When Worry and Fear Weigh You Down

Well friends, the timing of this post is really something. I shared the news this morning and I’ll say more about this in my newsletter (going out in a few days), but my grandfather passed away last week. A few minutes after turning in my May (in)courage post — the words below — I called mom and found out she had just heard from hospice.

What none of us knew then, what I certainly didn’t know as I wrote the post, is that three weeks later we would stand in a cemetery for a socially distanced funeral. The prayer in this post became the closing prayer for his service, and I definitely did not get through it in one piece (cue all the tears). Strength for today . . . bright hope for tomorrow.

He lived well, loved well, pastored well, and finished well. He spent time in God’s presence, and it showed. What a legacy. Pap-Pop, this post is for you.

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We began studying Philippians as a church in the fall of 2019. Because we move slowly, verse by verse, we found ourselves in chapter three as we walked through Lent while sheltering-in-place. On Palm Sunday, I looked ahead to the verses that would come next, knowing they would be our Easter passage.

I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry. The irony was thick, but it felt like a gift.

On Easter Sunday, my church dove deep into Philippians 4:6-7:

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers. Philippians 4:6

In a world weighed down by worries, in a pandemic that feels more like Good Friday than Easter Sunday, choosing faith instead of fear is a daily challenge. Or, perhaps, it’s an opportunity. An invitation, even.

The following week, my Bible study group began reading Joshua. Over the next several months, we’ll go chapter by chapter, studying the words in their context and looking for God’s goodness woven throughout.

As I read the first chapter, two things stood out:
– The book begins with loss
– Joshua’s fear is met with reassurances of God’s loving-kindness and faithful presence

After decades wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites stand ready to enter the Promised Land. It’s time to set out, to walk in obedience and faith. They are the generation who will see the promise made become the promise kept.

But Moses, Joshua’s mentor and the Israelite’s leader, has just died. The one who spoke face-to-face with God is gone, and it’s reasonable to assume that Joshua is not only grieving, he’s filled with fear.

At first glance, I assumed Joshua’s fear was attached to the challenge ahead. How will he lead an entire nation? How long will the journey take? What will the land be like after all this time?

Fast forward to 2020, and I wonder, How will our leaders guide us in the coming days? How long will we shelter-in-place and worry for our loved ones? What will the “new normal” look like?

But a closer look led me in a different direction. Joshua’s fear isn’t tied to the unknown of the future — He’s afraid of a future without God. He doesn’t want the promise without the presence of the Promise Maker.

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

Three times in chapter one, God reassures Joshua like a mother comforting a child:

“I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you. Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. Be strong and very courageous.” (verses 5-7)

“This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (verse 9)

“Be strong and courageous!” (verse 18)

Joshua has known the goodness of God in the middle of the unknown, and he would rather have the wilderness with God’s presence than the blessing without. In other words, what Joshua wants most isn’t a blessing — it’s God’s with-ness.

The comfort of Joshua 1 and the challenge of Philippians 4 collide in the beauty of Exodus 33:11:

Inside the Tent of Meeting, the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Afterward Moses would return to the camp, but the young man who assisted him, Joshua son of Nun, would remain behind in the Tent of Meeting.

He remained behind. Long before Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land, he lingered in the presence of the One who made the promise.

Perhaps this is a picture of “Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers.” Perhaps worry is replaced with worship when we fix our eyes on the One who promises to never leave our side.

Worry is replaced with worship when we fix our eyes on the One who promises to never leave our side.

Will you join me in prayer today?

Lord God, we come with hands full of worries and fears. We are broken and needy. We are desperate. As You were with Moses in the wilderness and Joshua in the Promised Land, lead us through the coming days.

You wrapped Yourself in skin, dwelling among us in this broken, hurting world. Jesus, You wept over the death of a friend, even though You knew the story wasn’t over. And so Lord, You understand our hurting hearts. We bring them to You, asking for strength for today and hope for tomorrow.

Spirit, we’re grateful for the ever-present gift of Your presence. Comfort those who are grieving, grant wisdom to our leaders, give us courage in the unknown, and teach us to linger longer in Your presence, shaping our worries into prayers.

You are the God who comes and stays, the One who keeps every promise He makes. We don’t know what the future will hold, but we know that You’ll be there. Today, Lord, we declare that to be — declare You to be — more than enough.

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