3 Questions to Ask When Confronted with Fear

It was the darkest day of my life.

I was approached by a respected church member who threatened me, “Listen, Jap. This is our church and we were here before you got here. We will be here when you’re gone, so go back to your country. You don’t belong here.”

I had been at the church for four years. I was on pastoral staff. I knew ministry was tough, but had never experienced anything like this. I had heard negative comments in the past, but this time was different. I was scared. It felt like the church that once so loved me now rejected me.

My job was on the line, and my family was threatened. I felt like there was nothing I could do to change anything, and my fear only grew and intensified. I felt trapped. I felt hopeless.

I prayed to God, “Am I under attack by Satan? Are You working to move me to another church? God, I am so discouraged. I feel so low in my spirit, filled with a sense of emptiness, I am ready to quit. God why are you silent in my fears?”

As I submitted my fears to God, He comforted me, and here are three questions I learned to ask from the experience.

 

1. Why Do I Feel Fear?

In a nutshell, I felt fearful because my thinking wasn’t right. In fact, in the midst of my circumstances, I wasn’t even thinking about God! When on occasion I did think about God, He felt neither good nor close. I felt like God had forsaken me. I was letting my circumstances and situations affect my understanding of who He was.

The Bible tells us again and again not to worry: “Do not worry about your life” (Matthew 6:25); “Do not worry about what to say” (Matthew 10:19); “Do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6); and many others. So why was I afraid?

I was afraid of what this world could do to me. In my own little world, I was so worried about what men might do that they became big in my mind, and God became small. In the midst of possible rejection, attacks or oppression, I completely left God out of the picture.

Fear is not just a horizontal problem—a problem of our circumstances or situations. Fear is actually a vertical problem—a problem in our relationship with God.

 

2. What Lies in My Heart?

Our knee-jerk reaction is usually, “get out of the situation!” We want to shift gears and avoid our negative emotions by changing our circumstances or situations, the people we surround ourselves with, our hobbies, our career, our possessions.

However, Proverbs reminds us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). When we respond to what life throws at us, our words and actions point back to what’s in our hearts. When I complain about my situation, what is hidden in the deep compartments of my heart are made evident.

Much of my fear revealed how far my heart was from God, and how close it was to the world. I thought my circumstances dictated how my heart responded, but that wasn’t true. The problem was that my heart submitted to my circumstances, instead of looking beyond them.

As I looked to the Bible, it became evident that my fear was magnified when I did not look to Christ as the source of all my hope and all my healing. Instead, my heart had made an idol of the approval of man, and could not see beyond the circumstances.

 

3. How Should I Respond to Fear?

The antidote to fear is the Father’s unconditional love. I need not dwell on my own imperfections and inadequate response to my circumstance. Instead, I needed to dwell in the abundance of God.

How do we do this? We remember God’s past provision in our lives as we look forward to His hopeful future. When we are hopeless, Scripture reminds us “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I needed to surrender the idol in my heart, and let God take the throne. When I refocused on God, He became so much more pleasing, beautiful, astonishing, lovely, glorious, and breath-taking! This enabled me to overcome my sinful fear and experience true freedom.

Dr. Stuart Scott, one of my professors in seminary, said it well, “Hope is not defined by the absence of hardship. Rather, hope is found in God’s grace in the midst of hardship. Hope is found in his promise to give us a future.”

God used those moments of fear to make me more like Christ. In fresh ways, God pointed out the work that Jesus has accomplished on the cross. In the midst of the imperfections of this broken world, we all need reminders of the death and resurrection of the Savior Jesus Christ. When we do so, Jesus’ perfect, faithful, steadfast, and undying love becomes the strength for today and hope for tomorrow.

That is the reason the Psalmist can cry out, “For I was envious of the arrogant. . . Until I went into the sanctuary of God!” (Psalm 73:3, 17).

Why this hardship of fear in our lives? Ultimately to bring glory to the Father by redeeming His people from the curse of sin.

