I walked down the hallway clueless to the fact that in a few short minutes my relationship with two girls would be forever changed. There were no warning signs. Nothing would have given me the impression that I wasn’t liked by my friends. We’d spent hours together, and I thought we enjoyed each other immensely. But when I approached their dorm room I discovered I was wrong. They were engaged in a full-out slanderfest and, unbeknownst to them, I was outside the door about to knock.
Hearing my name and personhood slammed was pretty terrible. It hurt. I went into the room and immediately confronted them. I cried, they confessed, and that was that. They asked for forgiveness, and I forgave.
We don’t typically learn what others really think of us. But do we really want to know? More often we’re left to assume the best or nothing at all. Unfortunately, though, many of us don’t assume the best or nothing at all. We’re preoccupied by the opinions of others.
This is the fear of man. It can manifest itself in a variety of forms, but there’s one thing we can be certain of—it’s a snare (Prov. 29:25). I’ve discovered that when I’m tempted to fear man, it’s usually rooted in fear of what someone else thinks of me. But as I dig deeper, I realize that I’m actually judging and assuming the worst of them.
Fear of Man and Judgment
The fear of man so often ends with judging others because we begin assuming we know another’s motives, thoughts, character, and intentions. Someone forgets to answer an email, so you assume you’re not a priority and she is selfish—turns out she was on vacation. You pass someone in the hall and he doesn’t wave, so you assume he doesn’t like you or is rude—turns out he didn’t see you. You invite someone to do something and she kindly declines, so you assume she’s disappointed in you—turns out she simply doesn’t want to attend or is sick or tied up. It really doesn’t matter what the other person thinks or does? But our preoccupation with worrying about what others think of us drives us to sinfully judge.
Fear of Man and Self-Forgetfulness
The false thoughts leading us to judge others is a form of pride that can only be remedied by what Tim Keller calls “gospel humility.” As he explains in his helpful book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness:
Gospel humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things with myself. It is an end to thoughts such as, “I’m in this room with these people, does that make me look good? Do I want to be here?” True gospel humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.
Preoccupation with what others think is pride. Perhaps you long to be highly regarded. Maybe you hate the idea of being misunderstood (oh, how I relate). Whatever it is, it’s pride, and we know God opposes the proud (James 4:6).
Every true believer longs for gospel humility. None of us wishes to stay as we are—we want to be transformed into Christlikeness. Christians don’t desire to disobey God and grieve the Spirit. Besides, it’s no fun being consumed by what you think someone else thinks. Keller shares the secret to the sweet forgetfulness that we find in the gospel:
Do you realize that it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance? . . . In Christianity, the verdict leads to performance. It is not the performance that leads to the verdict. In Christianity, the moment we believe, God says, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Or take Romans 8:1, which says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” In Christianity, the moment we believe, God imputes Christ’s perfect performance to us as if it were our own, and adopts us into his family. In other words, God can say to us just as he once said to Christ, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Brothers and sisters, the verdict of “well done” is in, and as a result we run the race of faith, putting off judgment and the fear of man. Even though we will fail miserably, we make the effort nonetheless. After all, God’s “well done” motivates and inspires a life consecrated to his glory.
I wish I could say the fight against fear of man and the temptation to judge others were easy. But it isn’t. We can be assured, though, that God will indeed finish the good work he began in us (Phil. 1:6). This is a walk of faith, a race to the finish line that will lead us out of our struggle with sin and temptation and into glory. One day we will be with our Savior, worshiping him forever. We’ll never again worship the idol of man.
I have walked this earth a short 39 years, but in that time I have experienced a wide range of trials. When I was a young child, my parents’ financial struggles meant that occasionally the electricity would be shut off and we would have to visit a relative’s home. During my freshman year of college, I was the victim of sexual assault (not rape, thankfully). A few months later my father passed away from his battle with cancer. As a young adult I have experienced four miscarriages, general health issues, and recently the sudden loss of my oldest sister.And yet I can honestly say I am joyful.
Joyful—but not without sorrow.
This Thanksgiving I imagine there are many of you who are wondering how in the world you might rejoice. How can you be thankful in a world full of pain? How can you be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing?
Trials of any kind bring a rush of emotions. The pain is real. The sorrow is real. It’s hard to endure at times. And it’s all but inevitable.
