No Fear Here!
How Being Alive in Christ Today
Can Free You From Anxieties About Tomorrow
A ChristNow.com Guest Blog Post
by Dr. Jeff Ebert
Happy New Year, everyone! It’s 2020! We’re a few days into it and so far, so good. No major catastrophes thus far. But what lies ahead? That’s the problem, right? We’re wondering and worrying about what lies ahead because we know by experience that tough things are coming.
That’s life! Life is a series of problems mingled with accomplishments, and we hope the joys will outweigh the sorrows. How do we get ready for that? Since we know there will be rough roads ahead, how can we be spiritually proactive and prepare for the tough stuff beforehand so that we’re ready to respond in the best way possible?
I think that’s why some folks make New Year’s resolutions—as a way of tackling some of the key issues in their lives ahead of time concerning health, relationships, finances, fitness, and so on. Make a goal and move toward it. That’s a positive thing.
My Own Number One Heart Issue
So, a couple months ago, I asked myself: What is the number one issue for my heart that prevents me from really experiencing the abundant life that I know God wants me to have?
And that was so easy for me to answer. So easy. Anxiety.
Anxiety: Worrying about the future. Anticipating all the negatives. Getting stressed about what might happen.
In his book “Anxious for Nothing,” Max Lucado defines anxiety this way:
An edginess, a dread. A cold wind that won’t stop howling. It’s not so much a storm as the certainty that one is coming. Airplanes fall out of the sky. Bull markets go bear. Terrorists terrorize. The other shoe will drop—it’s just a matter of time. [Anxiety] is a low-grade fear [but] anxiety and fear are cousins, not twins. Fear sees a threat. Anxiety imagines one.
Did you get that? Anxiety imagines a threat. Anxiety is anticipating a negative future and feeling all the negative emotions ahead of time.
Anxiety is like meteor showers of “what ifs” that keep bouncing off your brain. Anxiety is a free-floating dread, and I know that feeling.
It usually hits me in the middle of the night. What if this happens? What if that happens? My mind gets on the hamster wheel of worry. Round and round it goes. Soon, my imagination kicks in, and then the negative possibilities seem endless. And I know you know that feeling, too.
I won’t bore you with all of the statistics, but according to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety is one of the top mental health challenges facing our culture. Over fifty million people have diagnosable anxiety disorders, including panic attacks, phobias, and other things. Stress-related illnesses cost businesses over $300 billion a year in medical bills and lost productivity. Billions of dollars are spent on prescription medications.
Anxiety is everywhere. The Institute says, and I quote, “Anxiety disorders are the number one mental health problem . . . among women and are second only to alcohol and drug abuse among men.” Their conclusion is that the United States is the most anxious nation in the world!
Can You Guess What’s the
Most Popular Bible Verse for 2019?
But you know what? I didn’t need the National Institute of Mental Health to tell me that. I figured it out another way: when I read what was announced as the most popular Bible verse for 2019.
The YouVersion Bible App is the most widely used app for people to read or listen to the Bible on their phone or tablet. They have over 400 million users worldwide and offer more than 2,000 different versions of the Bible in more than 1,350 languages. They can track what verses people search for or read the most.
And according to their data, the most popular verse in the Bible this past year was Philippians 4:6, which reads:
Don’t be anxious about anything, but in every situation,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving
present your requests to God.
Don’t be anxious about anything; instead, pray about everything. That’s the most sought-after biblical advice for the year 2019.
And what is equally amazing is that data from the Kindle ebook reader showed that the most highlighted verse of the Bible on Kindle devices in 2019 was—you guessed it—Philippians 4:6. Don’t be anxious about anything; instead, pray about everything.
Two different sources gave us exactly the same data! That should really tell us something.
What Does This Fact Tell Us?
First of all, you see that a lot of people are dealing with anxiety—it’s not just me! It’s not just you! If you struggle with anxious thoughts and worries, you are not alone. Christians and non-Christians alike struggle with the tensions and pressures that come from worrying over the “what-ifs” of life. So, you’re not a bad person if you struggle with anxiety. You’re normal. You’re absolutely normal. If you ever thought that somehow you must be the only person on planet earth who struggles with anxious thoughts, you’re not! It’s a big club!
