Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest, by Edward T. Welch

ImageWhen this book arrived at our church bookstore last fall, it sold out in two Sundays. There is a simple reason for this: We’re all a bunch of worriers! As Dr. Welch tells us, the most frequent commandment in the Bible is not “Do not kill,” or “Do not lie,” it’s “Do not be afraid.” Are you surprised? Think about every time an angel appears to someone in scripture. It’s the first thing they say, because, let’s face it, we’d all be dumbstruck in that situation. When Joshua was about to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, God told him, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you may go.” (Joshua 1:9) My favorite is on the other end of the Bible, in Luke 12:32, where Jesus tells his disciples, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” I’m not sure why it’s so comforting to be a part of a small group of sheep, but there it is.

In the first part of this book, Welch gives statistics and examples of the universality of worry. Every age has its own fears. Children’s fears are mostly physical, worrying about the monster under the bed or the neighbor’s big dog. Teens add social fears onto those, with fears about not fitting in or not finding a true relationship. Adults don’t lose those fears, but they add on even more fears about money, security for their loved ones, and death. There are entire industries that are making big profits in trading on your fears, from fashion to internet security to Hollywood! These are not wrong in themselves, but if our fears become obsessive, we can become crippled in our ability to live life to the fullest.

Dr. Welch advises that we take a good long look at our fears—name them, even write them down. They are very revealing. The things you worry about are your treasures. These are the material goods or relationships or life circumstances that you truly value. Have you ever known someone who considered worrying a virtue? They feel that the one who frets the most is the most loving. Caring for things or people is not wrong, but fretting about them reveals a lack of trust in God’s care. While you should make plans and work hard to fulfill your obligations, we’d rather be God than trust him. You cannot change the past, and you may not have the future. Worry, however, can certainly ruin the present.

The middle section of the book tackles what Dr. Welch sees as the three greatest fears:

  • Fears About Money and Possessions
  • Fear of Other People’s Opinions
  • Fear of Death and Judgment

From the varying lengths of these chapters, I suspect that most people worry about money and financial security more than anything else. This section is the reason I bought the book! Of course, I can do combination platters, as well, and worry about what people think of my lack of money. Even better, I can combine all three and worry about what people would think if I did not have medical procedures done because I can’t afford it. This anxiety hits me in the dentist’s chair quite often. We can all be creative in our worries, can’t we?

Here Welch applies what he calls the Manna Principle, recalling the time that the Israelites were traveling through the desert and had nothing to eat. They were ready to turn around and go back into slavery in Egypt. Now, here are the Israelites, who had just walked through the Red Sea and witnessed God’s deliverance from 400 years of slavery, whining and complaining about pretty much everything. It’s so easy to think, “What a bunch of brats!” If you’ve lived for more than a few years, however, you start to notice how much we all act like the Israelites at times. How long does it take us to complain about our circumstances when hard times come, even though we were quite sure of God’s loving mercy not long ago? God heard the Israelites, just as he hears us, and he sent manna, something no one had ever seen before.  If you’re familiar with the story, you’ll remember that the people were told to only gather enough for today, except on the day before the Sabbath, when they should gather enough for two days. Naturally, they tried to hoard it anyway, and the extra manna rotted—except on the Sabbath. They failed that test! The Manna Principle tells us that God is near to us and does hear us, that he often acts only in the eleventh hour, that he gives us what we need for each day, and that his deliverance often contains a test. He is not trying to wave a magic wand and give us every little thing our hearts desire; he is building a relationship. He is teaching us to trust. He will give us grace for today, and when tomorrow comes, he will give us grace for that day, too, but not until then.

In the New Testament, Jesus expands this principle in the Sermon on the Mount, when he says, “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?… Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Mt. 6:25, 34) In this beautiful passage, Jesus points us to greater promises, but we are stymied by our focus on our fears. In the story of the woman at the well, Dr. Welch shows that Jesus performed the ultimate anti-bait and switch. The woman thought she was asking for physical food and drink, but since she was talking to the king, she received spiritual food and drink, as well as an invitation to the eternal kingdom. She asked for something good, and got something much better.

Many people are also filled with fear about what other people think of them. Remember the teenaged fear of peer pressure? It never goes away completely. People want to be liked, to have their emotional needs met, to get a promotion, or even to be famous. Since we all live here together, it is natural to want to have harmonious feelings all around, but when we are willing to do just about anything—even if it’s against our beliefs—so that others will think well of us, we are unbalanced in our relationships. In order to counteract a debilitating fear of man, Welch recommends developing a healthy fear of God. Meditate on the holiness of God and realize that the only reason you have hope is because he has set his affection on you. He didn’t have to, and we certainly don’t deserve it, but we can rejoice in it. When we get a clear picture of God’s perfection and holiness, fear of God is a sensible response that will make our fear of man seem foolish.

Fear of death is probably the most difficult of all. Dr. Welch writes that God does not guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen to us, but he does tell us that he will be with us and that everything is under his control. We can and should pray that our loved ones will be well, but someday they will die—and so will we. There are many reasons for this that take up entire books of theology, but the fact is that we live after the fall and we will all die. We may not understand suffering and death, but God gives us ample reason to believe that he loves us and that we should not mourn as those without hope. (1 Thess. 4:13) If we believe the gospel, we know that this life is not all that there is, and we can trust him. Other people, even Christians, fear the judgment that follows death, and reading and studying the gospel will help us to find comfort in our adoption as heirs. Welch discusses the fact that some of the fear of judgment may come from unconfessed sin, either in the past or present, and recommends that you speak with a Christian pastor or trusted friend if you cannot find peace in prayer.

The last part of the book is called “Peace Be with You,” and here he brings the entire message together with a few chapters on why and how to pray, followed by a beautiful meditation on the meaning of the word shalom. Welch discusses how God revealed himself to individuals throughout scripture, showing that he is near to us and knows our fears already. Although God may sometimes work in spectacular miracles, his usual way is to build a strong foundation and nurture gradual, deep-rooted growth. As we seek his face, we will discover shalom, which means “peace,” but implies so much more: harmony, well-being, and contentment, to name a few. Isn’t that what we all want? We can’t bring it about ourselves, despite all of our worrying and fretting. God understands your troubles, and he desires to give you peace.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

___________

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my church, employer, or anyone else.

Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV), Crossway Bibles, 2004. (Or 1500-ish B.C. to 100-ish A.D.)

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Filed under Book Reviews, Christian Life, Life's Travails- Big and Small

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