 

Faith Instead of Fear

This storm I experienced revealed once again my need of the Savior. Christ’s power is made perfect in my weakness and drew me ever closer to Him. In a divine moment, God allowed calamities and suffering for the sake of humbling my heart and bringing me back to holy reverence.

Maybe you know someone who needs to hear this, or maybe you yourself needed this reminder.

Even when things are not going the way you had hoped, you can still have hope in the Lord. God may not change your circumstances, but God promises to give us the perseverance needed to face tomorrow.

During that season, God did not change my circumstances. But He gave me His peace which surpasses all understanding, and that protected me in the midst of the storm. My future was no longer guided by the fear of giving up. Jesus became the source of my hope.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

If you’re facing fear in your life, be encouraged. God will give you comfort and draw you close to Himself.

You’re not alone in your fear and your struggles, and I want to encourage you to take a moment today to turn to the Lord in prayer.

I Didn’t Dare to Let Myself Feel Beautiful

Written By Cassandra Yeo, Singapore

All women desire to feel beautiful. Every day, we see hundreds of advertisements for skincare, make-up, clothes and slimming treatments. Even the Bible seems to celebrate a woman’s beauty in passages such as the ones in Songs of Solomon, or when describing female characters such as Rachel (Genesis 29:17).

However, I have never dared to let myself feel beautiful.

I told myself that I didn’t want to go through the trouble of keeping up appearances. Though I kept myself neat and prim, I wore baggy clothes and dark colors. Similarly, shopping trips were only made to oblige friends, or for specific occasions like Chinese New Year where buying clothes was inevitable. It was only recently that I realized the reasons for my reluctance.

In my early teens, I was taunted and verbally bullied for my appearance by several male classmates. They laughed at my overbite, tousled brown hair, and “oversized” ears. Though they called me many different names, what hurt most was being treated as if I were less than other more attractive girls.

There was one time when my male classmates nominated and voted on the ugliest girls in class. They then took a class photograph and used a coin to scratch off the “ugly” girls’ faces in the photo. It came as no surprise to me that I was one of them. I have never felt less than a human than I did in that moment, as I was judged by nothing but my outward appearance.

Ever since then, my self-esteem has suffered, and this manifested in the way I dressed and carried myself. For many years I wore long sleeves, for fear my arms would be called fat. Likewise, I wore dark colors, so that I would not stand out in the crowd. I found a strange and perverse safety in staying invisible.

However, recently God led me to step into the industry of image consulting. My work involves equipping clients with the relevant tools and skill sets to present a stellar corporate image. At first I thought that the change was merely focused on their outward appearance, but I have since learned that the most successful changes occur when there is an inward shift in the individuals’ perception of themselves. Discovering their worth and potential is ultimately what motivates our clients to change their outward appearance.

During my first few weeks at work, my heart was constantly tugged between my personal beliefs and the appearance I was meant to keep up as a professional in the industry. While the world of image consulting celebrated beautiful patterns, shades and colors, my own wardrobe was a sea of black, grey, and blue. It felt ironic to plan courses and programs for clients when I struggled with the same issues myself.

But as I continued to grapple with these conflicting feelings, I realized being put in this industry at this time was an essential part of God’s plan in my life. He brought me into the field of image consulting, not just to provide me with a job, but rather, to heal a part of me that had been dead all these years. God was working to bless and restore the areas where I have experienced hurt. He was working for my personal growth, and opening my eyes to see beauty in a different light.

My daily work has given me opportunities to speak with industry leaders and experience my very own “image coaching” sessions, where colleagues give tips and one-on-one sessions to advise me on my dressing and posture. These experiences have allowed me to see beauty as a form of care and self-respect. The way I dress and carry myself should not be for the sake of vanity, but should reflect a deeper and more profound understanding that I am fearfully and wonderfully made by God (Psalm 139:14).

Whatever other people may say about me, I have confidence that comes from knowing God Himself made me. The Apostle Paul urges us to do all things for the glory of God, and surely that involves how we dress (1 Corinthians 10:31). In seeking to honor God’s love for me, my wardrobe collection has begun to change.

