Letting Trust Burn BrightLet’s run after Him, laying down our fear and taking up trust, our steps light with courage for what lies ahead.
“Don’t worry.” Have you ever balked at these words? Maybe a well-meaning friend or a slightly-exasperated spouse has said this to placate your fears. Truthfully, it’s exactly what I need to hear—and do—when I’m in the middle of a worry-party, but my default reaction is to stiff-arm the speaker and pull my worries even closer. How dare that person try to fix my problem with a platitude! Don’t they realize “don’t worry” is easy to say, yet hard to do? When I’m in the trenches of anxiety, that phrase dumps gasoline on an already-crackling fire.
What’s fueling this fire, anyway? For me, worry appears when circumstances spin out of my control. When my toddler has woken three times in the night, I’m tense as I wait for him to cry out again, dreading how tired I’ll feel tomorrow. Or, when my five-year-old struggles with his own anxiety, instead of praying for him to have peace in the moment, I worry that his tendencies might affect all his future relationships. When a child gets sick, I fret about canceled plans—and who will be ill next.
Worry has an older, more serious cousin: Fear. Your stomach drops and your heart pounds. Fear can become full-blown panic, like when my toddler’s last virus sent him to the ER with breathing problems. This kind of fear doesn’t just come for tea; it moves into the spare room. It arrives with that harrowing diagnosis or when the phone rings with awful news. It lives in countries devastated by war, where people’s homes and lives are blown apart. We all know what we fear most, even if we haven’t experienced it—the situations so terrible to contemplate that we lock them behind a mental door we can’t even think about opening.
Fear can explode in big ways or it might thread itself through everyday thoughts until we claim it as part of our identity, our “natural bent.” I’m just a worrier. But festering worry or rooted fear is not simply a personality test result. There’s a deeper problem at work. (A quick caveat: I believe body, soul and mind are not easily separated. In some cases, people are clinically diagnosed with anxiety, struggle with panic attacks, or battle depression. In these situations, I’m grateful for God’s provision of medicine and professional help.)
Jesus Himself told us not to worry. He said it to His followers more directly: “Do not fear.” This might seem like an unattainable demand, but what if instead we saw this like a hand beckoning us close? Not just to come near to peace, but to examine our core beliefs about God’s character, His heart toward us, and who we are in Him.
WHO IS HE?
Pastor and author A.W. Tozer once wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” This reminds me of when Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Although He was referring to His identity as the Messiah, this question is crucial for us as we contemplate our fear. Who is God, and what is He like? How I answer those questions sheds light on fear’s place in my life. Does worry override my trust in Him? In the midst of difficulty, I’ll often pray, “Lord, change my circumstances, and then I’ll trust You.” I’ll happily give Him my anxiety once He removes my reasons to be anxious. My trust in Him is based on what’s going on around me, not on who He is.
I’m reminded of three people in the Bible whose trust in God did not come with conditions. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, facing a fiery death for refusing to worship a Babylonian idol, answered the king who seemed to hold their lives in his hands: “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17–18, ESV).
Their emotion is not explicit, but the king’s fury and the fire’s heat must’ve been terrifying. Perhaps beneath their bold words ran panicked thoughts. (Does anyone want to burn to death?) They knew God could deliver them, but their trust in Him didn’t depend on a rescue. And in that awful moment, they let their fear point them to who God is: One who is able to save. They believed and proclaimed this, even though He might let them die.
In my own life, do I believe God is in control? Do I trust His heart toward me is good? The truth is, I can’t give both fear and God’s sovereignty a seat at my table. I can’t see His goodness if unbelief darkens my vision, or if worry rules my heart. I want to be able to answer the question, “Who do you say that I am?” with the same words those men did: One who is able to save.
WHERE IS HE?
Imagine Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s thoughts when the soldiers hauled them closer to the fire—when it seemed like God’s answer was no. Didn’t He see what was happening to them? Where was He?
