This is a special edition of our Lent Journey reflections.
Fear and anxiety have been my lifelong companions.
My earliest memories are fearful ones. I feared ghosts in my closet and monsters under the bed. After watching a documentary about the destruction of ancient Pompeii, I feared a volcano would erupt overnight next to our house. (I still laugh about that one.) When a parent went to the grocery store, I feared they wouldn’t come back.
Fear can be a useful companion. God gave us the instinct of fear that, in proper circumstances, can warn us of real risk and danger. Heeding fear’s warnings, we can take responsible and proper precautions for our safety and that of others. Proverbs 9:10 says that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
But unchecked, fear can grow into a tyrant and terrorize us.
My fear grew into a monster as I reached adulthood, about the time I began to mature in my faith. This might seem ironic. But let me explain.
My childhood faith in God had been simplistic. I believed that He would rescue me from any trouble and fix all my pain and problems.
It was only in young adulthood that I realized God’s people suffer. God’s people endure grief and loss, physical agony, trauma and abuse, and even tragic, untimely death.
I believed in God and His power, but now I also believed that He might let me suffer. He might let a loved one die. He might let me lose my physical health. He might let a financial catastrophe occur. I began to wonder how I could trust a God who might not always protect me from pain and sorrow?
These realities came as a shock, and so my fear grew from a useful warning system to a dark shadow that followed me everywhere.
If God would not protect me from every pain in life, I decided I had to protect myself. But the list of potential dangers to avoid grew endless. Soon, I found myself overwhelmingly tempted to never leave my room.
One day, when my fear had reached a paralyzing level, God said, “You have to let go of your obsession with control. If you want to be free from this and have peace, you have to surrender everything to me, including your safety, your health, the safety and health of your loved ones, and all your future. I don’t promise you a life without suffering or pain. I only promise you my peace and myself. Do you really want me?”
It almost felt that to obey this gentle command would be to truly die. But I couldn’t live this way anymore. So, on that day I died to myself, and found myself resurrected by peace and new life in Jesus.
Not to say that I was never afraid again. Fear and anxiety continued to be my companions, but now their power over me was broken. They took a much smaller role in my life, only trying to grow out of proportion from time to time.
Occasionally, our enemy has exploited my weakness in the area of fear to trip me up, trap me, or retake my freedom in Christ. But each time, Jesus reminds me that I have all power in Him. In the name of Jesus, I have victory over the enemy and his fear.
Whether our anxiety has taken root through chemical imbalances in our brains, through past traumas or abuse, an innate tendency to worry, or for some other reason, one thing we know for sure: Anxiety is not from God. God does not want His people to fear. God is the source of love and peace. Anxiety comes from somewhere else.
1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
A simple Internet search for Bible verses about fear yields plenty of times God has addressed this. He must know that in our fallen nature, we just have a tendency to fear and worry.
Now, our world reels from the rapid spread of a new respiratory virus called COVID-19. Daily and hourly actions taken by our governments, minute-to-minute reports from our breathless news media, and frenzied, contradictory posts across our social media are fanning flames of fear and panic in the best of us.
There are contagious physical viruses such as influenza and COVID-19. But there is also the contagious emotional virus of fear.
We are bombarded with information on how to protect ourselves from contracting the virus. Then we are doused with more advice on how to care for ourselves if we do contract it.
There is less information about how to preemptively build up our body’s immune system, which is beautifully God-designed to attack and disarm new viruses when they enter our bodies.
The least amount of information is given for how to build up our spiritual immunity to fear.
Scientific studies have shown that prolonged, heightened anxiety and fear depresses our immune system, making us more vulnerable to catching contagious illnesses, and more sick once we are exposed.
We are wholistic beings, fully integrated as body, mind, emotions and spirit. So, when a strain is placed on one, this strains the other facets of our God-created being, as well. When we are afraid, we can actually become less healthy.
The opposite has also been shown to be true: if we build up the health of our mind and spirit, we can build up the health of our body, too. Just as we can bolster our physical immunity by getting adequate and quality rest, eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, and drinking plenty of fluids, there are ways to build up our spiritual immunity.
In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul teaches us that God empowers us to take every thought captive. We can ask the Holy Spirit to take Lordship over our fearful, racing thoughts and surrender them to Him. We can practice Christian mindfulness, by focusing our mind on a truth about God or memorizing a comforting, inspiring verse or passage in the Bible.
We can spend a portion of each day listening to or reading God’s Word. We can play uplifting worship music that reminds us of God’s infinite power, wisdom, knowledge and love. We can praise God in quiet moments, meditating on His goodness, mercy, grace, and the ways He has been faithful to us in the past. We can write gratitude lists, taking stock of all the blessings He has poured on us.
We can encourage each other. We can think of ways to serve those negatively impacted by quarantines or illness. Taking our strength and peace from Jesus, we can influence our social circles and neighborhoods by spreading peace and love, instead of fear and anxiety.
These are opportunities to witness to our friends and family who haven’t experienced the peace and comfort of putting their trust in Jesus. Gently, and without preaching or condemning, we can share with others the difference that trusting God has made for us. How He gives us the miraculous gift of peace in troubled times.
In many cultures, there are Christian counselors available to listen to our fears and worries, who are trained and experienced in speaking God’s healing truth into our hearts and minds.
And finally, in God’s goodness He has allowed us to innovate prescription medicines and natural remedies that can help to limit our overproduction of adrenaline, calm our heart rate and racing thoughts, and correct chemical imbalances in our brains or bodies that push us in the direction of uncontrolled anxiety or panic attacks. Our doctors and our Christian counselors can help us explore appropriate options, as we care for all aspects of our God-created minds, bodies and spirits.
Our Lent podcast is a resource the Eurasia Region has created to give believers a few moments of centering their hearts, minds and bodies on the joyful peace that God offers to us through intimate and loving relationship with Him. There are other resources out there as well, from your local church, favorite books in your library, sermon or Bible study podcasts, and music streaming services.
As a classic hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” advises us:
O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.*
As we take reasonable precautions to clean and sanitize ourselves and the things we have touched, and comply with government measures to protect the vulnerable, let us also set our thoughts on God. Let us meditate on passages such as
Psalm 18: 1-6 and 16-19.
Lord, have mercy.
As our church services and other gatherings around the world are postponed indefinitely and many people are staying at home to avoid exposing the vulnerable to the virus, let’s keep meeting together through our Lent Journey. Even though we are far apart from each other, we are still one in Jesus. We are one in the Holy Spirit. We can keep gathering for scripture readings, reflections, and prayer time throughout this Holy season.
Let’s practice setting our eyes on Jesus to build up our spiritual immunity and contagiously spread His peace and love to our families, our neighbors and our communities.
I’ll see you here again for our next Lent reflection time.