Even the people who don’t look anxious probably are. They’re just better at hiding it. That’s often true of me. I know that with my personality, I am kind of like a duck swimming across a pond. On the surface, I can look calm and serene. No ruffled feathers. Smooth sailing. But under the surface, my little webbed feet are going a mile a minute! Right?
This is an “everybody issue.” Everyone deals with anxiety at some level. So, if you wrestle with anxiety, you are not freakishly different! You are just like the rest of us. So, that’s at least one less thing you need to worry about. (You’re welcome!)
Jesus Followers Are Not Exempt
As Christians, we have to recognize that we, too, will find ourselves wrestling with all kinds of anxieties.
Just thumb through the pages of Scripture, and you’ll see how often the people in those stories had to deal with their fears and phobias—Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, David, Esther, Mary, Peter—even Jesus. For example, in John 12, we see that Jesus, facing the imminence of the cross, confessed, “Now is my heart troubled.”
Read through Scripture, and you’ll see how often God came to his people with the message, “Don’t be afraid.” Do you know that “Fear not!” is actually the most repeated command in the Bible?
Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie wrote in his book “Facing the Future Without Fear” that there are 366 “fear nots” in the Bible, one for every day of the year, including leap year day! God doesn’t want us to go a single day without hearing his word of comfort: “Fear not!”
So, though we are like everyone else on the planet when it comes to experiencing anxiety, we also have something special. We have access to God’s grace through Christ by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to help us deal with the worries and fears that lead us toward anxiety.
If we’re going to get a handle on how to deal with our anxious thoughts, we must recognize the tools that we have from the Lord to help us—maybe not to eliminate anxiety altogether, but at least to shave it down to a manageable size so that it’s not robbing us of our joy, our happiness, our sleep, or our health.
Two Truths to Set Us Free From Our Fears
Anxiety is all mental, so that’s where we need to fight the battle—in our thoughts, in our minds. And we do that first and foremost by reminding ourselves of God’s truth. Here are two eternal truths that we should remember to better prepare us to face our fears.
(1) In Christ, we are already fully accepted by God. If you’ve given your life to Christ, then you are already declared righteous in God’s sight. Christ on the cross not only purchased forgiveness for your sin but also gave you his perfect righteousness. You are clothed—you are enveloped—by the righteousness of Christ so that when the Father looks at you now, he sees only the goodness and holiness of Christ surrounding you. And because of that, you are already accepted by him—and that’s an eternal thing.
It’s not about you holding on to Christ—no, salvation is all about Christ holding on to you. That means even in your darkest moments, when you might feel that you don’t have the strength or courage to hold on to your faith, Christ has promised to hold on to you. And nothing can break his grip.
Severe anxiety can lead people to falsely believe that they are alone or abandoned by God, or that because they are so filled with fear, they are not worthy of God’s loving care.
That’s false. No matter what happens, no matter what you are worried about, no matter how far down the worry hole you’ve fallen, nothing can take you out of God’s grace. That’s the great promise the Apostle Paul articulates in Romans 8:38-39:
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NLT, emphasis added)
Neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow. Nothing is going to separate you from the Lord. Period.
That’s what theologians call “the preservation of the saints.” Saints—that includes you. “Saints” in the Bible means the people chosen by God—those called by him. And that’s you, secured by his grace and his grace alone through Jesus Christ.
So, the first truth to tuck away in your brain is that you are fully accepted by God even with all the mess and sin in your life. Even with all your worries and fears. You are fully loved as God’s adopted child. He cherishes you and wants you to be close to him.
(2) Because of the grace of Christ, you are being made new. Being made new: This both happened to you and is happening to you—simultaneously.
You were made new the moment Christ became Lord of your life. That’s what I was just talking about. You were made new in God’s eyes through the work of Christ. You are changed because of what Christ has done, and you are continuing to change as you grow in Christ right now.
