“Be anxious for nothing.” Philippians 4:6
My first church staff position was Summer Youth Director for Bluff Creek Baptist Church, a wonderful church, so rural that it’s about ten miles beyond the Great Commission. I was raised in the city, so the boys in my group loved to teach their naïve youth director about fishing, hunting, coon dogs, and the like. Leslie and I had a great summer there and still stay in touch with some of those fine folks.
I saw many things there for the first and only time, one of which was a crazy dog. Seriously, the dog was crazy. It had crazy eyes, the Kramer-type surprised-look eyes, that just screamed “don’t mess with me, I’m crazy!”
The dog, we never officially met, lived on one of the more rural roads of that rural area. Its modus operandi was to lay down beside the mailbox and watch for cars with those crazy eyes. When one would pass it would run crazily around the mailbox, making two or three laps and then lay down and watch for the next car.
That’s it. It didn’t chase the cars. It just got all worked up every time one passed. I saw this happen a couple of times with cars ahead of me. Two laps around the mailbox and then reset for me. Two more laps and wait for the next one.
I thought about that dog last week when I was talking to someone about our penchant for worrying. I’ve known some world class worriers, most of the honest ones are women. That’s not to say men don’t worry. We do. It’s just that many of us don’t admit it because it sounds womanly and weak. So instead we’re just angry and blustery. And if you want to see how fearful someone really is, watch how angry he gets.
We all worry and struggle with fear. It’s the natural result of our limited perspective. We’re not omniscient. We don’t know, and that human limitation can be terrifying and even paralyzing.
That worry/fear is common and serious is clear from how often it’s addressed in the Bible. David was full of fear, and many of his psalms either reflect his ongoing fear, his trust that God would come through for him, or gratitude that God had taken away his fear.
Jesus devoted a large portion of the Sermon on the Mount to worry. Some of the most familiar images from the Sermon are about God’s taking care of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. The final admonition from that section are to seek God first and let the day’s trouble be sufficient for the day. In other words, trust God and don’t worry.
Paul’s words from Philippians are plain, “don’t worry.” Of course, he was a man who also struggled with worry. In one of his letters he admitted to despair and feared that he lived with an imminent sentence of death (2 Cor. 1:8-9).
Trust me, fear runs though every character in the Bible about whom we know anything in depth. The plentiful passages about not worrying or not being fearful come from writers who were either struggling and trying to convince themselves that God is stronger than fear or they happened to be in a good place spiritually and emotionally and were encouraging others (such as Phil. 4:6).
This all brings me back to the crazy dog. It expended a great deal of useless energy every time a car came by. Now let’s pretend the cars equal some fearful event in the world or your life. We also tend to expend a great deal of energy every time one of those cars comes by. Can we do better than the crazy dog?
Let’s candidly admit that lots of cars will come by every day. We have many opportunities for fear and worry. In fact, our culture excels at creating and magnifying fear. This is true especially during an election season. Most political commercials are rife with fear. Sex may sell, but fear moves the needle. So we are immersed in a fear-driven culture. Those cars will come by every, single day. Lots of them. Fears about money, children, careers, health, storms, terrorism, God, Hillary/Donald, etc. Jesus said, “in the world you will have cars.” Or something like that.
But here’s the key, the cars won’t hurt you if you don’t jump out in the road. In fact, you can stay out of the road AND choose not to run around the mailbox every time one passes. You can acknowledge the cars, but you don’t have to chase them. They will pass, and burning up energy uselessly will have no effect on the car. It will simply leave you exhausted and prone to more fear. Fear will make you crazy.
Letting cars pass, doesn’t mean you don’t care. It simply means you realize you can’t control the car. There’s only room for one driver in each car, and all your efforts to grab the steering wheel are going to do little more than irritate the person who’s driving. Let it pass. It’s not your car.
Of course, the fundamental solution involves trusting God. We’re just not going to have a very satisfying life if we don’t trust God. Sometimes people get irritated when I say that, but how is that fear working for you? Fear will come, but it never comes from God. Peace comes from Him. Fear is a sign that I need to trust God.
It’s really simple, though sometimes very hard.
Often in my meditation I repeat Psalm 25:1, over and over. It’s a psalm of David, and later in the psalm he admits to troubles, distresses, and afflictions. In other words, he had not solved the fear problem. But in the first verse he expresses his hope, conviction, and commitment: “To Thee, O Lord, I lift my soul; O my God, in Thee I trust.” I need that reminder.
Dr. Terry Ellis
October 2, 2016