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I’ll never forget the phone call.
“Really? You’re absolutely sure?”
I questioned the nurse because I could not believe my ears.
The diagnosis was Lyme disease.
After five years of battling chronic pain; after numerous visits to various doctors and mysteriously normal blood test results; after diet changes and lifestyle changes and exercise changes, I was finally given my answer. The illusive malady was Lyme, and it was a diagnosis I never saw coming.
Perhaps you understand this feeling, but my emotions were torn. A part of me rejoiced with relief. Finally, a diagnosis! No more meandering from doctor to doctor, and no more guessing. But the other part of me was immediately weighed down with troublesome thoughts of the road ahead of me. Would my body respond to treatment well? What will my husband’s reaction be? How will this affect us financially? What if this never goes away?
Can you relate?
The troubles of our lives are usually unexpected obstacles to be faced, and typically they produce in the human mind our unwelcome friend, Fear. I am no stranger to it. Fear has reared its ugly head many a time before now. Fear can be crippling. It can be paralyzing. It can seem altogether negative.
But fear can also be put to good use.
Jesus was a Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). The Son of God knew trouble. From the moment his ministry began on earth, he was criticized, challenged, mocked and plotted against by hypocritical, prideful, and hateful men. And the climax of his suffering took him all the way to the cross.
In light of my diagnosis, I turned to the Bible, to the accounts of Christ’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane – the moments before his arrest and trial.
And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14)
From this account in Mark, we learn a very powerful truth about putting our fears to good use during troublesome times: Fear is not to be feared – it is to be felt and then leveraged towards a fighting faith.
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Now, you may be thinking, Wait. This is Jesus we’re talking about here. He couldn’t have felt fear. He couldn’t have been surprised. He was the perfect, sinless Son of God who knew everything about everyone. To that, I give you this helpful statement from Tim Keller, from his book Encounters with Jesus:
[For sorrow] Mark uses the Greek word ekthambeisthai, which means to be moved to an “intense emotional state because of something causing great surprise or perplexity”…How could the Second Person of the Trinity, who even in his human form seems to anticipate every eventuality, be shocked? But he is. He’s reeling, dumbfounded, astonished.
Keller continues to explain why Jesus would feel such shock and astonishment and sorrow: In the garden, Christ is practically able to taste the cup of suffering, the cup of God’s wrath, that would soon be poured out upon him in judgment for the sin of mankind. The Son of God would eventually cry in his hour of darkness, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
Right in the middle of his trouble is where we see the glory of what Jesus did next. The Man of Sorrows who tasted the cup of God’s wrath -- the perfect and holy Savior who never once sinned and therefore never deserved such a cup – chose to proceed to the cross anyway.
He leveraged his fear towards a fighting faith, submitting to the Father’s will out of divine love for you and for me. Christ sets his face like flint all the way to the cross (Isaiah 50:7). Astonishing.
Here’s what Christ’s example and the reality of his suffering means for us:
The presence of Christ is yours in your troubles and fears. Jesus was forsaken by the Father so that you and I would never have to be forsaken. He took the cup of suffering so that those who believe would never have to experience God’s wrath.
The reality of Christ’s atonement assures the Christian that he or she is never left to face hardship alone. When troubles and fearful feelings assail us, we meditate on this wonderful truth, that the Man of Sorrows has made a way for us to commune with the Father (Hebrews 4:14-16). And if he did such a marvelous thing for our very souls, how much more can we trust him with our flesh and the present circumstances of our lives? “If the cup did not make him give up on us, nothing will,” Keller says. Meditate on the marvelous reality of the gospel.
The power of Christ is yours in your troubles and fears. Christ experienced the darkness of the cup, but love for the Father and desire to glorify him trumped his overwhelming sorrows. He fought fear with a deepening faith in the will of God, and he gives believers his power to do the same.
The Apostle Paul writes of his weaknesses this: “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). In Christ, we are given power to stand up under trouble, as well as a renewed perspective on fear: we now put it to good use by boasting of the strength and love of Christ in our frailty. Pray for a renewed mind in Christ to see your troubles through the lens of the gospel. Pray for his power to rest upon you. “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified youto share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:11-12).
The victory of Christ is yours in your troubles and fears. We’ve talked plenty about the suffering and death of Jesus, but they are not the end of the story. The reason Christ’s afflictions have eternal significance is because they led to his resurrection! “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:23-24).
Friend, if you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, you are united to him in victory over sin and death. Your kingdom is not of this world, and all the troubles of earth will soon pass away. This knowledge and hope lightens your load and makes you very bold in this life. Your joy is found in your eternal hope, Jesus Christ the Righteous, and not in your present circumstances.
So what’s troubling you right now? What has taken you by surprise? What are you most afraid of?
John Piper says in his book Desiring God, “Confidence in the promises of God overcomes anxiety and fills us with peace and joy.”So feel your fear; pour out your weaknesses to the Father; trust Christ for your forgiveness and salvation and hope; and pray for Christ’s power to face your fears with a fighting faith like his.
Kristen Wetherell is a writer, speaker and the Content Manager of Unlocking the Bible. She's married to Brad, loves exploring new places, enjoys cooking, and writes music in her spare time. Her desire is to glorify Jesus Christ and edify believers through the written word. Connect with Kristen at her website or on Twitter @KLWetherell.