From Anxious Thoughts to Trusting the Lord

“Lisa, you need to go to the principal’s office,” my fifth grade teacher informed me one day. Oh my! Instantly, the rosy colors of the day turned to gloom and doom. I left the classroom with sweaty palms, a pounding heart, and my mind racing, trying to recall what I might have done to earn the principal’s attention. I felt like I had 4 cotton balls in my mouth as I reviewed the events of the day, the week, even the last month! “What had I done wrong that would make him call me to his office?” I worried and walked slowly, but not too slowly; I didn’t want to get in more trouble.

Smiling timidly I walked into his office. I remember he greeted me with an effort at a joke as he gave me some papers my mother needed. That was it? I wasn’t in trouble? Only then was I able to manage a big, though slightly shaky grin. I wasn’t in trouble! Nothing was wrong! I had only feared receiving bad news, though I couldn’t think of any reason that would warrant it. I have to confess that even now, that fifth-grade response of fear and worry can strike my heart at any time and I still have that sense of dread over the unknown. A natural enough response I suppose, yet not at all what God desires for His children. 

God doesn’t want us to live in fear of bad news or to create trouble in our minds that hasn’t even transpired; that’s why He explains in the Bible how not to fear evil tidings. Psalm 112:7 gives us a picture of what this would look like in our lives, “He will not fear evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” There’s no escaping the connection between not giving in to fear and worry and trusting the Lord. 

But how do we get there? How can we become that person? That person whose heart is not alarmed, even in unexpected circumstances. Psalm 112:1 tells us: “How blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments.” Do you see the glimmers of hope and practical help here? The Psalm 112:7 woman is first the Psalm 112:1 woman who fears the Lord and greatly delights in the Word. That combination of holy reverence and love for the Word forges a steadfast heart. Proverbs 1:33 illuminates this truth further, “But he who listens to me (me = wisdom that comes from God) shall live securely and will be at ease from the dread of evil.” A woman who fears the Lord, heeding God’s wisdom, and delighting in God’s Word won’t fear bad news. Why? Because she doesn’t live in the realm of what-if, she fastens her thoughts upon the One who is over all things, over all circumstances, over all events. As she does this she is comforted.

The Psalmist explains this process further when he says in Psalm 34:4, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” In another psalm he said, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You (Psalm 56:3).” What we see here is the Psalmist actively putting his faith into practice. Though he was afraid, he didn’t wallow in his fear and give into worry’s paralyzing effects, instead he turned to the Lord for deliverance, help, and hope.

Times like these—when we’re tempted to worry and give in to fear and anxiety—are the perfect time to apply Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Using this list of things to dwell on helps us keep our thoughts reined in and on the Lord, so worry and fear are kept at bay. As I apply that list to my thoughts I rarely get past “Is it true?” before my fears dissolve. The positive and practical nature of Philippians 4:8 helps me turn from groundless fears to the solid truths of God’s character and ways. A woman who tests her thoughts under the microscope of Philippians 4:8 will find herself living like Isaiah 26:3-4, “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock.” 

 

Keep Your Courage Up

Acts 27 records Paul’s long-awaited journey by ship to Rome. With winter approaching the centurion in charge wants to press on toward Rome rather than finding harbor safely in port. A ferocious winter storm attacked the ship that Paul, other prisoners, Romans, and sailors traveled in. The storm was so mighty that Luke remarked, “all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned (Acts 27:20).” They all feared for their lives as the storm relentlessly pursued them. Everything that wasn’t tied down, and even some things that were, had been thrown overboard to lighten the ship in the tremendous squall.

Paul being Paul earnestly prayed for the Lord to rescue them in some way. Listen in on his words to all those aboard the ship recorded in Acts 27:22-26, “Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’ Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on a certain island.”

I’ve read Acts many times over the years, yet in all the times I’ve read about Paul’s perilous voyage to Rome, which eventually ended in shipwreck on the island of Malta, I’d never really noticed the soul-calming wisdom of verse 25 until recently. What were Paul’s words? “Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told.”

