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.  

Relying on God

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. – 1 John 4:15-16

The chick on the Bible study video, Kelly Minter, honed in on the word “know” this morning… she pointed out the Greek is more specific. “Know” here doesn’t mean intellectual assent, like I know my telephone number. Rather, this particular “know” means to understand as a result of experiencing, like I know my husband as a result of interacting with him daily and deeply for 10+ years.

We are to know the love God has for us because we’ve experienced it.

Bible study lady was making a fascinating point, and she proceeded to examine other times John uses both kinds of “knows”, but I found myself zeroing in on a different word in verse 16: rely.

We know and rely on the love God has for us…

It struck me that rely is a verb. It’s an action. To rely on God is an action we have to deliberately take or it won’t be done.

As I pondered what it is to rely on something, it also struck me that it can’t be done halfway. You either rely on something, or you don’t. But you don’t “sorta” rely on something. To “kind of” rely on something is to not rely on it at all.

Sometimes I get hungry. But I hate cooking. So I go to a restaurant and rely on people there to cook something for me. Except on Christmas Day. I know that 99% of restaurants are closed on Christmas Day, so I don’t rely on them to feed me then. (I rely on my mother-in-law then, but that’s neither here nor there…) What I’ve never done is “sorta” relied on a cook at a restaurant to feed me. I’ve never brought my own sack lunch, just in case my meal was burned or the chef got sick. I’m either all in or all out, wholly depending upon the restaurant or not depending on it at all.

In fact, I can’t think of one situation in which I’ve ever “kind of” relied on something.

So when John tells us to rely on the love God has for us, I’m fairly certain he means to whole-heartedly count on that love. Which we can do, logically, given that we know His love is trustworthy from past personal experience.  

We are being called to trust God’s love 100%. We are being commanded to put all of our hope in the fact that God loves us… no matter the trials that may come… no matter the suffering we will endure… no matter the bleakness of the current state of affairs. We can and should totally rely on God’s love for us.

Two emotions surface for me thinking about this concept:

First, I have a sense of utter desperation. Waking up to the news telling me about the slaughter of Christians all over the world countless times in the past six months is enough to make me feel like I can’t rely on anything for safety and protection from the evil in this world. If people are executed in American churches, the “safest” places on earth to worship, where else are we going to go to protect ourselves? My feeling of desperation says, “Thank God we can rely on the love God has for us because we can’t rely on anything else…” 

Thankfully, though, that first sentiment quickly gives way to another: peace. The love of God is not some consolation prize. We don’t merely rely on His love because that’s all we’ve got to choose from. (We can find plenty of other woeful substitutes with which to self-medicate… or so I’ve been told…) No, we stake our lives on God’s love for us, trusting Him and Him alone to take care of us in all the right ways at all the right times, because His love is rock-solid. It is wholly trustworthy to support us and nurture us all the days of our lives. The fact that I can rely on something as infallible as the love of God for all my needs is a reassurance like no other.

But just because it makes sense and brings me peace, it doesn’t mean relying on God’s love for me is easy. It’s not because relying on God isn’t my default setting. I’m a fallen human, just like you, so I’ve been programmed to rely on me. And that’s what I do unless I make the intentional decision to consciously rely on God. And the moment I stop focusing my thoughts on doing so, I slip right back into “self-sufficiency” without even realizing it.

Since I can’t rely on myself to rely on God’s love for me, it’s apropos to end with this: I’m going to rely on God’s love for me to help me rely on God’s love for me.

(I think those are His favorite kind of requests, by the way… when we stop pretending like we can do any single positive thing without Him wholly equipping us to do so… we are a desperate people… thank God we have a God who loves us and who not only allows us to rely on Him, He invites us to rely on Him.)

Rely

I’m going through Beth Moore‘s Loving Well Bible study. Again. For the third time.

This is partly because it’s the study the director of women’s ministry at my church chose. But, let’s be honest, it’s mostly because I don’t love well.

Anyway, the bulk of the study focuses on the latter half of 1 John 4, where John illuminates what God’s love is, what our love is, and how the two are connected.

