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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Spiritual Legacy: God-Sized Dreams

So Thursday morning I’m going to wake up earlier than I want to and board a flight to the rest of my life.

(How’s that for an opening line?)

Actually, I really have no idea if or how my Thursday-through-Sunday excursion will impact the rest of my life given the whole I’m-not-omniscient thing, but I do know it will be an adventure I will remember for years to come because, no matter what happens, just my getting to go on this trip was an act of God. Another story for another time…

I knew the first few moments I began to read a plain, black, hardback Bible I lied to get when I was 16 years old… I knew I was hooked on it. It was oddly intriguing, this ancient collection of writings, all telling the same story, yet leaving me with so many questions… it spoke to me and about me without ever using my name…

A year later I found myself teaching what little I knew about the Bible to others who knew even less… for me, it just came naturally. I had to tell what I was learning… Something compelled me. And I suppose it was way back then – my senior year of high school – that I knew deep down inside that I wanted the major emphasis of my life (other than family, of course) to be teaching the Bible to others.

So I went and got my degree in Biblical Studies and Theology, and a couple of years later I got my chance to start teaching Bible to small groups. A couple more years went by, and I started teaching through this blog. And somewhere along the way, when I was knee deep in toddlers no doubt, my heart began to desire a broader ministry.

(Truth be told, I will probably always struggle with how much of that desire is God-given versus selfish, but it’s probably healthy to continually examine that as I go along.)

When my daughters were both under 5 years old, my desire to help people become passionate about the Bible grew stronger and stronger… and, logically, the more people I could influence to that end the better.

But my call to care for my littles 24/7 was more important to me (and, evidently, to God, seeing as how that’s the way it turned out) at that time. My dream to teach more people more often would have to wait. And that was okay. My time with my pre-school daughters was precious and valuable (and stressful and overwhelming, but I digress).

Every one of those summers with my babies I longed to go to the She Speaks conference… I’d scroll through the pretty website, read over the schedule, daydream about the workshops designed to help women like me become speakers – Bible teachers to the masses. And my dream would get a little bigger, threatening to cause my heart to burst with enthusiasm. But every summer would come and go without my being able to attend.

Well, my baby turned 5 years old last week. Both my daughters will be in full-time, big kid, real deal school in t-24 days (but who’s counting?)… and the Lord just so happened to move a mountain to send me to the conference this summer.

He’s up to something.

And when I take my eyes off Him, I’m terrified as to what that something might be.

But when I remember that He is good and that He loves me, my heart quivers a little less. Today our guest pastor preached on God being sufficient to supply all the resources we need to accomplish the God-sized dreams He’s given us.

I share all this to make you smile. He is in every detail.

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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.

What to Do When You’re Sinking

We all know the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water, but some things about it struck me differently today.

First, Jesus made the disciples get into that boat and sail on ahead of Him INTO A STORM while he wrapped up a long day of teaching with some solitary prayer time (Matthew 14:22-23). In other words, while He was safely on land…

That doesn’t sound like the western Christian life at all… Lovey-dovey Jesus makes us go into uncomfortable, frightening, even dangerous situations?

Then, in the middle of the night, Jesus decides to walk across the lake toward the boat. And do you know how the disciples reacted? The Bible says, “They were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear,” (Matthew 14:26).

So for those keeping score at home, Jesus sent the disciples into a terrifying situation, and then He Himself terrifies them!

“But Jesus immediately said to them, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid,'” (Matthew 14:27).

If the disciples were anything like me, Jesus’ words did very little to actually quell the fear inside them.

Peter, evidently, was like me, because he needed more proof that this ghost-like creature really was Jesus.

“‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water,'” (Matthew 14:28).

And that right there is where the similarities between Peter and I end. I would’ve been more prone to say something like, “Lord, if it’s you, come get in the boat with me, and maybe bring some ice cream?”

Jesus’ response to Peter is even more startling than Peter’s offer to get out of the boat. Jesus says, “Come,” (Matthew 14:29).

“Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus,” (Matthew 14:29).

Peter RISKED HIS LIFE to COME TOWARD JESUS.

Peter accepted Christ’s invitation to come!

Peter walked in obedience to the Lord in terrifying, dangerous, nonsensical circumstances…

But.

“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!'” (Matthew 14:30).

