When I Am Afraid: Denial or Peace?

Woman trusting not in denial in peace

Are you in denial? It doesn’t seem like you’re taking this seriously. Do you realize what’s going on?

Actually, I don’t know for sure what’s going on. I do know that surgery is scheduled and that the doctor expects it will explain the seriousness and cause of this pain.

There are moments when waves of “worst-case scenarios” and “ugly what-if’s” wash over me. But mostly, without the barrage of second-guessers wondering if I’m being too cavalier or “trusting,” there’s peace.

Only Two Choices

When I am afraid,
    I put my trust in you.

That is Psalm 56 verse 3. Notice, the verse doesn’t say, “I’m never afraid because I trust in you.” It says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” David was not in denial. He wrote the Psalm “when the Philistines captured him in Gath.” That colorful episode is recorded in 1 Samuel 21:10-15. In enemy hands, David was alone, desperate, and afraid. And he put his trust in God.

I put my trust in you means we choose to trust. We choose to stand on the promises of God. But that doesn’t mean we don’t fear. In his comments on Psalm 56, C.H. Spurgeon observed, “He feared, but that fear did not fill the whole area of his mind, for he adds, ‘I will trust in thee.’ David chose trust when he was afraid. We must choose trust when we are afraid.

Because, as Elisabeth Elliot explained, there are really only two choices: You either trust God, or you don’t trust God.

There are really only two choices. You either trust God, or you don’t trust God.

Elisabeth Elliot

Something More Important Than Fear

Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” Taking God at his word is more important than fear.

In Matthew 24 verse 6, Jesus said, You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. Don’t be alarmed, He said. Fear not, he said. Our Lord Jesus Christ said that a lot.

This is either the statement of a madman or of the being who has power to put some thing into a man and keep him free from panic, even in the midst of the awful terror of war…Our Lord teaches us to look things full in the face. He says – “when you hear of wars, don’t be scared.“ It is the most natural thing in the world to be scared, and the clearest evidence that God‘s grace is at work in our hearts is when we do not get into panics.”

Oswald Chambers, Shadow of an Agony

I’m not in denial, but I’m also not immune from “panics.” By grace, I want to “look things full in face.”

Can God Really Fulfill His Word?

Years ago, I heard Elisabeth Elliot in an old recording that struck me. I transcribed portions, and have returned to it these past few weeks when I wondered about repression and denial.

Shortly after her husband Jim was murdered, Elisabeth received a concerned letter from her mother-in-law. It said,

She was very much afraid that I was repressing my feelings, that it wasn’t normal the way I was reacting and just carrying on that I was just trying to be busy and maybe I was burying myself in my work. And she said, “Eventually you’re going to crack.”

Well then, all of a sudden my peace disappeared, and I began to say, “Is she right? Is there really no such thing as the peace that passes understanding? Can God really fulfill His Word?

I kept going back again and again to the promises that God had given me, and I had to write them there in my journal day after day. God was giving me promises which enabled me to get through.

Was Elisabeth in denial? Am I in denial?

I think not. I think it’s called trust.

Did He Not Promise?

Did He not promise that He will keep in perfect peace whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in Him (Isaiah 26:3)?

And did He not promise that the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds when with thanks we make our requests known to Him (Philippians 4:7)?

Did He not promise great peace have they who love his law (Psalm 119:165)?

Is there steadfast men who have no fear of bad news (Psalm 112:7), and a strong women who can laugh at the days to come (Proverbs 31:25)—not because they’re in denial or never afraid, but because they trust in God?

So no, just because we’re not in a perpetual panicky hot mess, even when we are afraid, it doesn’t mean we’re in denial.

It might just mean that God‘s promises are true. The peace that passes all understanding is a real thing.

Do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Anxiety Relief: Give Peace A Chance

Woman praying for peace, no anxiety
Rather listen to this post? Check out the Keep On podcast here.

It has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried. G.K. Chesterton wrote that about “the Christian ideal.” But it’s just as true of Paul’s treatment for anxiety.

