Fear can leave us frozen in our own lives. We know all the reasons to be afraid—everything that’s hurt us in the past, everything that could easily do so again. So sometimes we’re stuck—unable to go back; too afraid to move forward. I just can’t do it. I’m not smart enough, strong enough, or brave enough to handle being hurt like that again.
I’m captivated by how author Frederick Buechner describes God’s grace—like a gentle voice that says, “Here is the world. Terrible and beautiful things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”
Terrible things will happen. In our world, hurting people hurt other people, often terribly. Like the psalmist David, we carry our own stories of when evil surrounded us, when, like “ravenous beasts,” others wounded us (Psalm 57:4). And so we grieve; we cry out (vv. 1–2).
But because God is with us, beautiful things can happen too. As we run to Him with our hurts and fears, we find ourselves carried by a love far greater than anyone’s power to harm us (vv. 1–3), a love so deep it fills the skies (v. 10). Even when disaster rages around us, His love is a solid refuge where our hearts find healing (vv. 1,7). Until one day we’ll find ourselves awakening to renewed courage, ready to greet the day with a song of His faithfulness (vv. 8–10).
Almost as soon as the ferryboat started to move, my little daughter said she felt ill. Seasickness had already begun to affect her. Soon I was feeling queasy myself. “Just stare at the horizon,” I reminded myself. Sailors say this helps to regain a sense of perspective.
The Maker of the horizon (Job 26:10) knows that sometimes in life we may become fearful and restless. We can regain perspective by focusing on the distant but steady point of our destiny.
The writer of Hebrews understood this. He sensed discouragement in his readers. Persecution had driven many of them from their homes. So he reminded them that other people of faith had endured extreme trials and had been left homeless. They endured it all because they anticipated something better.
As exiles, these readers could look forward to the city whose architect is God, the heavenly country, the city God prepared for them (Hebrews 11:10, 14, 16). So in his final exhortations, the writer asked his readers to focus on God’s promises. “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (13:14).
Our present troubles are temporary. We are “foreigners and strangers on earth” (11:13), but gazing at the horizon of God’s promises provides the point of reference we need.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a mother. I dreamed about getting married, getting pregnant, and holding my baby in my arms for the first time. When I finally got married, my husband and I never even considered waiting to expand our family. But with each negative pregnancy test, we realized we were struggling with infertility. Months of doctors’ visits, tests, and tears followed. We were in the middle of a storm. Infertility was a bitter pill to swallow and left me wondering about God’s goodness and faithfulness.
When I reflect on our journey, I think about the story of the disciples caught in the storm on the sea in John 6. As they struggled against the waves in the dark of the storm, Jesus unexpectedly came to them walking on the stormy waves. He calmed them with His presence, saying, “It is I; do not be afraid” (v. 20).
Like the disciples, my husband and I had no idea what was coming in our storm; but we found comfort as we learned to know God more deeply as the One who is always faithful and true. Although we would not have the child we had dreamed of, we learned that in all our struggles, we can experience the power of His calming presence. Because He is there, powerfully working in our lives, we need not be anxious.
During an especially cold winter, I ventured out to Lake Michigan, the fifth largest lake in the world, to see it frozen over. Bundled up on the beach where I usually enjoy soaking up the sun, the view was breathtaking. The water was actually frozen in waves creating an icy masterpiece.
Because the water was frozen solid next to the shore, I had the opportunity to ”walk on water.” Even with the knowledge that the ice was thick enough to support me, I took the first few steps tentatively. I was fearful the ice wouldn’t continue to hold me. As I cautiously explored this unfamiliar terrain, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus calling Peter out of the boat onto the Sea of Galilee.
When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, their response was also fear. But Jesus responded, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (Matthew 14:26–27). Peter was able to overcome his fear and step out onto the water because he knew Jesus was present. When his courageous steps faltered because of the wind and waves, Peter cried out to Jesus. Jesus was still there, near enough to simply reach out His hand to rescue him.
If you are facing a situation today where Jesus is calling you to do something that may seem as impossible as walking on water, take courage. The one who calls you will be present with you.
Our bodies react to our feelings of dread and fear. A weight in the pit of our stomachs, along with our hearts pounding as we gulp for breath, signal our sense of anxiety. Our physical nature keeps us from ignoring these feelings of unease.
The disciples felt shockwaves of fear one night after Jesus had performed the miracle of feeding more than five thousand people. The Lord had sent them ahead to Bethsaida so He could be alone to pray. During the night, they were rowing against the wind when suddenly they saw Him walking on the water. Thinking He was a ghost, they were terrified (Mark 6:49-50).
