In his 1933 inaugural address, President Franklin Roosevelt cautioned a nation facing unprecedented distress: “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Hasn’t 2020 been that kind of year? One big tossed salad of COVID, racial unrest, and a bitterly contested election, all dripping with society’s “salad dressing” of painful facts, compassion, misinformation, recrimination, and politicized hyperbole. Many have been left with the “heartburn” of grief, fear, and anxiety.
Fear can be a powerful tool, a legitimate motivator. The “fear of the Lord” is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10), it can keep us from sin (Proverbs 16:6), and can even help you live longer (Proverbs 10:27; 14:27). How many of us were initially prompted to become a Christian partly out of fear of going to hell? Sadly, as FDR noted, fear has a way of making us put aside good sense, embrace doubt and timidity, and accept stagnation rather than growth and progress. In one form or another the Bible over 300 times implores us: Do not fear. So what does that look like in the life of a Christian? Should we fear? What should we do with our fear and anxiety in the unrelenting, incorrigible year 2020?
Perspective In volatile 2020-esque times we can become driven by fear. What started off as a deadly virus, precipitated not only health fears, offending others fears, leadership fears, economic fears, and more as needed to keep you anxious. Not giving way to fear does not mean we aren’t concerned, just that we preserve (and perhaps grow in) our ability to approach challenges through the eyes of faith, a biblical basis, and “common” sense. Though written with a different setting in mind, much of Jesus’ warning in the Olivet Discourse resonates today:
“At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” — Matthew 24:10-13
A disciple’s response is rooted in God’s Word and his promises, not abandoning our faith, allowing our love to become cold and calloused, but more than ever to exercise and display His work in us as our anchor. We are facing many legitimate concerns, some serious. But, truth be told, even in 2020, much of what we lament and allow to well-up into anxiety are first world problems. Most of the world would be delighted to endure the COVID crisis under our conditions.
Surrender Anxieties This speaks to the heart of the beast, and fuels much of our response in difficult times.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
— Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)
The word translated “anxious” in verse six is the Greek word “merimnate”. It can be understood to mean anxious, concerned or worried, but it can also mean drawn in opposite directions, divided into parts, pulled apart, going to pieces, to be divided or to be distracted. Isn’t that how worry works? Worry divides our mind, distracts us, draws us in opposite directions, pulls us apart, makes us lose our focus. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that through prayer, supplication and thanksgiving, God will give us peace, His peace. His peace is the Greek word “eirene” which is just the opposite of worry. Eirene means quietness, rest, tranquility, or more literally “to join together into a whole”. To be made whole, by God. Sometimes that peace is beyond comprehension. It makes no sense that someone could have peace (insert the word focus, tranquility or “keeping it together”) in the midst of total chaos, when things are falling apart (remember what merimnate means?). But God promises us peace if we will ask. If that were not enough, He promises us that this incomprehensible peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. The word for guard, “phroureo”, literally means a sentinel, to keep watch, a military guard. God promises to send his heavenly Marines to guard our hearts and minds, to protect our peace. That’s some powerful stuff.
Healthy Fear Tied to perspective is choosing to have the proper object of our fear. The 2020 wildfire encompasses many legitimate concerns, the accelerants of which are complex and numerous. If a Christian’s hope and security rest in things of this life, then circumstances of this life can strip them away, leaving us vulnerable to the prevailing cultural winds rather than on the rock of God’s Word. It probably offered little consolation when Jesus, in effect, told his apostles “don’t worry about the guy who can only kill you, but fear the one who can both kill you and send you to hell.” (Matthew 10:28) He told them to guard their soul, to stay attentive to threats to their spiritual lives, their values and convictions.
Diseases, unrests, and political tensions have come and gone, some much worse than today by historical standards. The pain and angst they bring are real. Do we mean it when we sing the words of “Jesus is Coming Soon”?
“Troublesome times are here, filling men's hearts with fear
Freedom we all hold dear now is at stake
Humbling your hearts to God saves from the chastening rod
Seek the way pilgrims trod, Christians awake”
Through His promises we participate in God’s very nature (2 Peter 1:4), and Jesus himself gave us one promise that we’d do well to embrace in 2020 and beyond:
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
— John 16:33
We are promised trouble in this world, may our perspective remain fixed on the One who has overcome.
— Written by members of Mark & Rose Miller’s Small Group, namely, Tom & Kimberlee, Candy, Hal, and Sam