“But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”
Even the most outwardly confident of us sometimes need to hear this command of Jesus. He tells us the same as he told the ruler of the synagogue: do not to be anxious, but instead trust him.
Trust is a choice which can dispel fear.
This is not an instruction for us to simply by human effort force ourselves not to fear, or to deny the reality and cover up our anxiety. Like all commands of Jesus, this comes with power behind it. It is a prophetic declaration which brings with it the power to accomplish its purpose in us. When he tells us not to fear, if we will receive these words, he will make it so.
Now I know how anxious people think. Some of you are worrying that you are still anxious, and are feeling condemned about it. There is a vicious cycle some of people get into. Their very anxiety begins to “prove” to them that in some way they are inferior to others, and they may even begin to worry that they are not saved. Typically, however, most people who worry in such a way are either truly believers, or they are well on their way to becoming believers. On the contrary, if you never question yourself, that can sometimes be a sign that you are proud, self sufficient, and sadly on your way to an eternity without Jesus.
From a medical perspective anxiety is multifaceted. There seems to be no question that in some cases it stems from some form of abnormality in the brain. Christians should therefore not fear taking medication to help treat their anxiety, if necessary. I have written more about what anxiety disorder is elsewhere. See also my post which talks more about how medicine can take the place as part of a holistic approach for a Christian. It was God who gave us the skills to discover, develop, and appropriately use medication.
However, psychiatrists recognize that for most people anxiety is also a battle in the mind. A specific form of counseling called Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is often recommended and has a good evidence base. Again, I would encourage Christians to be very comfortable receiving carefully selected counseling, even if it is performed by an unbeliever. We can learn from such wisdom, which in any case ultimately finds its source in God.
The verse before us can be used in a way very reminiscent of CBT. When fear begins to grip you, it is usually because of anxious thoughts going round your mind. Simply trying to stop thinking about such thoughts can make them more powerful not less.
The illustration often used is to say to someone something like this: “whatever you do, don’t think of a lion, try not to imagine his long main, or his swishing tail. Don’t think about his teeth, and stop imagining him roar.” Our brain abhors a vacuum, and right now I almost guarantee you are thinking about the lion!
The only way to get that pesky lion out of your mind, or indeed that anxious thought, is to replace it with something else. If you now choose to imagine your favorite beach for example, that rascal of a lion will vanish.
Similarly if fear begins to well up inside you, this is how you could use your internal voice:
“Jesus said ‘do not fear, only believe’ so I choose trust instead of anxiety, and confidence instead of caution. I can do this because Jesus is trustworthy. He loves me. He is all powerful. And he promised to never leave me or forsake me. I will put all my hope in him and he WILL deliver me. Whatever happens, I know he is in control!”
This is not a panacea which will instantly banish all anxiety. You may well still need to take professional medical advice. But, many people before you have found over time these very words of Jesus can truly dispel fear. If you are anxious reading this today, I pray that will also be true of you.