How to Live Without Fear
Do not fear. It's one of the most common commands in the Bible. I've heard of devotionals that have a command not to fear and a promise for every day of the year. When God speaks, when he sends a messenger, when acts decisively in history, it's almost always accompanied with this command: do not fear. This much is pretty clear. But what does it mean not to fear?
As the coronavirus spreads, we’re all being confronted with what to do and how to live. In the last few days, “living without fear” has become a buzzword to justify holding services and to justify cancelling services, to deny the severity of the virus and to show resolve in the face of the spread. There have been lots of calls not to fear, and very little practical guidance to encourage and mobilize the Christians to meet the moment. Living without fear is proactive, faithful, trusting, patient, and courageous; realistic about our circumstances and reliant on God’s power.
Sometimes fear and faith come together. Living without fear does not mean we remain ignorant or disinterested about what’s happening. As hard as it can be, stay up to date on what's happening. If we know what's happening it equips us to react wisely and engage helpfully. Resist the addiction to outrage. Our reactions are far more important than the realities. But - let’s make sure we’re reacting to the right realities. We can't control the spread of the virus, but we can control how we react to it. Courage doesn’t mean denying reality, it means accepting reality and seeing it through God’s eyes.
Faith confronts human weakness with God's strength. At the center of the panic about the pandemic is the admission that for all of our technology and innovation, we are very weak. This is hard to admit in 2020. In a single week, sports leagues, schools, churches, concert tours, music festivals, and most of American culture has been cancelled. Some of our cultural fixtures have evaporated. The markets have crashed. The aisles at the grocery stores are empty. Most of the time, we live comfortably under the illusion that we’ve conquered nature, tamed our surroundings, and impose our will on the world. It’s circumstances like this that remind us of our limitations and fragility.
Christians have two tremendous advantages in the face of weakness. First, we’re not surprised. Our self-conceptions are not based on our own strength. If you're reading through the Old Testament, you're used to seeing God use geo-politics, the rise and fall of nations, and world changing events to accomplish his purposes in the world. Second, if you've been confessing and confronting your sin and asking God for guidance, wisdom, and strength everyday, you won't be surprised at your own inability to solve your most pressing problems. Weakness is not a surprise in the Christian life. As Paul makes clear in 2 Corinthians 11, it's an opportunity to see God's power. So we’re no strangers to weakness, and that’s going to be helpful in the days ahead.
So what should we be doing? Here are a couple of things we can do to live without fear in the coming days:
Pray for what seems impossible.
Nothing is impossible for God. Our prayers should range from asking God to miraculously halt the spread of the coronavirus worldwide in an instant to asking protection for our family members as we mention them by name. There is no limit to what we can ask God to do. It was frustrating to see the backlash to the Vice President leading the task force in prayer, but it highlights two important features of our culture. We live in a country where prayer is not just avoided but actively derided. Those who don't believe in the power of prayer mock those who would ask God to intervene. But this is nothing new. We see this aversion to God on almost every page of Scripture. It does present an opportunity. Because so many people find themselves facing an uncertain future, our prayers and our reliance on God will prove to be cool water on thirsty lips.
Make no mistake, God will answer these prayers. Pray that people will come to know Christ through our love and care for one another. Pray that people will see that we have a greater hope than this world and these bodies. He will heal, comfort, restore, and though we do not know how he will answer, we know he is listening and we know he loves us. God will do what he always does. He will show his strength, power, and love. He will glorify himself. And he will answer the prayers of his people.
Mourn with those who mourn.
I've had this thought on my mind the last few weeks - It's probably been a hundred years since pastors have faced the prospect of this much suffering and loss. Of course, things could change, but on top of the load they already carry, many pastors will be called to make hospital calls and visits, counsel those who are caring for loved ones, and do funerals for those who have died because of this virus. This is going to be a staggering task. Often it's not about knowing what to say, it's being present - even if that means being present digitally. For the immediate future, uncertainty is more pressing than suffering. Even if that changes, God's word has plenty to say about both.
Get creative and start helping
As you pray for your pastors and elders, and as they make difficult decisions about how to move forward, get creative and start helping. If you're an elder, deacon, small group leader, Sunday school teacher, or somebody who has some newly discovered time off on your hands, start thinking of ways to care for people in your church. If you have good organizational skills you're going to be essential in the next few months. Create Facebook groups to check in on people. Call some of the elderly members in your congregation. Teach them how to FaceTime if they don't know how. Build a network of people to take care of students who are moving out of campus dorms and international students who can't go home. Share resources with shut-ins. Help young families who are going to be homeschooling for the rest of the semester. Run to the grocery store for moms at home with kids. Set up a schedule to call people who are isolated. Some churches will have systems in place and some won’t. Use the gifts, talents, and resources God has given you to jump in and start helping.
Do what God has called you to do, no matter what.
This is the most crucial point. Of all the things God promises, it’s that his word and his purposes for us will never fail. We’re not promised that we won’t get sick. We’re not promised that life will go back to normal quickly. We’re not promised that we won’t be affected by things that happen in the world. We are promised that God never fails. His church will never fail. His mercy and grace never run out. He will never leave us. He is always with us.
When we say, we won’t live in fear, we need to be more specific. We don’t live in fear that anything can separate us from the love of God. No sickness, no worldwide pandemic will keep God from fulfilling his promises. And that specifically applies to each one of us. This virus may change our lives drastically. Some of us may lose loved ones in the coming months. We’re going to have a time of mourning and of uncertainty, but not one virion is out of place. Not one cell is outside the power of God.
We know that the purposes of God will never fail, but we also know that his purposes can come through suffering, pain, and events we won’t be able to explain until we see him face to face. Remember how the apostles went about their work in the early church. In the years after the resurrection believers were persecuted, there was a famine, they were shipwrecked, and through it all they did what God called them to do, sharing the gospel and making disciples. They kept proclaiming, "through many trials we must enter the kingdom of God." The most common assurance for us when we're commanded not to fear is that God will always be with us. Even after worldly setback, Acts has a refrain that was as helpful then as it is now - "and they were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit." As it was said of them, may it be said of us.
Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.