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When You're Afraid. . .Take a Walk

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Like it or not, fear is a normal part of life. Edward T. Welch says the question is not whether you’ll be afraid, but what you’ll do when anxiety strikes.

When fear and anxiety overtake us, we want to run. We feel we have to do something. And if our legs can’t run away, our minds will. It hardly feels like the time for spiritual reflection or a leisurely conversation. Yet for some reason, the very way Jesus tells us to deal with fear is to pause, ask ourselves some questions, and reflect.

In Matthew 6:28 (NKJV), He starts with this seemingly simple yet complex question: Why do you worry about [ ]? And then, He invites us to walk with Him. Strangely, He encourages us—in the middle of our anxiety—to look around. “Consider the lilies of the field,” He says, “how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” He points out the birds flying overhead as we stroll with Him, reminding us that “they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (vv. 25-34).

Jesus seems unhurried. Perhaps He knows something we do not. Perhaps, instead of running, we should accept His invitation and go for a walk.

This world gives you good reason for fear.

Given the scores of exhortations in the Bible not to be afraid or worry, we might be surprised by Jesus’ initial words to us as we walk with Him. We might expect Him to say something like, Life is hard. I know what that is like and how it feels. Every day is filled with trouble. There are many reasons to be afraid.

The author of Hebrews picks up on this part of the conversation when he writes about Jesus’ empathy: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). Friends provide comfort when they understand us, even if they can’t change our situation. How much more can we be comforted by spending time with Someone who fully understands us and is powerful enough to say “be still” to violent waves and cause them to humbly obey?

A good start, indeed.

But what about those commands, “Do not worry,” “do not be afraid”? Though they are repeated often in Scripture, we will surely violate them at some point. And if our anxieties are linked to excessive and selfish desires, a rebuke offered in gentleness and kindness would be refreshing and hopeful for our soul. But rebukes are not necessarily part of this conversation. Think of the commands against fear and anxiety as similar to those of a parent who says, “Drive carefully.” It is technically a command, but it means, “I love you and want you to be safe. Please be careful.” In the same way, the Lord’s “Do not be afraid” means, “I love you and I am with you.”

What are you afraid of, and where will you turn?

When you experience Jesus’ gentle and unhurried way, you’ll be more open to consider the specifics of your fears and anxieties. Though not always essential, this can be useful because it’s difficult to confront something that is vague and nameless.

Yet fears and anxieties are endless. Find one, and you can find one hundred—and that number will multiply by nightfall. When you choose to take a walk through fear with Jesus, it will be one of many, so He may not address certain apprehensions, at least not this time. That will come later.

But Jesus always zeroes in on what’s most important: Where do you turn when you’re afraid?

This gets to the heart of the matter. We will be afraid. That is part of life. But will we turn to the Lord, or to another person? To our own plans, or to worry itself, as if worrying will somehow prepare us for the worst?

Be reminded of this thought from the psalmist: “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You” (Ps. 56:3). And then, Jesus’ words: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, emphasis added).

Ah, this is so characteristic of Jesus’ teaching. His words are simple, clear, and profound. A child can understand them, and an adult will spend the rest of life learning and practicing them. So we shouldn’t be misled by the simplicity of the mind of God. Mere humans might be able to discern that they fear death or financial ruin, but only God can reveal that what troubles is always accompanied by turning in one direction or another: we turn toward Him or away from Him.

Philippians 4:5-6 makes it clear that the apostle Paul understood this: “The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” So when you are anxious and fearful, talk with the Lord and listen to Him. Prayer is an immediate and effective way of turning to Him.

When you’re afraid, ask for help.

Jesus understands the hard situations of life and is moved with compassion for us. That’s why we should follow the exhortation of Hebrews 4:16—to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

So what should we ask?

Fears and anxieties send our mind whirling. We have everything on our minds, and it’s hard to say anything when our minds are crammed with everything. But Scripture brings order. God’s Word is His communication to His children—it is the mind of God revealed to us, and we want to get in synch with the mind of the Father; His Son, the Rescuer; and the Holy Spirit. Consider the following lessons we learn from delving into biblical wisdom.

Be humble. Many of us appreciate what Jesus says about our Father caring for sparrows and lilies, but His words don’t quite sink in. They get our attention and prepare us to listen further, but we might need more. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:6-7 NIV). Many of us have heard these words—“Cast all your anxiety on him”—and we’ve tried to do so, only to have new anxieties replace the ones we’ve just dealt with. The passage, however, is about humility. It’s telling us to humble ourselves before God. And the one way to do that is by knowing and acknowledging He alone has the strength to shoulder our anxieties. So let Him bear them. Tell Him that you believe He is God of all, and that you humbly submit to His will and put your full trust in Him.

Ask for today’s grace. Throughout the Scriptures, we learn that God gives us grace for today. It started with manna: for 40 years His people gathered this heaven-sent food daily, knowing that it would last for just that one day. The next morning, they woke up and were given fresh manna. The pattern continues today: He gives us all the grace we need for today; when tomorrow comes, He will give us a new supply. This is why we get so anxious when we envision future events: we are imagining them without the grace that God will give us at that time. Instead, pray for grace for each day—and receive what’s been promised.

Remember the Lord is with you. Jesus finishes this particular walk in the same way He ends them all—with His assurance that He will be with us. This is the grandest of His many promises, and it is the treasured possession of the fearful. The Lord says it to all His children, but with His anxious ones, He is pleased to say it over and over.

As we know by this point in our walk, Jesus is not going to unveil a magical insight that will banish all anxieties. Instead, He says: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27). He does not give us a step-by-step manual that will work if followed carefully. If He did, we would no longer meet Him for these walks, and we would adopt the myth that we are in control of our own lives. We know the difference between being alone in a big, creaky old house during a midnight storm and being there with a friend. Fears do not want a manual; they want a person. In other words, while we are on this walk with Jesus, we notice that it is hard to be afraid. The answer to our fear is that we are with Him.

That’s what makes all the difference.

The article was selected from In Touch magazine.

 

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