The Message God Has for You During Anxious Times
On July 27, 1971, Noël and I boarded a 707 to fly from New York to Munich, Germany. We believed God opened the door for us to go study at the University of Munich. I was 25 years old, had just graduated from Fuller Seminary the month before. God had turned my life around in seminary so that I was eager for studies not for their own sake but for Christ and his church.
I had written in my journal on July 12:
“My desire is to throw myself into the church and be employed by the Lord to do what he would in this day and through me. I am not alienated from her. I am in love with her. I want to teach in her and be taught in her. I want to be a channel of life for her and receive life through her. I want now to be about my studies in preparation, and I thank God for these times at home to see some needs — in the church and in myself. My how imperfect and weak I feel at home because I am not as loving as I ought to be. I am a long way off from holiness realized.”
The Promise of Isaiah 41:10
Now with that sense of desire to serve the church and that sense of weakness and imperfection I was in New York, 15 days later, ready to leave for Munich for three years. My father couldn’t be there to see us off because he was doing the work of an evangelist in another state. My mother and grandmother were there.
To give a sense of realism here, let me read from my journal entry two days later.
“We picked up mother and MaMohn and headed for New York. At about 2 pm we found Cargo Hanger 67 at Kennedy Airport where we unloaded our 400 pounds of extra luggage and paid $253 to have it shipped on our own flight. Then we went into Manhattan to see the town, and decided it would be preferable to sit in Radio City Music Hall than fight that crazy traffic and heat. From Radio City we called Daddy long distance to say goodbye. I felt so frustrated to make our goodbye appropriate. I came closer to crying there than when I left Mother and MaMohn at Pan Am. He gave me three passages to read: Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 50:7; 2 Timothy 4:1–5. Noël and I read these together before going to bed tonight. My how I love Daddy. I think every time I am thrown into a new situation where I may be afraid or alone my mind turns to the kind of life Daddy has been called to live for almost 30 years. I love him for following through in that call. Oh how I pray that I will have the faith and confidence he has in our Lord for trying times.”
For three years in Germany, Isaiah 41:10 was on my lips and in my heart during anxious times more than any other verse. In fact, it became so instinctive to say it that today when my mind is neutral the spinning of the gears is in Isaiah 41:10.
I can remember riding my old-fashioned, secondhand, balloon-tire bike on the bumpy, cobblestone back streets of Munich along the Isar River on the way to a class where I might have to use my German in front of the other students, and saying over and over again to myself, “Fuerchte dich nicht, denn ich bin mit dir; shau dich nicht aenchstlich um, ich bin ja dein Gott. Ich staerke dich, ich helfe dir, ich stuetze dich mit der rechten hand meiner Gerechtigkeit.” And seeing God again and again and again come through for me.
Passing the Promise to My Own Sons
And now I am a father with sons. And I rejoice that I can do for them what my father did for me. So last Wednesday evening just before Benjamin left for boot camp in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, we all sat down in the living room and I said, “There is a special verse I want to send with you, because my father sent it with me. It served me well and it will serve you well. ‘Fear not for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.'”
It’s the verse that God has used in my life more than any other to help me through times of stress and fear.
Two Commands Supported by Five Reasons
Let’s look at the verse, Isaiah 41:10, and then see how the preceding verses intensify the point of the verse. There are two commands in the verse not to fear and five pillars of fearlessness. “Fear not” is the first command at the beginning of the verse. And then the second is “do not anxiously look about you” (RSV: “do not be dismayed”).
As always in the Bible, there are reasons for the commands. Commands don’t hang in the air with no basis in reality. If God commands us to do something, there are good reasons to do it. And power comes from understanding and believing those reasons.
Five Pillars of Fearlessness
Here are the five reasons:
“For I am with you” — “Do not fear, for I am with you.”
“I am your God” — “Do not look anxiously about you, for I am your God.”
“I will strengthen you.”
“Surely I will help you.”
“Surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Restated, the five pillars of fearlessness are:
God is with me;
God is my God;
God will strengthen me;
God will help me;
God will uphold me.
When God calls you to be free from fear as you do evangelism, as you take a test, as you face an interview, as you take a stand against an unjust business practice, as you confront someone with sin in their life, when you leave a secure position and take a risk in a new venture, when you face an operation or a treatment, when you lose a spouse or a friend — when God calls you to be free from fear (to overcome this natural emotion and have peace), he does not leave the command hanging in the air. He puts pillars under it. Five of them. That’s the nature of all biblical commands. They come with divine support.
Fear not, God is with you;
Fear not, God is your God;
Fear not, God will strengthen you;
Fear not, God will help you;
Fear not, God will uphold you.
The Key to Overcoming Fear
The key to overcoming fear is resting on the pillars of the promises of God. We’ll come back to these pillars in a moment. Look with me for a minute at the verses leading up to verse 10 to see how they intensify these promises and strengthen these pillars.
If the key to fearlessness is believing that God is your God and is with you and will strengthen you and help you and uphold you, then knowing the greatness of this God will intensify your faith and your fearlessness.
John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He is author of more than 50 books, including “Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist” and most recently “Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship.”
A longer version of this article was published on desiringGod.org under the headline “Fear Not, I Am with You, I Am Your God.”
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