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

Don’t Be Scared: He Holds Your Hand

Uncle Kev, God holds his hand
Uncle Kevin, 8/26/60-2/19/12

Note: A version of this post appeared in February 2012, the month Uncle Kevin went home. That post—I Hold Your Hand—was the first post written for JoyfullyPressingOn.

Firm Hold

No, Mom —no! It’s very scary. I don’t want to go. Pleeeeease—nooooo!

Waterpark guests stared. Lifeguards raised their brows. I tightened my grip on the four year-old’s hand.

Gabe’s four-year old cousin and his six year-old brother couldn’t get up the stairs fast enough. So yes, by golly, Gabe would try it once.

Onward, then—his screaming and squirming matched by my firm hold.

Very Scary

You’ll love it Bud. It’s not very scary. It’s very fun.

But the boy didn’t buy it.

No, Mom. I’m too scared. The green slide is too dark and too steep and it goes outside. Pleeeease. No!”

For a split second, wavered. But then I envisaged Gabe’s goggled grinning face bursting from the chute and toward the stairway I strode, struggling boy in tow.

By the first landing, his body had stopped protesting, a couple landings ahead of his mouth. So I lowered him, but to prevent retreat, I did not relax my hold. Hand in hand, we climbed, whine-singing, “Why Mom? It’s too scary. (x2) Please don’t make me go down.”

You can sing it to the tune of “Skip to my Lou.”

Please No

One hundred-twelve steps up we hit the summit, a relentless, omniscient mom and her reluctant, scared-to-death son.

At the sight of the gaping green mouth, Gabe made one loud, last stand.

No, Mom. Please, no.

It passed and I plopped us square on the blue tube, and wrapped him tight.

You’ll be back ten more times, assured the sage teen who pushed us off.

Let’s Go

There we were. Together on our tube, sliding along through the seafoam tunnel, awash in mid-morning sun. No longer did Gabe project fear. He broadcasted joy.

And as the tube splashed into the pool, he burst with those words I hoped to hear,

That was so fun! Let’s go again.

In the course of the next hour, with help from Grandpa (2 runs), Grandma (2 runs), Aunt Charissa (1 run), Aunt Danielle (1 run) and mom (the remaining 4 runs), Gabe enjoyed not one, not two, but ten runs down the feared and dreaded, once very scary green waterslide.

Not Strong Enough

What’s your very scary?

Is it fear of that your pain or the heartache will never away? That the grief and loneliness will always stay? That your prodigal won’t come home, that you love is in vain, or even that your faith will fail?

Rest assured: Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you. (J.I. Packer, Knowing God). He will hold you fast.

From the first run down the green chute to the last breath on this green earth, the Lord takes his children by the hand and walks us through every very scary.

His Unseen Hand

This post was written in memory of my generous, joking, winking, eye-twinkling, and fearless Uncle Kevin. On Sunday, February 19th, 2012, God took hold of Uncle Kev’s hand and walked him home.

In the nearly ten years since, the truth of God’s unseen hand gripping mine means immeasurably more now than it did then. Then, I felt it as a parent clinging to a scared child and as an observer of a dear soul fading into glory.

Now, I feel it more as a fragile parent-child whose hand is gripped by the Everlasting Father. I feel it more as a servant looking to the hand of her master, waiting for mercy (Psalm 123:2). Now I know what that I only cling to him because his hand upholds me.

Speaking of holding, had he been here Uncle Kev would have held his first grandchild, little dark-haired, rosy-cheeked Ellie last month. I know there are no tears in heaven. I hope there is a beaming Grandpa Kevin amazed by the wonder of Ellie.

For I the Lord your God hold your right hand; it is I who say to you. ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’

I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD, your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. 

Isaiah 41:13-14

At the Gate of the Year: A Message for Uncertain Times

Poem is read at 3:07.

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

I think of these lines as December runs out. They’re from a king’s speech to his fearful people—people of one of the most powerful nations on earth in a time of great uncertainty and three long months at war.

More than eight decades have passed since King George delivered that message, but its truth is as needed as it was then. Because the times they are a-changin’. And the order rapidly fading and the roads rapidly changing isn’t all good.

It wasn’t so good then, either.

Peace In Troubled Times

Great Britain had entered the Second World War in September 1939. In the three months since, air-raid sirens had been ringing in their ears and tension was rising. Anxiety and fear over the New Year pressed into English hearts and minds.

King George VI was England’s reigning monarch in December 1939. As was the custom, the king addressed the nation on a BBC radio broadcast on a Christmas day when all was not calm and bright. He told the people of the only true source of peace in troubled times. King George concluded the message with the part of a poem introduced to him by his 13 year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth.

The king read the poem to encourage the English people that even during the dreadful war their future could be bright and secure.

That’s why I share it with you on the gate of this year. If your hand in His, you will walk by faith in him, your way will tread safely and rest secure—come what may.

Here’s the poem.

“At the Gate of the Year”

by Minnie Louise Haskins (1875-1957)

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.

Gate

God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.

God knows. His will is best…Our fears are premature. He will provide for all time.

For all your days and times.

Our Days Are Numbered, And That’s Good News

All of our days are numbered. They were written in his book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). Priest and missionary Henry Martyn said, You are immortal until God’s purpose for you is complete. And since God loves his children with great love, this is very good news.

So I echo the king at the gate of our year, May that Almighty hand guide and uphold us all. Amen.

Now heart, be still, and rest. For he holds our hand.

For I the Lord your God hold your right hand; it is I who say to you. ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’ I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD. Your Redeemer is on the Holy One of Israel. 

Isaiah 41:13-14

My times are in your hands.

Psalm 31:15

No Evil Shall Befall You: What Real Rescue Means

Woman with COVID-19 Mask

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
    the Most High, who is my refuge-
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
    no plague come near your tent.