In other words, we can be freed from anxiety. Moment by moment, hour by hour, if we are willing to exert and apply and fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12), we can live in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3).

But you don’t get me, Abigail. I have serious anxiety. I’m a worrier. It’s in my DNA.

Exactly. I am writing to you. Paul has written to you. His Philippians 4 treatment is just what we need.

I Was A Worrier Too

The tendency to worry and fret is deep in me. In seventh grade, social anxiety was so crippling that I missed my best friend Jill’s birthday party. Junior high upset my stomach so much I tucked a Ziplock in my backpack for fear I’d be sick on the bus.

I’m not immune.

If anyone has cause for worry, I have more. Circumstanced to breaking point, of the people of Worriers, of the tribe of Wustmann; in regard to personality, a Type-A; as for plans, lists overflowing; as for hyper-sensitivity to hurt feelings, faultless.

But whatever was cause for worry, I’m learning to count as fuel for faith.

What I wrote that hard times preparing me to “race with horses” is more true now than when I wrote it months ago. Stressors are ramping up not gearing down.

I share this to gain credibility not sympathy. Because I want you to know that I’ve got lots at home that could make me a nervous wreck. I’ve drawn this out so you believe me when I say that you can be free from anxiety. Paul’s peace pill works.

And we’d do well to take it.

Just A Little Worry? Or Infidelity?

Because when we are worrying, we are not trusting, Corrie ten Boom wrote.

Because, it is not only wrong to worry, Oswald Chambers said, it is infidelity, because worrying means that we do not think that God can look after the practical details of our lives.

The prescription for our anxious hearts is found in Philippians chapter 4.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

NIV, bolding mine

I know this treatment works.

An Effective Prescription For Peace

Here are three reasons I know.

  1. Because God never lies (Titus 1:2). He promised his peace will replace our anxiety if we take the Philippians 4 treatment.
  2. Because what Christ commands, he also gives. His command is, “Be anxious for nothing,” and Jesus offers his peace (John 14:27).
  3. Because I’ve experienced the cure. When an angry barrage came at 11 pm last night, I took the treatment and fell fast asleep.

Here’s how it looked today. A loved one made an unwise choice that will likely crimp his future and impact ours, a pang of fear shot through. My insides twisted from chest to waist. Then I took Paul’s peace pill.

Lord God, please take my worry. I give it to you. Thank you that you’re way ahead of us, working a solution before I even saw the problem.

Then I did part two: the “think on these things” part. I called to mind true, right, lovely things. As I did, peace trumped. It pushed out anxiety.

I won’t lie. I had to do it again and again this afternoon. But each time I did, it worked.

Effective anxiety treatment is within your reach. You can be an A-Thrower, too.

Insist Upon Thinking

But peace requires right thinking—thinking the way God calls us to think on the things God calls us to think. That is how the peace of God calms our anxious hearts.

In his message on Matthew 6:25-34, where Jesus gave 8 reasons not to be anxious, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones zoomed in on reasons #2 and #4, “Look at the birds,” and “Consider the lilies.”

Faith, according to our Lord’s teaching in this paragraph, is primarily thinking. And the whole trouble with a man of little faith is that he does not think. He allows circumstances to bludgeon him. That is the real difficulty in life, life comes to us with a club in its hand and strikes us upon the head, and we become incapable of thought, helpless and defeated.

The way to avoid that, according to our Lord, is to think. We must spend more time in studying our Lord’s lessons, in observation and deduction. Look at the birds, think about them, and draw your deductions. Look at the grass, look at the lilies of the field, consider them.

The trouble with most people, however, is that they will not. Instead of doing this, they sit down and ask: ‘What is going to happen to me? What can I do?’. That is the absence of thought, it is surrender, it is defeat. Our Lord here is urging us to think and to think in a Christian manner, and that is the very essence of faith.