What caught my attention this week during Bible study was verse 16. For context’s sake, here is 15 and 16:

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

Hmm.

Know and rely?

A lot of days I know God loves me. But do I rely on His love? What does that even mean anyway?

Well, I think John is speaking to our relying on God’s love for salvation through Jesus. Verse 9 reads, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” Christians are putting all their eternal hopes in one basket, and that basket is labeled, “Complete Forgiveness through Faith in Christ”. We’re relying on the love God has for us, believing that love spurred Him on to send Christ to die for us. If God didn’t love us enough to send His Son, we’ve all been duped. Worse, we’re all still in our sins, and when we die we’ll have to explain ourselves to the Lord.

But I think we can also rely on this same love – the love that went to extreme lengths to redeem us – in our daily lives.

When we’re worried about paying bills that are bigger than our paychecks, for example, we can rely on the love God has for us by recalling that time He loved us enough to send His Son to redeem us. We can trust that that same love will work out our financial needs.

When we’re feeling lonely or frustrated or angry, we can rely on the love God has for us by believing that the love that sacrificed Jesus for us is still loving us today. We can believe God is with us in our hard times and wants to comfort us with His love.

When we have no idea what we’re doing with our lives – what job to take, what ministry to serve in, whether or not to have another kid, where we should live, etc. – we can rely on the love God has for us by thinking about the compassion for us that prompted the Lord to send Jesus out of Heaven, to Earth, through extreme beatings, to a slow, violent death on a cross in order to win us back. We can have faith that that same all-encompassing love will guide us in our life decisions and won’t let us fail anymore than we need to in order to better know Him.

It’s easy to know intellectually that God loves us. It’s all over the pages of our Bibles, it’s in the lyrics of the worship songs we sing each week, and we can recall times in our lives when God really made it abundantly clear that He cares for us.

It’s much harder to consistently feel like God loves us and, in turn, to rely on the love He has for us. I think learning to actively depend on God’s love is more of a learned skill than a natural inclination of the Christian’s heart.

I wonder what would happen – how my mindset might improve – if the next time a challenge arises I ask, “How can I rely on God’s love for me in this situation?”

I know, answering that question takes effort. (I’m grumbling myself at the thought of doing this exercise.) It’s hard to see the forest for the trees, and even attempting to when you’re the one stuck in the brush may take more emotional energy than you have to spare. But I think it’s a question worth answering.

How to Have the Same Mindset as Christ Jesus

It’s been a crazy two weeks for our family. An unexpected event has turned our world upside down. We’ve grieved. We’ve felt angry. We’ve felt hurt. We’ve had to process those emotions with the Lord and with others. And then we had to start making several significant life changes for our family that weren’t even on our radar 2 weeks ago.

The Lord doesn’t waste turbulent times like these.

His biggest challenge to me in the midst of this craziness has been to take a look at my heart and to really examine how well (or how poorly, as the case may be) I love other people

There’s a passage of scripture that reads, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 2:3-5).

Ah.

This is a convicting knife to the heart when you’re feeling wronged and hurt by someone else. We still have to value them? We still have to consider their interests? We have to think about them as Christ thinks about them?

What, exactly, is “the mindset of Christ”?

Verse 7, “…he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…” and verse 8, “…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death…” (Philippians 2:7, 8).

Christ’s mindset toward others – all others, even those who don’t “deserve” His love – is to serve them humbly and to die to Himself. When Jesus hung on that cross, He didn’t do it because it was in His best interest. When He was beaten beyond all recognition, Jesus’ thoughts weren’t fixed on Himself. He was solely concerned with doing what was in our best interest.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters,” 1 John 3:16.

Even our brothers and sisters who hurt us? Yes. (Matthew 5:43-48)

Even our brothers and sisters who repeatedly hurt us? Yes. (Matthew 18:21-22)

I struggled long and hard with that last one. I wrestled all last week, looking for scriptural loop holes. I came up empty. The Lord kept bringing me back to two thoughts:

  1. If I give up on those who hurt me, how will they ever grow?
  2. How many times has Jesus given up on me?

That second thought puts a lump in my throat every time I think about it. Jesus has never, for any reason, ever refused me another chance. How dareever consider, for any reasonrefusing to give someone else another chance? Jesus has forgiven me too much for me to wash my hands of someone else (Luke 7:47).