Psalm 91:3-6, 9-10

President recommends Americans wear masks in public. That’s today’s headline.

Fear is at fever pitch. There were more Google searches for prayer in March than in the last 5 years that comparison data has been available. People are afraid.

Then this.

No Evil Shall Befall You

He will deliver you from the deadly pestilence. Those words from Psalm 91 sound like a perfect fit for these post- COVID days, don’t they?

People recite it as they wash their hands or “brave it” to the grocery store. Many are clinging to these verses for health—and for life. The words, for some, are like a Christian incantation, a hex on a deadly plague.

And that makes me very uneasy.

But the Psalm does say, No evil shall befall you, no plague will come near your tent.

So what does that mean? Does it mean that if I have faith, or better yet, if I have faith and wear a mask and wash my hands and self-quarantine I—and those in my tent—won’t get COVID-19?

Is that what Psalm 91 really means?

Real Fear. Right Guilt?

Faith, by cheering the heart, keeps it free from the fear which, in times of pestilence, kills more than the plague itself…

Charles H. Spurgeon, Commentary on Psalm 91:3

Abby, I’m really scared. My caregiver does not wear a mask. That’s how my friend Jean started our call. Jean is physically fragile and homebound. She paused, then added, I feel guilty for being scared because I believe in God.

Jean, about the guilt: You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from building a nest in your hair. You can’t stop the fear that tenses your gut. But you can keep fear from nesting in your head. She liked that.

May I share two things I try to do when I’m really scared? She agreed.

Here’s what I told Jean.

Reality Therapy for Real Fear

What is the worst thing that could possibly happen if my worst fear comes true? I try to ask myself that the moment fear springs up. Whether I hear a bump in the night or I feel a lump in my chest—I ask,

What is the absolute worst thing that could happen?”

Then I sit with that answer a while. And usually, Jean, if I’m honest, my worst fear is death.

But the second thing is even more important. As I sit with the worst case in my mind, I try shine God’s truth on it. It might be lyrics that buck me up, like I fear no foe with you at hand to bless Or, Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed.

Or it might be a truth like all things work for good and nothing can separate us from his love

Like, no evil shall befall you.

How can you be so sure, Miss Abigail? That’s what you’re thinking, right? Because faithful Christians will die of COVID-19. Pestilence and plague will befall us. Death will come near our tents.

They may have done everything right and may have even prayed Psalm 91 each night.

What Does “No Evil” Mean?

Not to burst your bubble, but unless Jesus returns first, you will die. I will too. We’re mortal. We must.

So what does, No evil will befall you mean? We’ve got to understand rescue the right way or we’ll be greatly shaken when good folks get sick and when we have to look death in the eye.

Charles Spurgeon ministered through a deadly cholera epidemic in London. He explained “no evil” like this:

It is impossible that any ill should happen to the man who is beloved of the Lord; the most crushing calamities can only shorten his journey and hasten him to his reward…Losses enrich him, sickness is his medicine, reproach is his honour, death is his gain. No evil in the strict sense of the word can happen to him, for everything is overruled for good.

Let that thought nest.

Because one way or another, God will deliver all his children. He will rescue us from the fangs of COVID-19 and bring us safely into his kingdom.

One way or another, in life or in death, he will.

Real Rescue

God does not say no afflictions shall befall us, but no evil. -Thomas Watson.

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. Those are among Paul’s final words. They’re at the end of the last chapter of the last book he penned in prison shortly before he died, probably by beheading at Nero’s wicked hands.

He had just mentioned Alexander the coppersmith who did him much evil and he knew his days were short. What most of us would call evil was “befalling” Paul.

Then in 2 Timothy 4:18, he writes,

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.

We must understand this to “get” what Psalm 91 means. Real evil was is that Paul’s faith would wither. Real rescue was being brought safely home to Jesus.

That is it! If we make the Lord our refuge, then fear won’t cripple us- because we know that the worst—even disease and dying—brings the best.

Because real rescue means God bringing us safely into his kingdom.

When Death Sounds the Retreat

Faith is endangered by security, but secure in the midst of danger, someone said. If there was an upside to COVID-19, this is it.

I know the Puritans paint a rosier picture of death than we’re used to. But tell me this isn’t true:

Friend, if you were prepared, death would be to you a change from a prison to a place, from sorrows to solace, from pain to pleasure, from heaviness to happiness. All your sins and sorrows would be buried in your grave and the ship of your soul…and you would arrive at a blessed and everlasting harbor. Death would sound the retreat, and call you out of the battlefield- where the bullets fly thick in your combat with the flesh, world and wicked one- to receive your crown of life.

George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and Flourishing of Faith, 1662

We are under his wings. Evil cannot touch us there!

And, if it seems to, as John Piper wrote, there must be a glorious deliverance we can’t see. What else can we conclude when we put these two Psalms together:

Psalm 44:22 – “For thy sake we are slain all day long.”
Psalm 34:19 – “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

Remember how Jesus talked to his disciples this way?

Luke 21:16 – “…some of you they will put to death.”
Luke 21:18 – “But not a hair of your head will perish.”

Jesus doesn’t tell lies and he doesn’t speak out of both sides of his mouth. He speaks truth. He is the truth.

So Jean, this all means that you might—I might—get infected with COVID-19 and Psalm 91 is still true.

No evil will befall you.

What is our hope in life and death?
Christ alone, Christ alone
What is our only confidence?
That our souls to him belong
Who holds our days within his hand?
What comes, apart from his command?
And what will keep us to the end?
The love of Christ, in which we stand

Christ Our Hope in Life and Death

Words and Music by Keith Getty, Matt Boswell, Jordan Kauflin, Matt Merker, Matt Papa

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39