How I needed those words that morning! How I need them now! Paul and all those aboard the Rome-bound ship grew weary and despairing when the storm failed to abate. There’s something about the relentlessness of a long-term storm that tests us in ways we never knew we needed. The winds have blown for so long that we abandon hope of ever being rescued (Acts 27:20). We find it’s difficult to get out of bed on some mornings. I know about storms like that, which is why Paul’s words in Acts 27:25 ministered to my heart so much. Keep up your courage. Believe God. Everything will turn out just as He intends.

 In times of trouble, keep up your courage. In verse 25 Paul tells the poor storm-tossed inhabitants of the ship, “Keep up your courage.” They needed this soul-cheering word from the apostle! The storm had raged against them for too long; they had long since abandoned hope that they would come out of this alive, especially since the ship was being driven along so mercilessly. Yet, even there the Merciful One was at the helm. Keep up your courage. The Lord knows how often His children need that same encouragement when we find ourselves tossed about by great storms, when our souls are weary and our bodies worn down by the trial, when our store of worldly resources have dwindled down to a pittance, even then He tells us, “Keep up your courage.”

Jesus told the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven (Matthew 9:2).” He told the poor woman with the 12-year hemorrhage, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well (Matthew 9:22).” When the disciples were terrified at seeing Him walk upon water, He told them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid (Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50).”

David echoes Paul’s words when he says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord (Psalm 27:14).” Will you keep your courage up? Will you let your heart take courage? We don’t want courage filled with sawdust that scatters and dissipates as the wind blows; no, we want courage that recovers, that regains its footing no matter how long the storm rages. Jesus understood this, which is why he encouraged His disciples with these words in His final days on earth, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” 

When is it the most difficult to keep up your courage? When everything looks black, when it appears there’s no hope of rescue, when the Lord seems silent—even then we are told to take courage, to keep our courage up, to not be afraid. The only way to do this is by reminding ourselves of God’s character, remembering His power and might, compassion and mercy, patience and faithfulness, and perfect wisdom and sovereignty. Only a sight of the Lord strengthens our hearts when we’re afraid and need courage to face the future. Run to the Scriptures and let your heart take courage.

In times of trouble, believe God. Paul told the men, “Keep up your courage, men, for I believe God!” Paul challenged the men with those words. It was as if he was saying, “I believe God, do you?” Remember, when Paul spoke those words he was still in the midst of the storm. And so we must consider that challenge carefully as well. Will you believe God when everything in your life looks as though God is not in control, that He does not care, and that things will never get better ever again? Will you still believe God even then? Jesus reiterated this truth to His disciples in John 14:1 when He said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.” Isaiah 12:2 says, “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the Lord God is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation.” Believing God is trusting God; they are one and the same.

Charles Spurgeon wrote the following about believing God in relation to this passage in Acts 27. It comes with a spank, so be prepared, but it is a spanking we often need. “Thus he treated God as he should be treated, namely, with unquestioning confidence. An upright man likes to be trusted; it would grieve him if he saw that he was regarded with suspicion. Our faithful God is jealous of His honor, and cannot endure that men should treat Him as if He could be false. Unbelief provokes the Lord above any other sin: it touches the apple of his eye, and cuts Him to the quick. Far be it from us to perpetrate so infamous a wrong towards our heavenly Father; let us believe Him up to the hilt, placing no bounds to our hearty reliance upon His word.”[1]

In times of trouble, believe God’s Word. Third, not only does Paul believe God, but he also believes that things will turn out exactly as he has been told. An angel of the Lord came to Paul, strengthening his heart and filling him in on the future in store for the storm-tossed ship. We don’t have the privilege of an angel of the Lord visiting us with a personalized message from the Lord, but we have something better; we have the more sure Word (2 Peter 1:19). In the Scriptures we find every promise God intended us to have from Him for the express purpose of strengthening our hearts in the storms God blows our way.

Abraham put his trust in God’s promises. Look at Romans 4:20-21, “yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.” We can trust the promises of God. They may come to pass in our lives in a far different way than we imagined, but the Lord will stand by His Word. We can trust Him—even when our little dinghy appears ready to capsize—our God stands near.

 

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, According to Promise (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1887), 98.