“First Peter 3:6b shows us what hope looks like in the stresses and threats of real life. ‘And you are now her children if you do right and let nothing terrify you.’ The presence of hope drives out fear. The daughters of Sarah do not fear anything but displeasing God. Or to be more accurate, the daughters of Sarah fight the anxiety that rises in their hearts. They wage war on fear, and they defeat it with the promises of God…. They fight fear with the faithfulness of God—‘Sarah considered him faithful who had promised’ (Hebrews 11:11). And then they do what Peter says in 4:19, ‘Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.’ They affirm the sovereign rule of God over their suffering and that they do not suffer apart from his will, and they rest their souls in the firm and omnipotent hands of a faithful Creator. They cast out fear and they hope in God. And so they prove to be the daughters of Sarah and heirs according to the promise.”
—John Piper, Mothers Day Message (May 1986).
There’s at least one more “weapon” we must learn to wield in our fight against fear: obedience.
We fight fear, not only with prayer and promises, but with action that declares to God and everyone else: “I will not let this fear dictate my life.”
This advice comes from Elisabeth Elliot (again) in the form of an old poem (emphasis mine):
“Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment my moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, guidance, are given.
Fear not tomorrows, Child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, ‘DO THE NEXT THING.’
Do it immediately; do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His Hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ’neath His wing,
Leave all resultings, ‘DO THE NEXT THING.’”
As an act of faith, I must pray, “Lord, I believe you are going to deliver me from this fear. I am asking for your help. I am going to keep asking for your help. I am going to keep speaking truth. But in the meantime, I’m going to do what you’ve called me to do.”
Then I have to get off the couch and do it. Something. Anything. The next thing.
So what’s your next thing? It might be to simply get out of bed and take a shower. It might be to get in the car and drive the carpool. It might be to go talk to your teenager or be consistent to teach your toddler to come “right away, all the way, and with a happy heart.”
Whatever your mothering fear, cast it on the Lord and do the next thing. And, as JC Ryle encourages parents: “It is in the going forward that God will meet you.”
Recently, I heard a story about a woman who was gripped by fear in the middle of a dangerous storm. She got on her knees and asked God to help her trust Him, and instantly her fears vanished. She got up from her knees, got into bed, and fell asleep. Just like that. “I wish that would happen to me more often!” I thought. But I don’t usually feel less fearful the instant I pray or read Scripture. And then I worry that I’m doing something wrong or (mistakenly) assume that God’s solution for anxiety “isn’t working.” But my fearful feelings don’t mean that God hasn’t answered my prayers. Instead, as Elisabeth Elliot explains, “[God] wants us to learn to use our weapons.” He wants me to learn to persevere in prayer, he wants me to form habits of casting cares (1 Pet. 5:7) and befriending faithfulness (Ps. 37:3). He wants me to become proficient at speaking truth to myself. He wants me to learn to trust Him, even when I don’t feel like it. So if you think God has abandoned you in your fight against fear, think again. The ongoing fight isn’t a sign that He’s forgotten you, but that He’s teaching you to trust.
In addition to tuning out our fears and turning up the volume on truth, we must fight fear with laughter. Sound ridiculous, even a little irreverent?
Irreverence is precisely the point. We must not dignify our fears—sin-generated, false predictions of a graceless and God-less future—by giving them the attention and obedience due only to God and His Word. Laughing at our fears is entirely appropriate, because up against God’s promises they not only look, but actually are, ridiculous.
The Proverbs 31 woman doesn’t take herself, or her fears, too seriously: “She laughs at the future in contrast with being worried or fearful about it” (ESV Study Bible note, Pr. 31:25). This may sound flippant or naive if we don’t already know her to be a woman of diligence, wisdom, and strength. She trusts God, and so she laughs.
“One of Satan’s great lies is that God—and goodness—is joyless and humorless,” explains Randy Alcorn:
“In fact, it’s Satan who’s humorless. Sin didn’t bring him joy; it forever stripped him of joy. In contrast, envision Jesus with his disciples. If you cannot picture Jesus teasing them and laughing with them, you need to reevaluate your theology of Creation and Incarnation. We need a biblical theology of humor that prepares us for an eternity of celebration, spontaneous laughter, and overflowing joy.”
Laughter, not fear-filled wonderings, will properly prepare us for our future: our immediate future and our eternal future full of celebration and overflowing joy. So thank God for His promises today and “laugh at the days to come.”
Last Thursday, Nicole encouraged us to enlist our friends as allies in our fight against fear. Great advice. I have benefited more times than I can remember from friends speaking truth into my life.
But sometimes those trusted friends may not be available or maybe they are getting a little tired of saying the same things to us over and over. That’s probably how my friends feel! There is another group of friends that should be consulted daily in our fight for faith—books and sermons!
