Anxiety and fear are familiar to all of us, especially in these uncertain times. We all have a heightened sense of vulnerability in the face of COVID-19. We sense that we are vulnerable physically, economically and socially and that certain important aspects of our lives are threatened and may never return to normal.
Our sense of vulnerability during a threat registers on a continuum from minor concern (stuck in traffic on the way to work) to worry/anxiety (about finances or health) to more disruptive fear (manifested by obsessions and compulsions) to panic and terror. The “fear factor” increases when the strength and the likelihood of a threat increases and when that threat touches something that is important to us.
So how should we think about fear, and how can we address it in our souls in a way that brings God into the picture, quiets our noisy souls, and honors Him? We need to know something about our God and what He has said to people facing uncertainty and vulnerability.
“What Do We Know to Be True About Our God?”
When our three adult daughters were in elementary school, they would often come home from school with some problem weighing on their little minds—a relational struggle, a homework problem or a tummy ache. No matter what the issue, the usual response was one of fear and anxiety. My wife would talk them through the issue and ask them,“What do we know to be true about God?” She often reminded them of Isaiah 41:10.
Fear thou not; for I am with thee:
be not dismayed; for I am thy God:
I will strengthen thee;
yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
In this verse God is calling His people to take comfort in who He is and what He has promised to them in times of uncertainty and vulnerability.
While the Scriptures record hundreds of references to “fear not,” we shouldn’t think of most of them as scoldings (i.e., “Now, you stop fearing! Do you hear Me!”). Rather they are tender invitations for anxious people to turn their faces to their great and loving God in trust and obedience.
Think of them as the comforting admonitions a father might give a child who has just awakened from a bad dream. A loving father would come into the room, sit on the edge of the bed, hold his child, and whisper, “It’s OK, Sweetie. Daddy is right here. You don’t have to be afraid.” In most cases, the child would settle down in Dad’s arms still whimpering a bit and eventually fall back asleep. The child was comforted by Dad’s words and His presence.
Dad’s presence in the room would not be a comfort to a child, however, if Dad were known to be impatient, angry, mean-spirited, or if he came into the room shouting, “Shut up! There are people in this house who need to sleep!” Dad is a comfort only if the child knows him to be consistently caring and willing to use his greater strength for the benefit of the child.
In times of uncertainty and vulnerability, God’s words will comfort us based upon our current perspective of God. It is not enough just to know what He has said to us in troubling times and repeat a Bible verse as a distraction from the more troubling thoughts in our minds. We must also know well the One who said them for our soul to trustingly rest in them. The pattern is clear from the passage before us in Isaiah 41.
The children of Israel were facing hard, uncertain times. They were vulnerable and anxious. God writes chapters 40-66 to comfort them by reminding them of who He is and how committed He is to them as His people. He shows them that He is amazingly powerful, wise and loving toward His people. Though some promises made in these chapters apply only to Israel, the chapters reveal the disposition and character of God that is a comfort to us today.
How Can We Use the Word of God to Quiet Our Hearts During These Times?
I have the students in some of my counseling classes do an exercise that you might find profitable during these troubling times. Below are my instructions for the assignment and several example verses. Add to them from your own study.
- God in His Word points His people to aspects of His character or to His actions on behalf of His people when they face uncertainty and vulnerability. Write out the reference, text and summary for passages that you discover. The verses below have been provided as an example. Add to them from your own study.
- Psalm 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (God is ever present, and God is my Comforter in times of uncertainty and vulnerability.)
- Psalm 3:1-3 Lord, how are they increased that trouble me; many are they that rise up against me. Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah. But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. (God is my Shield and my Deliverer in times of uncertainty and vulnerability.)
- Psalms 18:6 In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God; he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears. (God listens to my cry in times of uncertainty and vulnerability.)
- God in His Word makes promises to His people when they face uncertainty and vulnerability. Write out the reference, text and summary for passages that you discover. The verses below have been provided as an example. Add to them from your own study.
- Isaiah 41:10 Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. (God promises to be with me and sustain me in times of uncertainty and vulnerability.)
- Isaiah 43:2 When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. (God promises to be with me and protect me in times of uncertainty and vulnerability.)
- James 1:12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. (God promises a crown of life if I withstand temptations that come in times of uncertainty and vulnerability.)
I have my students go through the same process for several other categories of trials that we face: (1) injustice, (2) suffering because of loss and adversity, (3) overwhelming situations, and (4) guilt, lust and temptation. These categories often overlap in our lives, but we must be asking ourselves these questions when we face any of these situations:
- Did anyone in the Bible face uncertainty and vulnerability (or any of the other categories of trials listed above)?
- What did God reveal about Himself by His words or actions when people faced uncertainty and vulnerability?
- What did God promise to them when they faced uncertainty and vulnerability?
These are times to increase our dosage of study and meditation on God’s Word! As the threat increases, so must our knowledge of, trust in, and obedience to God increase. Let’s open our Bibles and discover afresh who He is and what He has promised to anxious souls.
During these troubled times Jim Berg’s books, When Trouble Comes and God is More Than Enough: Foundations for a Quiet Soul, and his interactive discipleship program, Quieting a Noisy Soul: Overcoming Guilt, Anger, Anxiety and Despair may be especially helpful to readers.