Greys and blacks are replaced or supplemented with shades of yellow, green, and orange. Sleeveless clothes become more frequent in appearance. Beauty products and accessories are starting to fill the gaps in my bathroom cupboard.

Initially, any time I tried wearing something different, I was afraid to look in the mirror. Yet positive affirmations from family, friends, and colleagues have helped me move from embarrassment to empowerment. This process has served to remind me that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and thus I should honor it, in appreciation of whom God has made me to be.

As I myself change from the inside out, my work has allowed me to help transform others both inwardly and outwardly as well. My hope is that God will continue to use me in this field to focus on identity building, and in so doing, provide emotional healing to others.

This transformation in the way I view myself and my appearance has reminded me that our God is a God of restoration, and He desires to restore and heal the deadened and hurting parts of our lives. If you’ve also experienced hurts from the past like me, will you allow God to work in your life?

The Girl I’ll Never Forget

I had barely turned 17 that fall in 2015. Newly arrived in Hungary for Bible college, I accompanied a group of pastors and students that were going to one of the many refugee camps at the Serbian border to help with relief and supplies.* 34 hours working non-stop. Those hours are mostly a blur now, but the devastation I witnessed will forever be etched in my mind. 

The smell of human waste, the windy cold air, and my shoes caked in mud. My brain is trying to catch up with all the things I’ve seen tonight, but I can’t seem to fully comprehend the extent of this pain.

After midnight, my friend and I took a break from the camp area where there were thousands of people, and started walking through one of the corn fields. Soon, we came upon a family and a young girl, very clearly pregnant, laying on the ground, her mother propping her up from behind. I stayed with the family while my friend went to get a doctor. I can’t explain the fear and alertness I saw in the young girl’s eyes. I couldn’t even begin to understand what she must be feeling: fatigue, exhaustion, panic.

Oh dear one, the things you must have been through.

This girl, very likely my own age, had left her country and fled for her life, and for the one she carried within her. She must have yearned for hope in a new land, a better life for her and her little one.

If only I could hold you close and protect you from all this evil.

She had trekked across mountains, forests, cities, borders, perhaps even waters to reach a safe haven. She could have very likely been killed in her country, along with her family, and that’s why they were here, that’s why they’d left everything behind, simply to save their lives.

God forgive me for complaining over inconveniences in my own life.

I wanted to offer some form of comfort to this poor girl lying on the ground in front of me, a pool of blood slowly forming around her. I knew what was going on, but I didn’t want to cause more panic. She wouldn’t remove her gaze from me, and I physically ached to be able to communicate in her own language. But as I looked back into her eyes, I found the words “Jesus loves you” coming out of my mouth. They were in English, but nevertheless they were a truth I wanted her to know so badly.

Every part of me is in agony for her pain. Why oh why can’t I do more?

My friend came back with a doctor who did a quick examination of the girl and radioed for a stretcher to be brought over. Soon the girl was whisked off to the nearest hospital. Even though her whole family wanted to go with her, they were not allowed to do so for the sake of space in the vehicle. So I helped get them a large camping tent, food, and blankets as they waited through the night to receive their beloved daughter back.

I hope they understand my love for them. I hope they understand there is still hope.

The hours that followed are still a haze to me. I vaguely remember running back and forth between our ministry’s supply tent and the endless line of refugees waiting on the highway to board buses that would take them to the Austrian border, handing out food and water. I remember helping families acquire camping tents and necessities to make it through the cold night as they waited out in the fields for transportation to the rest of Europe. I remember accompanying little children into the Red Cross tent with their parents to receive check-ups and medicine for those that were sick. I remember pleading with God in my head to help all these families find comfort in Him, and peace as they escaped the horrifying upheaval in the Middle East and came to countries and languages unknown to them in hopes of starting new, safer lives.

I’m so tired, but I can’t stop. There is so much to be done.

And then, news came back from the hospital.

Oh God, please give them peace.

The girl had been eight months pregnant. Due to the strain of all the traveling she’d done and the trauma she endured along the way, she suffered a miscarriage and lost the child.

