2015, for me, was a year of extreme blessing and extreme disappointment, at least from my limited perspective. While I was humbled and encouraged by the grace that God lavished on me and my family in some areas, His choice not to answer prayer the way I hoped He would in other areas effectively held the calm I craved just out of reach.
Like a ding-dong-ditcher, the undeniable truth of human frailty and physical weakness has hounded me for a long, long time, startling me at unexpected moments and sending my heartbeat into adrenaline-induced iambic pentameter so often that my chest sometimes feels sore.
Now, there was a time in my life when I would have deemed this response to external circumstances a symptom of spiritual sickness, but not anymore. If nothing else, God’s allowing me and my loved ones to endure circumstances and afflictions we’d rather not has taught me much about fear and faith, and while there are those who would tell you that to experience what I just described is to sin, I disagree.
The “fight or flight” response in human beings is real, and you can’t fault an individual for experiencing it any more than you can fault them for needing to eat or sleep or for feeling sorrow or happiness. Adrenaline, hormones, electrolytes, chemicals, endorphins, blood-sugar levels, etc., they control our physical and emotional lives to a certain degree, so it’s only fair that we classify these often uncontrollable factors as external circumstances when discerning spiritual matters and diagnosing spiritual condition.
Yes, God said, “fear not” (Isaiah 41:10), but emotion does not equal fear. To fear is to choose to live in submission to or be controlled by something or someone. To “fear the Lord” (Psalm 34:9) is to submit to and be controlled by Him, an appropriate response considering Who He is. It’s a good thing. When God said, “fear not,” he meant that we should not allow ourselves to be controlled by the Enemy—a bad thing—but rely on Him because He alone is sovereign and all-powerful. The choice not to fear is a conscious one made in spite of the unavoidable initial adrenaline rush that external circumstances can cause. Take this idea into consideration the next time you try to make sense of 1 John 4:18.
Likewise, peace—not to be confused with calm, although calm often follows peace—is a matter of discipline, not emotion. When the unwanted and/or unthinkable happens, I have two choices. I can let my mind run wild, entertaining what-if’s and if-only’s until I’m a flush-faced, paralyzed mess, or I can “take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5), walking confidently in the Truth of God’s Word in thought and in practice and letting my heart rest, regardless of the emotion that ebbs and flows in my belly as external factors poke and pester.
Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
By dying on the cross and rising from the grave, Jesus lifted those of us who put our faith in Him above the world’s control and wrenched us from the Enemy’s grip. No matter what happens to our physical bodies, our souls are secure. We belong to God, and His Spirit lives within us. What’s more, this breath of a life we live is insignificant compared to the eternal glory that awaits us in Heaven, facts that make the difficulties of the here and now more bearable, bring us peace, and settle our hearts when we fix our eyes on Jesus (2 Cor. 4:18). The trick is in the fixing!
Nothing the world offers brings the kind of peace that eternal security in Christ brings, no matter how much money we pay or how much time we invest. Relationships, therapies, chemicals, they are poultices that wear off and must be reapplied. None reach the heart like Jesus. None heal the soul like He does. Now, that’s not to say that it’s wrong for a Christian to seek therapy or accept treatment for the external factors that plague us and cause our outsides to quake even as our hearts grow still. Quite the contrary.
Jesus also said, “If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away” (Matt. 5:30).
Nothing is more important than pursuing God and living out one’s calling. Nothing. If legitimate treatment for the physical, mental, or emotional condition that keeps a Christian from pursuing God as He desires exists, that Christian, in my opinion, is not only justified in seeking that treatment, but obligated to do so, as long as that treatment does not dull, distract, or hinder them spiritually, so they can get back to the business of whole-hearted pursuit.
Agree or disagree, but beware of the self-righteous tendency to dismiss or belittle those who process things differently than you do or think you might. Emotional response to painful circumstance is not necessarily an indicator of spiritual immaturity, but instead proof that life is hard and we need Jesus. Pray for those who struggle—don’t judge—and help them fix their eyes on the One who offers peace!