God never once promised this Christian life would be without trouble. In fact, Jesus told us explicitly that we will have tribulation in this life (John 16:33). All we need to do is live long enough, and surely trials will arrive.
So we don’t have to pretend to be without pain this Thanksgiving—or any day of the year. And thankfully we have a Savior who relates to our suffering. Jesus is aware of and acquainted with human grief—my grief and your grief. The God-Man endured both trials and temptation, though he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). He faced agony to the point of sweating blood (Luke 22:44). He even prayed fervently that his Father would take the cup of suffering away if at all possible.
And yet we know that Jesus willingly drank that cup. He chose to go to the cross, to suffer physical agony and emotional devastation. In his final moments on the cross, Mark records him saying, “’Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:34).
Jesus endured great pain, pain I can only imagine. But his pain was for a purpose—the redemption of the world. He did it on my behalf—and yours.
Our pain, too, has a purpose. The believer knows that there’s a great and glorious purpose in trials. Suffering is designed to purify our faith. Peter comforted the Christians in Asia Minor by reminding them (thus reminding me) of the great purpose of suffering. He writes, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire— may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6–7).
Any trial or suffering I endure is a testing of the genuineness of my faith. Charles Spurgeon addresses this in his classic, The Suffering of Man and the Sovereignty of God. Referring to Job, whose genuine faith was tested by extreme suffering. Spurgeon writes, “In what better way can the believer reveal his loyalty to his Lord? He evidently follows his Master, not in fair weather only, but in the foulest and roughest ways.”
The beauty of faith is that it isn’t something I have to come up with on my own. It’s a gift from God! All good things, including the faith to endure trails, comes from him (James 1:17). He graciously grants me faith to trust that he is with me in my days of trouble and will sustain me to the end as he has promised. So though trials may come, I can be confident that he will give me the sustaining grace for them.
And I Rejoice
You and I can rejoice in suffering because we know we have a living hope. We know that our hope will bring us to an eternal glory. You and I will one day rise and be with Christ forever. We can rejoice in suffering today because we know that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5). This is the truth that you and I can easily forget in times of sorrow but that God is good and faithful to remind us of through his Word, his Spirit, and friends who preach it to our hearts and minds.
So though I have experienced various trials—and will no doubt experience more in the future—my hope is in Christ. I can rejoice during these trials in my living hope, knowing that nothing—no great trial, no pain or sorrow, and no one—will separate me from the love of God.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37–39).
Recently I spoke with a woman who, with tear-filled eyes, shared about her recent miscarriage. She also expressed how shocked she’d been to find out that miscarriage is so common—that many women have miscarriages but few talk about them. Her account reminded me of my own experience with miscarriage and battle with fear and faith that followed.
Most miscarriages have few to no symptoms, but my first one was a different story. Early in the pregnancy, things felt off, and I became easily winded and dizzy. A few days after a worried call to my nurse, the bleeding began. I was home, by myself, and in excruciating pain.
When we first found out we were pregnant, we’d assumed that a baby would come nine months later. Miscarriage had never crossed our minds. So many of my friends were having babies, and it all looked so easy. So that miscarriage was a lonely loss.
Well meaning people said all types of things to try to encourage me: “You’ll get pregnant again.” “You’ll get to hold your baby in heaven.” “At least it was early on in the pregnancy.” I even had people ask about the baby months after the miscarriage. It felt like a never-ending reminder of our loss.
And then it happened again.
A few months later, thinking the chances of a second miscarriage were slim, we began trying for another. We were thrilled when I became pregnant again, seeing this baby as an answer to our prayers. And the pregnancy seemed to be going well. Then we had a routine ultrasound—no heartbeat. After the second miscarriage, I was given routine anti-biotics.. My body didn’t respond well to the medicine they gave me, which left me with a chronic stomach condition.
Fear and confusion took reign then in my mind and heart. How could I make sense of a sovereign and good God in the midst of this? Why could my friend who didn’t want children have them so easily when I couldn’t? How could I get past the bitterness and emptiness I felt. I asked my husband if we could take a break from any attempt at getting pregnant so that my heart, mind, and body could heal.