The wind didn’t all of a sudden kick up after Peter had gotten out of the boat and was walking in obedience. The wind had been there all along. Peter had been aware that it was gusty before he made the choice to come toward Jesus.

But while he was in the boat, the wind was not nearly as terrifying as it was when he was attempting to walk on water.

The dangers of the wind became more readily apparent without the safety of the boat. So, too, Peter became more afraid of the wind.

Fear paralyzed Peter, and he began to sink

But when he began to sink, Peter did the perfect thing: he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Peter didn’t call to the other disciples to throw him a life preserver, nor did Peter start trying to swim back to the boat.

He knew those things wouldn’t work in the midst of a storm in the middle of a huge lake.

Peter knew the only One who could save him was Jesus. 

And I love – LOVE – what happens next.

“Immediately, Jesus reached out his hand and caught him,” (Matthew 14:31).

IMMEDIATELY!

Jesus didn’t let Peter bob below the surface a few times just to teach him a lesson.

Jesus didn’t give Peter a talking to about trust before He offered to help.

Jesus immediately saved Peter.

And how Jesus saved Peter is just as beautiful – with His own hand. By His own touch, with His own strength.

Jesus could’ve told the wind and the waves to stop to save Peter. But He didn’t. Or He could’ve instructed the other disciples to throw Peter a line. But He didn’t. Or He could’ve coached Peter to swim to Him, but He didn’t.

He didn’t do any of those things.

When Peter, gripped with fear and short on faith, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out His hand and saved Peter

What makes us think He won’t do the same for us?!

As we take steps toward Jesus, obeying Him to come, there will be fear and doubt and we will begin to sink. But He is too good and loves us too much to not respond immediately to our plea, “Lord, save us!” 

All we have to do is cry out.

Is Anything Too Hard for the Lord?

I love when the Lord asks people (us) questions in scripture. He’s never asking for His benefit; He knows all answers to all questions, being that He is God and whatnot.

No, He asks questions to spur us on to examine our thinking about Him so we can discover where we might be erring.

In Genesis Abraham and God have quite a few conversations. And in one such dialogue, God tells Abraham his geriatric wife, Sarah, is going to have a baby. Sarah is eavesdropping on this conversation and bursts into condescending laughter at the idea of her bearing a child. She even mutters to herself sarcastically, and with just a hint of bitterness, “After I am worn out and my [husband] is old, will I now have this pleasure?” (Genesis 18:12).

I’m thinking the Lord’s feelings were a bit hurt by this.

Sarah didn’t trust Him. She had heard with her own ears the Lord’s voice say she was going to have a son… but she didn’t believe Him… What’s more, she scoffed at His promise.

(I’m certainly glad I’ve never done that… I mean, how arrogant do you have to be to hear the God of everything tell you something is definitely going to happen and your response is to laugh in His face, question His judgment, basically CALL HIM A LIAR? Yup, so glad I can’t relate at all in any way… … …)

The Lord heard Sarah’s distrustful musings and asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?'” (Genesis 18:13).

First of all, God knew why Sarah asked that question, He just wanted Abraham to think about why Sarah asked that question.

Secondly, I find it interesting God didn’t ask Sarah directly, but, then again, she wasn’t the person with whom He was having a conversation.

Thirdly, I can hear the hurt in God’s question to Abraham. I can sense the sadness God felt at His own creation’s mocking Him.

I don’t think it was self-pity because that would mean God was feeling His own inadequacies, and we know God is not inadequate. Whereas humans would be tempted to ask this question with a “What’s wrong with me that she doesn’t trust me?” sentiment, God is sad for Sarah. God’s sadness says, “I hate that she is so broken she doesn’t trust me. I hate that for her. It was never meant to be this way. I long to make her whole that she might experience the joy of completely trusting me.”

On the heels of His first question, God asks Abraham a second question, “‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?'” (Genesis 18:14).

Again, God knows the answer to this question. He asks Abraham to get him to think it through.

This question clarifies the first. Sarah laughed and scoffed sarcastically at the idea of her having a baby because she secretly believed some things, like a 90 year old woman conceiving, were too hard for God.

God asked these two questions successively to lead Abraham to realize that Sarah, and maybe himself as well, didn’t have an accurate view of the power and sovereignty of God. She was limiting God to the rules of natural law: old people don’t bear children. She trusted biology more than the very words of God.

