I am an expert in fear.
I am an expert not because I’ve studied a great deal about the various causes or expressions of fear in a person’s life, but rather because my life testifies to fear’s steady presence. Like the unwelcome weight of some distant and cold oppression, fear has settled upon my life and staked its claim on my heart.
Fear expresses itself in different ways. For example, I am not afraid of physical danger where there is none, but I am fearful of others: their thoughts, perceptions and opinions. I depend on their affirmation, acceptance and love. I worry about future situations in which these things might be threatened. Fear in this case is not a state of terror, but rather an act of forsworn reverence, an act of misplaced worship.
The Scriptures plead with me, “Fear the LORD,” but I would rather worry about what others think. The truth is that we will worship God, or we will worship something else. When these idols of acceptance and affirmation are threatened, fear and worry reach in, reminding me that I am nothing without the approval of others. Left alone, I sit in uneasy and restless silence, looking through a broken View-Master as it projects a continual loop of lies about my identity, worth and needs. Fear and worry show us what we think we need, and our hearts drink deep from its well.
What the gospel tells me is that I don’t have to be afraid. I don’t have to worry because my identity in Christ is fixed and certain. The opinions and acceptance of others do not diminish the righteousness I have received through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. When my heart is tempted to run to fear, I can remember that Jesus came to the earth to show me that what I have wanted and needed all along is not acceptance or affirmation but Himself.
As Psalm 23 tells me,
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want” (v. 1).
I have everything I need in Jesus. Where my own desires for acceptance lead to a heart left in shambles, He restores my soul, establishing a new foundation of righteousness and hope. When I am consumed with worry about the future, I am shown a true picture of what’s to come, regardless of circumstance:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (v. 4).
When I am overwhelmed with anxiety, Jesus is with me, lifting my chin so that my gaze might rest not on my problems, but on Him. His presence means that He is in control, and that this is for my good. His death and resurrection for me and for you prove that our ultimate home and rest is with Him. Psalm 23 concludes with this promise:
“I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (v. 6).
May we find our rest in Jesus. May His presence renew and restore our restless hearts. May His love and our identity in Him overwhelm our fears.