Fear is a powerful thing. It can make our circumstances seem much worse than they are. Usually, when we experience fear, it has something to do with the future. When pain increases, we fear how far it will go this time, how long it will last, and how it will affect our plans. When we experience a new kind of pain, or pain in a new location, we fear what may be wrong this time. Has our disease progressed? Have we put too much stress on already-weakened areas and done some kind of damage? What does this mean for the immediate future, and how will it affect our long-term prognosis?
While I am speaking here of physical pain, this is true of all kinds of trials. Most of us have at least one ongoing trial in our lives, whether it is physical, emotional, relational, financial, or some other area. Regardless of the source, any trial can produce fear.
Fear is an emotional response to a real or perceived threat, so the first thing to consider is which of these two our current threat is— real or perceived/imagined? If it is a real threat, we must take action against it. In the physical realm, increased pain, swelling, and other signs are a pretty good indicator that the threat is real. Other types of trials have their clear indicators as well, and like chronic physical affliction, sufferers of these other kinds of trials usually have a pretty good idea of whether or not a threat is real. For instance, families facing ongoing financial problems who receive a foreclosure letter have a clear, concrete indicator of the threat of losing their home, and they may be fearful of that prospect.
But often, fear wells up in our hearts when it is an emotional response to an imagined threat. When we are weakened by ongoing pain or trials, our imaginations can run wild. Mild pain may be barely noticeable until, for whatever reason, we begin to dwell on it and ruminate about all the scary possibilities. A small twinge in the morning, mixed with a day of Googling, talking to others, complaining, and focusing on it, can become a full-blown panic attack by evening. This can happen regardless of whether the pain actually gets worse or not. Many of you have experienced this, and know that what I’m saying is true. It’s the same for other kinds of trials. A mother who fears her teen will make the same mistakes she did may worry and tremble every time he leaves the house, though she has seen no concrete evidence of rebellion.
These unfounded fears can have a very real consequence in our hearts: They can draw us away from Christ. When we begin to imagine all the bad things that our pain or circumstance may bring about, we have stopped looking to Christ for comfort. It is absolutely impossible to worry and trust at the same time. We are either trusting God, or we are feeding fear. Psalm 55:22 says, “Cast your burden on the LORD, and He will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” When we worry, we are not casting our burden on Him, but keeping it ourselves, and adding to it by the minute. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).” Refuge, strength, help. Worry is none of these things, so why would we turn to it instead of God? “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. (Nahum 1:7).” Does the Lord know you? He does if you take refuge in Him. If you choose worry, He will not join you there.
Our only hope in these troubled moments is to choose to dwell on the promises of God. Psalm 119: 49-50 says,
“Remember the word to Your servant,
Upon which You have caused me to hope.
This is my comfort in my affliction,
For Your word has given me life.
It is indeed God’s Word that give us life, because in that Word are His promises: Promises of comfort, hope, healing, and help. So, when our hearts lean toward fear in response to an imagined threat, we must pull them back upright, so that they can cling tightly to the Truth. It is there, close to His heart, that our hearts will have peace.