When You are Afraid

Originally published Sunday, 14 January 2018.

A  new year is always a time of reflection and remembering what took place in the prior year. We often think about what we learned and hopefully how we want to grow and change from what we've learned. For me, last year held a season of fear. You may remember I dealt with a health problem. I had a growth on my thyroid that the doctor's thought might be cancerous but were not able to determine from the biopsy. At the end of July, I had thyroid surgery to remove the growth (and half my thyroid).

The entire situation was disconcerting, worrisome, and at times, frightening. Certainly, all the medical procedures were no fun. But also the thought of cancer was frightening. It was a fresh reminder of my age, stage of life, and of the way time continues to sift through my hands. 

There is much to fear in this fallen world. Sickness, natural disasters, violence, job loss, relational conflict, just to name a few. The unknown future can be frightening. Such fear paralyzes. It's like a heavy cloud that envelopes us, suffocating, and blinding us to everything else.

Tracing Grace

Situations like mine, and perhaps like the one you are in right now, require extra grace. Grace to know that God is with you and will not leave you. Grace to believe and trust in his goodness. Grace to rest in God's sovereign care.

So that was my prayer during that season: for God to give me grace. I needed him to guide me in the unknown. I prayed that I would see his hand at work—that I would trace his grace, gathering it together like a strand of lights to light my way. 

God was faithful. 

I found friends and family who prayed for me and told me so.

I discovered kind doctors and nurses who spoke with confidence and reassurance.

I felt peace when I least expected it.

God provided even the smallest details like friends to watch my kids while we were at the hospital.

Not only did I see his grace in my circumstances, I also remembered his love and faithfulness to me in the past. I had experienced many fearful events and unknowns in my life and God has never failed me. He has been a rock and fortress time and time again. In all the little challenges and the big trials of life, God has repeatedly proven himself faithful. And in my greatest need of all, forgiveness of sin, he gave his own son. Because he gave me Jesus, how could I think he would fail to be faithful in anything else? 

Psalm 46 and Fear

As you know, I love the Psalms. One psalm I've always paused at in reading is Psalm 46. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling."

For someone who is often weakened by fear, it's hard to imagine not having any fear in the face of something terrible. The important thing to notice is that the psalmist doesn't say, "even when the very worst happens, if you have strong faith and believe really hard, you won't have any fear." Rather, the psalmist says that because God is our refuge and strength and help in trouble, we will not fear.

The psalmist also remembered who God is in his power and holiness: "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress." God's presence keeps his church safe. This passage reminds me of Paul's assuring words that nothing can separate us from the love of God for us in Christ (Romans 8:38-39).

The psalmist then remembered what God has done in the past: "Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire." 

Because God is faithful and gracious, because he is our Rock and Refuge, because of who he is and what he has done, the psalm concludes: "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of  Jacob is our fortress. Selah."

Soon after my surgery, I learned that I did not have cancer. (In case you were wondering). But I know that life in this fallen world will include more unknowns and more fears. But the psalmist reminds me that God is with his people. He is our help. He is our refuge. Even when the world seems flipped upside down and even when the worst happens, God rules and reigns. He is faithful. The God of Jacob is a covenant keeping God; we belong to him.

God's grace is always present in our fears.