During that break I read Spiritual Depression by D. Martyn Lloyd Jones. I reread Future Grace by John Piper. I searched my Bible in search for answers and peace. And what the Lord revealed to me in that time was that my fear and despondency wasn’t an anomaly. Jesus felt it too in the painful hours leading up to the cross. He was denied and abandoned by his friends. He pleaded in the garden for the Lord to take the cup away and then proceeded down the awful, lonely road toward the cross. And how could we forget the cry of our Savior as he died on the cross: “‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matt. 27:46 ).
God provided comfort in that time by reminding me that I wasn’t alone in my pain. He wasn’t leaving me to my own. He began to reveal to me that he understood and he loved me dearly. I didn’t have anywhere else to go but to him, and he answered my cry in the wilderness. It was comforting for me to realize that it was okay to be in a wilderness. Jesus didn’t go to the cross cheering and clapping his hands. He was sorrowful—sorrowful for this world and for the pain and separation from his Father he knew he’d have to endure. It was okay to weep. Through my tears I had great hope because I knew that I wasn’t praying to a dead Savior. He rose and was indeed interceding on my behalf.
My husband and I eventually resumed trying for children, but I was terrified to find out I was pregnant again. Every strange feeling in my abdomen set off a series of imaginary scenarios, each ending with me in the hospital, then coming home without a child. But this time I was helped by what I had learned in my time of seeking the Lord
Miscarriages are heartbreaking and painful for mothers, especially those who understand that life begins at conception. In the midst of my fear and trembling at the unknown, God gently reminded me of his words in Isaiah 41:10: “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” (esv). That reminder was a great comfort to me. God was (and is) my God—my personal, intimate, fatherly God. He was with me. I was not alone in my fear. And because he was with me, I didn’t need to be dismayed. He would strengthen me, help me, uphold me. I could rest in that promise.
We waited a little longer to tell friends this time. But we eventually told them because we wanted everyone we knew to pray for us. We knew we couldn’t handle the pain and suffering of another miscarriage alone. And I found I didn’t have to. I began to hear from other women who had experienced miscarriages but never spoken of them. They comforted me with the comfort they had received from the Lord.
Despite the comfort I received from God and others, I was fearful throughout that third pregnancy until the moment in 2006 when I held my baby boy—our firstborn son. And at that point I began to trust God’s wisdom a little more.
Would I ever want to go through the loss of two babies again? No. But would I trade this sweet boy that we held in our arms? Never. In his mysterious wisdom and grace, God gave us the gift of our son, and we were overjoyed.
My husband and I knew we wanted to have more than one child, so after a year we began to try again. And we did eventually get pregnant again, only to miscarry within six weeks. We were told there was a chromosomal defect. We tried again and miscarried again—my fourth miscarriage in six years.
My response during those days was quite different from my response to the first two. I knew I didn’t have control—I couldn’t make a baby be born—and surrendered to that reality, trusting God with what was happening.
I had spent the last few years preparing for another trial, and God’s promise stood true:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4: 6-7 esv).
Surrendering to the Lord, crying out for help, and thanking him for what I did have brought me great peace. God tells us that the mind set on him will be given peace, because that person trusts the Lord (Isa. 26:3). The Lord was faithful to fulfill these promises. I was at peace because he had given me peace. I was at peace because Jesus was enough for me.
I settled in my mind that we would only have one child. He was a joy and a gift, and it was okay if we didn’t have another. And then—surprise!—we had a girl.
I don’t remember experiencing any fear while pregnant with our daughter. And since she was born in 2009, we have believed our family to be complete—unless, of course, the Lord has another surprise for us. If he does, I pray that I will be able to say with Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21 esv).
You may be struggling today with the fear and pain and questions that fertility issues can bring. My prayer for you is that my words will bring comfort.
You are not less of a woman because you have lost a baby or have had difficulty conceiving. And you are not alone. You are surrounded by women who know your pain. But more important, God the Father is with you.
If you have had a miscarriage and ever wondered if you should share your story, may I encourage you to share if you feel you can. God gives us the wonderful opportunity to comfort with the comfort we’ve received from Christ (2 Cor. 1:4). Perhaps today, this week, or this month God will put someone across your path who needs to know she is not alone.
