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When We Fear the Future

Originally published Wednesday, 03 September 2014.

My mother-in-law once told me that she has no fears. We were standing in line at a theme park, waiting to get on a ride. As we talked about the rides at the park, which ones were tame and which ones were not for the faint of heart, she explained to me that she used to be afraid of heights. "I used to be afraid of a lot of things. But since the worst thing in my life has already happened, and I survived, there's nothing to be afraid of anymore." Because God brought her through the loss of her husband, she knew he would carry her through anything else in life. She had nothing left to fear.

I would like to say that I don't have any fears but I can't. I confided to a friend this last week that I have a fear of future pain. A few losses loom ahead for me on the horizon of my future. I know they are coming, just not when. As I see their shadowy outlines off in the distance, I am afraid. I'm afraid of how much those losses will hurt and of how they will change my life. I'm afraid of the gaping hole that will be left in my heart. I'm afraid that I'll not be able to stand under the weight of the certain sorrow and pain.

Proverbs 31 speaks of a woman who "laughs at the time to come" (v. 25). I can't imagine thinking of the future and rather than responding in fear, laughing instead. But as I learned from my mother-in-law, it is possible to walk through the door of fear and arrive on the other side to find joy there waiting.

Perhaps you too have fears of the future. While there isn't enough space here to share all that the Bible tells us about fear, trials, and the certain sorrows of life, there are a few important truths that need to be imprinted on our hearts. These truths help us face our fears with confidence.

1. Though God doesn't promise to remove the things that we fear, he does promise to be with us in them: Our God is a present God. He is actively involved in all the details of our lives. He's never surprised by what is happening and is never at a loss as to what to do. Hagar in the book of Genesis found that God is a God who sees (Genesis 16:13). He sees our sorrows; he sees our fears and pain. And he has great compassion for us. "As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him" (Psalm 103:13). "But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness" (Psalm 86:15).

The truth is, God may not protect us from harm or from tragedy or from trials. He could but he doesn't always do so. But he does promise to be with us in them, to strengthen us, and to comfort us with his Spirit. "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10). He promises to never leave us or forsake us, "It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8). If we are in Christ, there is nothing and no one that can separate us from God's love, not even the future, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

2. Anything we face in this life is temporary: 2 Corinthians 4:17 says, "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison." Whatever trouble, trial, grief, or burden we face today, it is light and momentary in comparison with eternity. The glory to be revealed in us when we cross the finish line will be more than worth any heartache we face today. This is what those hall of famers knew in Hebrews 11. That's why they could face uncertain future, persecution, and even martyrdom because they knew that what happened to them in this life pales to what was promised them in eternity.

The trials we face today are also preparing us for eternity. God is in the process of making us holy, refining away the sin in our lives and readying us for life forever with him. These afflictions, fears, sorrows, and trials we go through, while not good in and of themselves, are used for good in our lives to make us more like Christ (Romans 8:28).

This means that joy lies on the other side of our fears. We have to push through the door of our fears to meet the joy that stands waiting for us on the other side. We must look to Jesus who entered the doorway before us, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-2).

3. Jesus faced our greatest fear for us: Eternal death is the greatest fear we have. When Jesus faced that fear in our place, when he took the punishment that was ours, he defeated that fear once and for all. Through faith in Christ and what he has done for us, we are saved from eternal death and have the hope of eternity. Every other fear in our life has been permanently changed in light of what Christ has done. "I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!" (Luke 12:4-5). Because of Jesus, we no longer have to fear God and his wrath. Since Jesus took care of our greatest fear, won't he also be with us as we face all other lesser fears?

In addition, because Jesus faced our greatest fear, we know that he is a Savior who knows what it is to face fear, sorrow, trial, and temptation. Isaiah calls Jesus the "Man of Sorrows" because he knew firsthand what it is like to live in a world marred by sinned. He wept at the loss of Lazarus, felt compassion for the lost sheep of Israel, touched the sick and dying, and was rejected by his closest friends. He suffered and died a shameful death he didn't deserve to free us from our sin. "He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not" (Isaiah 53:3). "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).

As I face my own fears of the future, of certain pain and heartache, I have only one comfort: Jesus Christ. It is the truth of who he is and what he has done that will sustain me through whatever lies ahead. Though sorrow and loss are part of this life, I know that I am not alone; my Savior is always with me. And the closer I get to the finish line, the greater is my joy for I know that one day, I'll walk through that last and final doorway of fear and into the joy of eternity with Christ.

How about you? Do you have any fears of the future?