I know it’s a bit of a paradox, but you are in the ongoing process of spiritual growth by cooperating with—by working with—the Holy Spirit to become more and more like Christ.
This defines the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. It is a continuous process of change because we’ve all got a long way to go before we become like Jesus. There’s lots of room for improvement for every one of us. And how we deal with anxiety is one of those growth areas.
Wherever you are now—and it’s different for everyone—take the next step toward Christ. And since anxiety is such a huge problem area for most of us, let’s work on taking your next step toward Christ and your life in him, whatever that may be.
Again, Max Lucado observes in Anxious for Nothing:
It is not God’s will that you lead a life of perpetual anxiety. It is not his will that you face every day with dread and trepidation. He made you for more than a life of breath-stealing angst and mind-splitting worry. He has a new chapter for your life. And he is ready to write it.
Hang a Sign on Your Heart That Reads
“NO FEAR HERE!”
So, as you enter 2020, let me challenge you to begin your journey by memorizing the entire paragraph of Philippians 4:4-9.
Memorize it. Some of you maybe already have a practice of memorizing Scripture. Great! This will be easy for you. Others, I’m sure, have never memorized anything in the Bible. Well, this is a great place to start because the primary way to overcome anxiety with its fearful, future projections is to fill your mind with the truth of God’s Word, and there is no better way to do that than to memorize Scripture.
Memorize these verses so that you can instantly bring them to mind—so you can bring this weapon into the battle that is going on in your head when you start to slip over the edge into your usual pattern of worry.
You’ve got to be able to interrupt the pattern that you have going on in your mind right then that leads your thoughts toward anxiety and fearful outcomes. The best way to do that is to inject God’s positive promises into your thoughts and flip the script. Memorized Scripture is the very best tool you’ll ever have to do just that.
Say and pray this passage at least once every day. Write it out on a notecard. Stick it in your pocket or tape it to your bathroom mirror—whatever works for you. But read it, rephrase it, reflect on it, chew on it, and let its truth fill your mind!
Why don’t you read Philippians 4:4-9 out loud right here and now:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 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.
Now keep that up as many days as possible. Own it. Make it yours. Use the truth of God to combat the false fears that come your way.
Peace in Christ: The Guaranteed Outcome
What a great promise at the end: The peace of God. The peace of God is with you, in you, around you, protecting your heart and mind through and in the reigning Son of God.
Christ’s peace protects us from the onslaught of things that we could worry about.
For Christians and for non-Christians, the presence of anxiety in our lives is unavoidable. Still, it doesn’t have to become a prison. It can be replaced with FREEDOM and PEACE!
In this regard, a closer relationship with Jesus isn’t optional for us. It’s essential!
As we learn about God’s character and love and wisdom, it draws us closer to Christ. And as we grow closer to Jesus, he promises to guide us in the best way to live. Our relationship with the Lord can lead us to greater peace as he comes alongside us through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
One Other Practical Next Step
Here’s a resource I’d recommend that you get. It’s a booklet by Max Lucado entitled “Less Fret, More Faith.” It’s a very simple, short workbook that highlights some great antianxiety strategies to practice in your daily walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. It is available very inexpensively on Amazon.
Let’s pray that 2020 is the year that we grow into the person Christ wants us to be through his life-changing love—so that there will be “no fear here!”
About the Author
Dr. Jeff Ebert has been the Senior Pastor of the New Providence Presbyterian Church in New Providence, NJ, near New York City since 1999. His passion is to make Jesus Christ relevant to real life through challenging preaching and creative leadership. Jeff earned an M. Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a D. Min. from Columbia Theological Seminary. Prior to coming to New Jersey, Jeff was an associate pastor for congregations in Philadelphia and Cincinnati and also served eight years as an Area Director for Young Life. Jeff has a strong commitment to missions, and he travels internationally at least once a year. In his spare time, Jeff enjoys writing fiction and teaching Japanese martial arts. Jeff and his wife, Donna, have one son who works in Manhattan.
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