Books that are rich in truth of who God is, and sermons that faithfully declare God’s Word should be among our best friends. And hey, and the great thing is, they are never busy or unavailable! I have a few books and messages that I have read and listened to dozens of times in my battle against fear and unbelief. A few of our favorites are:
Spiritual Depression by Martyn Lloyd Jones,
Running Scared by Ed Welch
Trusting God by Jerry Bridges
Beside Still Waters by Charles Spurgeon (you can look up fear or anxiety in the index)
Sweet and Bitter Providence by John Piper
A Shelter in the Time of Storm by Paul Tripp
“Be Humble, Be Alert” sermon by Rick Gamache
“Antidote to Unbelief” sermon by Mike Bullmore
“The Troubled Soul” sermon by CJ Mahaney
So if you find yourself battling fear today, pick up a book or listen to a sermon. Your soul is sure to be strengthened!
Sometimes, when battling fear, I am unable to effectively speak truth to myself. I try, but it just doesn’t stick. In such cases, I need others to talk to me. So I tell them about my fears and ask them to speak appropriate biblical truth to those fears.
God anticipates our need for community in fighting unbelief: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Heb 3:13-14).
I need those who “have come to share in Christ” to help me “hold [my] original confidence firm to the end.”
It isn’t always easy to confess fear. We might fear what others will think of our fear! We might not want to appear weak. But in the very act of asking for help, we are opening the door of humility through which God promises His grace will always come rushing in (James 4:6).
So if you feel as if you are losing your battle against fear today, enlist an ally in the fight. Ask a friend who “shares in Christ” to help you hold fast to gospel truth.
We pick up our series on fear with the second half of Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones’ counsel. We must not listen to ourselves, but we must also fill that space by speaking to ourselves.
Dr. Lloyd Jones explains:
“Our fears are due to our failure to stir up—failure to think, failure to take ourselves in hand. You find yourself looking to the future and then you begin to imagine things and you say: ‘I wonder what is going to happen?’ And then, your imagination runs away with you. You are gripped by the thing…this thing overwhelms you and down you go. Now the first thing you have to do is to take a firm grip of yourself, to pull yourself up, to stir up yourself, to take yourself in hand and to speak to yourself.”
“Talk to yourself out loud, if you have to” a pastor once advised me in the midst of one of my particularly intense battles with fear. So if you ever catch me muttering to myself, you’ll know why.
And what exactly should we say to ourselves?
“Faith reminds itself of what the Scripture calls ‘the exceeding great and precious promises’ says Lloyd Jones. “Faith says: ‘I cannot believe that He who has brought me so far is going to let me down at this point. It is impossible, it would be inconsistent with the character of God.’ So faith, having refused to be controlled by circumstances [or feelings!], reminds itself of what it believes and what it knows.”
Tell your soul—out loud if you have to—what it believes and what it knows.
“Do not Fear.”
“What? Not even a little?”
“No, do not fear.”
“Surely I may show some measure of fear?”
“No, do not fear.”
Tie this knot tight around the throat of unbelief: “Do not fear.” “Do not
fear” today. “Do not fear” tomorrow. “Do not fear” any day of your life.
When fear comes, drive it away and give it no space.
When the weather is rough, passengers on a ship can be comforted by the
captain’s calm behavior. One simple-minded soul said, “I am sure there is
no cause to fear, for I heard the captain whistling.” Surely if the captain
is at ease, the passengers can be at peace. If the Lord Jesus is at the
helm singing, do not fear. “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him”
(Ps.37:7). “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, our God will come with
vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you”
One reason we shouldn’t listen to our fears is because they lie. Fear not only fails to accurately predict the future, it also tells lies about the Word and the character of God.
Fear says: God won’t come through for you and your children. God doesn’t care about the nitty-gritty problems of your relationship. You’ve messed things up too badly this time. Your child’s problem is too big. They are too far gone. There is no hope.
Fear dares to suggest a future without God. Fear challenges the sovereignty of God, questions His wisdom, doubts His love and mercy, defies His Word.
“But my fears feel so real.” I once complained to a wise pastor’s wife. “I know” she replied, “They wouldn’t be good lies if they didn’t feel true.”
Which is why we must never rely on our feelings as a litmus test for truth. “I am determined” said Mr. Spurgeon, “that if all my senses contradict God, I would rather deny every one of them than believe that God could lie.”
Every time we are tempted to fear, we have a choice. We must choose between believing our own fickle, sinful, “sense” or God’s faithful, righteous Word. If we trust our fears, we are calling God a liar.
That’s one very good reason to stop listening to ourselves.
Happy Monday, everyone! Let me quickly draw your attention to a wonderful audio companion to Nicole’s post from last Thursday. If you find yourself in need of applying Dr. Lloyd Jones’ counsel to start “talking to yourself” then you may be served by a message my dad gave at Next 2008 entitled “The Troubled Soul: God’s Word and Our Feelings.” He elaborates on that comment by Dr. Lloyd Jones, and teaches us from Scripture what we should be talking to ourselves about. This message is one of my “regulars”—I’ve lost count of how many times I have listened to it. Perfect background for tackling that Christmas baking and wrapping!