Tuesday, July 1, 2014

“Whenever I’m afraid, I will trust in [God]” ~ Psalm 56:3

Don't be fooled, my faith is not perfect. I give in to fear far too easily. My first instinct is to worry and not to trust. I struggle with having faith and believing that God is in control. Again and again, I feel afraid and I get so wrapped up in my worry and fears. It's a pattern - one that I'm aware of and it has been a part of my life for far longer than I'd like to admit.

One of the first studies of Scripture I can remember doing was in regard to mentions of fear and being afraid. You'd think this was a lesson I would have learned by now. I know what I should do, but I keep falling into the same old fear even though I know the truth.

“Don’t be afraid, for you are very precious to God.
Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!”
~ Daniel 10:19a
“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.’”
~ Isaiah 41:13
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
~ John 14:27
“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?”
~ Psalm 27:1

As a child, I was afraid of the dark. My parents gave me a nightlight and a small picture of Jesus to remind me that He was always with me. They would pray with me each night, and if I ever woke up with fears or bad dreams, they would always pray and remind me that Jesus was always there. I'm still sometimes afraid of the dark, and while I do still sleep with a nightlight on, I no longer have the small picture of Jesus. But I often spend time praying when I can't sleep and that usually calms me enough to fall asleep.

When I went on my summer mission trips, I had a lot of fear. Fear of the unknown - I barely knew my 20 team mates, I had never been to the places we were headed, I hardly knew what to expect, and I had never been away from home so long (8 weeks!). Arrival at training camp brought new fears - we lived in tents in a cornfield and were daily affected by the weather, including tornados with strong winds and rain. I struggled so much especially at night when I wasn't busy with all the new things being thrown at us all day - I worried about the storms, about the dark, about so many things. Crying myself to sleep each night became routine. But we were encouraged to study the Bible and find verses for three issues we struggled with - fear was at the top of my list!

“When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”
~ Proverbs 3:24
“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for You alone,
O LORD, will keep me safe.”
~ Psalm 4:8

While I wouldn't say that I immediately felt better, memorizing these verses definitely helped to calm my fears. As time passed, I developed friendships, I felt more at ease and I began to see a whole new way of depending on God. At home life was easier, it was comfortable and routine and trusting God wasn't that difficult most of the time. But during that summer, everything was different - I had new people and places and experiences to deal with. I didn't have my parents, my friends or my church to depend on - I had to depend solely on God. It was a HARD lesson, but so important for my growth in my relationship with God.

“Fear not for I am with you be not dismayed. For I am your God, I will strengthen you.
I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
~ Isaiah 41:10
“The LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
~ Joshua 1:9

That summer was the hardest and best experience of my life. I learned so many things about God and my faith and myself and it has impacted my life in more ways than can be explained. The past year or so of my life has been a new and challenging experience that will continue to impact my journey for many years to come. I had a lot of fear - admittedly I still have some fear. Fear of what people may think especially - people who may think I am wrong, that I handled myself badly, people who disagree with the lessons I've learned, people who can't or won't see my experience. But I'm learning that it doesn't matter what other people think - the only one who matters is God. And I know that I've been doing my best to follow His direction and leading and I have faith that there is a purpose for this experience and that He is in control.

“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring to you today…
the LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” 
~ Exodus 14:13-14

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts
and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.”
~ Philippians 4:6-7

I know this to be true...not that it's easy to do. It definitely isn't easy to not worry. It isn't easy to pray about everything. I don't always remember to thank Him for His answers. But in the times when I have put aside my worry and prayed about everything and thanked Him for His answers, I have felt His peace and it truly is like no other peace. In those moments of trust, I wonder why I struggle and try to hold on to my worry. Letting go and trusting God to be in control (which He always is, even when I feel like or imagine that He isn't! :) is the best way to live...but I know it's hard. You'd think that God would get tired of us forgetting again and again ....yet He never gets tired or angry and He never stops loving us and holding out His arms offering His peace and strength. Isn't God amazing!?!

