F.A.I.T.H. OR F.E.A.R.?
Yesterday I posted a short video on Facebook. I said that in times of fear and panic it is so important to keep the faith. But what does that mean? Well the first component of faith is to have the right focus. Stay focused on Christ, not on the problems and the constant overdrive of bad news. Our hearts follow what we focus on. We can feel overwhelmed, scared and even downright in panic mode if our eye is just focused on the unknown factor of what might happen tomorrow.
OK. So focus is where it starts. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says to keep our eyes focused on Jesus who will see us through the tough chapters in life (Hebrews 12:1-2). That brings me to the next letter in the F.A.I.T.H. acronym. The A stands for ABIDE.
ABIDE. It’s not a word we use a lot in English I think. We have some alternatives though that we all know. Words like to bear, suffer, endure, even tolerate. Those words we can easily relate to.
Never in the history of the world have so many people been confined to their homes for a longer period of time like today. Suddenly, people are abiding at home. They are enduring this time, wondering when it will end. Some even are driven to despair, negativity and depression, because of what’s happening.
I guess that there are different ways of abiding or bearing the stuff that we need to deal with.
Some fill their time with an endless string of watching movies, sports, games or other kind of leisure activities just to kill time.
Some fill their time with just watching the news and hoping that things will turn around soon, only to find out that there is still more bad news to come.
We respond differently in times of great uncertainty. Some may say:
“Oh well, I can do what I want. This little virus won’t catch me at all.”
”I’m pretty sure it’s not so bad…”
Yet, the prevailing sentiment for most people is one of worry and fear, which reminded me of this expression: “I tried to drown my sorrows, but my sorrows learned to swim.” We actually need to deal with fear, if not, it usually grips our hearts, minds and emotions one way or another.
So, dealing with fear is important, but that may look different for many of us. Some may go for rationalising fear. Rationalisation is a common strategy for many to push it out of their mental system. Others slide into addictive behaviour. The news in my country, Holland, reported that porn sites are being watched much more now that many are stuck at home. These are all signs that people are trying to cope, but often that ‘abiding’ isn’t very productive.There are better ways to ‘just kill the time’ today.
One thing that I hear often is that we need to stay connected. Some psychologists we see on TV already are affirming that it is good in these times of great distress to *(re)connect with family and friends more intentionally. Isolation does not mean being totally disconnected. It would drive many people completely insane to live that way. They are right to say that we need to look out for each other and some are picking up on that call.
The forced quarantine measures that are being implemented in many countries, is a frontal attack on something that is so pervasive in today’s world: it’s called busyness. We are always busy, busy, busy. To say that you are resting or just doing nothing is often seen with suspicious eyes. And now that the world came to a screeching halt, many are confronted with what is actually going on from the inside. When the busyness of life kind of disappears, what’s left?
Well, I tell you what I think. I sense that many are (finally) getting connected with their inner world ; with their inner longings, insecurities and pains. For a lot of people that is a very painful process. Many people that suddenly were let go of their jobs and are stuck with other family members at home now have to come to terms with the extremely loud voices that are screaming from the inside.
I must confess, for me personally to close down a church gathering, having to stay away from people and now only connect online, has driven me totally out of my comfort zone. In church circles we have a certain way of doing things, and now everything and everyone is being shaken to the core and suddenly it isn’t ‘business as usual’ any longer. Where do you find strength to endure?
I tell you where I find mine. Ever since I was a child, and I wasn’t a Christian until I was 17 years, I struggled with fear. As a little child I would be afraid of the dark and keep the light on until very late at night. Fear was a very gripping and paralysing factor in my life. As I grew up as a teenager (and for many that can be a very confusing and overwhelming time) the fear just changed names, but it didn’t get better. Rather, it got much worse. I struggled with self-image, self-esteem, timidity and much more. Over time I learned to cope with that stuff that would be boiling from the inside, but especially in times of extreme pressure or where I was confronted with something, fear and even panic would come like a whirlwind and completely knocked me out. Even when I became I Christian, there were at times moments that I was gripped by fear, even though I was learning that being a follower of Christ meant that we don’t need to give in to it any longer.
