Category  |  Christian Living

Overcoming Fear

Fear ruled the man’s life for thirty-two years. Afraid of being caught for his crimes, he hid at his sister’s farmhouse, going nowhere and visiting no one, even missing his mother’s funeral. When he was sixty-four, he was discovered and learned that no charges had ever been filed against him. The man was free to resume a normal life. Yes, the threat of punishment was real, but he allowed the fear of it to control him.

Likewise, fear ruled the Israelites’ heart when the Philistines challenged them at the Valley of Elah. The threat was real. Their enemy Goliath was 9 feet 9 inches tall and his body armor alone weighed 125 pounds (1 Samuel 17:4–5). For forty days, every morning and evening, Goliath challenged the Israelite army to fight him one on one. But no one dared come forward. No one until David visited the battle lines. He heard and saw the taunting, and volunteered to fight Goliath.

While everyone in the Israelite army thought Goliath was too big to fight, David the shepherd boy knew he was not too big for God. He said, “the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s” (v. 47).

When we’re gripped by fear, we can follow David’s example and fix our eyes on God to gain a right perspective of the problem. The threat may be real, but the One who is with us and for us is bigger than that which is against us.

Grace at the End

Artist Doug Merkey’s masterful sculpture Ruthless Trust features a bronze human figure clinging desperately to a cross made of walnut wood. He writes, “It’s a very simple expression of our constant and appropriate posture for life—total, unfettered intimacy with and dependency upon Christ and the gospel.”

That’s the kind of trust we see expressed in the actions and words of the unnamed woman in Mark 5:25–34. For twelve years her life had been in shambles (v. 25). “She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse” (v. 26). But having heard about Jesus, she made her way to Him, touched Him, and was “freed from her suffering” (vv. 27–29).

Have you come to the end of yourself? Have you depleted all your resources? Anxious, hopeless, lost, distressed people need not despair. The Lord Jesus still responds to desperate faith—the kind displayed by this suffering woman and depicted in Merkey’s sculpture. This faith is expressed in the words of hymn writer Charles Wesley: “Father, I stretch my hands to Thee; no other help I know.” Don’t have that kind of faith? Ask God to help you trust Him. Wesley's hymn concludes with this prayer: “Author of faith, to Thee I lift my weary, longing eyes; O may I now receive that gift! My soul, without it, dies.”

Our Guiding Light

At a museum, I lingered near a display of ancient lamps. A glance at some printed information revealed they were from Israel. Decorated with carved designs, these oval-shaped clay vessels had two openings—one for fuel, and one for a wick. Although the Israelites commonly used them in wall alcoves, each was small enough to fit in the palm of a person’s hand.

Perhaps a little light like this inspired King David to write a praise song in which he said, “You Lord are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light” (2 Samuel 22:29). David sang these words after God gave him victory in battle. Rivals from both inside and outside his own nation had been stalking him, intending to kill him. Because of his relationship with God, David didn’t cower in the shadows. He moved forward into enemy confrontations with the confidence that comes from God’s presence. With God helping him, he could see things clearly so he could make good decisions for himself, his troops, and his nation.

The darkness David mentioned in his song likely involved fear of weakness, defeat, and death. Many of us live with similar worries, which produce anxiety and stress. When the darkness presses in on us, we can find peace because we know God is with us too. The divine flame of the Holy Spirit lives in us to light our path until we meet Jesus face to face.

Attitude of Gratitude

Here in Michigan, the winters can be brutal, with sub-zero temperatures and never-ending snow. One bitterly cold day, as I shoveled snow for what seemed like the thousandth time, our postman paused in his rounds to ask how I was doing. I told him that I disliked winter and was weary of all the heavy snow. I then commented that his job must be pretty rough during these extreme weather conditions. He responded, “Yeah, but at least I have a job,” he said. “A lot of people don’t. I’m thankful to be working.”

I have to admit that I felt quite convicted by his attitude of gratitude. How easily we can lose sight of everything we have to be thankful for when the circumstances of life become unpleasant.

Paul told the followers of Christ at Colossae, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Col. 3:15). He wrote to the Thessalonians, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18).

Even in our times of genuine struggle and pain, we can know God’s peace and permit it to rule our hearts. And in that peace, we will find reminders of all that we have been given in Christ. In that, we can truly be thankful.

Don’t Forget the Giver

It was just before Christmas, and her kids were having a difficult time with gratitude. In other words, they were pretty much “give me” instead of “thank you.” She knew how easy it was to slip into that kind of thinking—what with all the commercialism of the season. But she also knew she wanted something better for the hearts of her children. So she went through the house and placed a bright red bow on light switches, the pantry and refrigerator doors, the washing machine and dryer, and the water faucets. With each bow there was a handwritten note: “Some of the gifts God gives us are easy to overlook, so I’ve put a bow on them. He is so good to our family. Let’s not forget where the gifts come from.”

