In my late teens and early twenties, I was plagued with sickness after sickness. Nothing serious, usually just the flu. But I would catch it often, sometimes up to four times in one year. These bouts would floor me and leave me with no energy, resulting in weeks off sick from work and, most disappointingly, forfeiting the chance to attend and serve in church.
But as the months and years went on, I began to notice a pattern: I would most often become sick around the same time I would accept ministry opportunities; opportunities to serve in my local church or help pioneer new initiatives.
Upon this realisation, I was then plagued by an even greater sickness: fear. You see, now that I had identified a pattern, I began to anticipate when I might get sick as different opportunities arose. And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.
But it all came to a head in January 2011. It was only one week into the new year; I had already been off sick from work for two weeks over the Christmas period, I had then recovered and returned to my staff role in church for just a few days when another feverish spell hit me during the Sunday morning service and I felt the energy drain out of me once more. I was due to jump up onto the stage after the first worship set to enthusiastically welcome everyone to church and to provide a rundown of the events going on in church that week but I was struggling just to stand and sing.
As I battled my predicament in my mind, God intervened. The Holy Spirit moved and the entire service shifted. The Pastor called forth people who needed healing, as the worship team continued far beyond their planned set. Shaking, I stood up from my front row seat, grateful that I did not need to walk far. With tears streaming down my face – tears of frustration and exhaustion – I shared with the Pastor’s wife what had been previously running through my head and she began to pray for me. Yes, she prayed for physical healing, but, most significantly, she prayed that the habit of fear would be broken. And her words filtered through my fear like a ray of sunshine. As we stood together praying at the front of the church, God gave me a vision of Him protecting me from the enemy and pointing to the clear path ahead.
In a matter of minutes, as the worship team played the final song in their extended set, the energy returned to my body and joy filled my heart. I leapt onto the stage to welcome everyone to church, they being entirely unaware of the miracle that had just occurred in my heart. The enemy had used my physical symptoms to distract me from the real weapon: fear. But we had identified it, called it out, and conquered it in Jesus’ name, and it was no longer an issue for me.
Fear is the modern day epidemic that is stealing our dreams and opportunities. As I observe the world around me: the rise in terror, turbulent politics, shocking media headlines, provocative posts on social media, conversations with my peers, it pains me to see the fear and anxiety that dominates humanity.
Society encourages us to worry about our own challenges, and then burdens us with further doom and gloom across all media genres. Whether it is as trivial as the number on our bathroom scales or the devastating reports of war and terror across the world, we rarely receive good news.
The media has most of us thinking that we can no longer visit big cities for fear of terrorist attacks. Or the lies and failed promises of politicians have us doubting whether we can trust anyone.
I believe we are now so immune to fear and anxiety, that we have also become blind to it’s effects on us. Our increased heart rate and restless sleep, night after night, have become acceptable parts of modern-day life.
But these external influences do not have control over how we respond to situations that seek to scare us. Anxiety is only present when we fail to trust God.
“While it looks like things are out of control, behind the scenes there is a God who has not surrendered His authority.”
We are guilty of burdening ourselves with too much responsibility, and we try to solve the world’s problems – effectively trying to adopt the role of god – when we simply need to release them back into His hands. God already has a plan, He has not given up His authority even in the midst of such atrocity, we just need to be quiet enough to listen for His instruction. (Read more here: Trust: Active or Passive?)
Fear declares that we do not trust that God is in control. It tells the world that we count our own efforts to be more effective than His. Worry is a waste of energy and time and achieves absolutely nothing.
Overcoming fear is less about us working harder or smarter to solve problems, and more about fighting in the strength that is only available at the feet of Jesus. Imagine how different our world would be if we spent the same amount of time we spend worrying, in prayer instead?
No matter how big or small the concern is that we bear, we must stop immediately when anxiety begins to swell up within us and talk it through with God. Just talk; it is not necessary to use any fancy language or even to sugar-coat your words, just tell God exactly how you are feeling. Perhaps, after the first time you share the concern, nothing changes; you still feel tense and anxious. So tell Him again. And again. And again… until peace begins to dawn in your heart. God hears you and He will respond. God loves His children and never grows sick and tired of hearing their worries and requests. He is patient with us and it pains Him to see us live in a way that is anything but peaceful.
Now, do not misunderstand me; peaceful does not mean uneventful, or even easy. We will all face challenges and difficulties, whether we follow God’s best for our life or not. But depending on God, instead of our own understanding, will bring us peace in the midst of it. He does not always immediately remove us from the trial, but He promises to be there with us in it. Living at peace is only possible when we trust God entirely, believing Him to be the answer to every prayer.
In Matthew 14:22-33, we read an account of when Jesus’ disciples found themselves on a lake during a ferocious storm. As the wind and waves tossed the boat back and forth throughout the night, Jesus approached them, walking on the water.
When they spotted Him, they were terrified and thought that He was a ghost. But He called out to them and reassured them that it was He.
“Lord, if it’s really you,” said Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, “tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”
“Yes, come.” Jesus replied.
So Peter threw one leg over the side of the boat, then the other, and gingerly stepped out onto the sea. But after a few steps, his eyes were distracted by the waves around him and he immediately began to sink.
“Lord, save me!” he cried to Jesus.
And Jesus reached down and grabbed Peter’s hand, pulling him to safely.
“Why did you doubt me?” Jesus asked him. And as they climbed back into the boat, the wind and waves ceased and there was calm.
We can commend Peter for having the faith to step out of the boat and to begin walking on the water. But after only a few steps, fear arose within him and his faith faltered. Jesus’ power had not changed, but Peter’s focus did. Only then was he overwhelmed by the circumstances around him.
Yet our peace is determined by our faith in God, not in our circumstances. We must not allow ourselves to be distracted by our ever-changing situation, but instead choose to trust the One who remains ever constant.
So take your eyes off of the challenges surrounding you today, and fix them on the One who stands with you in the midst of them. The wind and waves still respond to His voice. He will see you through safely.