“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand… For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, who says to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.”” Isaiah 41:10,13
These were the words I chose to read this morning. I chose them because I knew I needed them. Because I needed to hear God’s command to “fear not”. Why? Because my heart becomes too easily fearful. I am finely tuned to things which I can add to my “worry list” – an unidentified ache or pain, a puzzling statement someone makes, an unfinished project, a mistake made. There’s plenty of scope out there if worrying is what you want to do. The worst of it is that the worrying things seem to find their way into my head largely subconsciously. Little things creep in at the corner of my attention and nag and worry away at my peace of mind until I find myself greatly anxious without really knowing why. Small thoughts , which I haven’t checked before letting them into the recesses of my mind, once accumulated, steal my strength and my joy, until I bring my weary burden back to my loving Father and lay it down at His feet again. But sometimes not before there has been some collateral damage. Not before I have damaged someone or something else because of my own struggle with the fearfulness of life.
Last night I couldn’t fall asleep. Actually that happens pretty rarely. I am usually out like a light once my head hits the pillow. Not last night. It was like I was high on caffeine, except for the fact that I have only had two cups of coffee in the last two weeks. I racked my brains trying to remember what I had eaten or drunk that could be making me so wakeful but in the end had to admit that it was simply my uneasy mind which was not letting me fall asleep. Things were piling up in my mind, which, though not enormous, were tipping the scale of my emotions towards feeling rather overwhelmed by all that I need to do and all that could potentially go wrong. Starting with not getting enough sleep! I’d like to say that I realised immediately what the problem was and having brought my anxieties to God, settled down into a peaceful night’s sleep. But that would not be true. It took about an hour and a half of tossing and turning before I quieted my thoughts long enough to remind myself that I didn’t need to be doing this. The trouble is that we sometimes think that we are the only ones who really know how to handle our problems and find the right solutions. We think we know better than everyone, including God! And I, we, are certainly not ready to hand over control to Him because we want things to be done our way. Last night there were a couple of issues on my mind which I simply needed to surrender to Him, where I simply needed and need to let go, to trust and grow in the grace of patience.
Worrying and fretting simply never changes situations for the better.. “Do not fret” says David in Psalm 37, “it leads only to evildoing”. This is one of my favourite verses and I use it to remind myself that my fretting and my worrying are not just unhelpful but are positively harmful. Why do I need to remind myself of this? Because when I am in the middle of my fretting, it feels so constructive, so necessary, and so purposeful. But Corrie Ten Boom was right when she said ” Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles… it empties today of its strength.”
Worry doesn’t only steal sleep from us. It steals joy and spontaneity from our lives and it steals never-to-be-repeated opportunities. I have robbed myself of the joy of some days because of inordinate worries or unfounded fears. I have lost the joy of certain periods in my parenting or even in my marriage for the same reason. I have lost the joy that could and should have been part of certain relationships and I have even lost or almost lost certain relationships because of fretting and worrying that clouded my judgement and twisted my behaviour. Fretting leads to “evildoing”. No wonder it is so much on God’s heart that we learn to “not fear”.
Why is it so hard for us to let go of our fears when we can see how damaging they can be? I think it has to do with our focus. When I focus on the problem or the “fearful” thing, it becomes the biggest thing for me. It consumes my attention and blinds me to an accurate estimation of reality. Surrendering my fears has to do with learning to move my gaze from that object which is consuming my thoughts to a different object, not by way of distraction, but in order to see the worry in correct proportion to the whole picture. Best of all is when I turn my eyes upon Jesus, to the One who makes everything else shrink down to its proper size when seen in relation to Him.
Remember Goliath? David’s brothers and the whole Israelite army were in fear and trembling because of the huge size of the Philistine’s champion. He was truly a giant in their eyes and compared to their own physical build. They saw him in proportion to themselves. It took a man after God’s own heart, a man who saw everything in relation to God Almighty, to see Goliath for what he really was, a “puny god”, and easily defeated by anyone when God was on their side.
There is only one way in which we can have the victory over our fears and worries and that it is by seeing them in proportion to who God is, to what He has promised and by understanding that He is the One who is with us, strengthening us and upholding us (see Isaiah 41:10,13), and by focusing more on Him than on anything else.
Why worry about our worry? Why deal with it? Because it is destructive. Fear blinds us and causes us to stumble.Fear distorts our perception and our ability to make truly wise decisions. On the contrary filling our gaze with God won’t make us blind. It will give us the clearest vision we have ever had. It will enable us to see everything in its true light and it will enable us to walk with confidence and not stumble.
How our marriages and our families would be changed if we refused to fuel fear-driven behaviour and entrusted far more of our worries, our dreams, disappointments, hopes and fears into God’s safekeeping. How many unnecessary conflicts we would avoid. How much more energy we could pour into loving others and living our best with what God gives us, if we didn’t fight so many exhausting battles on the field of “what ifs”. How much more fun we would have. How much more would we comprehend that we serve a delightfully good
God. None of us will truly understand how outrageously good God is until we get to heaven. I don’t want to let fear and worry steal any more opportunities from me to enjoy as much of His goodness as He chooses to reveal to me here on earth. But I know that this battle is the battle for joy and it is not fought and won once but many times, in fact, as many times as I let my gaze linger too long on anything without seeing it from the perspective of who God is.
If I want more joy in my life, I need to spend less time wrestling with my worries.They will defeat me today if I choose to focus on them. But tomorrow or some day soon, I will see
them for the insubstantial creatures that they really were, creatures that will come crashing down with the ease of a stone flicked from a sling shot when I turn my attention to the One who is my Champion, the One who has promised to uphold my right hand with His righteous right hand, the One who is with me and will help me.
When I learn to leave all my worries with Him, “casting all (my) anxiety on Him, because He cares for (me) (1 Peter 5:7), then I will sleep peacefully, caffeine or no caffeine.
“In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8