Are you a worrier? I am. I wrestle with anxiety almost daily. I worry about big things. I worry about small things. Sometimes, it seems like I worry about everything. Once in my teens, I called the police when my parents were four hours late getting home.
Scripture repeatedly calls us not to be afraid. Because of God’s goodness and power, and because He sent Jesus to die for us and His Holy Spirit to guide us, our fears don’t have to rule our lives. We may well face hard things, but God has promised to be with us through it all.
One passage that has helped me profoundly in fearful moments is Isaiah 51:12–16. Here, God reminded His people, who had endured tremendous suffering, that He was still with them, and that His comforting presence is the ultimate reality. No matter how bad things may seem: “I, even I, am he who comforts you,” He told them through the prophet Isaiah (v. 12).
I love that promise. Those eight words have been an emotion-steadying anchor for my soul. I’ve clung to this promise repeatedly when life has felt overwhelming, when my own “constant terror” (v. 13) has felt oppressive. Through this passage, God reminds me to lift my eyes from my fears and in faith and dependence to look to the One who “stretches out the heavens” (v. 13)—the One who promises to comfort us.
That exclamation came from my daughter as she got ready one morning. I didn’t know what she meant. Then she tapped her shirt, a hand-me-down from a cousin. Across the front was that word: “Lovable.” I gave her a big hug, and she smiled with pure joy. “You are lovable!” I echoed. Her smile grew even bigger, if that was possible, as she skipped away, repeating the word over and over again.
I’m hardly a perfect father. But that moment was perfect. In that spontaneous, beautiful interaction, I glimpsed in my girl’s radiant face what receiving unconditional love looked like: It was a portrait of delight. She knew the word on her shirt corresponded completely with how her daddy felt about her.
How many of us know in our hearts that we are loved by a Father whose affection for us is limitless? Sometimes we struggle with this truth. The Israelites did. They wondered if their trials meant God no longer loved them. But in Jeremiah 31:3, the prophet reminds them of what God said in the past: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” We too long for such unconditional love. Yet the wounds, disappointments, and mistakes we experience can make us feel anything but lovable. But God opens His arms—the arms of a perfect Father—and invites us to experience and rest in His love.
“No! No! No! NO!” I screamed. It didn’t help. Not one bit. My brilliant solution for our plugged problem—flushing again—accomplished exactly the opposite of what I’d intended. I knew I had made a mistake the second I pushed the lever down. And I stood helplessly as water overflowed.
How many times have our kids tried to pour milk and misjudged the process, with white liquid flowing everywhere. Or maybe we failed to remember that a two-liter bottle of soda just rolled around in the trunk … with explosively startling results.
No, spills are almost never a good thing. But there might be just one exception. The apostle Paul uses that image, overflowing, to describe a people so full of God’s Spirit that what naturally spills out of them is hope (Romans 15:13). I love that picture, of being filled to the brim with joy, peace, and faith because of His power-full presence in our lives. So much so, in fact, that we can’t help but exude and express winsome confidence in our heavenly Father. That might be during the beautiful, sunny seasons of our lives. Or when the proverbial cup of our lives gets jostled. Either way, what sloshes out over the top is life-giving hope to those around us who are “drenched” by it.
Wind howled, lightning flashed, waves crashed. I thought I was going to die. My grandparents and I were fishing on a lake, but we’d stayed out too long. As the sun set, a fast-moving squall swept over our small boat. My grandfather instructed me to sit in front to keep it from capsizing. Terror flooded my heart. But then, somehow, I began to pray. I was fourteen.
I asked God for His reassurance and protection. The storm didn’t weaken, but we made it to shore. To this day, I don’t know if I’ve experienced a deeper certainty of God’s presence than in that night in the storm.
Jesus is no stranger to storms. In Mark 4:35–41, He told his disciples to head across a lake that would soon turn windy and wild. The storm that night tested and bested these rugged fishermen. They too thought they were going to die. But Jesus calmed the water, then led His disciples to deeper faith.
Likewise, Jesus invites us to trust Him in our storms. Sometimes He miraculously stills the winds and the waves. Sometimes He does something equally miraculous: He steadies our hearts and helps us to trust Him. He asks us to rest in the belief that He has the power to say to the waves, “Quiet! Be still.”
"What had I done?" It should have been one of the most exciting times of my life. Instead, it was one of the loneliest. I'd just gotten my first "real" job after college, in a city hundreds of miles from where I grew up. But the thrill of that big step quickly faded. I had a tiny apartment. No furniture. I didn't know the city. I didn't know anyone. The job was interesting, but the loneliness felt crushing.
One night, I sat at home with my back against the wall. I opened my Bible and stumbled into Psalm 16, where verse 11 promises God will fill us. "Lord," I prayed, "I thought this job was the right thing, but I feel so alone. Please fill me with a sense of Your nearness." I offered variants of that plaintive plea for weeks. Some nights, my sense of loneliness eased, and I had a deep experience of God's presence. Other nights, I still felt achingly isolated.
