Fearing less when there’s more to lose

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety upon him because he cares for you.”

1 Peter 5:6-7

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you

In God, whose word I praise-

in God I trust and am not afraid.

What can mere mortals do to me?”

Psalm 56:3-4

I vividly remember gripping a smooth stone while being wheeled into the operating room for an unplanned C-section. My baby’s oxygen was compromised and I was shaking uncontrollably from a large dose of adrenaline and painkillers, groggily attempting to explain to the nurses why I needed to take a rock into the operating room.  “It’s my David stone, like David-and-Goliath,” I told them, “and I use it to remind me to how to conquer my fear.”  They let me hold it the whole time, bless them.    

Leaving the hospital and entering a pandemic served as a painful reminder that fear is not limited to the operating room.  Life is so precious and so fragile.  COVID-19 reveals that even we who live insulated by wealth and comfort have no lasting power over life and death.  Bringing a baby into the world under these circumstances has made it starkly clear to me how much I have to lose.  Sometimes more blessing means more risk; my heart now lives outside of me with my husband and child, and I cannot bear thinking about them suffering.  I should be an anxious mess right now, but I’m not.  God is teaching me courage like never before, and I’m excited to share it with you.

Lots of unbiblical messages are cropping up now about how to deal with fear.  Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, paste on a smile, march doggedly forward.  Distract yourself by counting your blessings, staying cheerful, serving others.  Valuable in their place, but really?  Imagine a wrestling match: You and Your Efforts vs. Global Pandemic.  Are you going to last two seconds by smiling and counting your blessings? No. Even if the whole world worked in cheerful unity to conquer the virus, we would still suffer losses.  Don’t misunderstand me; the Christian life does require an unrelenting attitude of thankfulness and servanthood, but these cannot stand alone against fear.  They aren’t meant to.  To conquer big fear, you need a bigger opponent.

Humanity has been battling fear since long before a global pandemic and economic collapse.  Our current chaos brings to light how we deal with our fear.  Some ignore it or rail against it (consider the photos of packed beaches on Memorial Day), some take it out on others (consider increased cases of domestic violence), some internalize it (consider the huge upswing in cases of depression and anxiety).  I’ve been trying to figure out how to deal with my own fears since losing our first baby last year.  The event preyed on my deepest fear, which is saying goodbye to those I love.  I thought a healthy pregnancy and birth would ease the anxiety, but then I realized that someday my son will become a toddler, a teenager, an adult, an old man far beyond of my protective abilities.  The truth is, pandemic or no pandemic, life never guarantees us tomorrow.  The only guarantee it offers us is goodbye.  Even if my son and all my loved ones live out a long, full life and die comfortably in their sleep at 100 years of age, we still have to say an earthly goodbye.  We all have to say goodbye.  How, I asked, can I live without fear in that reality?

I hope that you are enCOURAGEd as I share with you what God is teaching me response to that question.

It has to do with the “David Stone”.  1 Samuel 17 records that as a kid, David picked up a slingshot and a couple rocks and charged an armor-clad giant.  David was appalled that the Philistine giant was getting away with insulting God and defying God’s armies.  He knew someone had to challenge Goliath and volunteered without hesitation.  Many of you know about the amazing war hero, poet, and king David went on to become.  I am hard pressed to think of a more fearless Old Testament hero.  Lots of David and Goliath sermons focus on how great and fearless David was, like his bravery was all his doing and if we could only be more like David, we could have victory, too.  But this same war hero wrote in Psalm 56:3, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”  When, not if.  Before we conquer fear, we must acknowledge that fear is a non-negotiable, even for someone like David.  The key is not to avoid fear, but to meet it head-on by putting our trust in God.  Easy to say, but how to live it out? I find David’s strategy in 1 Samuel 17 helpful:

In order to conquer the giant, David

1. Acknowledged that the battle was not about him,

2. Focused on God’s faithfulness

3. Put on the right armor, and

4. Ran toward the opponent. 

One: Fearlessness begins with humility

While visiting the site of this battle in Israel, my husband was struck by the smallness and close spacing of the hills on which each army would have camped. When Goliath stepped out to defy Israel’s army, David must have seen his hugeness and his muscles and his armor.  But David made no comment on them, instead asking, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26).  David called attention not to Goliath’s obvious physical dominance, but to the key fact that Goliath did not belong to God’s covenant people (“uncircumcised Philistine”) and had no right to insult God by attacking His covenant people.  David recognized that God’s reputation was on the line, and that was much more important than the reputation of the individual fighters. 

Two: God never fails His people

David did not charge Goliath blindly hoping that God would miraculously “show up”.  Instead, David called to mind previous rescues God had performed on his behalf and based his current faith rationally on evidence of God’s faithfulness.  After King Saul picked his jaw up off the floor at the audacity of this young shepherd volunteering to face the giant, he stated the obvious: “You are not able…” (v. 33)  He was right!  David was no match for Goliath, but God was more than a match, as David reminded Saul: “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine” (v. 37).  I wonder if this convinced Saul because it reminded him that God had done so much more than conquer a lion and a bear. God has a perfect track record of coming through for His people, even if His means are unexpected.  The Bible and all of history are full of stories of His unexpected salvation.  Plagues of locusts and frogs, the sea standing up, unidentified food magically appearing and reappearing on the desert floor, a prostitute willing to lie to protect two strangers, a hungry fish on the way to Nineveh, a talking donkey…if you read your Bible, I’m sure your head is filling with endless examples of unexpected rescue stories, especially that of a humble carpenter with fire in his eyes.

Three: The right outfit counts

I’m not great at fashion, but I know there are times when the right outfit counts. Saul tried to dress David in protective armor, and I think it’s important to note that David didn’t just refuse it point-blank.  He tested it out for a minute because, well, he wasn’t stupid.  He knew the risk he was taking.  But ultimately, he had to go with what he knew: (1) a sling and five smooth stones, and (2) God’s protection.  This is the author of Psalm 139:5: “You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.”  He didn’t have Ephesians 6 to call to mind, but he lived it: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.   Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6: 11-13). 

Four: Full speed ahead

Armed with God’s protection and power, David ran toward his opponent: “As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him” (1 Samuel 17:48).  No creeping, no cautious strategizing, no hesitation.  It’s incredible!  But let’s give the glory where it’s due- there would have been no victory if David had thought HE was the incredible one qualified to fight Goliath, and no story if he had cowered in fear with all the other Israelites because he knew he was too weak to fight Goliath.  Remember the wrestling metaphor?  David had the courage to confront the enemy because he knew that “David vs. Goliath” was actually “THE LIVING GOD vs. Goliath”. 

It’s true for every enemy that confronts us, especially fear.  “Emily vs. Fear” is hopeless, but “THE LIVING GOD vs. Fear”…there’s no contest.  Jesus took care of my fear of goodbyes when he made everlasting life a reality for me. My only job is to remember that. That’s why I carry a “David Stone” to my scariest challenges.  It reminds me that any situation I face is not ultimately about me; it’s about God’s love for his people and zeal to protect his holy reputation.  God never fails to protect his beloved people and holy reputation- even if he uses unexpected means.