Our two-year-old likes to listen to music on YouTube. She’ll often come up to us and request a certain song “on the TV” because she enjoys watching the video associated with the music. One children’s song that she listens to puts these lyrics to a catchy tune: “Walking in the jungle, walking in the jungle; I’m not afraid, I’m not afraid.” Although the region in Togo where our hospital operates isn’t full-on jungle, it is a rainforest setting. Whenever this children’s song plays (and I will have it stuck in my head for days after), I remember a lot of our time in “the jungle.” We were sometimes confronted with things that might have given us cause to fear, but we knew and chose to believe that any anxiety we experienced was not something God had given to us.
As natural and understandable as our fears were, they came from something other than the Lord. We were confronted with the prospect of viral hemorrhagic fever in West Africa, not to mention malaria and Typhoid fever. The possibility of civil or governmental unrest were constant. Our financial situation as missionaries wasn’t necessarily stable. The capital city where we did our grocery shopping wasn’t considered the safest place in the world. We were concerned about venomous snakes both indoors and out. All of these things were realities whether we lived in fear or not, and if we allowed ourselves to imagine that any of that was truly in our hands we would become afraid. When we look at ourselves and our ability to control the situation, we see how weak we are—how small we are compared to the problem. Yet it’s by God’s own power that we are able to function and even thrive without fear. He is the one big enough to handle these big problems “according to his riches and glory.”
More than feeling secure in life, ultimately, God’s children should not even remotely fear death itself. Each of us is appointed a time to die. It seems that some good Christian people fall into the same pattern of fear to which the world around them naturally falls prey. The world, “sons of wrath,” have every reason to fear death, but the spirit of power which sons of God have been given provides a confidence in life that shows no fear of death. Why? Because to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).
What do we have to look forward to in eternity? Sometimes my imagination is vivid. Let me paint a picture. I imagine opening my eyes and truly seeing for the first time—there is light everywhere. The burden and weight of fleshly pain and any care of the world is forgotten. The host of angels who rejoiced at my repentance are present, rejoicing still and worshiping the Lamb. There is a “cloud of witnesses” to greet me. Famous figures from the Bible and history who influenced my faith, those who directly impacted my faith, and those whose faith I may have impacted stand in radiant mass. Family and loved ones who have already entered eternity embrace me with overwhelming joy before turning and pointing further up and further in, pointing at the great source of light, the source of palpable loving kindness. If you think there are no tears in God’s presence, I’ll remind you that “he will wipe away every tear,” (Rev. 21:4) and my eyes are full of joyful tears. To finally greet my King and brother and to hear “well done, good and faithful servant”—that is my greatest joy and aspiration. It is the power of this kind of hope that destroys fear.
God has given us a spirit of love. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.”
Yes, to die is gain, but to live is Christ. When Paul wrote these words to the Philippians he was debating with himself whether or not to willingly surrender to what he wanted (eternity) or to hope to live a while longer in order to serve the church, to serve the Lord here on earth. He ultimately communicates his desire to live as long as he is able in order to promote Christ and build the church. This is something so unique to God’s children, that we can seek to lovingly serve friends, strangers, and enemies despite opposition, difficulty, and disaster, and we’re able to do this without fear because of the power of God and the spirit of love which he has given us.
Love is another remedy for fear. Imagine a father rushing into a burning building to save his small child. True love trumps fear. As children of God we grow and mature in our faith, the process of sanctification, to a point where we do actually love other people. We know from Ephesians 2:10 that God has prepared good works for us in order that we can carry out those works. This love that we have, a desire to serve others in humility, is made useful when it helps us to overcome fear so that we can act in obedience in our service to others. This Christian mercy in the face of fear is what brought about medicine and hospitals as we know them. The love which God has given us allows us to overcome fear in order to serve others and accomplish God-honoring work here on earth. This is the reason my family and I are able to serve in a part of the world which may be considered dangerous by some. It’s the reason Christians at home and abroad are able to go out and serve their brothers and sisters, their communities, or the vulnerable despite fear of plague or pestilence. Love overcomes fear.
God has given us a sound mind. “Be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
Soundness of mind in this particular passage is also translated as self-control. This is a two-edged sword when it comes to countering fear. Consider a current predicament—either personal or global. There is probably something in your life which might cause you to be afraid or anxious. Most likely this won’t be a problem forever, but there will be something else to occupy your mind soon enough. Those who do not practice self-control give in to fear with abandon; they are controlled by fear. God has given his children the ability to stop and think and practice wisdom. God has given us the option to turn our thoughts and prayers toward Him. Isaiah 26:3 states, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you.” We have found this to be true when tempted to fear. Whether practicing medicine in West Africa or walking with our twelve year old daughter while she battles cancer, we have had the opportunity to turn our attention toward the God of peace. You can as well.
The other side of the sound mind coin is that we temper our enthusiasm. Christians have been given a spirit of power and love and we are therefore capable of overcoming any fear, even fear of death. That does not mean that we have license to be careless. Overcoming a fear of heights does not mean we believe we can fly. In my medical opinion, not every viral outbreak is as concerning as news outlets or the masses make things seem. Yet, that does not mean that we don’t practice caution on some level. In Togo, our hospital had a plan in place for the event of managing Ebola or Lassa Fever. Missionaries everywhere have evacuation plans in case of civil unrest or medical emergencies. Regarding our daughter’s cancer, we choose not to fear but continue to steadily seek what treatments are available. God’s children are given the means to overcome fear, the motivation to act in the face of difficulty, and the wisdom to know when action is necessary. A sound mind helps us discern hysteria from danger but also allows us to understand when we can lovingly take action in the midst of difficult or dangerous situations.
“God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim 1:7)
One last reminder. In Philippians 4 Paul entreats the reader to not be anxious and then gives some more “antidotes” to anxiety: prayer and thanksgiving. He tells us to make our requests known to God, but then says nothing about having those specific needs met. Rather, he tells us that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Not that God does not answer prayer; we continue to pray for our daughter’s healing. Yet, healing isn’t a guarantee—peace is. I encourage you to look to Christ today no matter what you might be facing.