us to emotional health, He will make us strong, firm and steadfast. There is no mincing words here; this is a promise
Verse 11: “To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
  • It is by His power and as a testament to His power that these things will come to pass.
  • Amen is an expression of absolute confidence that it will be so. Peter is confident. We can be confident.
Whether you struggle with “normal” worrying from time to time or more intense anxiety, reread this passage of scripture the next time you feel concerned. There is power in the Word. I’d even encourage you to read it out loud. In some situations, doing so will be enough to quell the anxiety and empower you to cast all your anxiety on the Lord. Other situations warrant additional action steps. Either way, incorporating scripture will undoubtedly help us.

Is Anxiety a Sin?

My pastor said something I didn’t like today.

He read Philippians 4:6 – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God,” – and then he offered this interpretation: being anxious is a sin.

To be honest, I stopped listening. I wasn’t angry so much as I was searching my mental database for a theological reason to support my desire for his interpretation of the verse to be wrong, or at least one possible interpretation of many.

Maybe the original Greek wasn’t really a command. Maybe a softer, suggestive tone was lost in translation.

I got home and read the verse in a different translation, “Be anxious for nothing…” Crap. That sounds like a command, too.

I pulled out a commentary, and it said, “This is a command, not an option. Undue care is an intrusion into God’s arena. It makes us the father of the household instead of being a child,” (Guzik). I never liked that commentary anyway.

I pulled out a dictionary and looked up the word anxious, hoping for a semantic reprieve. Google said this:

anx·ious  /ˈaNG(k)SHəs/

Adjective
  1. Experiencing worry, unease, or nervousness, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
  2. (of a period of time or situation) Causing or characterized by worry or nervousness.
Synonyms
uneasy – worried – solicitous – concerned – restless

Really, Internet? The one time I need you to be on my side, and you’re not?

Clearly, Paul is commanding us to not be anxious, and, try as I did, I couldn’t escape that fact. And if we are commanded not to be something, then it stands to follow that when we are that something, we are disobeying the Lord. And what do we call disobeying the Lord? Sin. Geez.

With no wiggle room, I started to wonder why I don’t like the conclusion that anxiety is a sin.

Well, for starters, not being anxious – not worrying or feeling uneasy or feeling nervous – feels impossible. Sure, there are fleeting moments here and there in which I feel peaceful, but, by and large, anxious is my standard emotion. And to say that my baseline feeling is wrong is really saying there is something wrong with me. I don’t hear, “What you’re doing (worrying) is wrong,” I hear, “You are wrong. There is something wrong with you because you worry.”

While that’s a true statement, it hurts to think about. I can’t imagine Jesus having that attacking mentality toward me. Something just still didn’t jive for me about the blanket statement that anxiety is a sin.

After pondering all this, I did what any of us would do when confronted with the ugliness inside of us: I got defensive.

I thought to myself, “It doesn’t feel like I have any control over feeling anxious. I can’t never feel anxious. That is an impossible standard no human could ever uphold.” And in the midst of my rationalizing, I found a loophole that just might be valid.

It’s been said that, because we can’t stop a sinful thought from popping into our minds, we don’t actually sin until we react to that initial thought by choosing to continue to dwell on said thought. This argument is how we explain that Jesus was tempted but did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). Being tempted is not the sin; giving into the temptation is the sin.

So if we apply that to anxiety, we can say the initial anxious feeling about any given situation is not the sin, it’s the temptation to sin. We haven’t actually sinned until we respond to that initial anxious feeling by choosing to stay worried, a la definition 2 above.

I took this idea back to the scripture, and I caught something I didn’t see this morning. The command is, “Do not be anxious…” It doesn’t say, “Do not feel anxious…”

We will all have times we feel an intial jolt of anxiety over something. It’s not until we feed that worry that we move from feeling to being. “Being” anxious has the connotation that we are perpetually worried, not just worried for an instant.

This is a command I find easier to accept. It’s no longer an impossible standard. It allows me to be human and frees me up to experience human emotions without feeling guilty. Then, when I recognize that I am feeling anxious about something, I can choose, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to not stay anxious.

I’d like to believe that’s the heart behind this verse.

What do you think?