Fast forward years later, through episodes of depression, panic and pain, God has taught me so much about this topic. Probably more than any other topic. I might say I have a PhD in FEAR. It has enabled me to see clearer what is going on around the world. The fear that is spreading is so palpable and thick that it is freezing people up to the point that they do not know where to look for solutions.
Let me share you what God says about staying connected and in sync with Him, especially in these crazy times. I would call it HIDE and SEEK. It’s not a game! It’s seeking God and resting in Him.
One of my favourite scriptures says it like this:
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”
Psalms 91:1 ESV
Our safety is first of all in Him, and in Him alone. Many people are rushing into a myriad of strategies to sit this time out and even though it is good to plan for the future, it is often fuelled by fear, worry and anxiety.
People wonder how they can get their food supply straight and even start hoarding in a frenzy to be ahead of the game.
People worry about their portfolios, shares,pensions, bank accounts and job security and seek counsel in the many (online) advisors that will them them to do this or to do that. Now, don’t get me wrong. It is OK to prepare ahead and to invest wisely. That’s not the point. The bigger issue is the motivation behind it all. Is it fear driven or is it propelled by faith?
In Matthew 6:25-34 Jesus repeated tells us NOT to worry about what to eat, drink, what clothes to wear or even the day of tomorrow. To worry simply means to carry the weight of tomorrow and today all at once. It’s too heavy. Worry is not normal state of mind, even though many think it is.The normal state of mind is found in Christ, who, in the midst of the storm could sleep in a boat while everyone else was freaking out (Mark 4:35-41). Jesus Himself also said, just before He went to the cross to His disciples to stay connected to Him. He said it like this:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
John 15:5-7 ESV
Here Jesus compares His disciples, that means, also for those of us who want to follow Him as well, to branches. He is the source of life that is passed on to us. In this time God is still calling and wooing us to connect with Him, to abide in Him, to find shelter under Him. Perhaps you have disconnected yourself from God. Once you knew Him, but gradually the first love and excitement of being a Christian faded away. Perhaps you are looking for a place of rest, but you cannot find it as your mind is literally playing tricks and keeps you on alert mode 24/7
Whatever your situation might be, there is a way out of the fear, panic and worry.
It starts with focusing on God first before anything else and endure (abide) from a place of rest, even though there might be chaos all around you.
Soon Christians around the world are celebrating Passover. We also know it as Easter or Resurrection Sunday. It’s the greatest gift that God gave to us. The gift of New Life where we know that we are utterly loved and where there is no more place for death, shame and sickness. On this side of eternity it is true that there are still times that life can be tough. But His promises are secure. Nothing will separate us from the love that is in Jesus Christ (Romans 8).
That’s brings me to the final story for today. Passover originally started with a people that was going through extreme hard times in the land of Egypt. As they started crying out to God, God started to move and do what many would have imagined as impossible. The pain, the slavery, the hardships, the lack of perspective of a better future. It consumed the people of Israel. Yet, God showed up and brought His people out of a place of fear and pain to a place where He wanted a relationship with them. That’s what Passover is about. God protected His people while everything around them was in chaos and showed them that He is still God and able to do what only He can do.
My question to you for today is simply this: How does your abiding look like? How are you enduring these times?
Do your eyes go to the bad news that is constantly bombarding you?
Does your mind simply want to shut out everything and everyone by just occupying it with entertainment or other activities that, when out of balance, don’t bring life at all?
Abiding is not something that just happens by chance. We have to be intentional about it.
The apostle Paul said it this and here I will conclude:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
Colossians 3:1-4 ESV
Your life is very precious to God. He knows you intimately. And it gets even better. He wants you to know Him too. Abide in Him. Stay connected.