Our worst fears might come true, too, and we’ve got to wrestle with God’s no. People aren’t always healed of cancer or rescued from the horrors of war. Our spouses lose their jobs. A heart attack steals a loved one way too soon. Toddlers who should be clambering around playgrounds are instead lying in a hospital, waiting for a heart transplant. How can fear not reign when death and pain surround us, when our prayers seem to fall unheard? Where is God in all of this—and what is He even thinking when He tells us not to fear?
The Bible says God protects, heals, and restores, but I see death, and cancer, and war. I see broken relationships and broken hearts. I see these Hebrew exiles slung into a furnace. It seems the pagan king has won.
Or maybe I’m not seeing the end of the story. Maybe right now, like these condemned men, all we can see is fire. But soon, like them, we’ll see that not only is God aware of our fiery trial—He’s right there in it with us. And one day, sin and death and unfathomable pain, like that pagan king, will bow their knees to the One who has never left us to face our fears alone.
Whether we’re treading water in anxiety or drowning in our worst fears, we must remind ourselves of where He is: with us. Always. We can and should repeat truths of His sovereignty and goodness but clinging to His ever-present help in times of trouble gives us an antidote to fear. His presence with us is the difference between incineration and walking around unsinged, alive and untainted by smoke.
WHO AM I?
I’ll tell you who I’m not: one who’s in control of everything. Isn’t that often what causes anxiety and fear: our lack of control? We can’t make that company hire us. We can’t kill those cancer cells with positive thinking. And as I was reminded very clearly in that emergency room, I can’t give my child breath—I’ve never given him a single one of the thousand breaths he’s taken in his young life.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew this, too. The only person seemingly in control of their situation was a volatile murderer, riddled with pride and driven by rage. But did you notice those five words these men uttered, hinting at something just as true? “Our God whom we serve.” This is an identity statement. They knew who they were: servants of the living God, part of His chosen people. And because of Jesus, we who follow Him can claim the same. We can serve Him in the midst of our fear because we are children of the living God, welcomed into His family because of our older Brother’s sacrifice.
I’m His child. You’re His child. Can we actually grasp that? It’s only since becoming a mother that I’ve been able to understand a fraction of such love, and it has changed my view of God—and myself. If my fear leads me to believe God is indifferent, I only have to think about my own finite love for my kids and it destroys that lie quicker than those kids can destroy a PB&J sandwich. And when He Himself shows up in the middle of my nightmare, that glorious entwining of His sovereignty, goodness and love can be a testimony to those who do not call Him Lord. Like King Nebuchadnezzar said, astonished as he stared at the three very alive men, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego … !”
A CALL TO FOLLOW
In the garden of Gethsemane the night before He died, Jesus faced His greatest agony. Soon He would bear the sin of the entire world, and His beloved Father would turn away. Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39a, ESV), but the answer was no. And we are rescued because of it. What mercy is ours, what triumph, what eternal joy, because God’s answer to Jesus’ plea was no, and Jesus willingly went through with it anyway. Does anyone understand unimaginable pain better than He does? Does anyone know better than Jesus what it means to trust God in that pain?
What is Christ’s encouragement to us, then, as we battle fear and worry this side of heaven? When He says, “Do not fear,” He’s bidding us to follow Him into the rock-solid truth of His providence and care. Even if our worst fear happens, not only will He be there in the midst of it, He will one day bring us safely to His Father’s house, where He is even now preparing a place. And who knows: our faithful, trusting response to hardship might crack open gospel truth for others like the splitting of a geode, revealing its hidden beauty.
Fear cannot burn if something else burns in its place. My prayer is that we will let trust ignite our hearts, fueled by the truth of His character. If fear is a dark cage, His inexhaustible love for us is a sun-drenched field. And He’s there, running ahead of us. Let’s run after Him, laying down our fear and taking up trust, our steps light with courage for what lies ahead.