Having the mind of Christ toward others is longing to see them grow in their relationships with the Lord no matter what it costs me. 

How to Combat Spiritual Warfare

I’m a little Type A (my score: 14/16).

I’m also slightly sarcastic.

But you know this already.

I have a point. It’s coming. It will be here soon.

Oh, yes, when I am told to do something at which I am inexperienced, I need instructions. Step by step, tell me how to do it, on account of the Type A in me.

One subject in the Christian world where there seems to be great confusion and hocus pocus is spiritual warfare.

I mean, we hear about it. We read about it in our Bibles. We’re told we’re all in a battle that is not of flesh and blood but is somewhere out there in the 4th dimension we can’t see (Ephesians 6:12).

(Or is it the 5th dimension? I’ve never been friends with the science.)

The point is spiritual warfare is invisible and intangible and the majority of Christian instruction about it has proven unhelpful for me.

Things like “Take every thought captive to Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

What does that even mean, really? Handcuff our thoughts? I can’t deal with this ridiculous imagery.

Most people explain this verse to mean that when you have a thought, check it against scripture to see if it is true.

Ah, now that is more practical.

However, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed or not, but the Bible IS A HUGE BOOK. How can I check my every thought against thousands of pages of words, especially when I am emotional about something?

I did an exercise the other day that proved helpful.

Step 1 – Don’t wait until you’re upset and prone to think unclearly to do this exercise. Be proactive and do it before you need it.

Step 2 – Write out the lies Satan baits you with most often. Off the top of your head, write them out until you can’t think of anymore. You may end up with a list of 10-20.

Step 3 – Look for similarities in the lies, and reduce the list to the Top 5 Lies Satan Gets You to Believe on a Regular Basis. Write this list on the left half of a piece of paper.

Step 4 – For each lie find a specific scripture that refutes it. The Bible is huge; there are lots of details in it. Use a Bible search engine like BlueLetterBible.org and enter the key words from your lie to see what truths are returned about it. Sift through them and find one that speaks to your specific lie as well as your heart. If it doesn’t encourage your heart when you’re calm, it won’t encourage you when you’re emotionally involved in spiritual warfare. Write this list of scriptures on the right half of the paper, lining up each truth across from the corresponding lie.

Step 5 – KEEP THIS PAPER WITH YOU. Take a picture of it with your phone. Save the list to your computer. Post it on your fridge, in the car, everywhere you frequent.

Step 6 – When you sense Satan baiting you in one of the usual ways, look at your list, find the corresponding truth, and read it OUT LOUD. This is the model Jesus left for us; refute lies by saying, “It is written…” and quote the scripture (Matthew 4:1-10).

Step 7 – Tell Satan to leave. This is also what Jesus modeled (Matthew 4:10-11). Because the Holy Spirit – i.e., God – resides in us (1 Corinthians 3:16), we quite literally possess the same power Jesus had, also being God, to tell Satan what to do. And he must obey, not because we’re hot stuff, but because God in us is the authority over him (1 John 4:4).

Step 8 – Be aware that Satan will leave, but he will also return at a more opportune time (Luke 4:13).

I know the temptation is to think, “Huh, this is a good idea,” and close the page and not think twice about it.

Guess what?

THAT WON’T HELP YOU.

Do the exercise.

Now.

Don’t tell me you’re too busy; you’re reading a blog for crying out loud.

Come on, go do the exercise.

I’ll wait. 🙂

I Want to See You Be Brave

There’s something they don’t tell you about this Christianity thing when you sign up.

I’m not saying it would be a deal-breaker if you knew about it on the front end, but I am saying we’d think longer and harder about declaring Christ to be not just our Savior but also our LORD – our Master, our Ruler, the One from Whom we will take our orders forevermore – if a seasoned believer took the time to share the secret only they can know while they were sharing the Gospel with us.

When we meet Christ for the first time, when we realize He is what we’ve been looking for our whole lives and that we need Him more than we’d ever known, we tend to focus on the benefits we will receive if we accept Him. Namely, Heaven.