The news is in and the church is going to hell in a hand-basket…
At least that is what you’d think if you took a long look at social media, the news, and, let’s be honest, that whisper in the back of many of our minds. Things look dreary out there about the church…like a wasteland of disappointments, lies, confusion, hate, and anger. Yep, all of that and just from one quick swipe through Twitter. I wonder how the early church would have responded if society then was able to keep instant reports on every event and cultural shift?
I think it might look something like:
A man named Peter preached at a Christian celebration called Pentecost and approximately 3,000 people were added to his group. But according to our statistics, only 1 percent of the city’s population was in attendance. Therefore, if we want to calculate the religious affiliations throughout the world, there’s minimal, non-sustainable growth. Additionally, some reports indicate that the leaders of this event were actually heavily intoxicated at the time of this celebration, calling into question the legitimacy of the Christian movement.
Tongue-in-cheek aside, as I observe social media, it is apparent that we live in a fearful society. We are a fearful church. Within the church, we are afraid that:
“They” (whoever you envision “they” being) will take over and [fill in the blank] will leave or are already leaving and [fill in the blank] will persecute us.
We are afraid to associate with certain groups of other Christians because they could poison “our” gospel. We are afraid that our racial divide could be the end of the story for the American church. And while there is a chance that this could happen, God’s Word gives us a better word about his church and why we can stand secure in him.
But first, ponder how amazing it is that God’s Word has endured these thousands of years. The Bible is one of the most loved, hated, and misused books ever to be written. Throughout the history of the world, there are great reasons for it to have been completely destroyed. Within its pages are words like, “I am the way the truth and the life”, “you may not have any other gods besides me”, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” etc. These words indicate that a true believer would proclaim Christ as the only way to salvation. Sure, this book has been banned and outlawed in places throughout history, and yet the words of God in its pages continue to live on.
And then there’s the Church. Jesus died for the Church and says that even the gates of hell cannot prevail over the Church (Matt: 16:18). As Bible-believing Christians, we want to stand for truth and address errors we see, but we need not worry about the Church as if it will completely die and be wiped out. It won’t. It can’t. Even if every Christian is forced underground, the Church will continue to prevail. Why? Because it’s not up to us. We aren’t in control. We aren’t the ones who are sustaining the Church. We have a sovereign, mighty God who loves the lost. He gave his son for the lost. He will not tarry—he’s on a mission and we have the privilege to be involved. And this all-powerful, faithful, and loving God has promised that His Church will never be overcome.
Don’t grow weary in doing good, if indeed you are doing good. Don’t grow faint because of fear. Don’t lose heart. The world today does indeed look grim. But there is reason for great hope. It isn’t hope in you or me and our strength; no, it’s hope in the faithfulness and power of Christ. Lift your weak knees, unless they are bowed down in prayer to the One who saves. God isn’t asleep—he’s awake and active in our midst. If every person leaves the Church and we divide in every way possible, we still have a great mission to go and make disciples of all nations. If every social issue that seems to smack Christian ethics in its face becomes law—we continue to preach the truth in love and serve our neighbors. If a radical religious group begins to persecute the Church—we say with faith, you can kill the body but you can’t kill the soul. And we continue to fight racial injustice and prejudice confident in God and not us.
Let’s fight this fear with faith that only God can give us. And let’s lay down our fears and remember who God is and what he has promised to his people.
One of the new things I love on Facebook is the “on this day” memory feature. Because of this feature, today I was reintroduced to this old video and realized I’d never actually shared it here. We can never be reminded enough to rejoice with others and guard against comparison. And as you’ll see, I lightly encourage you and me to do this as I reflect on ways that I’m not gifted!
My husband’s job sometimes takes him away on trips that last a few days or even a week at a time. Each time he leaves, I battle the fear that he will never return. He boards a flight, and I imagine the plane bursting into flames. He rents a car, and I pray he doesn’t get into a car accident. The truth is, these things could happen (okay, the plane isn’t likely to burst into flames, but go with me). I know women who have lost husbands in car accidents; I know there are times when people walk out the door for something routine and never return; but I can’t live constantly worrying about a future that hasn’t happened.