I remember feeling so numb at the time, so completely unable to process the news.

I’d been there in the field with her when she started to bleed, and I couldn’t help her when she needed it most.

This can’t be real. This isn’t actually happening.

I nearly went mad. In all my life, before and after that night, I’d never felt such a piercing pain in my heart. It brought me to my knees in grief.

There was so much to be done though, so I didn’t have time to cry at the time. I went about working again and tried to suppress my feelings.

Numbness of mind. Numbness of feeling.

The sun rose and the refugees were still pouring in from the border, though not as heavily as the night before. I spent the rest of my time at the camp picking up trash and tidying up tents for the next influx of refugees coming in. The events of the night started to seep into my mind and I replayed the girl losing her baby in the corn field over and over.

I could’ve done more. I should’ve done more!

To my knowledge, the family was transported to a location where the girl was also taken to. I never saw or heard of them again.

As I was walking back to the main tent, a young man who was volunteering with another organization came up to me very shyly and said, “I think you look very beautiful right now.” He took off running and left me shocked and gaping.

What?

I suddenly became very aware of how I must have looked at this point; hair scraggly and oily, clothes smelly and even torn in a few parts, glasses smudged with dirt, and arms covered here and there by mud. All this mess, and he calls me beautiful?

I slowly began to understand. I looked around me. I could feel the pain and reality of what was going on that day, in that camp. And it was bittersweet.

For such a time as this. . .

Many lives have been lost throughout the heartbreaking ordeal that is the refugee crisis throughout Europe and the world. But that night, one life was saved. The young girl made it through. The extreme agony of losing the precious baby will forever be a great sorrow to bear. But even so, the hope of Christ is greater still, and I trust that child rests safely in the arms of the Father.

It took a very long time for me to come to terms with it, but just having been there with her, even without speaking her language, and telling her that she was loved by Jesus was part of what God could have been using on her journey to a new life, and hopefully a life where she would meet with Him eventually.

God uses all our circumstances, situations, and occurrences to bring about the bigger picture He is painting (Philippians 1:6) . I will always count it a deep honor to have played a small part in the events of history at that time.

The Middle East crisis has by no means stopped. Refugees are still fleeing their countries and flooding into parts all around the world, and not just from the Middle East.

This, Church, this is our time. This is why we are here. So let us rise.

 

* In 2015 and 2016, the EU experienced an unprecedented influx of refugees and migrants. More than 1 million people arrived in the European Union, most of them fleeing from war and terror in Syria and other countries. (European Commission)

** You can do a quick Google search or visit the World Vision website to learn more about the Syrian refugee crisis, how it affects the world, and how you can take action. As you read, ask the Lord how you might be able to help with this crisis in any way.

Give Yourself Permission to Grieve

Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA

That night a couple of good friends were helping me sort action figures, Legos, and other kid-detritus into bins in my boys’ room. They had come over for dinner together while our husbands were out of town. During the meal, they had asked candidly about how I was doing with our adoption—which is to say, the adoption we painfully decided not to complete.

Truthfully, my heart felt raw, as if it were beating outside of my body. My grief felt so vulnerable, so scraped and skinned and gaping, that privacy was all I could fathom to deal with it. I felt oddly embarrassed that we’d taken steps out of obedience to pursue this, and told people about it—and then, also out of obedience, backed out.

But after my honest admission to my friends, I shrugged, part of my consistent discipline to trust God and choose to be joyful. It was going to be okay, I asserted.

My friend paused, a toy in her hand, and looked me in the eyes. She said something like, “Janel, you need to take the time to mourn this. It’s a little like a miscarriage. You were expecting to have a child and now you’re not.” This was true. I had bought her clothes; we’d visited orphanages. “You need to grieve this, rather than stuffing it somewhere.”

To this day, I am thankful for what she gave me that evening: permission to grieve. It was permission for grieving and hope to not be mutually exclusive—to weep. To allow myself a few moments when I consigned the baby clothes I’d purchased. To be angry and bring my deepest questions to God as David did in his psalms, rather than hiding them behind my back.

