Tag Archives: fear

Why we can follow God’s way even when we’re scared or anxious [How God feels about our fear – Deuteronomy 31-34, part 5]

23 Feb
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

What mountains are you facing? This past year, I started doctoral studies, and the thought of researching, writing and defending a dissertation feels like a vast, unconquerable mountain. If I’m honest, sometimes being a pastor of church feels that way too. As does parenting or living out the way of Jesus in our complex world. How about you? Got any difficult situations in your life? Anything that seems impossible? Are you scared? Nervous? Struggling with anxiety or fear?

If so, please know that you’re not alone. In this series of posts we have been studying Deuteronomy chapters 31-34, which describes the final days and last words of Moses, the great leader of Israel. After hearing God and Moses’s songs to Israel, we read that Moses passed on, but not before turning leadership of the nation over to Joshua. With that in mind, let’s return to God’s command to Joshua Deuteronomy 31:6-8 and 23.  “Be strong and courageous… Do not be afraid or terrified… I will never leave you or forsake you.”  Then connect those statements with Moses’ words in chapter 32 where over and over again he refers to God as the Rock of Israel.  For example in verse 4 he says, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”

With this wonderful message of assurance, and all the blessings in chapter 33, the very next book of the Bible, Joshua, begins nearly identically to how Deuteronomy concludes.  Turn to Joshua 1:6-9, and what do we see? “Be strong and courageous”!

Though this was a message for Joshua and the entire nation of Israel, there is a principle embedded in this for us too, when we face what seems impossible.  How does this relate to us? Turn to Hebrews 13:1-6, and perhaps we’ll see the connection.

In the first few verses, the writer of Hebrews mentions numerous actions, life choices that Christians are to follow.  Then look at the surprising quote that the writer uses to sustain why we should follow God’s way.  He quotes Deuteronomy 31:6, the very thing God said to Joshua!  When a Christian is attempting to apply an Old Testament passage to their lives, it is always helpful when that very OT passage is quoted in the New Testament.

What the writer of Hebrews accomplishes through his quote of Deuteronomy 31:6 is a powerful reminder to us that though there are many times in our lives that we Christians can be afraid, fearful or ashamed to follow the way of Christ, when we know God is faithful to us, we can have confidence that we can be faithful to him.

We can be courageously obedient as disciples of Jesus, trusting in him, living out his way of living, because he has our back. 

Ours is a society that is changing, and it could be that living in obedience to Jesus will mean that we will look different from the people around us.  We might even look strange.  And yet, what is the promise we have from God?  That he will never leave us or forsake us.

Additionally, there is the principle that in God we have everything we need, which is a direct connection to our struggle with fear, anxiety, and worry.  In Matthew 6:24-35 Jesus teaches us not to worry.  In Philippians 4:4-7, Paul teaches us to not be anxious, and in 1 Peter 5:7, we read “Cast your anxiety on him.” 

We can be afraid or anxious or worrisome in life because there are so many difficult situations we encounter.  But this principle reminds of us the rock we have in Jesus.

What is the insurmountable situation that you face?  Joshua was facing a huge task.  He was to take over leadership from Moses, leading people who didn’t have a good track record of being followers. More than that, he was to lead them in a massive invasion of a land filled with people who were more powerful than Israel.  I can see why God says over and over and over to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous.  I am with you.”

While you and I might not be leading massive amounts of people to do huge world-shaping historical events, we each have important roles that God has called us to.  We each face situations that might seem like they are too much.

Digging out of a financial hole.

Passing a test, graduating from high school.

Healing a broken relationship.

Facing a medical health emergency.

Being a mom, being a dad.

Life is fraught with so many difficulties.

And to each one of them God says, “Do not fear, I am with you!”

How to grow your love for God, part 3 (dealing with our fears)

17 Oct
Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash

What do you fear?  Even if you are the kind of person who is not afraid of hardly anything, do you have concerns?  What bothers you?  Maybe your personality really struggles with fears.  I’ve talked in a previous post about my own struggles with anxiety. I’ve come to realize I have triggers: health and financial concerns, home repairs, and difficult relational situations can all intensify my struggle with fear and anxiety.  I’ve learned that it can be hard to love God in the midst of fear.  As we continue this series studying Deuteronomy 11, we’ve seen in the previous two posts that Moses is encouraging the people to grow their love for God.  If you haven’t read them, you might consider doing so, as they set the context for what we are going to study in this post.  Moses addresses a significant concern about loving God in the midst of fear. 

