At times the world seems to be made up of a suffocating darkness. Anxieties press in from every side. War, terrorism, school shootings, cancer, and the list goes on and on. If there is a common thread among us, it is that at some point we will face fear. Some of us live with it daily, like a heavy cloak we can’t shake off. I have struggled with anxiety and fear all my life. I know what it feels like to be completely and hopelessly overwhelmed by fear. I also know that pit-of-the-stomach feeling of going through each day with a vague sense of anxiety. Sometimes I know what I’m anxious about, and other times I just feel unsettled by a thousand little things that in themselves don’t seem to warrant my worry, but they’ve somehow banded together, determined to take me down.
God didn’t design us to live with anxiety and fear. Over and over He tells us not to be afraid, but we just can’t help ourselves. We don’t know how to stop! One of my go-to verses is 2 Timothy 1:7.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (NKJV)
Here’s another translation that gives a little more detail.
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and a well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control.” (AMPC)
Not only does this verse tell us that fear is not something given to us by God, but more importantly, it tells us what is given to us by God. Power. Love. Calm. A well-balanced, sound mind. Self discipline and self control. Only one thing is highlighted in this verse that we have not been given. Fear. The focus then shifts to all we have been given, which is our ammunition against fear. Specifically, I believe that self discipline and self control are inextricably linked to having a sound mind as these are interchangeable among several translations. So in what way do we need to be self disciplined? Lord knows we’ve already got a laundry list of areas where we want to work on our will power! What God has been speaking to me through my battle with fear is that I need to be disciplined to remain in Him. By this I mean, I need to prioritize my time to allow quiet space to commune with Him through reading my Bible, praying, and journaling what I hear Him speaking to my heart. I need to keep my eyes fixed on Him as I go through my day, constantly in conversation. Thanking Him for blessings as they come, telling Him I’m tired or anxious, asking Him how He wants me to handle a situation with my kids. When I feel panic begin to rise within me, I must bounce my inner “eyes” and thoughts from what is troubling me, back to God. Instead of focusing on what scares me, I turn my focus to the truth of who God is and what He has promised me. In my mind I recite Bible verses that speak the truth about God being with me, about Him having a good and perfect plan, about His power and His love. I give spiraling thoughts over to Jesus’ authority. I cry out for help. In short I practice disciplining those out-of-control fearful thoughts by disciplining my focus and what my “eyes” are looking at (the thing I’m afraid of vs. God).
Today I want to share with you an entry from my journal. Over the last year God has been calling this stubborn, night owl to get up early and spend my first moments with Him. When I am faithful to do this, I spend a good portion of the time journaling. First I quickly write whatever is on my heart, and then I ask God to speak to me about whatever He wants to say. On this particular day as I closed my physical eyes and tried to focus the eyes of my heart on Jesus, a scene came to mind. I was standing on the edge of the sea, my side turned to the water. My right foot was near the calm lapping waves, and my left foot was in the sand. It was a sunny, and beautifully breezy day. Jesus was on the beach with me. I looked over my right shoulder out to sea and could see a terrible, dark storm raging many miles from where we stood on the shore. The storm represented everything I wasn’t currently experiencing, but was so afraid of and trying desperately to avoid. In the midst of that scene, this is what I heard the Lord speak to my heart.
Here on the sand we look out over the churning water covered with dark clouds. You can see the storm and the fury out over the water, and its danger and magnitude bring fear to your heart, and yet here you stand with Me in the sunlight on the shore. Even when the storm is far from you, you are still afraid. You can see its fury and you are powerless against such wind and waves. And yet, you are not in that storm, so why do you fear it? Would you get into a boat and allow Me to take you out on those waves and directly through the eye of the storm? Would you choose to trust that I can calm the storm even though you are powerless against it? Would you trust me to get you safely through it even if I didn’t calm it? Would you trust me to meet you in the depths of the sea if you were to drown? Is death apart from me in some way that I am not with you there? If I am navigating your way, and always in control of not just the boat but of the very storm itself, will you trust Me to bring you through even the blackest and most turbulent of times? Child, right now you are on the shore with Me. You are living safe in the sunlight, but your eyes are focused on the storm – the evil and danger and pain of the world all around you. You feel afraid as you look on all of the possible dangers that might come against your family. Your eyes are not on Me. You’re afraid that I will require you to actually go into and through the raging storm instead of allowing you to stay on the beach in safety. Would you feel safe here on this beach if I were not here with you? Would you rather cling to the sand and the hope that the sun in this place never leaves and that the storm doesn’t come ashore, or would you rather follow Me wherever I go, even if that is into the eye of the storm? Your hope and faith is sometimes more in the sandy shore than it is in Me. You cling to the sand when you look to your own vigilance to protect you and your family; when you look to financial security, or a particular safe neighborhood or community. The sand cannot save you from the storm. It will be washed out to sea if the waves crash upon it. You cling to an illusion of safety. Your only safety is in Me. I am your safety. Nothing else can save you or hold you fast. You spend your energy desperately trying to avoid a storm whose direction you cannot control or anticipate. Yet I am He who has authority over every wave and every wind. You hope to be able to stay with Me, clinging simultaneously to both Me and your sand. You believe that these two efforts together will ensure greater safety and peace. But you can’t cling to Me with both hands if you keep one clinging to the sand. If the waves come upon you, you will need both hands clinging to Me in order to hang on. Why do you seek to control things you can never control instead of seeking the One who controls all things? Look at Me, not the storm. Cling to Me, not the sand. I will never leave you or forsake you. If you face even the greatest storm, I will hold you fast. I will show you which way to go when you have no sense of direction. The only safe place is in Me, and with Me. My dear child, when will you stop looking back and forth between the waves and the “safety” of the sand? Your focus goes from fear and back to maintaining your safety and then back to the storm (fear/trials) and then back to your own strength and vigilance. You will never have peace, even on the sandiest and sunniest of beaches, when you live like this. Follow Me and you will always have peace, even in the darkest depths. I love you. Won’t you turn your eyes to Me and take hold of Me with both hands? I am your safe place.
When I shared this with my husband his comment was that you can’t hold onto sand because it will always run through your fingers. I hadn’t thought of that! Yet how often do I try to seek freedom from anxiety by grasping at the illusion of control. It’s nothing more than sand.
I certainly have not conquered fear and anxiety, but the more I practice using the power, love, and self discipline that God has given me, the more I rise above it. I need this reminder daily. Where do I look when fear consumes me? I look to God and fight to keep my eyes on Him and not on the storm that the evil one would use to distract me from the truth. God is not afraid. I am in His hand. I needn’t be afraid either.
Friends, some of you are in the eye of the storm right now, and some of you fear it from a distance. Wherever you are, I pray that you would be encouraged today that God is mightier than the storm, and that no matter the outcome, whether you find yourself in safe harbor on the other side or on the bottom of the sea floor, He is with you there, and He will never leave you.