Peace for the One Who's Sinking in Fear
I remember the day it began.
I was student teaching at the time, and my husband and I were planning our wedding. We were both graduating college in a few months. Neither of us had jobs or even a job lead. Even worse, I had sat in meeting after meeting about how teachers would be let go that year, a phenomenon I have never heard of in education except for the one year I needed a job.
Regardless of the facts, we felt led to take a step of faith and book our wedding for September of that year.
This was the first step of faith we had taken with a major life decision in our adult life, the kind of major decision that your success and honor as a couple hinges upon.
Not only were we carrying the weight of this radical trust, but my husband and I also had one of those defining relationship moments that left me questioning our decision to get married.
I was even questioning my career choice, something I had dreamt of my entire life. The pressures continued to mount.
Cue my first anxiety attack. I felt like I could not breathe, lungs paralyzed, throat tight. My symptoms were completely psychological and yet seemed more real than anything I’d ever experienced. Much to my despair, this was only the beginning of a long struggle with anxiety.
The agony of my anxiety attacks-hyperventilating, uncontrollable shaking, and mental unrest-led to an even deeper depression due to the shame and stress of the situation.
I had completely lost control of my mind, and I no longer was able to rationalize my fears away. I felt dumb, worthless, and useless.
This was my normal for nearly eight months of life, and the effects of this anxiety linger even today.
I would never wish anxiety on my worst enemy. I would have never chosen to walk that road. And yet, I find myself exceedingly grateful for this season of my life.
The unrelenting storm of anxiety paved the way for me to experience Jesus’ peace for the first time in my life.
My battle with anxiety taught me this:
Pain paves the way for His peace.
Trouble gives opportunity for His triumph.
Chaos is the channel through which His calm washes over us.
His peace. His triumph. His calm.
Notice what Jesus said in John 14:27: “My peace I give you.”
Jesus doesn’t just give us a peace; He gives us His peace.
This peace enabled Jesus to live the most radical life of surrender and suffering.
This peace led Him to voluntarily endure the agonizing pain of the cross and to freely give up His Spirit unto death.
That same peace is on the table for you and me. This is the peace that Jesus gives us, His very own peace.
We all know what it’s like to be desperate for His peace, especially when the storm surrounds us.
Like Peter, I desperately wanted to live with walk-on-the-water faith, but I too was terrified of the wind. I had rationalized fear away my whole life, but as the wind raged around me, I could ignore it no longer.
Being afraid that I might sink actually made me sink.
Fear has a way of drowning you before you’re even under the water.
But much like Peter, it took me facing the wind to realize I needn’t fear the wind.
By walking through anxiety, I realized nothing could separate me from the Father’s love-not even the weakest weakness within me-and great peace washed over my soul.
I don’t meant to make it sound as though peace came in one instantaneous swoop, immediately prying my heart from the unyielding grip of fear.
It was more of a gradual process, the way the tide washes a little further and gains a little more ground with each new wave.
Romans 15:13 says it this way, May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him.
God fills us with peace as we trust.
We’d love for that verse to read “after you trust Him one time.” But as we trust is a process. Faith is authenticated over time, and it is as we continue to trust, somewhere along the way, that we miraculously find ourselves experiencing His peace.
I’m not sure how or when it happened for me, but one day, the peace in my heart outweighed the fear. Though the fear has never fully subsided, the faith perseveres nonetheless. Faith continues to fight my fear, a violent wrestling match between my flesh and His Spirit in the deepest parts of my soul.
When faith is greater than fear, the peace of Christ reigns. Fear is never gone, but faith strips it of its power.
To the one who feels like she’s sinking in fear, here’s what anxiety taught me about the peace of Christ:
1. Peace begins with biblical perspective.
What we see stirs up fear, but if we put on the lens of the Word of God, we give God the opportunity to reshape our perspective.
In John 14:27, Jesus continues,
My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Jesus doesn’t give peace like the world gives peace. The world gives peace in the absence of conflict; Jesus gives peace in the midst of it.
We can’t know Jesus’ peace apart from the presence of some type of conflict. Peace without pain or problem is really just happiness.
It’s hard to come to grips with that truth. We don’t want trouble and trial in our lives, and we often equate pain with punishment. That’s why He continued, Do not let your heart be troubled, and do not be afraid.
He desires for us to overcome the confusion we feel with pain. We are troubled when trouble comes in our life, so confused that we begin to question God’s love for us and/or our standing with Him. That’s why the “why do bad things happen to good people” question continues to be asked every day.
But Jesus said don’t be troubled or afraid when trials come your way. Pain is most often not a personal punishment. It is a part of a broken and wrecked world. True to His promise to redeem and restore all things, He promises to recycle our pains to give us His peace and therefore shine His glory.
We’ve got to stop seeing pain as a paradoxical to peace, and instead see it as the pathway toward it.
2. Peace is found in His presence.
Our minds are naturally governed by our flesh, which is why we fear. As we study His Word and ask Him to shift our perspective, our minds begin to be governed by the Spirit. His words become our thoughts. We begin to see life from His perspective. This is how we receive Jesus’ peace: His Spirit begins to govern our minds.
The more we are found in Him-seeking His truth and acknowledging our need for His Spirit-the more His peace can be breathed into our hearts and minds. The truth shifts our perspective, and the Holy Spirit ushers peace into our hearts.
Every day that we cling to His truth and worship Him for it, even when our feelings feel otherwise, is leading to His gracious provision of peace. Fear can temporarily make us believe we’re sinking, but it will never win the day as long as faith is involved.
As he did when Peter was sinking in his fear, Jesus will stretch out His hand, gently rebuke our lack of faith, lift us up out of the waters, and continue to use us despite our shortcomings.
3. Peace makes way for purpose.
What I was most afraid when struggling with anxiety was that I had ruined my faith forever. How could God ever use me to teach people about faith when I was overrun with fear? I felt like such a hypocrite when I raised my hands to worship songs about faith and trust.
My favorite part of Peter’s sinking story is what it shows us about Jesus. When Jesus lifted Peter up out of that water, He didn’t tell Peter to get into a different boat and depart from His intimate group of disciples. He led Peter right back to the same boat so that they could continue His Kingdom’s work together.
Peter’s fear didn’t disqualify him from being a disciple, and our fear doesn’t disqualify us from Kingdom work either.
On the contrary, our struggles with fear are more often the launchpad for our ministry. We can only proclaim freedom for the captives if we have been freed from the fears that held us captive.
As soon as Jesus stepped into the boat, the wind stopped, which means He could have stopped that wind whenever He wanted to. The storm was not the problem for Peter, and it is not the problem for us. The wind and the seas, they obey Him.
Jesus wanted Peter to face the wind because He wanted him to face his fears, perhaps so that he would pen these words for the Church:
These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Our faith must be proven genuine through trials for the purpose of the praise, glory, and honor of Jesus Christ.
He is not displeased with us when trials make our fears surface and we begin to sink. Instead, He is glorified in the lifting us out of the water. He is glorified when we get back in the boat and continue the work He has called us to do.
It’s when we get back in the boat that the world sees the genuineness of our faith, a faith that has now proven it can withstand even our deepest fears.
Though Satan intended to use my anxiety for evil, God won the day and uses it for good. I still struggle. If I am being completely candid, I’m still afraid that anxiety will take over my mind and my day to day life again one day.
But here’s what I know-even if it does-Jesus will reach out His hand, gently rebuke my lack of faith, and lead me back to the boat to continue His Kingdom work.
To the one who’s sinking in fear, remember this: fear doesn’t disqualify you from Kingdom work. It makes you human.
Take Jesus’ hand and get back in the boat.