As we turn to Scripture and read Deuteronomy 6, we see that the future of the nation of Israel involved the conquest of existing places. So they would move into large flourishing cities they did not build (Deuteronomy 6:10), occupy houses filled with good things they didn’t provide, and benefit from wells and vineyards and olive groves they didn’t dig or plant (v. 11). All these blessings could be easily traced back to a single source—“the Lord your God” (v. 10). And while God lovingly provided these things and more, Moses wanted to make sure the people were careful not to forget (v. 12).

In certain seasons of life it is easy to forget. But let’s not lose sight of God’s goodness, the source of all our blessings.

Intentional Kindness

Boarding a plane alone with her children, a young mom tried desperately to calm her three-year-old daughter who began crying and kicking. Then her hungry four-month-old son also began to wail.

Observing the situation, the traveler seated next to her quickly offered to hold the baby while Jessica got her daughter buckled in. Then the traveler—recalling his own days as a young dad—began coloring with the toddler while Jessica fed her infant. And on the next connecting flight, the same man offered to assist again if needed.

Jessica recalled, “I [was] blown away by God’s hand in this. [We] could have been placed next to anyone, but we were seated next to one of the nicest men I have ever met.”

In 2 Samuel 9, we read of another example of what I call intentional kindness. After King Saul and his son Jonathan had been killed, some expected David to kill off any competition to his claim for the throne. Instead, he asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?” (v. 3). Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son, was then brought to David who restored his inheritance and warmly invited him to share his table from then on—just as if he were his own son (v. 11).

As beneficiaries of the immense kindness of God, may we look for opportunities to show intentional kindness toward others (Galatians 6:10).

The Lost Envelope

We were on the way home from a visit with family in another state when I found it. I was pumping gas when I noticed a dirty, bulky envelope on the ground. I grabbed it, dirt and all, and looked inside. To my surprise, it contained one hundred dollars.

One hundred dollars that someone had lost and who at that very moment was possibly frantically searching to find. I gave our phone number to the attendants at the gas station in case anyone came back looking for it. But no one ever called.

Someone had that money and lost it. Earthly treasure is often like that. It can be lost, stolen, or even squandered. It can be lost in bad investments or even in a monetary market over which we have no control. But the heavenly treasure we have in Jesus—a restored relationship with God and the promise of eternal life—isn’t like that. We can’t lose it at a gas station or anywhere else for that matter.

            That’s why Christ told us to store up “treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). We do that when we become “rich in good deeds” (1 Timothy 6:18) or “rich in faith” (James 2:5)—lovingly helping others and sharing Jesus with them. As God leads and empowers us, may we store up eternal treasure even as we anticipate our eternal future with Him.

Is There Hope?

Edward Payson (1783–1827) led an extremely difficult life. The death of his younger brother shook him to the core. He struggled with bipolar disorder, and he was affected by extreme migraine headaches for days. If this wasn't enough, a fall from a horse lead to paralysis of his arm, and he almost died from tuberculosis! Surprisingly, his response wasn’t one of despair and hopelessness. His friends said that before Edward passed away, his joy was intense. How could that be?

        In his letter to the believers in Rome, the apostle Paul expressed his complete confidence in the reality of God’s love regardless of circumstances. He asked with boldness, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). If God gave His very own Son, Jesus, to save us, then He will provide everything we need to finish this life well. Paul listed seven situations which he went through himself that seemed unbearable: “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword” (v. 35). He didn’t imply that Jesus’s love would stop bad things from happening. But Paul said that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (v. 37).

        Through the uncertainty of this world, God can be trusted completely, knowing that nothing, absolutely nothing, “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39).

Hazardous Materials

The sound of a siren increased to an ear-piercing level as an emergency vehicle sped by my car. Its flashing lights glared through my windshield, illuminating the words “hazardous materials” printed on the side of the truck. Later, I learned it had been racing to a science laboratory where a 400-gallon container of sulfuric acid had begun to leak. Emergency workers had to contain the substance immediately because of its ability to damage whatever it came in contact with.

As I thought about this news story, I wondered what would happen if sirens blared every time a harsh or critical word “leaked” out of my mouth? Sadly, it might become rather noisy around our house.

The prophet Isaiah shared this sense of awareness about his sin. When he saw God’s glory in a vision, he was overcome by his unworthiness. He recognized that he was “a man of unclean lips” living with people who shared the same problem (Isaiah 6:5). What happened next gives me hope. An angel touched his lips with a red-hot coal, explaining, “your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for” (v. 7).

We have moment-by-moment choices to make with our words—both written and spoken. Will they be “hazardous” material, or will we allow God’s glory to convict us and His grace to heal us so we can honor Him with everything we express?

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