It seems that Deuteronomy 11 has 7 sections, and in the first three, Moses has been very positive.  But that positive tone changes in Section 4.  Look at verses 16-17.

The thing he wants them to do? In verse 16, he says, “do not to turn away from God or worship other gods.”  Warning! Red flag.

And why does he not want them to turn away from God? Moses is pretty clear.  In verse 17, he warns them, “then God will be angry and will not send rain, and you will not have food, and worse, you will perish from the Land.”

Yikes. Things just got negative.  But notice that this is the shortest section.  Moses doesn’t dwell on it.  He emphasizes the blessings, the positives, as he was a good leader like that.  No scare tactics here.  No heaping guilt.  But he does have to make them aware of the truth.  They need to be informed of what will happen if they turn away.  If they turn away from God, it will be disastrous for them.  This is some needed accountability.

But Moses doesn’t hammer on this.  Instead, he wants them to love and obey God, so he fills their hearts and minds with the many good reasons for following God’s way.  Thus, quickly, he returns to another positive section.

The fifth section is found in verses 18-21.

What is the thing he wants them to do? In verse 18, he has some practical advice about the commands of God.  He says, “fix these words in your hearts and minds.”

Why does he want them to do this?  He explains his reasoning in verses 19-21, “Teach them to your children…so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land.”

While this is the only section in which he doesn’t mention the word “commands”, that is what he wants them to fix to their hearts and minds.  When he uses the word “fix”, he is not referring to fixing something that is broken.  He is using “fix” in the sense of affixing something, putting something securely in place.  Those commands of God, and the ideas of loving God, serving him with all your heart and soul, those things should be fixed securely in place in your lives.  When you do that, he says, as he has said numerous times, the people will be fixed securely in the land for a long, long time.  Remember the axiom we talked about at the beginning of this series?  “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  Do you see how what Moses is saying in this section might relate to that?  Before we go any further making that connection, we have a few more sections of Deuteronomy 11 to work through.  Keep following these posts, as we’ll discuss “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” soon!  For now, let’s take a look at Section 6.

If you’ve been tracking along with the previous 5 sections, there should be no surprise what we will find in Section 6, which is verses 22-25.

Guess the thing he wants them to do? Yeah, there it is again in verse 22: observe these commands, love the Lord, walk in his ways, hold fast to him. Sound familiar? 

And why does he want them to love God and observe his commands?  Think he can find any new reasons by now?  Well, he does.  In verse 23, he says God will drive out the nations before them.  In verse 24, God will enlarge their territory. And in verse 25, no one will be able to stand against them.  God is speaking to the fear in their hearts.  They had people in their camp who did not think it was a good idea to enter the Promised Land because the nations already there were so powerful.  There were some in Israel who were afraid, thinking this Promised Land idea was actually a suicide mission.  So here is God saying, “Yeah, there are nations larger and stronger than you. But they aren’t large enough or strong enough to deal with me.”  This directly relates to verses 8-9.  Remember that interesting “so that” phrase in verse 8?  There God says, “Observe my commands, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land.”  Here in verses 22-25 he is saying something very similar.  “Observe my commands, and I will give you victory.”  God will be their strength!

How do we grow our love for God in the midst of our fear?  We stay true to him, securely establishing his ways in our lives, and in the lives of the next generation. When we are faithful to him, when we follow his ways, he addresses our fear by saying that he will be with us and strengthen us.  God is not promising to make life perfect, but he is saying that in the middle of our fear and struggle, we can trust in him.  As we learned recently in the 1 Peter series, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”   I’m not saying that casting our anxiety on God is easy.  I still struggle with it.  But what we clearly see in these teachings from both the Old and New Testament is that we can depend on him in the middle of our fear.  I suspect that it will take effort, including some failures, but as we keep striving to trust in him, we will grow in our ability to know what to do and how to do it.  Keep striving!