“God does not want you to worry about tomorrow. He wants you to know that He gives you all the help you need for today, and when tomorrow comes, so will fresh help from Him.”
~ Joseph Prince
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow.
It empties today of its strength.”
~ Corrie Ten Boom

I wish that I had some easy answers or quick tips for being about to let go of fear and worry. If I did, trust me I'd share them!! It's a step-by-step, day-by-day process of placing our trust in God and believing that whatever comes, He is with us and He will never leave. And when I fail, which I always do, I just need to go once again to God and place my trust in His more than capable Hands once again - thanking Him for loving in spite of my failures.

“You wonder what to do when you feel attacked on all sides by seemingly irresistible forces, waves that cover you and want to sweep you off your feet. Sometimes those waves consist of feeling rejected, feeling forgotten, feeling misunderstood. Sometimes they consist of anger, resentment,
or even the desire for revenge, and sometimes of self-pity and self-rejection. Those waves make you feel like a powerless child abandoned by your parents. What are you to do?
Make the conscious choice to move the attention of your anxious heart away from these
waves and direct it to the One who walks on them and says,
‘It’s me. Don’t be afraid’ (Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50; John 6:20).
Keep turning your eyes to him and go on trusting that he will bring peace to your heart. Look at him and say, Lord, have mercy.’ Say it again and again, not anxiously but with confidence
that he is very close to you and will put your soul to rest.”
~ Henri Nouwen

I'm always so encouraged by Nouwen's writings as they seem to capture my heart and feelings and remind me that I'm not alone in my fears and worries. Sometimes it feels like all the bad things seem to happen and they overwhelm our fragile faith. But it all comes down to a choice (again, not an easy thing to do) - to choose to place our faith in Jesus, to give our stress and worry and fear to Him and focus our minds on the truth He reveals in His Word. Sometimes we must make this choice again and again...and sometimes all we can say is "Lord, have mercy." This reminds me of another author I've come to love - Anne Lamott - and her book Help Thanks Wow. Her essential message being there are three basic prayers - "Help," "Thanks," and "Wow." Sometimes all we can do, all we can manage...is to simply say "Help."

“Remember, tho’ we struggle against things because we are afraid of them, it is often the other way around – we get afraid because we struggle. Are you struggling, resisting? Don’t you think Our Lord says to you ‘Peace, child, peace. Relax. Let go. Underneath are the everlasting arms. Let go, I will catch you. Do you trust me so little?’”
~ C.S. Lewis

Ours fears and worries can sometimes overwhelm us. Our faith is often fragile at best, and seemingly non-existent at worst. But thankfully God is not dependent on us and His strength and His peace are stronger and bigger than our biggest fears and worries. I know that often the things I worry and stress about ultimately never occur, or end up being a much smaller deal than I imagine them to be. Sometimes, the worries and fears are bigger than the actual thing I think is the issue. But God is faithful and He is dependable and He is consistent - even when, especially when, we aren't. We can trust Him...but we have to take that leap of faith. We have to let go. We have to choose to put aside our anxious worry and fears and decide to trust Him.

I know these things aren't easy. I know I struggle with them again and again. No one is expecting perfection or the ability to someday reach a time when you no longer stress or worry or fear. But we can try. We can take it a step at a time. We can surround ourselves with God's Word. We can make a choice today to have faith. We can give ourselves grace if tomorrow we fail, and then take the opportunity to try again. It's a journey and the only thing that matters is to keep your eyes toward God. I found this prayer some time ago and I'm sorry to say I don't know who to give credit to...but I wish that I could....it's a good one and it speaks to what I shared today. I'm praying for you...and praying for me. Thank you God for loving us.

Dear God,

You have instructed me to not be anxious, worrisome, overly concerned for anything...but instead to bring everything to You in prayer and thanksgiving. If I do this, You have promised me that Your peace, which passes all understanding, shall keep my heart and mind through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7). I come to You now for myself and on behalf of my brothers and sisters in Christ, and for those who suffer so much due to anxiety and depression. I pray that You will fill us with Your peace; that You will touch our minds and remind us that we do not need to worry. You are our God and maker. You will handle it for us. Worrying does no good. May we lean into You, talk with You; spend time in Your Word and before the throne of grace. May we fellowship with other Christians, those who will encourage us, even more so as the day approaches. Right now, this day, we give You our concerns and ask that You will work out all to our good and Your glory. Thank You, Father, for loving us and carrying our burdens. Thank You, Father, for providing our needs. Thank You, Father, for Jesus Christ our Savior and the hope He has given. For it is in His name I pray, amen.

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