When I am Afraid
When I Am Afraid
Christians are sometimes afraid. David confessed, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee” (Ps. 56:3). He said this when he became trapped by the Philistines in Gath. It looked bleak. At a human level, he was fearful of the outcome. He remembered God’s promise (v. 4). He poured out his heart to the Lord and recovered courage.
Many are the reasons we fear – disease, loneliness, insufficient income, the death of loved ones or friends. Who can look out upon the world in which we live and not be fearful of the Lord’s judgments and wonder to where his mighty works will lead? The wicked are making a tumult, scheming, and gnashing their teeth against the LORD and his Christ. And yet, we are told to make the Lord our fear and our dread, not man (Isa. 8:13), whose “breath is in his nostrils” and of no account whatsoever (Isa. 2:22).
What we should fear most today is that the Lord’s judgments are in the earth (Isa. 25:9). Behind all the tumult and violence, the Lord of Hosts is “making inquisition for blood” (Ps. 9:14). He is avenging the cries of his saints, past and present. God’s people have been praying for two millennia that his glory would fill the earth, the enemies of his gospel silenced, the blood of the martyrs vindicated, and his church spread throughout the earth. God has never forgotten one whisper of these prayers, and he is answering them. “The expectation of the afflicted shall not perish forever” (Ps. 9:18).
We are so weak that our first fears are often directed to our children’s future – as if the Lord will not take care of his holy seed! We fear for our own safety, forgetting that legions of angels encamp round about those who fear the Lord (Ps. 34:7; 91:11-12). Still, we are being made to feel that our lives here are precarious and that “here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Heb. 13:14). Even this sense of earthly insecurity can be a blessing, for there is no other way for us to aspire to the heavenly life than to be brought under the discipline of the cross. Thus, it is said that the “Lord shall judge his people, and God is angry with the wicked every day” (Ps. 7:11). “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). “Let us have reverence, whereby we serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28-29). God is at work purifying his people. Let us yield to him and stand in awe of him (Ps. 4:4).
What shall we do with our fears? We must turn to God’s word and trust his promises. His promises are our only support in this life – “Put no confidence in princes, nor for help on man depend” (Ps. 146:3). It is interesting that the Lord nowhere tells us to trust another person. This is not because we should be suspicious of everyone but because the Lord alone is our refuge (Ps. 9:9). The godliest men are too weak to support our faith and life in this world; unbelieving men are utter vanity. Our Savior perfectly exemplified this trust in his wilderness temptations. Alone, hungry, and tormented by the devil, he responded only with God’s word. When we are afraid, then, we must pick up the sword and shield of God’s promises. We must praise him for his promises, which are unbreakable in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). Have a few of God’s promises in the front chambers of your heart, ready to be used like a favorite jacket hanging by the door, the moment your heart turns cold with fear.
Then, set about praising God for his word (Ps. 56:4). Fear must turn back before praise. When the heart and voice are uplifted in praise to God – like Paul and Silas in the dungeon – God’s glory and power and sovereignty quench the spirit of fear. These are not simply attributes of God; they are God himself! And where his praise is, fear cannot long remain. If your child expresses fear, do not tell him, “There is nothing to be afraid of” or “there is nothing there.” God is there. He is to be feared. Tell your child to think of God’s love and mercy and power; tell him to sing; sing with him. Here is David, wondering what will become of him, and so he turns to praising God. He praises the Lord for his promises. He remembers God’s faithfulness in the past and praises him more energetically in the present. His fears are chased away by the chariots of worship. He loses his fear of men.
When David thought upon God’s promises, he turned very bold. What can dust do to overturn God’s infallible purposes? Man is flesh: corrupt, weak, full of threats, lies, schemes, and vanity. You may as well be afraid of an ant as to be afraid of another man. It is true that the “workers of iniquity,” those whom God gives freer rein to sin and plot against his people, twist and deceive (v. 5). Knowingly or unknowingly, they are led captive by Satan (2 Tim. 2:26) and thus lay traps for the righteous (v. 6). David remembered that God is on his throne. “He shall judge the world in righteousness; he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness” (Ps. 9:8). No matter how brazen God’s enemies are, they are marked men (v. 7).
I doubt David had his harp with him on this perilous journey, but sweet thoughts of God’s care make the heart harp its own melodies. The Lord knows our wanderings. None of our troubles are hidden from his watchful eye. He catches our tears in his bottle (v. 8). Our tears? Tears that we may be embarrassed to shed before men, God holds them very precious and saves them up. Our tears, like our prayers, ascend to him, and he casts them back on the earth in the form of judgments upon his enemies and deliverances to his people (Rev. 8:3-5). God also records our sorrows over the wicked in his book. When he opens his book, doom will fall upon his enemies, so let us be filling his book with our tears and petitions and praises.
Once fearing, David is now crying to the Lord (Ps. 56:9). When we are earnest about praying and seeking him, God becomes earnest about delivering – and judging, saving, and helping. If we believed this as we should, a legion of devils could not turn away from praying – certainly not our worries, laziness, and wretched unbelief. The enemies of the church turn back when the church prays. Reject the very false and dangerous hope that government will cure our present ills. Dust cannot fix itself. It may have many guns, money, impressive bureaucracies and media outlets, but it is impotent. It is a dust storm that will soon pass. God alone is our deliverer. When we believe again that he is for us in Jesus, that our Savior reigns over all things for the sake of the church, we shall cry to the Lord with a fervency unfelt in these lands for generations. A third great awakening will be the result.
Odd it is that a servant of God can be struggling with fear and yet rise above these shadowlands of doubt and fear. The ladder of faith by which we rise above them is tied together with the rungs of praise (v. 10). When we praise God for his word, when we trust God, we begin the ascent. As we climb by praying and praising and crying to the Lord, man is seen as the small creature that he is. Our diseases and sufferings, real and painful though they are, grow smaller before the growing immensity of God. Let us not make a dwarf of God by fearing man or our circumstances.
Instead, let us keep our vows. We have pledged ourselves to him, and he to us, in Baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, in all the times we have called upon his name. Little do we think that each time we pray in Jesus’ name, trusting his blood and righteousness, God has bound himself to answer us. He never forsakes those who seek him (Ps. 9:10): never. We must therefore never fear man, which is to doubt God’s faithfulness. God has delivered us more times than we know. He has preserved the church on these shores for such a time as this – that we may walk before him in the light of the living (v. 12). This is our privilege and our victory. “My defense is of God, who saves the upright in heart” (Ps. 7:10). The Holy One is in our midst. He knows our ways. He dwells with us and in our praises. What time I am afraid, I will trust in him. Trust turns to him and rests upon his promises. He then drives away our fears.