I think my least favorite phrase for 2020 will be “an abundance of caution.”
Like you, this week, I’ve turned on the news every morning to make sure the zombie apocalypse hasn’t started yet. Over the next few weeks, I believe the things I’ll most be thankful for will be: my Jesus, my health, and my Netflix account. No theater, no sports…who knew waiting for the Angel of Death to pass over would be so tedious?
As a Christian, I’m certainly not immune from Coronavirus (COVID-19). However, I do think I have an advantage over my friends who don’t believe in God. You see, we believers are taught to live everyday knowing our life is truly in God’s hands alone.
(a) There is a God.
(b) You are not him.
Knowing this fights off a disease much older and deadlier than the Coronvirus: fear.
I’ll never forget driving from Texas to Florida the day after the 9/11 attacks. Like all the rest, my flight had been cancelled. And those 17 hours in the car, fearing the unknown and just wanting to hold my wife and kids, were pure torture.
1. Fear is a powerful thing.
Though it may have no actual force behind it, the threat of devastation is often worse than the object of our fear. People give in to despair and jump to the worst conclusions. They overreact and that reaction often causes greater damage than the original threat itself.
This is the secret the worst despots and manipulators of history have known. Find a threat: either real or imagined. Use that threat to make people run away in fear in the direction you desire. You don’t need actual power, just a cocktail of words and threatening shadows.
Though our current threat is quite real, we still have an enemy using it to manipulate us. He knows he can destroy people, even those who never contract COVID-19.
This is the secret Roosevelt knew when he said famously, at the start of World War II, our main enemy was not bombs or invasions, but “fear itself.”
Fear can color even good experiences with threatening clouds. It can destroy your ability to enjoy a life that others would die to have. It can make you overlook every single gift God has given, and begin to believe you’re cursed, when you’re actually greatly blessed.
2. The pivot point is what you believe about God.
Everything turns on whether you believe him to be good, in spite of bad circumstances, or if you convince yourself he’s indifferent to your needs.
I know this from experience. If you ask my wife what my greatest flaw is, thankfully, she probably won’t tell you. But when the doors are closed and it’s just the two of us, we laugh together about how fearfully I go through life.
How bad am I? Well, to use the old analogy:
Some people see the glass half full. Others see it half empty.
I see it as full…of poison!
My default tendency is, without fail, to expect the worst from every situation. In fact, for me, expecting the worst is some kind of twisted comfort. You see, if I mentally go ahead and leap to the most unreasonably awful worst-case scenario, I then calculate how to respond to that. Then, finally, I can relax a bit.
I know it’s nuts, but that’s the way my mind works. And it’s been the pathology for the whole Gipson side of the family for generations now. If you met my parents or relatives, you’d know I came by this naturally.
The conversations at our Gipson Thanksgiving reunions sounded like an episode of “Doomsday Preppers.”
Sure, it’s good to be prepared for tough times. Have some money tucked away for a rainy day. Buy the Apple Care insurance on that new laptop. But going through life with a rain cloud over your head is bad enough. I’ve too often walked around with an imaginary Baby Grand hanging over mine!
Every time my family would pull away in the car from me, I seriously thought to myself, “Is this the last time I’ll ever see them? What if there’s a car accident?” Take it from me: living in fear destroys everything beautiful you might experience. You can’t enjoy life for worrying about death and disaster.
And that’s been Satan’s plan for us all along.
3. As we learned in the book of Job, your enemy has limits and boundaries.
God will only let Satan do limited negative things in your life. So you can know nothing comes into your life without God allowing it. Sometimes what he allows is quite painful. But you always know he has a purpose for it, if he allowed it in.
So if Satan is not allowed to destroy you physically, he will certainly come after you mentally. If he’s not allowed to make you lose your job, he’ll make you fearful of losing it. If he can’t kill your family, he’ll destroy your good times with fears of their destruction.
And to be blunt, if he can’t kill you with the coronavirus, he’ll make you a nervous wreck for the next month trying to avoid it.
Sure, take precautions. Wash your hands (as if someone needs to tell us that anyway). Take reasonable steps to avoid contact with the disease. But whatever you do, DO NOT GIVE IN TO FEAR.
4. Fear will not preserve your life. It will only steal your joy while you’re living it.
A few months ago I was having lots of trouble sleeping. I’d been trying to find a job, and most every lead I’d pursued had dried up. I’d sent out tons of resumes, but no response. So every night, I just sat up and worried. I’d search through job sites, find nothing and worry. I’d distract myself with Netflix, and then worry some more.
After a while, I started thinking God was through with me. How would I support my family, and how would I pursue the call of God of my life as well? Despair wrapped its arms around me like a python, tightening around my chest and squeezing the hope from me.
That’s when God held up a mirror to my face and let me see the embarrassing sight I’d become. I was a child of the One who created heaven and earth, and whose infinite goodness I had preached about repeatedly. And now my faithlessness was destroying me and making him look like an impotent mirage.
Late one night, sitting alone in my chair, he gave me a specific prescription. He said, “I want you to go to your Bible and start writing down verses about faith. I want you to then study that list on a daily basis. I want you to go on long walks and meditate on one verse per walk. And in that process, I want you to actually start believing again that I AM WHO I SAID I AM.”
I did exactly what he told me. I wrote verses into my iPhone notepad, and referred to them every time I felt fearful. I began resting in his faithfulness.
And within days, opportunities started falling in my lap out of nowhere. No kidding. Yes, I know that sounds too easy, and no, it wasn’t like a magic spell. Believing in “faith” wasn’t the key, as some TV faith teachers would try to tell you.
What had happened was God put me in a position where it was clear my future wouldn’t happen without his help. He let me come to the end of my ability to fix my own situation, and then shifted my focus from how powerless I was to how powerful he is!
My situation was indeed desperate…IF all I had was my own strategies and strength. But when I stopped looking at my limitations and focused on his limitlessness, not only did the fear lift but my life changed. God wanted me to have new opportunities, but he wanted me to know for sure that he was the source of them, not my own ingenuity.
Now just a few months later, I’m having to actually decide between multiple opportunities. God is amazing!
But through this trial, I’ve learned to take my fears and place them firmly on my Father’s shoulders. I was never meant to be “the captain of my destiny, the master of my own fate.” We can’t control life. And if we try to carry that weight, it will crush us. Fear will destroy us well before what we fear ever arrives (if it indeed ever does).
With this crisis we’re all facing now, God is once again reminding us of our lack of power and control, while beckoning us to cry out to him for help. Fear will destroy us, but faith in God will sustain us on the road to our destiny.
In closing, I’ll give you seven of my favorite “faith verses” that I meditated upon. And when you’re tempted to fear, I hope you’ll do what I’m about to do again now with this new fear: take a little walk and meditate on just how big God is.
Today, put your trust in him where it belongs. Turn off the news for a while, and rest in the only One who can truly hold your life in his hands.
Your hands aren’t big enough for all that weight, they were never meant to hold that much. So let him have it, and fear not!
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. – Mark 11:24
For we live by faith, not by sight. – 2 Corinthians 5:7
God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind. – 2 Timothy 1:7
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. – James 1:6
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. – Hebrews 11:6
Ask and keep on asking and it will be given to you; seek and keep on seeking and you will find; knock and keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you. – Matthew 7:7
“If you can believe, all things are possible for those who believe.” – Mark 9:23