 

Have we become plastic Christians?

Sometimes I wonder if, in the good and righteous and just plain hard choice that is joy, we miss some of the good that comes from grieving. Because grief and joy can be simultaneous. Joy is an unchanging happiness in God; an anchor for the soul in the midst of grief—not instead of it.

At times, I confess I have not fully grieved what is wrong about this world—not mourned with God—because somehow I’ve become convinced that a joyful Christian is not sad, or discouraged, or angry. In all honesty, I think this has stilted my worship. I have been a plasticky sort of Christian. In my haste to not complain or sin out of unbelief, I pretend that hurt or grief or disappointment or anger aren’t even there.

Instead of making a choice to believe God’s goodness in the midst of those—I pretend those aren’t there at all. I jump right to “It’ll be okay” and ignore anything I feel. It is as if I deny God access to all of me.

But the fact is, our emotions are part of the image of God in us. God, too, grieves! When we grieve the brokenness in the world around us, that is God allowing us to glimpse a sliver of what He grieves every day. Blessed are those who mourn.

I once attended the funeral of a young man who had passed away in a freak accident. Now, as Christians, we definitely “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)—and funerals are beautiful testimonies of how Christians die differently; they are incredible demonstrations and opportunities for the Gospel.

But this one, in all honesty, felt hijacked a bit by evangelism; by an agenda. If you came wrestling with the tragic loss of a young man’s life, you might have come away feeling. . . angry.

Compare this with Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus. Even though Jesus knows the outcome, the triumph—He did not call bad good, did not seize the opening for a sermonette on hope. He took the time to mourn the travesty that has happened, then illuminated what resurrection is all about.

The writers of the Psalms worshipped God with all they had, including their grief. Scholars note that all psalms of lament have similar components. Often the psalmist begins by calling on God, acknowledging this as a prayer, and not simply an internal struggle.

They then lay their complaints before God, honestly bringing to Him the painful circumstances of a fallen world.

After asking God to intervene and right the wrongs, the psalmist typically ends by reaffirming his trust in God’s character and trustworthiness. It is critical for our grief to restate our hope. In remembering God’s goodness despite our grief, we walk by faith, not by sight.

 

Mourning with joy and gratitude

In your time with God—and even with a close friend—it’s okay to acknowledge what you’ve lost because of your daughter’s learning disorder, or that you were hurt by someone in the Church, or that yes, you wanted that job.

I think of 1 Peter 1:6: “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now. . . you may have had to suffer grief”. What does it look like to mourn. . . with joy and gratitude?

I have a friend who eventually lost his wife, the mother of his four children, to Lou Gehrig’s disease. He once recalled to me a profound moment with God. While he was still caring for his wife as her body spiraled downward, he had lain on his bed, overcome by loss.

But God seemed to be pointing him toward thanks. Not able to immediately turn to full-on gratitude, my friend simply started small. He thanked God for the ability to breathe; for the bed he wept on; for the air conditioning. From there, his gratitude snowballed, steering him into praise, and a reminder of God as anchor of the soul: “so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13, emphasis added).

My friend’s attitude has revolutionized my approach to my bad days; to my pain.

And there, when I step out of my own counsel and check out the divine gifts piling up right and left—suddenly, all these other fruits of the Spirit seem to collide at once in my soul: The unflagging, perpetual, bubbling (and occasional geyser) of joy. A peace I couldn’t articulate if I tried. A faith that sustains and nourishes and bandages as I walk through my most profound valleys. And the gifts keep on coming—when they’re based on something other than my own near-sighted ideas of justice, good, and peace.

 

Christian joy isn’t some version of Barbie, with the eternal smile that can’t be wiped off: Well, God said to rejoice! Have a cookie. Instead, our joy acknowledges, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). It says, I have deep, abiding happiness in God that surrounds me in hope and peace and belief, even when I can’t see through my own tears.

Here’s to a less plastic Christianity.

 

This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.