In my home, there is a straightforward question that I try to squash like an annoying fly at an outdoor picnic. It may seem simple, but if this question is allowed to take root and grow in the hearts of my family, it can cause lasting damage. Now, the loss is not that the answer to the question is so devastating by itself, but that far more significant damage is done by allowing my family’s hearts to linger there for too long. Is your interest peaked, yet? Are you also wondering if you have allowed something into your home that could cause so much damage?
Well, here it is. I, as a father and husband, fight with to keep my family from asking the “What if” question. You know the one I am talking about:
- Your timid 4-year-old child who hears a sound, and asks, “what if there is a monster outside?”
- Your over-achieving 14-year-old is uncertainty about their grade on a test they just took, “What if I fail and then do not pass the class?”
- Your super-organized wife, who is continually checking her schedule, asks, “What if we do not get everything done before our guest come over?”
- Your quiet elderly neighbor, who hears on the news of a potential economic crisis and says, “What if they run out of money and my social security runs dry?”
- My own struggle of longing to be the perfect husband and father asking, “What if I just really mess something up?”
Now you might be asking, “Really? You seek to squash every little, “What if…” that you hear?” This seems so trivial. The plan and simple answer is, “Yes!” Wondering why? Is it because you do not want your family or neighbors to ask questions about life? Well, of course, I want others around me asking questions about life, but we need to see that the issue with, “what if…,” is that it actually creates space in the human heart for fear. Fear is the perfect fertilizer in the soil of the human heart to grow either deep trust or great anxiety.
Proverbs 4:23 tells us, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” The human heart is like a warm greenhouse that must be well guarded lest you allow the wrong things to take root and cause destruction. The heart can produce both life-stealing plants and life-giving plants, and it all depends on what you allow to grow in well-fertilized soil.
God has created the human heart with the capacity for fear, so we know that fear is not always a bad thing. Fear within the human heart is a time when there is an increased vulnerability to influence, so how we allow fear to enter our hearts is of great importance. Fear is a good thing when aligned with proper biblical wisdom. For example, you can fear the Holiness of God. This particular fear’s highest good is that it reminds us we are small and in need of Jesus. Think of the scene in Isaiah 6, where Isaiah was taking in a vision of the throne room of God. He immediately was overcome with fear and had an increased awareness of his sinfulness and complete need of forgiveness. Or imagine that moment your four-year-old heard the noise outside, and ask that question, “What if there is a monster outside?” Your child has fear beginning to settle in their heart and they are in an increased moment of vulnerability to influence. Your child will either be influenced by his thoughts of the monster or by the steady and calming words of you. Fearful moments happen so that we can train our hearts to trust in the mighty hand of God and not be influenced by the things of this world.
Right now, we are being bombarded daily by a variety of global media sources that create fear, primarily around COVID-19. As we have already seen, fear is the perfect fertilizer for either deep trust or high anxiety. Let’s talk about anxiety for just a moment, and then we will speak about how to deepen our faith in moments of fear. Friends, let me remind you that fear is not always the problem, but what you allow to grow in the soil of your heart during these times of increased influence can be.
Anxiety throughout the Bible is often expressed as a divided heart. When looking at Luke 10 in the story of Martha, Mary, and Jesus, we see a perfect example of a split heart in Martha. Jesus and his disciples have come to their home, and Martha is busy trying to play the ideal host. As she is busily serving her guest, she becomes anxious. She approaches Jesus, saying, Lord tell my sister to help me. Jesus responds to her with these words, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.” In saying this to Martha, he reveals to her her anxiousness is because her heart is divided over many things: from serving her guests well, to Mary not serving and many other things. Her heart is divided at that moment, and anxiousness has arisen deep within her heart. We see here that anxiety is the heated conflict of different expectations and loves with a human heart (a sermon we preached last year elaborates on this).
Daily we are being fed with information that will create fear. Fear creates a heart that has an increased vulnerability to influence, especially towards worldly things. Anxiety is the conflict in a heart over opposing loves and expectations. The COVID-19 season we are in is a perfect storm for people to lose all hope and move into a high season of anxiety. Yet this does not have to be the case for God’s people because we have been given everything necessary to find this to be a high season of deep trust in our mighty God. We have got to stop listening to our hearts in moments of fear by asking “What if?” questions so that we do not fan anxiety into a flame. Instead, we must begin to preach to ourselves things that are good, right, and pure — namely, the truths about who God is.
Here are three types of fears that breed high anxiety in this season and biblical truths that you can preach to yourself instead of asking the ‘what if’ questions:
- Fear the world is out of control – This is probably the most common fear in seasons like we are in today with COVID-19, where we feel like the virus has finally shown us that the world is simply out of control. It is in seasons like this where we question the power and might of God, or his goodness towards his creation. Instead of letting your heart ask all sorts of ‘what if’ questions, thereby allowing your heart to be influenced by a whole bunch of maybes. Seek to read about God’s mighty control. You can read Job 38-42 and find solid biblical truth that will lead you to deepen your trust in God, who is higher and more potent than all things. Or you can read 1 Peter 5:6-10, which says that part of casting all your anxieties on him is humbling yourself under his mighty hand, knowing this mighty hand cares for you. When the fear that the world is out of control creates a heart easily influenced within you, spend time preaching to yourself that Your God is mighty than all things. If there is just one rouge molecule on the earth, God is no longer sovereign over it. Take comfort in how the Word of God repeats time after time, “God is Sovereign! Whom then shall I fear?”
- Fear of not having enough – This is probably the second most common fear in seasons like our current one. This is when grocery store shelves look empty, and paychecks look thinner, and a whole lot of ‘what if’ questions begin to creep into our hearts primed for influence. Yet, we do not have to be consumed by the power of lack but preach to our hearts that God is a providing God. You can read Luke 12 or Matthew 6 that teach about the truth that we are not to worry about what we are to eat, drink or wear because our God knows our need. One of the great true and right things about God that we must learn during times of fear of not having enough is the idea that God is a provider of our daily needs. He never tells his people to build bigger storehouses, but to deepen their trust in him as he promises to provide our daily bread. This is an echo of the truth in the book of Numbers with the idea of manna, which God said he would give daily. Now God promises to daily provide the grace of God through the bread of life, Jesus Christ himself, so that we deepen our trust in the faithful God.
- Fear of losing things we love – This is a very personal fear because it hits all of us in different ways since we all love different things. It may be the home that you built from the ground up or the retirement that you spent your whole life accumulating. It may be your beloved pets or those in your family, which you love so dearly. The fear of losing loved ones is deep and can produce extreme seasons of anxiety. You can let your heart become overwhelmed by the potential loss of a loved one, or you can preach to yourself about the presence of God himself. Freedom from the anxiety of possible losing things you love does not result from the absence of that thought but by the presence of more significant thought. Psalm 73:23-28 shows us that the author of this psalm actually found comfort and peace in knowing that God is continual with him. Our ability to fight against fear and anxiety comes as we preach to our hearts that God is a present help because he will never leave us or forsake us.
We know that we will experience fear in our world and that during seasons of doubt, our hearts will be fertile ground for great things or high anxiety. Anxiety rises as we listen to our hearts, “What if?” questions, so instead, we must preach to ourselves the character of God in Jesus Christ. In this season of COVID-19, we must train ourselves not to allow fear or questions of “what if?” to rule our hearts, but let the God who controls all things reign supreme. May we seek God and his kingdom above all things, and the peace of God will sustain us.