It’s a pretty explicit command, which is repeated (I’m told) three hundred and sixty six times in the Bible.
And yet the world clamours for our attention, shouting out messages from every media outlet, every billboard, every TV set, with a contrary perspective. We live in a culture of fear.
And if we are not changed by the Spirit of God, then that becomes our default position. We are natural-born enemies to the optimism of the Gospel. Always have been. Always will be.
We have this ingrained tendency to be self-serving and self-centered. We “go crushing blossoms without end” (Edward Sill). Just plain mean-spirited. And what about our thinking processes? Just as my tongue cannot resist caressing a broken tooth even when it clearly is scratching my tongue, so my mind will not leave alone the very feeling that disturbs it.
My natural way of thinking makes me an enemy to God.
Anger is a good example. We tend to process our grievances endlessly. Frederick Buechner said: “Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you”
What does anger achieve, after all?
Worry is another example of “natural” thinking. We love to worry about all those things that seem to be national epidemics—based on the news. Dr. Leonard Sigal has perceptively written: “Lyme disease, although a problem, is not nearly as big a problem as most people think. The bigger epidemic is Lyme anxiety (New York Times, http://www.newyorktimes.com, Wednesday, June 13, 2001).
School shootings are another area of exaggerated concern. 71 percent of people responding to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll believed that a school shooting was “likely in their community.” In reality, there is a one in 2 million chance of being killed in a school shooting (May, 2001. “News Distorts Youth, Reports Say.” Youth Today, 10, (5), p. 6.).
Air safety is a popular arena for fear. Apparently, In the entire history of commercial aviation, dating back to 1914, fewer than 13,000 people have died in airplane crashes. In the US alone, three times that many die in car accidents in a single year. The average person’s probability of dying in an air crash is about 1 in 4 million. . . . A person is ten times more likely to die in his or her bathtub than in an airplane accident” (Barry Glassner (1999). The Culture of Fear. New York: Basic Books.).
The media put a magnifying glass on problems. Or maybe it is a telescope. A problem with miniscule probabilities soon eclipses everything else.
It remains popular among humans to fret about the things we don’t have. It may be called envy, jealousy, coveting, or rivalry. “If I just made more money . . . Research suggests that having more money will not increase your happiness unless you have been going hungry. Money simply is not a source of happiness. In contrast, it has been suggested that optimal human experience happens when people challenge their abilities in some task. Whether it is a project at work or a hobby pursued at home, we can become so engaged in a task that we lose track of time. It’s called flow.
Growth is better than wanting.
As humans we act as if we believe that Woody Allen had accurately portrayed our options: “More than any time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”
So what’s the antidote?
It’s up there on the first line. 366 seperate encouragements to FEAR NOT, a command based upon the revealed character of a loving God: What a remarkably focused formula! It is only by looking to Him that we can deal with the desolating scourge of doubt and fear.
To be a believer is to be an eternal optimist. Be happy. The gospel is a thing of joy. It provides us with a reason for gladness.
Of course there are times of sorrow. Of course there are hours of concern and anxiety. We all worry. But the Lord has told us to lift our hearts and rejoice. I see so many people who seem never to see the sunshine, but who constantly walk with storms under cloudy skies. It really is: Don’tworry; Be happy. God is in control.
Walk by faith. God is good.
For a nonbeliever, all this may look like denial. The world recommends that we study and confront problems. The Lord recommends that we let Jesus change the kind of people we are.
Satan must laugh as he keeps us worried about all the wrong things. We worry about airline crashes more than listening to a troubled child; we fret about world conflict more than listening tothe God of the storm; we worry about money more than about prayer.
Perhaps anxiety, fear, resentment, and envy are all distractions to keep us from the power that can both guide us and save us. We might pray as Fosdick did, “Fill us with Thyself, that we may no longer be a burden to ourselves.”
Imagine living fearlessly. Imagine it today.