“Faith over fear.”
I see this sentiment often in Christian circles. At first glance, my natural response is one of affirmation, but it’s not long before doubt creeps in and I find myself asking some familiar questions. How does faith overcome fear? How can my faith be stronger than my fear—and what if it’s not? What if my faith is actually smaller than a mustard seed and I’m drowning in a sea of doubt and discouragement?
Our Broken Pursuit of Faith
Perhaps it’s actually our belief about faith itself that’s flawed or misguided.
It’s human nature to seek a formula by which we can accomplish our goals. We like concrete action plans guaranteed to bring results—a proven method that will destroy our doubts once and for all and transform us into the spiritual giants we yearn to be.
So we plan to read the Bible more or try a particular study. We attend ‘that’ conference, or go to a different church. We try to pray more, or pray differently. Each time thinking this will be the answer we are searching for to strengthen our faltering faith.
Yet this is a works-based pursuit of faith contrary to the grace of God—a belief in self, and in our own abilities. Oh, how we love to feel in control!
Then, there are those of us who fall at the other end of the spectrum, completely hopeless that we’ll ever have greater faith. I’m prone to worry. I can’t help who I am. I’m destined to struggle with this for the rest of my life and I’ve just accepted it.
This mindset misses the heart of God. He knows humans are prone to fear—that’s why He tells us over and over and over again throughout the whole of Scripture not to fear.
God wouldn’t tell us not to fear if He knew it was impossible.
Part of our problem is that we have faith in faith. But faith in faith is unreliable.
The question is not: “How can I have more faith?” Instead, we must ask ourselves: “On what have I based my faith? What do I really believe?”
A Solid Faith
Can we really know God as our faithful Provider if we never have need of His provision?
Can we know Him as our Healer if we’re never sick or broken or wounded and in need of healing?
Can we know Him as the Mighty One in control of the universe if we’re constantly grasping for control of everything ourselves, demanding to know all the answers and refusing to surrender the details of our lives into His masterful hands?
The truth is, a faith that hasn’t been tested is a faith that can’t be trusted.
In Matthew 7:24-27, we read the parable of the man who built his house on the rock and another who built his on the sand. The house on the rock withstood the crashing waves, but the house on the sand collapsed. Our faith must have a sure foundation, and the only sure foundation is Christ—the Chief Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-22).
The key to an unshakeable faith in Jesus Christ is to know Him. We must know Him well enough to trust Him.
The Apostle Paul is a great example for us to follow. He knew a thing or two about fear-inducing circumstances—experiencing danger, imprisonment, persecution, relational conflict, sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, and countless other forms of discomfort and suffering. Yet, in the testing of his faith, Paul discovered the “surpassing worth” of knowing Jesus. To him, it was everything!
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” (Philippians 3:8-10, emphasis mine).
The situations we face may be hard, painful, and ugly. Yet, it’s often through the storms and fires and wildernesses of life that we gain a deeper knowledge of who God is. When He brings us through to the other side, it’s easier to trust Him to lead us through the next struggle because we’ve experienced His faithfulness before.
When we find ourselves in faith-testing circumstances, we want answers. Why is this happening? How do I get out of this? But our faith cannot grow if we cling to control and demand that God fix things on our terms.
As Elisabeth Elliot said, “Faith does not eliminate questions, but faith knows where to take them… My faith is to rest not in the outcome I think God should work out for me, my faith rests in who God is… the quietness of my heart is the fruit of an absolute confidence in God.”
What do we have to fear?
Even when we can accept that things are beyond our control and that we don’t have all the answers, the fear sometimes remains. The unknowns are still scary. How will I pay the bills this month? When will my child be healthy? Will life ever be ‘normal’ again?
Instead of trying to ignore the fear, or distracting yourself from thinking about it, or attempting to extinguish it with optimism, try walking your “what-ifs” through to their end. Consider the scenario you’re most afraid of and determine how it might end.
For the Christian, the worst case—death—is still not the end! For followers of Jesus, death means we will finally get to be with Him face to face. I admit, we’re not always comforted by that truth. Could it be that we simply don’t know Him well enough to realize what a joy it will be? If that’s the case, we must seek to know Him more.
Whether we realize it or not, Jesus is the ultimate desire of our heart—for we’ll never be truly satisfied outside of Him. And if everything ends with Him, what have we to fear?
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:1,4).
The Key to Growing in Faith
The faith that overcomes fear is faith in Christ alone—the only One who will never fail. We can put our trust in Him wholeheartedly when we know Him. All throughout the Bible, we see God’s desire to have a relationship with His people–to be known by them and to be made known through them. God wants to be known by you; it’s why He made you. You were created to glorify God by enjoying a relationship with Him. John Piper puts it this way: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
Growing in our knowledge of God happens the same way any other strong relationship is built. It takes time and energy.
Here are a few suggestions that might help as you to know God more:
- Prayer: Share your heart with Him. Listen to Him.
- His Word: Read and study the Bible to understand His heart.
- Worship: Acknowledge who He is and what He’s done.
- Church: Spend time with His family.
- Memories: Create “stones of remembrance” (see Joshua 4). Look back often at the things God has done and stay attentive to His work in your life.
When we know Jesus, we know we can trust Him. And that’s when “faith over fear” is truly possible—no matter what the circumstance.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
This post was originally published on The Joyful Life Magazine blog on June 23, 2020.