Sicks Pax

Dealing with Fear

Posted in Chris,Scripture by sicks on February 28, 2008

A week after Sara was diagnosed with cancer, she woke me in the middle of the night, sobbing and trembling, overcome by fear as she cried out to me: “I don’t want to die!”

The reality of having cancer was bad enough, but uncertainty about the future has been one of her fiercest battles during this journey.

Where can you look, when the present is full of bad news, and the future looks even worse? I think Psalm 77 may have some answers. It was written by Asaph, a man appointed by King David to lead worship before the Ark of the Covenant. He was a performer and a worship leader, he sang and played instruments as a part of his ministry in the tabernacle (1Chr 15)

He was also the composer and publisher of psalms. He wrote 12 psalms himself, and he collected and distributed King David’s music (1 Chr 16:7-37).

So, we have this important man doing “kingdom work” every day of his life. He is close with King David, and his job is to sing, write and play music to the Lord. You might think he’d be a happy man without many problems, right?

Clearly not. Look again at how the psalm opens:

1 I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.
2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted.

Just like Sara, Asaph was having trouble sleeping at night because of his problems. We don’t know what he is going through, perhaps an illness, or a rebellious teenager. Whatever it is, he is really distraught.

3 I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint.
4 You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak.
5 I thought about the former days, the years of long ago;
6 I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired:

7 “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time?

In his distress and sleepless anxiety, he begins to doubt God. This Levite priest, this man who sings the praises of God each day of his life, he questions whether God can or will help him. “Will the Lord reject me forever?” he wonders. “Is this situation ever going to get better? Has God’s unfailing love vanished forever?” Look at that. Has his unfailing love failed? He acknowledges God’s great character, and doubts it—all in the same breath.

And then he starts to blame himself, and doubt God’s compassion for him.

9 Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

Maybe God’s mercy has run out. Or he is too busy and doesn’t notice that I’m suffering down here. Or, maybe God is there, but he won’t help me. He has forgiven me so many times for so many things, maybe I pushed him too far the other day. Maybe he’s dropped me from his list. Maybe it’s all my fault.

Asaph is struggling. Today is confusing him. It’s difficult. And tomorrow is scary. For some people, tomorrow is terrifying, wondering if your child is going to get things right, what the lab results are going to say, or where the next meal is going to come from.

So where can you go when you are overwhelmed with anxiety? A lot of the people I encounter in my work struggle with addictions—alcohol, drugs, bad relationships. Disappointment and anxiety trigger relapses into bad habits. Folks who are addicted to something have a habit of seeking comfort there, so when life gets hard and things don’t go right, that is where they instinctively turn.

Where do you turn? This time, at least, Asaph doesn’t turn to food, alcohol or another false comfort—he looks to the past. Lost in his anxiety, the past is the only concrete thing Asaph can cling to. He begins preaching—to himself.

10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.

Asaph appeals to “the years of the right hand of the most High.” I love that. He ponders God’s right hand—the hand of action. He thinks about that hand that created the universe, that crafted human beings, that parted the Red Sea. He forces himself to remember what God has done.

Asaph doesn’t understand today, and tomorrow is scary, so he reviews what has happened to God’s people in the past. Notice that in verses 1-9 it’s always I, me and my. He is consumed by his problems and focused on himself. But from verse 10 on, he turns his thoughts from himself to God, and God’s faithfulness to all his people, not just Asaph.

Asaph doesn’t just remember these past events, he meditates on them. To meditate is to contemplate deeply and continuously, to ponder. You may think of a Buddhist monk, sitting cross legged and chanting a mantra. But the purpose of Eastern meditation is to empty your mind, while Godly meditation is filling your mind with the truth of God. True meditation is a spiritual discipline, when you marinate your mind in the Word of God, when you float in His Living Water and let it wash over you. When you do that, the anxiety and fear that consumed you are pushed to the corners of your mind, and put in perspective.

Sara has been devouring scripture like never before, and has said repeatedly that God’s Word is the one thing sustaining her during this trial.

12 I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.

Asaph is forcing himself to stop thinking about his present problems, and focus instead on God’s past deeds.

13 Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?
14 You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.
15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

Asaph tells himself about God’s character, and his faithfulness. He preaches the truth to himself.

Preaching to yourself is not whistling in the dark. It isn’t mustering up the courage to get through a tough time, or pretending things aren’t as bad as they are. It isn’t a self-help, and it isn’t just some cliché about God being good and nice. “Oh don’t worry, God will take care of everything.” Oh, good. You’re right. I’ll stop worrying now.

It is more than that. It is intentionally turning your thoughts from your circumstances and pressing concerns, and thinking instead about the character and faithfulness of God. It is meditating on his good works in history, so you can understand the present and future more clearly.

For more on this idea of looking up at Christ instead of down at your circumstances, download Tom Holliday’s sermon from Feb. 24.

Thanks for being with us on this journey. It means more than you know.