Faith, if you like, can be defined like this: it is a man insisting upon thinking when everything seems determined to bludgeon and knock him down in an intellectual sense. The trouble with the person of little faith is that instead of controlling his own thought, his thought is being controlled by something else – and he goes round and round in circles – that is the essence of worry, that is not thought, that is the absence of thought, the failure to think.

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount

We must not allow circumstances to bludgeon us. We must think. This is faith.

Oh, dear Lord, increase our faith (Luke 17:5).

A Lot To Worry About

Because there’s a whole lot we could worry about. We could worry about Putin, the Ukraine, and the U.S. for three. We could worry about unhealthy choices our loved ones are making. There’s always fear of being misunderstood, mistreated or mistaken.

But by now you know, there is a way out of worry. But it’s not an easy way. Peacemaking is not passive, and rarely comes free. One gave all and all, who-would-be-anxious-for-nothing, must give something.  

Peacemaking is not passive, and rarely comes free.

Peace with God came through Jesus Christ’s death on a cross. Christ gave himself up for us.

Peace within also comes at a cost. We must offer something up to God. 

Anxiety Can’t Coexist With Thanksgiving

Back to Philippians 4 verses 6 and 7, Do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Did you see it? We offer up our prayers, with what Psalm 116:17 calls, “a sacrifice of thanksgiving.” Then, when human reason cannot figure how this can work out well, the peace of God glides in.

It guards us from the dread enemy of anxiety that would kill joy and steal peace. 

Note, some anxieties can resist everything except thanksgiving. English preacher J.H. Jowett explains,

When thanksgiving begins, anxieties melt away like icebergs in tropical seas. The life that is ungrateful is very cold and icebergs abound. Let us raise the temperature and we shall be amazed at the results. A really thankful heart is so crowded with the sense of God’s mercies that it can offer no hospitality to worry and care.

This too, I know from experience. When I turn up the heat with thanksgiving, my worry melts away. Thanksgiving trumps anxiety. I simply cannot be anxious and thankful at the same moment. I can’t ride two horses with one heinie. Remember, even if you don’t feel thankful, youcan give thanks.

Because that’s how contentment comes. That’s the cost for inner peace.

But there’s more, in Philippians 4 verses 8 and 9. We’ve got to think on good things, true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable things. (I made this printable to help us do just that!) Then we’ve got to practice good things. When we do, Paul makes the promise: The God of peace will be with you. 

Does the dread enemy of anxiety really stand a chance when the peace of God Almighty guards our hearts and the God of peace is with us? 

Why Don’t We Take Peace Pill?

So why don’t we pay the price for worry-free?

First, maybe feeling anxious makes us feel like we’ve got a horse in the race. Corrie ten Boom said, “We imagine that a little anxiety and worry are indications of how wise we are. We think we see the dangers of life clearly.” As if our worry could change the outcome, as if anxiety makes us boss.

But the other reason is real, at least to me. It’s not one and done. The anxiety-peace trade must be made again and again. I may have to pray my anxious thoughts to God with thanks 20 times an hour.

Anxiety comes easy. Peace takes work.

But we block of the power of God’s promises (2 Peter 1:3-4) when we erect clinical barriers around anxiety. We make our troubles untouchable.

David must have faced anxiety when he was behind enemy walls, seized by hostile Philistines. A thousand years before Dr. Paul wrote the anxiety script, David took the peace pill and penned Psalm 56.

Keep on trusting, keep on thanking, keep on thinking. Give peace a chance.

When I am afraid,
    I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
    In God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can man do to me?

Psalm 56:3-4

Postscript:

  1. Some of you are still shaking your head. “You don’t understand. My anxiety is way beyond what you know.” To you I say, “Maybe it is. But please go to God (Hebrews 4:16). He knows.” Relief from anxiety may involve more than the Philippians 4 script, but it will not require less.
  2. If you have 7 minutes, you might enjoy this Ask Pastor John podcast, “Anxiety: Sin, Disorder or Both?” It helped me.