As part of the biblical counseling series on TGC Q&A, Ed Welch answers the question, “How do I find peace in the midst of fear?” He addresses:
- Framing the question (1:04)
- The natural understanding of the command not to be afraid (2:13)
- Matthew 6—Jesus’s command to avoid anxiety (3:40)
- An encouraging walk with Jesus (4:10)
- Our aim in avoiding fear (5:14)
- Merging fear and faith (6:12)
- Being honest about our fears and placing our trust in God (7:57)
- What we should expect as we grow in our faith (9:19)
Find more from TGC on this topic:
- The Secret to Living Well in a Scary World
- The Peace of Christ Taming Our Fears, Irritants, and Challenges
- Three Questions: Fear
This episode of TGC Q&A is sponsored by The Gospel Project—a chronological Bible study for all ages, explaining how Scripture points to Jesus, encouraging us to live on mission. Visit gospelproject.com/tgc to download a free eBook and try additional resources.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Ed Welch: Hi, this is Ed Welch and you’re listening to TGC Q&A, a podcast from the Gospel Coalition. This is the biblical counseling series, featuring hopeful answers to your questions when navigating fear, anxiety, ministry and marriage and everything in between. My name is Ed Welch. I work as a counselor and a faculty member in an organization called CCEF, the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. And my pleasure, which just happens to be my job, is to answer that question, how does scripture speak to the struggles of everyday life? So to be able to think about questions regarding fear is a delight. And thank you for the questions that you’ve submitted. They’re great questions. I’m going to just take one of the questions that came in because it seems to capture a field of questions that I think are very important for us. Here’s the question. “The Bible says fear not, but that’s not easy for me. What should I do?”
Ed Welch: Well, you should be really, really thankful that it’s not easy for you but sometimes you don’t feel like you fear a whole lot, that’s utterly amazing, you understand the question. The Bible says fear not but it’s not easy for me. The person wants it to be easier. So first of all, I think this question is coming from somebody who’s immensely mature, far more mature than myself. But I think the real central feature to the question is the Bible says fear not and for most of us, we recognize that we will be afraid tomorrow. We’re being afraid as we’re speaking to the Lord and fear will be nipping at our heels for the rest of our lives, we know that. And so, how can we come to the Lord when he begins with what seems to be a command to not fear? Well, our question is, what is our aim really? Where are we going? How do we want to grow in the way we deal with fears?
Ed Welch: Let’s begin this way. There’s a natural way to understand the words do not fear or do not be afraid or do not worry. If we would say such things to a child, we would never think about it as a command. It’s completely different than stop hitting your brother. That’s a bit more of a command and we expect if we’re saying stop hitting your brother we’re expecting the child to hitting his or her brother. But to say, “Don’t be afraid,” there’s something about it that we’re saying to our child, we got this and they’re words of comfort. They’re words of relationship, they’re words of invitation to come close. They’re words that are saying something’s going to happen and it will be good. That seems to be the natural way we understand that and I think that’s probably the best way to understand how Jesus is speaking to us.
Ed Welch: Matthew 6 is one of the real popular passages on anxiety and it starts off, don’t be anxious or don’t be afraid, same kinds of words. The idea is that there is a threat out there that is dangerous. There’s something we could lose, life health, finances, reputation. There’s some kind of loss often in the future. When Jesus begins by saying, “Don’t be anxious.” It’s as if he’s going for a walk with us and as we go on this walk, he points out the birds, points out the day lilies that come up for a day and then they’re gone tomorrow. And he points out how the birds are cared for, the lilies are beautiful and if he cares for these aspects of creation, doesn’t he realize that we are much more important to him then the birds and the lilies? We are uniquely created in his image and the gospel itself is for us as his people.
Ed Welch: So the words are really very, very sweet, not the kind of words you’d expect if somebody says, “Stop it!” It’s this invitation. Your father is on the move and keep your eyes open for what he’s going to do. So the question is, what are we aiming for? It goes something like this. The scripture assumes that our lives will experience endless threats. When you go through the Psalms and that is the prominent theme of the Psalms, David is consistently talking about particular enemies and it seems like reputation occasionally is the issue, but his very life is more often the issue. Psalm 56, Lord be gracious to me. People are trampling on me, but that Psalm 56 it gives us, I think, a little bit of a direction on what we want to for. He speaks of this present fear and then he has that well-known phrase.
Ed Welch: “When I’m afraid, I will put my trust in you. When I’m afraid, I will put my trust in you.” What we’re aiming for it seems contradictory but as people who follow Jesus it’s familiar to us. We’re aiming for somehow to merge fear and faith. For them to appear almost in the same sentence. That’s what you have in the Psalm. I am scared to death. I am absolutely scared to death, when I am afraid I put my trust in you. We’re looking for those to come closer and closer together. An analogy for that would be grief. An analogy would be loss of a loved one where a Christian funeral is doing exactly the same thing. Where grief and faith are being joined together. Where we sing songs of worship as we cry. We remember the hope that we all share in Jesus as we cry for the loss of the person. Fears and grief really have very much in common.
Ed Welch: Fear is anticipating the loss, grief has already experienced the loss. And by the way, it would probably be worthwhile for you to know that Jesus uses very similar words when he speaks to people who are grieving. In Luke chapter seven, he says to a widow who has lost almost everything, “Don’t grieve.” It’s not a command, it’s a way of saying, “I am with you, I care about you, I see you, I hear you and I am doing something. I’m doing something.” So our goal is to grow and somehow in the same sentences to the Lord, to be able to pour out our heart to him, Psalm 62:8, to speak honestly and openly of our fears and then perhaps to steal the words of the Psalmist. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. Our goal is, oh, and by the way, I should say one other thing in the Matthew 6 passage.
Ed Welch: Jesus does sort of poke us a little bit, he doesn’t tease us but he’s nudging us a bit and the one time he nudges is by the way, if you worry about getting taller and things, will that make you taller? So he’s sort of teasing us a bit there but later on he says, “Oh, you have little faith.” What we want to do is we want to grow in faith. You want to grow in knowing who our father is and being able to merge our fears with our confidence in him more and more and more. So great question.
Ed Welch: The Bible says, “Fear not,” and it’s not easy to do. What should we expect? What does growth look like in our life with Christ? It looks like Psalm 56. This invitation we hear from the Lord to speak openly from our hearts and then to remember who our God is who is close, who speaks to us of how important we are to him. Even to the point where he numbers the hairs on our heads, that’s a very detailed knowing of us. And we want to go back and forth between speaking our fears and saying, “And I trust you.” Between speaking our fears and I trust you Lord, grant me eyes to see you a little bit more clearly. I want to trust you more. I want little faith to grow into confidence. And then meanwhile we all wait for the age to come when we will truly know fearlessness. Thanks for the question. It’s a great question.