Living in this Fear-Filled World
Some ideas take time to mature. Here are some of those for me.
- The Sovereignty of God
- The Power of Love
There are plenty more, but these 3 have proved of great significance in the last couple of years.
The Sovereignty of God.
This, of course, is a doctrine we find in the Bible. While theologians debate the extent of God’s sovereignty, few would deny it. Sadly, however, it remains on the shelf of “doctrines” and doesn’t get much application time in real life. It should, especially in light of what the church has gone through over the past couple of years with the rise of Covid, the growing political/ideological divide, and conspiracy theories. They’ve brought new things to fear to the foreground of life. In light of these new fears, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty suddenly becomes vitally important. It can’t stay on the shelf, where theories we like to discuss tend to remain. Take God’s sovereignty off the shelf and chew on it and it sets you free from fear.
1 Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
2 For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb. (Psalm 37:1–2)
In our day, with the constant news cycle, it seems we hear about some new evil each week (if not each day), and it gets a bit overwhelming. It sucks the hope right out of you and the prevailing wisdom of the world is to hide from it, or at least do everything you can to mitigate it. When we consider that nothing is new under the sun, the Biblical writers’ words are as relevant today as they were when written. Threats and evil are not new and the sovereignty of God then is the same today. How does the psalmist teach us to live in such times? “Fret not” are his first words. Then he goes on to exhort us to “trust in the Lord, and do good.” That seems a bit contrary to the encouragement we have from the world to hide and mitigate and stay away. Go out and do good, which is the outworking of “trusting in the Lord.” Further down we read:
12 The wicked plots against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him,
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that his day is coming. (Psalm 37:12–13)
We are reminded that the wicked have a certain end. Psalm 2 is similar.
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision. (Psalm 2:1–4)
This conspiring is on a large scale. He writes about nations, plural, conspiring against the Lord. See? Nothing new. Back to psalm 37.
23 The steps of a man are established by the LORD,
when he delights in his way;
24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the LORD upholds his hand.
25 I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or his children begging for bread.
26 He is ever lending generously,
and his children become a blessing.
27 Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell forever.
28 For the LORD loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off. (Psalm 37:23–28)
Here again we see the contrasting ends of the one who trusts in the Lord and lives a life of faith (doing good and delighting in the Lord’s ways) and the one who doesn’t. It is the faith lived out that is the key difference, not the mitigation strategies he employed. It is the doctrine of the sovereignty of God that helps us get there.
The Power of Love.
I’ve been mulling over Jesus’ words in John 13:34-35,
34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Love is the characteristic that differentiates disciples of Jesus from everyone else. Isn’t that interesting. It isn’t there theology, ideology, morality, or dress code. Why? Because it is something the world simply cannot do—not to the degree the disciples of Jesus can. Remember, the early church was made up of slaves and free (two classes which ordinarily didn’t mix), pharisees, priests, zealots, tax collectors (again, classes that kept apart), and Jews and Gentiles (clearly did not mix). But love overcame all of these divisions and kept people together. Today we see political ideologies dividing people; covid views dividing people; and even subtle differences in theology dividing people. You probably know people who hold different views on these things from you. The question becomes, will your love for them be enough to keep you from separating over them? That’s power.
That same power is what opens the door to honest communication. You can’t confront someone in the wrong very well if they don’t know you love them. And you won’t accept confrontation from someone if you don’t know they love you.
When I was younger I loved to discuss (and debate) theology. I still do, actually. But I’ve found that theology is not an end. It is a means to an end and love is closer to that end. If your theology is more effective in your life in separating you from other believers rather than loving other believers (who may not agree with you theologically), then it has become a snare.
Love is the power that helps people overcome their differences. Love is the power that allows people to become agents of sanctification in each other’s lives.
Paul writes about contentment apart from circumstances. That’s hard to imagine in our world. Why aren’t we content? We’re not content because we feel the effects of the fall. We sense that we need something. This is why people chase money, careers, women (or men), and all kinds of other things. We hope that one of these things will turn out to be the thing that fills that emptiness. Paul talks about his relationship with God as the filler of that void. You’ve probably heard that before. Even so, most Christians still feel discontent. Most of us don’t know what its really like to taste and see that the Lord is the answer to that emptiness. We still drink from broken cisterns (as Jeremiah puts it). Jesus offers us “living water” that wells up to eternal life. The key isn’t just being familiar with that idea, but actually drinking from that well. That’s where we often fall short.
I was thinking the other day about the other words Jesus spoke at the well in Samaria, the ones he spoke to his disciples (rather than the words he spoke to the woman). When the disciples found Jesus at the well they urged him to eat (because he was weary) and he said, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” When they sought to understand what this food was he said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” His conversation with the woman somehow unwearied him. That’s remarkable. Fulfilling the work that God has given you to do has the power to quench that thirst. There is a closeness to the Lord that we feel when we are about the Lord’s work, which of course, is to “do good” and love others well. We feel that closeness; we taste that water; we drink from His well, and we feel…content.
So, trust in God’s sovereignty, love others well, and drink from this well of contentment and the sting of today’s fear-filled world will go away.