And that’s definitely not something to gloss over. Heaven is a huge deal, and Christ’s getting us in is something we should thankfully reflect on regularly. It should soak into our bones and spur us on to unashamed devotion and obedience to Him.

But what most of us miss when we accept Christ is that we are choosing a hard road.

What’s so hard about a free pass to Heaven?

It’s not free.

And I don’t mean that in the it-cost-Christ-everything kind of way most people say it.

I mean that in the it-will-cost-US-everything kind of way.

John said it like this, “We know that we have come to know [Jesus] if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him… Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did,” (1 John 2:3, 4, 6).

Calm down there, John, buddy. Alls I want is a get-out-of-hell-free card.

And that’s all most of us think we’re getting when we choose to believe in Jesus.

But we get so much more! You’ve heard it said Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship, and as much as I hate tired catch phrases, it expresses the truth that there is give and take with Jesus if you want to call yourself “Christian”.

Jesus gave His life for us, and we are to give ours for Him. Not on a cross, hopefully, but in daily obedience to what He says.

Which is fine and dandy until He starts asking us to do some things we don’t want to do.

And that day will come. And it will be H-A-R-D. Which is why no one includes that on their tracts.

The truth? If you want to follow Christ, you have to be brave.

I am raising two little girls who are terrified of animals. They both scream and cry and climb me like a tree if they see a dog… the size of a tea cup… 100 yards away… on a leash. They have broken into hysterics upon seeing a dog WHILE WE WERE IN THE CAR. If we go to someone’s house, they choke up and make me go ahead of them to ask the people if they have a dog and if they have put it away. We can’t go for walks or ride bikes in our neighborhood because a dog – what if we see one?!

We have regular conversations, then, about courage and bravery and what that means. And I always underscore something for my daughters.

Bravery is not the absence of fear; it’s the willingness to do what is right even when you are scared out of your mind. 

We cannot wait until we no longer feel afraid to act; we’ll never act.

My daughters cannot wait until the Lord supernaturally removes their fear of animals to go outside. Not to mention, there is something to be said for having a healthy fear of dogs they don’t know.

So it is with us. We cannot wait until the Lord takes away our fears of doing whatever it is He is asking us to do that makes us want to refuse to obey. We’d never get around to the obeying part. Which, thanks to our blunt friend, John, we know we must.

The Christian life is only for the brave. 

I want to see you be brave.

Why I Can’t Love My Neighbor as Myself

A common misconception is that Old Testament Jews were saved by keeping the law. A lot of people think if those who lived before Christ obeyed all the Jewish rules and/or made all the appropriate sacrifices when they did wrong, God would let them into Heaven. Wrong.

image via Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net
image via Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

Keeping the Law never saved anyone. Paul, who kept the law faultlessly (Philippians 3:6), tells us the truth about the law, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin,” (Romans 3:20).

So the 613 commands given in the Old Testament were given, in large part, to prove how inadequate humans are. We can’t keep all the rules. We fall short daily, which proves to our prideful selves that we have a real need for a Savior.

(Note: Our friend Paul, who claims his “righteousness based on the law” was “faultless”, is prone to exaggeration. One commentator puts it this way, “Paul achieved the standard of righteousness which was accepted among the men of his day – though this standard fell short of God’s holy standard,” (Guzik).)

Knowing this about the law, fast forward to a peculiar verse in Galatians. Paul says, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Galatians 5:14).

But what do we know about our ability to keep the law? WE CAN’T!

So, putting two and two together, we CAN’T love our neighbors as ourselves. When we try, our inadequacy quickly becomes apparent. Our need for a Savior to help us love well becomes glaringly obvious.

Realizing this, I can give myself a little grace when I don’t love well. I’m human, and I can’t expect myself to have the capacity to love well given that fact.

But much more importantly, I would do well to remember how utterly dependent I am on Jesus.want to love others well. I want to consider them more important than myself (Philippians 2:3-4). And I want to please God by obeying the commandment to love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:39).

But I need Him to help me. And He will. All I have to do is ask (1 John 5:14-15).