Can a Christian trust God and be fearful?
I have had a challenging few weeks, but the core of the challenge was due to my own human ability to worry and create anxiety. When I let myself become consumed with worry, I am not trusting God. How can I turn back toward him and ease my burden?
I used to think that I had a control problem; that I didn’t trust God enough because I tried to maintain control over everything. Over the years, as I’ve practiced my trust in God by relinquishing my grip on things, I see that my problem is more nuanced than I originally thought. Despite my knowledge of God’s providence and full trust in him, I still fear sometimes. Does this mean I don’t actually trust him? Can trust and fear coexist in a believing Christian?
I’m not living in fear. However, when I’m approaching an unknown future and foresee a storm or a challenging time, I start to worry. When I know I am about to go through a trial, it is like I am riding slowly to the top of a rollercoaster. I dread what I know is about to happen - the drop that sends my heart into my stomach. I don’t like roller coasters. I like easy, smooth rides that are predictable. I’m a planner, a scheduler, and a lover of routine.
But as they say, “Man makes plans and God laughs.” It’s not a maniacal, chaotic laughter. It’s the warmhearted chuckle of a father who sees his baby ferociously crawling the wrong way. He wants what’s best for us, knows how to get us there, but has given us the freedom to try to figure it out. He sees that, in the end, all things will work together for good, so he’s not concerned if we’re crawling toward something we can’t play with or are teetering, about to fall flat on our bottoms. He knows we’ll be safe and that, though we might get bumps and bruises along the way, all of our experiences will lead us toward strength and perfection in him.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” - James 1:2-4
I get confused, stray from his promises, and stumble when I let my mind, belief, and heart war inside of me. I believe, and yet I worry, calculating various possible outcomes. I know he is faithful, and yet, I fear what’s next. It’s not productive, it’s anxiety-inducing, and it steals my joy.
When I’m dreading the challenges ahead, my cognitive mind has two stories to tell. One side tells me to worry - to be anxious because my plans are about to change. Despite the fact that I never had control to begin with, I fear the loss of control and an outcome I can’t predict.
Simultaneously, the other side of my mind tells me to look at history for comfort. In my life, all outcomes, even those that seemed unfavorable at the time, have worked out for good in the end. There is evidence for his goodness and faithfulness in my life. I have seen God’s blessings unfolding over the years. Sometimes the blessings are material but, more commonly, they are lessons learned or valuable relationships. I can look back and see how each trial has turned into a blessing. Difficult seasons are easier to pass through as I age because I have hindsight giving me hope in a better future.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” - Romans 8:28
My belief in God tells me that he knows what will happen and that his outcome is what’s best for me, even if the journey is fraught with challenges. It would demonstrate distrust in God to try to fight his plan for me. The best thing to do is to try to make good choices but then submit when the road turns in an unexpected way. If I work hard to buy a beautiful home for my family, my house may burn and I may spend all of my savings rebuilding my life. But these are just material troubles that don’t compare to rewards in heaven. If I try to get pregnant and succeed, I still can’t control if I miscarry. This is a tragedy, but God has a plan for that baby and for me. In the end, even trials like those will bring blessings - whether in this life or in heaven. Knowing that God has a will and a plan for my benefit, even if it’s not the plan that I intended, should bring me comfort. At times, it does. At times, I falter.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” - Jeremiah 29:11
I falter because my heart is at war with my mind and my belief and it causes me to fear. I anticipate grief, heartache, and stress with great trepidation. My heart wants love to be easy, joy to be overflowing, and to live in comfort. I do not want to hurt. I do not want to be stretched and challenged. Though I know that trials are necessary to mature and perfect me, my fear grows. Knowing that all storms pass doesn’t always bring me hope. I still dread the storm. I can’t always see the rainbow on the other side.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” - Jeremiah 17:9
Despite the warring thoughts in my mind when my path diverges, I do know that there is only one path to peace. I have to change my perspective in order to accept this. When plans change, the road isn’t forking, with one option heading my way and the other heading God’s way. This concept is hubris and implies that my chosen path was a viable one at all. God doesn’t split the path, he turns it toward him. The best way for me to shut down the swirling thoughts in my mind, to quiet my heart, and to rely on my belief, is to remember his promises. He promises to work for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28, written above in this blog). This promise carries a singular mandate for us: to love him. He has our benefit in store when we love him.
“If you love me, keep my commands.” - John 14:21
Loving him looks like keeping his commands and obeying him. This is my sole responsibility as a Christian. So if I reduce my focus from worrying about the future to simply being obedient and loving him, he will give me the peace that I need. This should be good news! This is less burdensome than carrying the weight of worry and anxiety. This is the way of the Lord.
“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” - Matthew 11:30
You see, even though, at times, I wander from his promises and wonder what will come next, I always come back to God. This is why I believe that fear and trust can coexist in a believing Christian, though only temporarily. If I lived in fear - if it was my unrepentant lifestyle - then I would not trust in God at all. I would have no evidence in my life of believing in him. But as a flawed human, it is inevitable that I would, at times, fear. As long as my heart regularly turns back to God to rest in his providence, then I know I am saved.
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