I’m not sure if there is a greater fear for women than the fear of what’s to come (or what won’t come). You and I rightly pray for our husband, children, schools, and whether to pursue a career, but we don’t often come to God in peace. Instead we come anxiously awaiting our fate. Goodness will follow all the days of her life, or her life, or maybe her life, we might think, but surely not my life. It’s hard not to have control, and one thing that we can’t ever determine is what lies ahead. Thankfully, God’s Word is packed with sweet promises that smash all our fearful thinking.
Imagine, if you will, that you are ninety years old. You are most likely frail with gray hair, potentially walking with a cane, though perhaps, these days, spending much of your time in a wheelchair because your once able and strong legs have ceased to perform. Now imagine someone comes to you and says, “Hey, Sarah, you know that child you’ve always wanted? Well, it’s time. You are finally going to bear a child.” You would look at that person in absolute disbelief. You might even laugh. All these years of waiting and longing and then, when every shred of hope is gone, a son is promised.
I am referring to the story of God’s promise of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah. In the pages of Genesis we read of how God promised Abraham a legacy of nations through the birth of one son (Genesis 17:16). Abraham and Sarah laughed in doubt as they heard God’s declaration (Genesis 17:17; 18:12). Sarah, I imagine, must have desired children prior to God’s promise. There’s a host of fears associated with the chance that you might not become pregnant, and, I would guess by her doubtful laugh, she had given up at the age of ninety on the prospect of ever conceiving. Could you imagine actually becoming pregnant at ninety?
With a rhetorical question God challenged Sarah to trust Him, after she had defiantly laughed in doubt that she would become pregnant: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14). God fulfilled His promise, and Sarah miraculously became pregnant. But once she did become pregnant, she had nine months of waiting to see how her frail, weak body would respond. Would she be able to carry the baby to term? By means of a miscarriage would God teach her a lesson about trusting Him? I don’t know about you, but those are some of the thoughts I might battle after becoming pregnant at ninety. I would struggle with fear of the unknown. I would want to be in complete control of the situation. Perhaps I would struggle because I’ve had some of these fears come to fruition. I have experienced four miscarriages and have had to fight the fear of losing a child through each pregnancy.
You might be thinking, Yes, but everything turned out exactly the way these biblical characters hoped. Yes and no. Sarah would have loved to have had a child at a younger age (I assume). She died at 127 years old, leaving Abraham a mourning widower, never getting to see her son Isaac marry (Genesis 23:1; 24). And as we know, life continued to be difficult for her descendants. Did it turn out the way the Lord planned? Absolutely! And does God redeem it in the end? Yes. But you can’t see the future in your own life like you get to in God’s Word. We don’t get the whole picture, do we? So we have to trust the Lord because only He knows. But there is one thing guaranteed, which is awaiting you all the days of your life: God’s faithfulness.
Those words—God has been faithful and will be again—appear in the lyrics of “He’s Always Been Faithful” by Sara Groves. In the song she recounts God’s faithfulness through each morning and each season. She recounts, “Season by season, I watch Him amazed; in awe of the mysteries of His perfect ways.”1 Every page in God’s Word shouts of the faithfulness of God. Each story leads to Jesus and to the redemption of the world. And if we look, we can see God’s faithfulness to us now.
Every page in God’s Word shouts of the faithfulness of God. Each story leads to Jesus and to the redemption of the world. And if we look, we can see God’s faithfulness to us now.
In Deuteronomy 32:4, Moses speaks of God as the “Rock” whose works are “perfect” and ways are “justice.” He is “a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” And we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 of Paul’s confidence in the faithfulness of God: “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” And elsewhere Paul writes that God will finish the good work He began in us (Philippians 1:6). Psalm 89, though a lament, still sings of God’s faithfulness: “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. . . . O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O Lord, with your faithfulness all around you?” (vv. 1, 8).
You and I have to fight to remember the faithfulness of our Father when we are faced with great fears of the future. Ask yourself, how has God been faithful? This year you can count on the Lord to be faithful again. This doesn’t mean that everything will turn out exactly as you desire. This doesn’t mean each prayer will be answered as you wish. But it does mean that in God’s goodness and sovereignty, He will work all things together as He sees them to be good for you (Romans 8:28). We may not see the evidence of God’s faithful hand until the end of our days, but we know it will be there.
(This piece is an excerpt adapted from chapter 2 in Trillia’s book Fear and Faith. )