But as I returned to that verse, anchoring my heart in it night by night, God gradually deepened my faith. I experienced His faithfulness in a way I never had before. And I learned that my job was simply to pour out my heart to Him . . . and humbly await His faithful response, trusting His promise to fill us with His Spirit.
Spiders. I don’t know any kid who likes them. At least not in their rooms . . . at bedtime. But as she was getting ready for bed, my daughter spied one dangerously close to her bed. “Daaaad!!!!! Spiiiderrr!!!!!” she hollered. Despite my determination, I couldn’t find the eight-legged interloper. “He’s not going to hurt you,” I reassured her. She wasn’t convinced. It wasn’t until I told her I’d stay next to her top bunk and stand guard that she agreed to get in bed.
As my daughter settled in, I held her hand. I told her, “I love you so much. I’m right here. But you know what? God loves you even more than Daddy and Mommy. And He’s very close. You can always pray to him when you’re scared.” That seemed to comfort her, and peaceful sleep came quickly.
Scripture repeatedly reassures us God is always near (Psalm 145:18; Romans 8:38–39; James 4:7–8), but sometimes we struggle to believe it. Perhaps that’s why Paul prayed for the believers in Ephesus to have strength and power to grasp that truth (Ephesians 3:16). He knew that when we’re frightened, we can lose track of God’s proximity. But just as I lovingly held my daughter as she went to sleep that night, so our loving heavenly Father is always as close to us as a prayer.
Like lots of people, I struggle to get enough exercise. So I recently got something to motivate myself to move: a pedometer that counts steps. It’s a simple thing. But it’s amazing how much difference this gadget makes in my motivation. Instead of grumbling when I have to get up, I see it as an opportunity to get a few more steps. Mundane tasks, like getting one of my kids a cup of water, become opportunities that help me work toward a larger goal. In that sense, my pedometer has changed my perspective and my motivation. Now I look to get extra steps in whenever possible.
I wonder if our Christian life isn’t a bit like that. There are opportunities to love and serve and interact with people every day, as Paul exhorts in Colossians 4:5. But am I always aware of those moments? Am I paying attention to opportunities to be an encourager in seemingly mundane interactions? God is at work in the lives of every person I relate to, from my family and coworkers to a clerk at the grocery store. Each interaction offers a chance for me to pay attention to what God might be doing—even if it’s something as seemingly “small” as kindly asking a server at a restaurant how she’s doing.
Who knows how God might work in those moments when we’re alert to the opportunities He sends our way.
My youngest daughter and I have a game we call “Pinchers.” When she goes up the stairs, I’ll chase her and try to give her a little pinch. The rules are that I can only pinch her (gently, of course!) when she’s on the stairs. Once she’s at the top, she’s safe. Sometimes, though, she’s not in the mood to play. And if I follow her up the stairs, she’ll sternly say, “No pinchers!” I’ll respond, “No pinchers. I promise.”
Now, that promise may seem a little thing. But when I do what I say, my daughter begins to understand something of my character. She experiences my consistency. She knows my word is good, that she can trust me. It’s a little thing, keeping such a promise. But promises—or, keeping them, I should say—are the glue of relationships. They lay a foundation of love and trust.
I think that's what Peter meant when he wrote that God’s promises enable us to "participate in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). When we take God at his Word, trusting what He says about Himself and about us, we encounter His heart toward us. It gives Him an opportunity to reveal His faithfulness as we rest in what He says is true. I'm thankful Scripture brims with His promises, these concrete reminders that "his compassions never fail. They are new every morning" (Lamentations 3:22–23).
It was a long day at work. But when I got home, it was time to start my “other” job: being a good dad. Greetings from my wife and kids soon became, “Dad, what’s for dinner?” “Dad, can you get me some water?” “Dad, can we play soccer?”
I just wanted to sit down. And even though part of me really wanted to be a good dad, I didn’t feel like serving my family’s needs. That’s when I saw it: a thank-you card my wife had received from someone at church. It pictured a bowl of water, a towel and dirty sandals. Across the bottom were these words from Luke 22:27: “I am among you as one who serves.”
That statement of Jesus’s mission, to serve those He came to seek and save (Luke 19:10), was exactly what I needed. If Jesus was willing to do the dirtiest of jobs for His followers—like scrubbing His followers’ no doubt filthy feet (John 13:1-17)—I could get my son a cup of water without grumbling about it. In that moment, I was reminded that my family’s requests to serve them weren’t merely an obligation, but an opportunity to reflect Jesus’s servant’s heart and His love to them. When requests are made of us, they are chances to become more like the One who served His followers by laying down His life for us.