Did you know some version of “Do not be afraid” appears in the Bible more than 300 times? Coincidentally, that’s one for every day of the year. And while I’m thankful for this persistent guidance and assurance from God, sadly it doesn’t always help. Sometimes the worry and anxiety come to me like a reflex.
What does help, however, is replacing fear with something else. This is a common strategy people use to break a habit, like nail biting, checking Facebook, or even smoking. If these behaviors happen when we’re bored or stressed, then cutting them out requires a substitute for when boredom or stress inevitably come again. Maybe you decide to pick up a book instead of your phone, or reach for the polish if you begin to bite your nails.
This principle translates to many areas of life—including our walk with God. Whatever time and energy we’ve spent fanning the flames of fear needs to be redirected if we really want to resist distress. So where should we turn our focus? According to Dr. Stanley’s “From the Pastor’s Heart” letter in July of 2018,
We should respond with courage. Terrorist attacks and mass shootings naturally cause fear. For those who don’t know Christ, this can be overwhelming, but Christians have a confidence that transcends circumstances. Psalm 56:3-4 says, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?”
We should [also] respond with compassion. When we hear about the atrocities done to people, our hearts should go out to them in sympathy. This is an essential character trait of anyone who is a follower of Jesus. Look at His response in Matthew 9:36: “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.”
It may be tempting to withdraw in fear as we see the world becoming a more dangerous place, but this is the time when Christians need to be salt and light to a dark world.
As the Lord calls us away from fear, He calls us toward courage and compassion—and not for the sake of gold stars next to our name. When we respond to frightening things with courage, empathy, and kindness, we discover who God created us to be. It’s a here-on-earth glimpse of our true identity—men and women of His image. Like David’s psalm that dares us to taste and see (Psalm 34:8), God promises that if we would just be brave enough to not only turn from fear but also step toward courage and compassion, His way would prove to be more fulfilling than we ever imagined.
While I’m thankful for this persistent guidance and assurance from God, sadly it doesn’t always help. Sometimes the worry and anxiety come to me like a reflex.
The Good Samaritan is a timeless, tangible reminder of this exchange (Luke 10:30-37). Had I been the one walking down the road, who saw a man of a different social class and culture stripped naked, bruised, and barely conscious, I think my reaction would be to shudder and recoil. I’d be concerned for him but also afraid of what his care might require of me. But as I’ve heard so many times, that’s not what the Samaritan did. He responded bravely and kindly, leaning in to tend to the man’s wounds and nurse him back to health.
It’s interesting that Jesus, telling this story in response to a lawyer asking how to inherit eternal life, said, “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:25-29). Real life–not just on the other side of the grave, but real, abundant living on earth–comes from exercising courage and compassion in the world. My hope is that feeling afraid would become an internal signal of sorts. A prompt to ask myself how my fear looks from the eyes of those without a Savior and what a compassionate response might look like instead. I hope it becomes a moment I’m moved to embrace my true identity in Christ and be salt and light in a frightened world.
Illustrated by Adam Cruft