For me, one practice that has been so helpful in striving to cast my anxiety on God is the habit of contemplative prayer.  If you are not familiar with contemplative prayer, I would recommend a guide.  For me, that guide has been in the form of books and phone apps.  Here are some recommendations:

First of all two books I would recommend are:

  • Into The Silent Land: The Practice of Contemplation by Martin Laird
  • Be Silent. Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace With God Through Contemplative Prayer by Ed Czyewski

Also good are:

  • The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam S. McHugh
  • Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God by Dallas Willard
  • The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
  • Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom
  • Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggeman

As said above, I have noticed that I cannot just say internally, “I will practice contemplative prayer.”   I need a guide.  And for me, Czyewski’s suggestions of finding smartphone apps proved quite good. Here are the apps I use:

Calm.  A mentor recommended this. It attempts a non-sectarian approach to meditation, breathing, etc.  But you will hear from time to time, in the guided meditations, references to eastern religious thinkers.  I never found it to be anti-Christian, though.  I also found that I could adapt it to focus on Christ as needed.  The free version limits access.  One year I paid for a subscription and that was great.  If possible, I recommend that.  I think the recommendations about breathing are excellent, but rather than a Buddhist emptying of the mind approach to meditation, I simply replaced that a biblical filling of the mind kind of meditation on God’s word. See the Centering Prayer app below.  The 7 Days of Calm is a great place to start.

Sacred Space. This is a guided prayer app that combines meditation on Scripture and thoughtful questions about encountering the presence of God, based on the practice of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  I’ve been impressed.  But I’ve also found it is easy to skim through it super-fast.

Reimagining the Examen. This is another guided prayer app, specifically based on Ignatius’ Prayer of Examen.  It is topical, so each day a bit different, and yet always focuses on accountability for our thoughts and our relationship with the Lord.  More in depth than Sacred Space, I’ve found.  Maybe a good way to end the day.

Prayer Mate. A supplication app.  Great for organizing prayer requests.

Centering Prayer. Very simple app for connecting with the presence of God and listening for him.  Based on Centering Prayer, which I know some Christians find controversial.  Tim Keller, for example, in his book, Prayer, is really hesitant.  But I think his concerns are out of line.  As I have learned about contemplative prayer, I have started using this app daily and Calm less and less.

 

How to decrease worry – Luke 12:22-34

30 Nov

I recently heard the story of a person who said “If I worry about it, it won’t happen.” So maybe we should worry! Ha!

Why is that story funny?   It is funny because 99% of the stuff we worry about never comes to pass. But yet we worry. We can allow our minds to go wild with worry.  We can’t stop and we wonder if it is possible to stop.

Generally these things are fear and emotion based – not factually based. In scientific terms, worry is based in something called cognitive distortion. When we allow our emotions to control our minds, our thinking. I do this regularly, and actually allowed my emotions to control my thoughts a bit this past week.

We had our youth lock-in on Friday night, and I was chaperoning, so I knew that meant a night of no sleep. I also knew the lock-in was going to be fun, but in worry and fear, I allowed myself to dwell on thoughts that weren’t even close to true. Those thoughts were cognitive distortions. Just some simple thoughts like “I’m going to feel horrible” or “the next day is going to be awful” can lead to a sleepless few hours. And they did.

What actually happened at the lock-in and aftermath? It was an awesome, fun night, and I was able to get four hours of sleep Saturday morning.  I was a little tired that day, but now a few days later, I don’t feel horrible or awful.  Instead, I have great memories of a fun event.

We can allow ourselves to let our emotions control us. So when Jesus says “Do not worry” the first thing we realize is that it possible to make progress in decreasing our worry!  He wants to us fight worry in our lives.  Jesus teaches us how to decrease worry.

In this passage, Luke 12:22-34, Jesus goes on to give illustrations of how our life is more than food and how our body is more than clothes, as he seeks to help us learn to deal with worry.

First he talks about Food and Ravens in Verse 24. God feeds the birds, right? He has provided a world where they can eat. So what is this illustrating? Jesus gets to the principle in verses 25-26: worry can’t actually help us, so we shouldn’t worry. If God cares for birds, how much more you are valuable to him.

