By Gary Zimak
Even though this message appears hundreds of times in the Bible, we frequently brush it off as being impractical. Instead, we become so overwhelmed with the daily challenges of life that we abandon all hope of finding peace. Worrying is a regular part of life for many individuals. And don’t think for a minute that church-going Christians are immune to this plight.
Despite regular Mass attendance, my life was totally consumed by worry for decades. I heard the “be not afraid” message many times, but it went in one ear and out the other. Eventually, I sunk so low and became so desperate that I had no choice other than to surrender my life to Jesus. And, just as he promised many times, he delivered me from my fears and filled me with his peace.
You may not realize it, but fear can be a great blessing. Not only does it remind you that you need the Lord’s help, but it can actually draw you closer to him and give you the peace you seek. The key is to learn how to react when you’re afraid. With that in mind, here are five simple (but effective) steps that will help you to make the journey from fear to faith.
1. DO WHAT YOU CAN.
Unfortunately, worrying is often our standard response to frightening situations. This is dangerous because it can cause us to overlook other (and more productive) responses. We can become so accustomed to worrying about potential problems that we lose sight of the fact that we may be able to fix them. God gave us an intellect, and he expects us to use it.
Instead of worrying about a troubling situation, ask yourself a simple question: “Is there anything I can do to fix this?” If you’re concerned that your family will struggle financially after your death, you can look into obtaining life insurance. Updating your resume and beginning a job search would be a good response to the news that your company is planning layoffs. Instead of worrying about your health, consider making a doctor’s appointment. Doing what you can (no matter how small) will often be enough to solve (or reduce) the problem and restore your peace of mind.
2. LIVE IN THE MOMENT.
Living in the present moment can be challenging, but it’s something we must learn to do. Time spent worrying about the future or regretting the past is wasted and robs us of God’s presence today. The past is gone, and the future is not guaranteed. One of Satan’s favorite tactics is planting “what if” and “if only” thoughts in your brain. Don’t fall for his lies.
Jesus warned against worrying about tomorrow (see Matthew 6:34) or dwelling on the past (see Luke 9:62) for a reason. Doing either of these activities is a waste of time and a sure cause of anxiety. If there is something you can do today to correct a past mistake or prepare for the future, by all means do it. Otherwise, keep your eyes on the Lord and focus on following him in the present moment. He is with you!
We can be in such a rush to fix our problems that we forget to pray. Without the Lord’s help, however, we’ll always be spinning our wheels and accomplishing nothing. He never intended us to go through life alone, but he also won’t force himself on us. It sounds so basic, but those of us who are anxious frequently forget this step.
No matter what problem or crisis you are facing, always remember to ask the Lord for help. You will be amazed at how he can do the impossible. There is also another often overlooked benefit to praying instead of panicking. According to St. Paul, bringing our intentions to God (see Philippians 4:6-7) will result in the peace that “surpasses all understanding.” That is a really sweet deal!
4. TURN TO THE CHURCH.
While it’s true that a personal relationship with Jesus is the ultimate answer to experiencing peace, we need to be aware of a dangerous (but common) pitfall. As your friendship with the Lord grows, you could be tempted to develop a “me and Jesus” mentality. In other words, you mistakenly conclude that Jesus is all you need for your life to be complete.
Strictly speaking, however, that conclusion is false. While we definitely need a personal relationship with Jesus in order to make it to heaven (or experience peace), we shouldn’t ignore the fact that Jesus founded a Church. It is only through his Church that we can fully know and grow close to Jesus. Without the sacraments, sacramentals, devotions, and the Bible, we will never experience the true peace that comes from a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
5. THINK ABOUT HEAVEN.
When faced with a painful situation, nothing will intensify your suffering more than the thought that it might be permanent. Even though a stomach virus can be very uncomfortable, knowing that it will only last for a few days makes it easier to bear. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for a chronic ailment, serious illness, or a job layoff. We can put up with just about anything if we know it’s temporary. When there is no end in sight, however, we could rapidly plunge into despair.
Here’s some good news: Any problem that you will ever face in this life is temporary. It could go away in a matter of weeks, months, or even years, but it is not permanent. The worst case scenario is that it will vanish once you die. Always remember that there is no such thing as a permanent problem. That thought alone should be enough to bring you some degree of comfort, but there’s something even better to consider. Jesus is preparing a place for you in heaven (see John 14:2), which will be free from any pain or suffering for all eternity. Focusing on “the prize” is a great way to experience joy even in the midst of suffering.
Over the course of your life, you will experience many fear-producing situations. You are in good company. As documented in the pages of the Bible, many of the holiest people who walked the face of the earth (Abraham, Moses, Mary, St. Joseph, St. Paul, and others) knew what it was like to be afraid. Fear is an emotion and is not something we can control. What we can control, however, is how we respond to that emotion.
Worry is not a good response to fear. It accomplishes nothing, robs you of your peace, and drives you away from God. Each of these five steps, on the other hand, uses fear as a springboard to draw you closer to the Lord. It may not happen overnight, but putting them into practice daily will eventually lead to the peace you seek.
‘Go-to’ Bible verses for those who are anxious!
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.”
Whenever you are afraid, Jesus is knocking on your door. He wants to help you, but it’s up to you to open the door and let him in!
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Are you exhausted from the struggles of daily life? Jesus wants to give you the peace you desire. You can encounter him in prayer, the sacraments, and Scripture.
“Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand”
Throughout the Bible, the Lord repeatedly tells us that we shouldn’t be afraid. It’s not because all our problems will disappear once we follow him, and it’s not because our struggles aren’t real. The reason we shouldn’t be afraid is because he is with us. That is enough.
“But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’”
When Peter found himself sinking as he attempted to walk on the water, he cried out to Jesus and was rescued immediately! Why waste time worrying when you can pray? Jesus will come to your assistance.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”
Sometimes we mistakenly believe that Jesus can no longer perform miracles or help us with our problems. That’s not what the Bible says.
“Is anything too marvelous for the LORD to do?”
No matter what you’re up against, the Lord can handle it. Give him a chance.
“Think of what is above, not of what is on earth”
Focusing too much on your difficulties and too little on God is guaranteed to increase your stress. You were created to live forever in heaven. This life is temporary, and so are your problems. Keep your eye on the prize!
“I should like you to be free of anxieties”
(1 CORINTHIANS 7:32).
The Holy Spirit would never have inspired St. Paul to write these words if it was not possible. With the help of Jesus, it is possible to lead an anxiety-free life.
“When I am afraid, in you I place my trust”
Fear gives you an opportunity to trust God. Don’t waste it!
“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”
Instead of worrying, ask God to help you with your problems. Doing so will give you great peace!