… for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (II Timothy 1:7)
… do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
…So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. (Matthew 6:31-32)
Whenever we discuss the subject of “trusting God,” we should be careful to define our terms and make important distinctions. In order to become a Christian in the first place, one must fully “trust God” for salvation. Trusting God in this sense means that I believe God exists, that I know I’m a sinner who cannot save myself, and I rest in Christ alone for my salvation. By God’s grace, all Christians have a foundational trust in God which establishes us as His loved, adopted, and redeemed children.
Then, there is the “trusting God” that occurs post-salvation, within our ongoing sanctification. As a believer who still deals with idols of the heart, is in the process of mind renewal, and is growing in Christ, trusting God is difficult. I trust God for my finances, but not so much for my struggling marriage. I trust God for my overall health, but not when a close loved one is diagnosed with cancer. I trust God for my future (in general), but find it hard when things aren’t going smoothly. As conflicted as it sounds, we can trust God for our eternity, but not as much for the temporal.
How, then, do we know when our trust in God in everyday life is lacking or waning? Simply put, whenever one or more of the mistrusting, self-protective, worldly triad of fear, anxiety, and worry shows up! These are indicators that our hearts are resisting the complete and peaceful trust in a sovereign God who loves us and takes care of us. They are like the “check engine” light that appears on our dashboard to announce that there is something wrong under the hood. Whenever we experience anxious, fearful, or worrisome thoughts which provoke bad emotional and bodily responses, we can recognize this as an invitation to trust God more completely rather than a temptation to despair.
So, using the above Scripture passages, let’s briefly think through how fear, anxiety, and worry can move us away from – or toward – trusting God. Fear is the natural response to a perceived threat. If you did not fear the presence of a grizzly bear in the woods, you might reach out for a hug rather than run in the opposite direction. The real problem of fear occurs in two places: 1) When we fear things and people that we shouldn’t (fear of man, phobias, etc.), and 2) When we develop an overall “spirit” or “disposition” of fear. In II Timothy 1, Paul reminds Timothy that God has given believers the power of Christ, the love of Christ, and self-control in Christ that overcomes all fear. So any fear-provoking situation challenges us to either rely on the work of Christ in our hearts (trusting God) or rely on something else.
Anxiety is the mental attempt to control what we cannot control. Whether we realize it or not, anxiety is our heart’s cry that we want to be God in situations that are too big for us. But in Philippians 4, Paul encourages us to be anxious for NOTHING. By doing so, Paul recognizes that we will often struggle with anxiety. And when we do, Paul (by the prompting of the Holy Spirit) calls us to remember the truth – the God we serve is faithful, good, and sovereign. He has redeemed the entire universe and made us His prized possession. So there is no reason for Christians to try to assume control when our gracious Father is causing all things to work together for His glory and our good. After all, our good means growing in His likeness. Therefore, Paul’s solution makes sense: Pray! Give thanks! Trust God! This is the only way to move from anxiety to peace. But remember: This is a daily, grueling battle as we grow in grace, rather than a once-and-for-all eradication of anxiety.
Worry demonstrates a lack of trusting that God will provide. Yet our definition of provision and His are often different. He provides what we need to grow in His holiness, not necessarily in our temporary happiness. We see the lack of trust clearly in Christ’s words in Matthew 6. Worrying simply denies God’s mighty, daily provision for His children. The pagans RUN after “these things,” while the Christian should REST about them. It should pierce our hearts to know that when we worry about money, possessions, our marriages, our families, etc., we are no better than pagans. Like them, we are telling God that either He doesn’t exist or He doesn’t care.
In the end, we must take to heart that fear, anxiety, and worry can proclaim to our Heavenly Father that we really don’t trust Him – or they can serve as a call to deeper worship of the One who is our Provider and Protector. Our sinful flesh thinks we could do a better job, if we were God for the day. We think we could take care of ourselves, if we could only have complete control. We may think that we are all alone, without a God who loves us and takes care of us. When – not if – these troublesome thoughts and emotions show up in our lives, God does not condemn, punish or chastise us. Rather, He invites us to confess our weakness and wage war against the forces of evil. While He calls us to trust in Him alone, He gives us Himself and His people so we never have to do it alone.