Second he talks about Clothing and Lilies in Verse 27. Not even the fabulously wealthy King Solomon, the richest man in Israel’s history, was as gorgeous as the lily.  Jesus is saying that God has made nature beautiful, of which flowers are a stunning example. Again, Jesus gets to the principle in Verse 28: God clothes the grass, how much more will he clothe you.

Did you see the phrase that Jesus repeated? How much more! God has made the world a place that feeds the birds, and he has made loads of spectacular flowers. But How Much More he cares for you!

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the basics.  Soak that up deeply: God cares for you. I am preaching this to myself for sure. When I’m lying on my bed in the middle of the night worried about this or that, I can tell myself the truth that God cares for me far more that I realize. There is a great power in that thought!

Use the truth of God’s care for you to mentally attack that worry. Defeat it. You can think, “No, I don’t need to worry to about bills or the kids or (you fill in the blank), because God cares for me more than I can imagine,” then watch the worry gradually fade away. Over time, and it might be weeks or months, you’ll notice that you are depending on God’s care, and you are worrying less. He doesn’t promise that all the bad circumstances will go away. He doesn’t promise that everything will be great. But he promises you aren’t alone. He sees you. He hears you. He knows what you are going through. He cares for you DEEPLY.

Jesus has another way we can attack worry. First we remember that God cares for us, and second, look at verses 31-34.   He says we need to seek his Kingdom. That is the second antidote to worry.

Seeking his Kingdom is another way to describe obedience to Jesus. When you are obedient to him there is peace in your heart and mind before the Lord. When you are obedient, you are not expecting that God will reward you with material abundance, but that your hearts are right with him.   You are at peace with him. What an amazing place to be in! And when you are focused on his Kingdom and not on yourself there is perspective on the worries of life.  Peace with God gives you strength to fight worry.  You can trust in him amid the difficulty, amid those struggles in life that bring you anxiety.

Furthermore, Jesus says, you can sell possessions and give to the poor. The early church took this seriously. We don’t need to store up possessions because we know God cares for us. We can seek the advancement of his Kingdom rather than lavishing ourselves with comfort and entertainment.

In other words, Jesus says, find your treasure in heaven.

Obedience is its own reward! To know that I am being pleasing to my father, that is the reward. We have his kingdom! That is the ultimate reward. That is better by far. It is amazing that God has given us his Kingdom. Knowing that God is pleased with us, because we are seeking first his Kingdom is the reward, the blessings.

Thus we can be at peace, feel peace, knowing that we are right with God. It cannot be underestimated how incredible it is to know that we are pleasing to God.

This is why Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  In other words, put your treasure where you want your heart to be.

If you put your treasure in entertainment, luxury, possessions, vacations, food, then your heart will be there.  And you will watch those things feel good, but only for a season.  They fade, and the anxiety returns.

If you put your treasure in the kingdom of God, there your heart will be.  And you will find lasting peace.  So how do you put your treasure in God’s Kingdom?

Take a step of faith to trust in God that he will do what Jesus says he will do: God will care for your needs. So take a step of faith, perhaps to give more generously this next week.  Say to God prayerfully, teachably, “Lord, I’m going to trust you in this.” It might be frightening, but you will never see forward progress if you don’t take one step.

Place your trust in him, depend on him to care for you.

What Jesus is talking about is not just financial.  You can also implement the Sabbath principle in your life. Instead of working 24-7, take time to rest, worship, fellowship serve. Seek his Kingdom. Show that is where your heart is.

What do you need to do to take the next step toward seeking his Kingdom?  It is super exciting to trust in the Lord this way! No doubt, stepping out in faith can feel anxiety-inducing. But we need to see the joy and adventure and exciting of taking a risky, step towards God.

One man told me the story about his retirement. He was accustomed to getting a paycheck. The move to retirement-level income was risky, but he asked God to provide. And you know what he did with retirement?  He and his wife started increasing the amount of their time serving in church, meeting weekly here at the church to pray for hours at a time, caring for family members, helping at a local transitional housing ministry, teaching Sunday School, and the list goes on.

That is what seeking God’s Kingdom looks like.

And that is how to decrease worry in your life.  Dwell on the truth that God cares for you deeply, and seek his Kingdom.

