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do not fear suffering

March 1, 2018

 

(The following is adapted from a testimony I shared at my church earlier this year.)

 

“The Lord is my chosen and my cup, you hold my lot; The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; Indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” Psalm 16:5-6

 

A little over a year ago, I couldn't fathom trying to share how God was revealing himself to me. I had just spent my Christmas break limping around my childhood home in Florida, wondering if I’d ever walk normally again.

 

I had woken up one day and found that I could not sit, walk, or lie down without feeling sharp and searing pain throughout my legs. As it turns out, all those years of being a student with bad ergonomics had finally caught up with me. An MRI showed that I had a disc bulge and a compressed nerve.

 

But really, it was fear that paralyzed me more than anything physical. The thought of not being able to walk or living with chronic pain would have been more bearable had the terror itself been less consuming.

 

As a counselor, it’s my job to help people overcome anxiety and catastrophic thoughts; yet I’ll also be the first to tell my clients that fear can be good. Healthy fear can give us information about when we are in danger, and it has helped our ancestors survive.

 

But what I experienced last year was a more menacing fear – a fear that is not real at all, even when it feels most debilitating. This type of fear blocks us from hearing God’s voice clearly. It is oppressive – it muddles, distorts, and confuses.

 

The enemy uses this fear to make us doubt God’s goodness and God’s involvement in our lives. In the throes of searing pain, I was faced over and over again with the choice – would I trust God or give myself over to the chaos? Would I allow fear to construct a false reality, or would I claim God’s ultimate reality?

 

In the book of Revelation, Jesus says: “do not fear what you are about to suffer”

These words became an embodied reality for me. It is one thing to suffer; it is quite another to fear your suffering.

 

Through my injury, I learned that fear can produce superfluous suffering. Yet what we often don't realize is that we have power in Christ to combat that fear.

 

First, I had to make a decision, with God’s help, to accept whatever would happen to me, regardless of the outcome. Release control of an otherwise terrifying situation. Get to a point where I could say to the Lord - “You hold my lot” – with confidence rather than mere resignation.

 

Second, I had to choose to acknowledge the reality of the goodness of God regardless of what I was experiencing. I still had to be able to say, “the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”

 

Finally, I learned that worship is the most powerful weapon against fear.

This is not to negate the reality of pain; it is to say that worship clears the way for authentic relationship with God, so that we can invite him to be with us in our pain

Worship proclaims the reality of who God is in the face of fear’s deception.

 

Yet, how could I possibly experience Christ in the midst of so much fear? What did that look like?

 

I realized that to experience Christ and to cast away fear, I had to acknowledge my dependency. A wise woman once told me that you can be vulnerable with people without really depending on them. I found that disturbing at first – I had embraced “vulnerability” as a cultural buzzword, and I was good at “being vulnerable” – sharing my struggles with people close to me. But I was NOT good at admitting my real need for people.

 

But when I came back to my home in North Carolina still limping, the things of daily life became arduous. When I couldn't even bend over to load the dishwasher, I had no choice but to ask for help.

 

And so Christ came to me in the faces of friends scrubbing my kitchen floor, organizing my closet, cleaning up my cat’s vomit, cooking, cleaning, and carrying me into freedom from fear. I needed friends to remind me who I am, who God is – to retell the story of redemption over and over again through their words and actions.

 

As my friends loved me, fear lost its power.

 

As my friends incarnated Christ for me, I came to experience myself not as an inconvenience as our individualistic society might suggest, but rather as worthy of serving, of caring for, even when I felt I had nothing to offer. And so, I learned that physical ailments can have deep spiritual significance embedded in them.

 

My back is still injured, despite many friends’ prayers for physical healing.

And I believe God can heal it if he wants to. Yet I have experienced a deeper, more profound soul-healing as I learned to rely on the love of God as shown to me through my friends.

 

So, we must believe in the power of God in the midst of fear. I was reading 1 Peter the other day, and I came across an astonishing verse: “do not fear anything that is frightening” (3:6). What does that mean?

 

In Christ, we are called to inhabit a higher level of reality. The objective reality of God where there is no fear of anything but God.

 

We need to acknowledge that fear can be an unreality so that we do not fear the wrong thing. We must fear the One who actually has the power.

 

The point is not that we never feel fear. Anne Lamott says “courage is fear that has said it’s prayers.” The point is to be afraid of the right thing and in the right way. And we can “fear” the Lord because we know he is the only one with any real, lasting power, and we know how he views us – beloved, adopted, forgiven, reconciled, radiant.

 

So, Christ can give us the courage to enter into suffering with greater confidence

God can use fear to refine is in our capacity to experience him, to receive his love, and to manifest his love to the world.

 

Amen.

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