Like Abraham and Sarah, when God asks us, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” We respond with a pious, “NO! Nothing!” so as to not give anyone a reason to believe our faith is weak. Our answer is right, of course, nothing is too hard for God.

But as soon as the words leave our lips, we feel a twinge of guilt – conviction from the Spirit – because we don’t live like we really believe nothing is too hard for God.

Instead, we live like God can do a lot of things, but He can’t deliver us from our particularly difficult situations…

God is in control of a lot of things, but He dropped the ball by letting _____ happen, and He can’t use it for our good…

He can save a lot of people, but He can’t save that lost friend that is just completely unreceptive to the Gospel…

God can provide a lot of stuff, but He’ll never find a way to help us out of our mounding debt…

God can heal a lot of illnesses, but He can’t heal our bodies.

And so on and so forth.

And just like He asked Abraham, God asks us, “Why are you laughing and saying ‘God can’t do it’? Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

He hurts for us, crippled by our lack of faith. He longs to make us whole that we might experience the joy of completely trusting Him.

What’s your “anything”?

In what ways are you not trusting the Word of God? Which of His promises do you think impossible?

Nothing is too hard for the Lord.

Lord, we believe; help our unbelief. 

How Far Will God Go to Get Our Attention?

“Sometimes it feels like I am being swallowed whole. Like this life is too much. Like I am too much.”

I said that to God.

And a truth popped into my head almost instantly: there is someone who knows what that feels like.

Jonah was literally swallowed whole… and why?

Because he wouldn’t do what the Lord told him to do (Jonah 1). 

“‘Go to the great city of Nineveh…'” God had said. “But Jonah ran away from the Lord…”

Yeah, Jonah has always understood me… us…

“Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up… they knew [Jonah] was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so… the sea was getting rougher and rougher…”

Yes, things only go from bad to worse when we’re running away from God.

The Lord caused this storm. He will not hesitate to create storms – “bad things” – to get our attention. 

“‘I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you,'” Jonah admitted.

Jonah’s nothing if he isn’t honest.

Am I? Are you?

Are we willing to tell people, “HEY! I AM RUNNING AWAY FROM THE LORD! I KNOW THAT IT IS MY FAULT THAT THIS GREAT STORM HAS COME UPON YOU!”

I don’t read this as Jonah bragging about his disobedience. I don’t think he is wearing it as a badge of honor. I know I’m not. I read Jonah as a guy who is being honest about where his heart is, transparent about his failings. And I hope I’m read the same way…

At his request, the sailors threw Jonah overboard to save themselves from the storm that was threatening their lives – the storm Jonah had caused. The sailors did this reluctantly, fully believing Jonah would die if they put him in that sea. They didn’t do it for Jonah’s good – they did it for themselves – but they were scared to death – scared of death scared of Jonah’s death

Yes, we can – we must – look at those we love who are weathering a storm God caused in an effort to get our attention and say, “THROW ME OVERBOARD! SAVE YOURSELVES, AND TRUST GOD TO SAVE ME!”

And they might believe if they do that we will die. They might be scared to death – scared of death – scared of our deaths…

But they needn’t be. Because we know there is more to Jonah’s story – to our stories – than a cold, frightening swim in a swelling sea.

“They took Jonah and they threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm.”

God stopped that storm as quickly as He had started it the second Jonah hit the water. He bobbed like a lure, alone, treading water, but he knew – he knew – God was with him. What other explanation was there for a hurricane giving way to tranquility in the blink of an eye?

Can we believe God can do the same for us?

And for the loved ones we must push over the starboard side of a ship that’s sinking swiftly?

God could have stopped that storm and left it at that. He could have left Jonah in the middle of the calm sea, treading water until his legs cramped and his lungs burned. And then God could have let Jonah silently sink in exhaustion below the surface. He could have let Jonah drown.

But He didn’t.

God caused a life-threatening storm. He allowed Jonah to be thrown overboard. And then, “the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah…”

Swallowed whole.

Swallowed alive.

And the swallowing? It saved Jonah’s life. 

“I will let you be swallowed whole,” the Lord tells me, “not because I don’t love you, but because I do. The best thing you can do is what I am telling you to do. And if you have to be swallowed to be saved – swallowed before you’re convinced obeying Me might be a good idea – then that is what I will allow – that is what I will cause.”

It may feel like we are being swallowed alive – and, indeed, we may be – but salvation is in the swallowing.

Lord, help us trust You.

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.