‘Fearfulness is not a Christian habit of mind’ (Marilynne Robinson).
Although all of us are prone to fear, in Christ we need not be content to live in fear. We serve a God who repeatedly tells us, ‘Do not fear!’ His consistent word to us is that, if we recognise who He is, and if we put our trust in His steadfast love, our hearts can find rest from agitation. Rather than anxiety, we can experience the peace of being still and resting in His care.
And yet, although we know this truth in our heads, for some reason we struggle to know it in our hearts. Day after day, we find ourselves repeating the prayer in the gospel, ‘I believe! Help my unbelief!’
This raises a question: What can we do to increase our trust in God and quiet the agitation of our hearts? Here are five suggestions.
1 – Read Psalm 136 Aloud
Truth often needs to be driven into the mind like a nail into wood. One blow will not do the trick. The power of Psalm 136 comes through the chorus, ‘His steadfast love endures forever’. The line is repeated 26 times in the Psalm. If you are like me, it’s only after 25 repetitions that I begin to get the point.
Yet, it’s not enough to read such a Psalm quietly to ourselves. There is something powerful about hearing truth spoken aloud. Therefore, if you want the Psalm to take full effect, don’t limit your intake of its message to eyes scanning mute words on a page. Lift up your voice and declare the lines as if you were Martin Luther saying, ‘Here I stand; I can do no other’. There is a grain of truth in the idea of ‘fake it until you make it’. Often it is only by professing a doctrine such as ‘His steadfast love endures forever’ that eventually the soul finds strength to embrace it.
2 – Admit Your Fearfulness to a Friend and Pray Together
One of Satan’s most effective lies is the idea, ‘I can get through this on my own’. Such a mindset is a form of solitary confinement. Rather than relief, we will find ourselves trapped in the dungeon of our own feelings and thoughts.
The best way to get out of this prison is to confess our struggle to a Christian friend. The mere act of confession will release a bit of the pressure of the heart. A problem shared is indeed a problem halved. We are not just called, but designed, to bear each other’s burdens.
Yet, don’t stop by merely airing your struggles. End with prayer. The real power of confession comes when two believers get on their knees before the Throne of Grace and suddenly find themselves in the embrace of a Loving Father.
3 – Meditate on the Hymn ‘How Firm a Foundation’
We only have indirect control over our feelings. No one can command his heart, ‘Do not fear!’ and see his worry scatter like leaves before a gust of wind. If we want to shift our emotion, a more patient technique is required.
Attention is the rudder of the heart. If we want to increase faith, or decrease fear, the most important exercise we can do is to meditate on objects that inspire faith. Generations of Christians have recognised a simple rule: The more firmly the mind is established on truth, the more freely truth channels the feelings of the heart.
Now, for fear, one helpful exercise is to meditate on the classic hymn ‘How Firm a Foundation’. The words of the hymn weave together some of the most exalted statements of divine faithfulness from Isaiah and recast these lines as a loving promise to an agitated soul.
4 – Cut Off Unnecessary Pipelines of Fear
If meditating on divine faithfulness reduces fear, meditating on the problems of the world increases fear. Christians need to realise that there is a difference between unavoidable objects of fear and avoidable objects of fear. Often spending too much time marinating in the problems of the world is a spiritual exercise in fearfulness. It’s okay to ask the question, ‘Do I have the grace needed to read the headlines today?’ God does not ask us to be up-to-date on current affairs. He does call us to abide in His love.
5 – Listen to a Sermon on the Love of God
It’s not enough to preach the gospel to ourselves each day. We need to hear the gospel from the mouth of another person. If you are struggling with fearfulness, search out good preaching as a first line of defense. Nothing cuts through the lies of Satan like the word of God exposited and applied. And don’t be resistant to listen to the same sermon more than once. A strong piece of armour is worth keeping on hand. Find a few sermons that shield your heart and put them on as often as needed.