One of the defining marks of Christianity is hope—we know that no matter what happens, we always have hope in Christ, hope in the coming of His Kingdom, hope that in time He will make things right. But this doesn’t quite get rid of our worry—and sometimes, it seems we have a lot of it. We worry that we’ll get stuck in our entry-level job forever. We worry that we’ll grow up the make the same mistakes our parents did. We worry that we’ll lose the ones we love most.
How do we deal with worry and fear? And is there a place for it in our faith?
We’re not alone in our questioning. The disciples, who walked with Jesus and witnessed great miracles in His presence, had the same concerns. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus speaks to those gathered—His disciples included—these words of comfort: “Do not worry about your life … can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
It is incredibly reassuring to know that the God who created everything loves us, protects us and wants only the best for us. He only wants good things for us. Yet, the reality of living in a broken world, where His Kingdom has not yet returned, is that we will experience pain. Our fears, sometimes, will come true. We know this from experience. We know this deeply. So we worry.
Worry blinds us to reality, and deafens us to God’s voice.
Perhaps part of the reason for this is that we struggle as we fight our way through the battles of this world, our eyes aren’t normally fixed on Jesus. We do look his direction more than we used to, but far more often our eyes are fixed on the crises before us. They have a way of arresting our attention.
A few years ago I was fighting a battle for my dream. Only God knows the number of prayers that have gone up for the dream to be a reality; it feels like the number of stars in the heavens. One morning I received a turn of bad news and immediately went to prayer. But I did not feel confident and assured; I certainly did not feel triumphant. I wasn’t expecting a cloud the size of a man’s fist rising from the sea. I felt discouraged and distressed—my gaze was fixed on the loss of that dream and suffering, not upon the resources of the living God. If we don’t stare at God, we’ll spend our time staring at lesser things. Namely, ourselves. And what a difference it makes.
There is a beautiful scene in the third of the Hobbit trilogy of films, The Battle of the Five Armies. The dwarves (and Bilbo) have in fact awakened the dragon Smaug from his slumbers; the beast is enraged that anyone would dare challenge his stolen kingdom. Lashing out with indiscriminate vengeance, Smaug swoops down upon the unsuspecting village of Lake-town, breathing fire and death with every pass. In moments the wooden township is engulfed in flames. One man dares to rise against him—the bowman Bard.
Smaug detects the movement, and while the inferno that was once Lake-town rages all ’round him, the scaled malice turns his full attention on the two figures in the tower . . .
“Is that your child?” You cannot save him from the fire . . . he will burn!
Tell me, wretch, how now do you challenge me? You have nothing left but your death.”
Bain turns to look at the advancing monster. Then, a calm and reassuring voice says . . .“Bain! Look at me—you look at me.”
The boy turns his gaze from the nightmare to his father’s loving face, and my heart sees myself in him, sees the answer to all my fears.
We learn by following Jesus. So many time Jesus, would look up to heaven to fix his attention on his Father’s loving face. He is orienting himself to what is most true in the world—not the impossibly inadequate resources for the need of the five thousand, not the sister’s grief (they were his dear friends), not even the finality of death sealed with a stone rolled over the tomb. He turns his gaze from all that “evidence” and fixes it upon his Father God and the resources of his kingdom.
We know that faith plays a critical role in effective praying—maybe the critical role—and so we feel that somehow we have to generate faith. That never works, nor does it help to try and generate feelings of faith. We must look from the debris to God. Peter looks at Christ, and he can walk on the water; he looks at the waves, and he goes down.
When you feel anxious, pray. Just start there—think of all the things you love in this world. And then remind yourself that the God you are praying to is the one who made them all. You are talking to an immensely powerful, creative, generous, and intimate Person when you talk to God: “With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it” (Jer. 27: 5).
Power is not an issue with God. His resources are unlimited. Is this the Person you have in mind as you pray? You must turn your gaze in the direction of God, or something that reminds you just who he is.
I also need to remind myself that God reigns.
PS: If God hasn’t answered your prayer yet, do not assume he can’t or won’t. Don’t give up. Take the waiting as an invitation to come further up and further in to Him.