But Jesus reassured them, telling them not to be afraid and to take courage. As He entered their vessel, the wind died down and they made it to the shore. I imagine that their feelings of dread calmed as they embraced the peace He bestowed.
When we’re feeling breathless with anxiety, we can rest assured in Jesus’s power. Whether He calms our waves or strengthens us to face them, He will give us the gift of His peace that “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). And as He releases us from our fears, our spirits and our bodies can return to a state of rest.
Fear is Hadassah’s constant companion. Hadassah, a young Jewish girl living in the first-century, is a fictional character in Francine Rivers’ book A Voice in the Wind. After Hadassah becomes a slave in a Roman household, she fears persecution for her faith in Christ. She knows that Christians are despised, and many are sent to their execution or thrown to the lions in the arena. Will she have the courage to stand for the truth when she is tested?
When her worst fear becomes reality, her mistress and other Roman officials who hate Christianity confront her. She has two choices: recant her faith in Christ or be taken to the arena. Then, as she proclaims Jesus as the Christ, her fear falls away and she becomes bold even in the face of death.
The Bible reminds us that sometimes we will suffer for doing what is right—whether for sharing the gospel or for living godly lives that are against today’s values. We are told not to be frightened (1 Peter 3:14), but to “revere Christ as Lord” in our hearts (v. 15). Hadassah’s main battle took place in her heart. When she finally made up her mind to choose Jesus, she found the courage to be faithful.
When we make the decision to honor Christ, He will help us to be bold and to overcome our fears in the midst of opposition.
It was 10-year-old Cleotis’ first time fishing, and as he looked into the container of bait he seemed hesitant to get started. Finally he said to my husband, “Help me, I-S-O-W!” When my husband asked him what the problem was, Cleotis responded, “I-S-O-W! I’m Scared Of Worms!” His fear had made him unable to act.
Fear can paralyze grown men too. Gideon must’ve been afraid when the angel of the Lord came to him as he was threshing wheat in secret, hiding from his Midianite enemies (Judges 6:11). The angel told him he had been chosen by God to lead His people in battle (vv.12-14).
Gideon’s response? “Pardon me, my lord . . . but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (v. 15). After being assured of the Lord’s presence, Gideon still seemed fearful and asked Him for signs that He would use him to save Israel as He promised (vv. 36–40). And God responded to Gideon’s requests. The Israelites were successful in battle and then enjoyed peace for forty years.
We all have fears of various kinds—from worms to wars. Gideon’s story teaches us that we can be confident of this: If God asks us to do something, He’ll give us the strength and power to do it.
“My husband was offered a promotion in another country, but I feared leaving our home, so he reluctantly declined the offer.” My friend explained how apprehension over such a big change kept her from embracing a new adventure, and that she sometimes wondered what they missed in not moving.
The Israelites let their anxieties paralyze them when they were called to inhabit a rich and fertile land that flowed “with milk and honey” (Ex. 33:3). When they heard the reports of not only an abundance of fruit but also powerful people in large cities (v. 27), they started to fear. The majority of the Israelites rejected the call to enter the land.
But Joshua and Caleb urged them to trust in the Lord, saying “Do not be afraid of the people in the land” for the “
My friend wasn’t commanded to move to another country like the Israelites were, yet she regretted letting fear close off the opportunity. What about you—do you face a fearful situation? If so, know that the Lord is with you and will guide you. With His never-failing love, we can move forward in faith.
The doctor’s words landed in her heart with a thud. It was cancer. Her world stopped as she thought of her husband and children. They had prayed diligently, hoping for a different outcome. What would they do? With tears streaming down her face, she said softly, “God, this is beyond our control. Please be our strength.”
What do we do when the prognosis is devastating, when our circumstances are beyond our control? Where do we turn when the outlook seems hopeless?
The prophet Habakkuk’s situation was out of his control, and the fear that he felt terrified him. The coming judgment would be catastrophic (Hab. 3:16–17). Yet, in the midst of the impending chaos, Habakkuk made a choice to live by his faith (2:4) and rejoice in God (3:18). He did not place his confidence and faith in his circumstances, ability, or resources, but in the goodness and greatness of God. His trust in God that compelled him to proclaim: “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (v. 19).
When we are faced with difficult circumstances—sickness, family crisis, financial trouble—we, too, have only to place our faith and trust in God. He is with us in everything we face.