Overcoming our fears, Part 2 – God’s role in calming our fears – Luke 12:1-2

16 Nov

People say that their two greatest fears are death and speaking in public.  In Luke 12:1-12 Jesus talked with his disciples about these two fears.  Perhaps what he said will help you overcome those fears!

In Verses 4-7 he refers to the fear of death. Do not be afraid, but do fear God, he loves you. There is a logical flow of thought here.

He says specifically, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body. Don’t be afraid of wicked men.”  In the wake of so many mass shootings and terror attacks, it is really easy to be afraid of wicked men.  What is Jesus getting at?

He goes on to say that we should fear the one who can throw us into hell. Who can do that?  God.  So we should fear God.

Fear God? Like…be scared of him?  Should we be afraid of God like we would be afraid of wicked men?  It would be quite odd for Jesus to say that, wouldn’t it?  So what is he talking about?  Throughout the Bible, especially in the book of Proverbs, we are taught to fear God.  The fear of God is about seeing God with awe, with respect!  When we fear God, we aren’t scared of him like my kids who refused to go up to the really scary house this past Halloween.  Instead we love God, we want to be with him, know him, and follow his ways.

So Jesus is saying that we might lose our life, but that is not as important as the loss of faith.  In other words, we should be more concerned about our saving our soul than about saving our life.

He goes on to illustrate this concept of fearing God as the one who can deal with our soul by referring to one of the most common foods in Israel, sparrows.  They were a dime a dozen, and because many of the people were poor peasants, sparrows were a staple of their diets.  Jesus says that though they are cheap, sparrows are not forgotten by God.  So this God we are to fear loves lowly sparrows.

Then he explains further that God knows us so well, he’s got all the hairs on our head numbered. This shows how thoroughly he cares for you, how well he knows you.  And Jesus concludes, then,  that we need not be afraid, because we are worth more to God than sparrows.

This passage resonates with me because I don’t like the thought of death. Frankly, even though I trust in the hope of eternal life, I don’t want to die. But Jesus reminds us that God loves us. He knows us thoroughly, he cares for us. And we are worth so much to him.

How amazing is that! God considers us to be of great worth. Perhaps you need to spend time reflecting on how much God loves you. How he thinks you are worth his time, his energy, his love!

So we do not need to fear to death.  But maybe public speaking will always be terrifying?

In Verses 11-12 Jesus talks specifically about some help for those who are afraid of speaking in public. Specifically he refers to a time when the disciples might get arrested for being a follower of Jesus.

He says, “Don’t worry about how you will defend yourself because The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say.”

We may or may not have to be in a situation where we are arrested. But we all will get in situations where we are sharing our faith, and we can be assured that the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say. We have the Holy Spirit with us! He will teach us what to say.

One of the reasons why people don’t share their faith with neighbors and friends because they don’t know what to say. But Jesus says we have the Spirit. So we don’t need to be ashamed. We don’t need to be afraid!

This reminds me of the story of Nehemiah in the Old Testament.  He was a Jew who had been exiled, and he heard that his beloved city of Jerusalem was in ruin.  He felt burdened to go back home and rebuild the wall around the city.  As a trusted cupbearer to the foreign king, he decided to ask the king’s permission.  What I love is how often Nehemiah prays in his story.  Sometimes the prayers are really short sentence prayers under his breath, or in his head, as he is about to do something.  As he stands before the king, Nehemiah had a distressed look on his face, a display of emotion that was not acceptable when having an audience with the king.  So we read that Nehemiah prays to God before he dives into his request of the king.  I love that detail.  Nehemiah was a man who knew that he needed God’s help before he spoke in public, in a very tense, nerve-wracking situation.

One time Michael Bay, famed movie director, needed help with a public speech, and he didn’t get it.  Take a look at this video.

Jesus tells his disciples that they do need a teleprompter!  If they don’t know what to say, they can depend on the Holy Spirit for help.  That is an amazing thing to consider.  God’s Spirit who lives with us will help us know what to say when we have the opportunity to speak up for him.

Don’t be afraid to speak up for the Lord. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the words to say! Ask him to help you tell your story.

I found a great article where a professor of evangelism talks about his struggles with it!