There’s an enemy wreaking havoc in our country. It’s not Hillary Clinton, nor is it Donald Trump. Neither one of them has the kind of dominant power that this enemy possesses over us. This sinister ruler is deceiving. It’s lurking in the shadows. We’re not going to see it unless we know to be looking for it. And as long as we're blind to it, it's at work destroying us.
It’s almost funny to see the Halloween decorations all around that say, “Be afraid.” Because that’s exactly what we are.
We don’t need a holiday to convince us to be afraid. Fear is everywhere. If we pay attention, we'll start to see it's destructive work. For many of us, we'll see it in our anxiety. The never-ending amount of work just keeps piling on. We feel the pressure of deadlines, and it can feel like we're being crushed by the weight of responsibility. Our jobs are unstable. Our personal lives aren't working out the way we planned. On and on we could go. Whatever our cause of stress may be, it make us anxious. It keeps us up at night.
Our anxiety is intricately connected to our fear. We're often afraid when we're anxious. We're afraid that our circumstances will not get any better. We're afraid of failure. We're afraid of what people will think of us. We're afraid that our plans will come to nothing. We're afraid that we're not in control of our lives after all. Whether we realize it or not, we can be dominated by fear.
Fear is rampant in America today.
We'd love for the presidential election to be over with already. But as much as we try to distract ourselves, we can't escape this nagging sense of uneasiness. We can't turn on the TV or listen to the radio or get on social media without experiencing it. Our anxiety is mounting as we sense that the future of America is unstable at best. It’s unsettling. What will be the ramifications of this upcoming election? What hope do we have for our future? For our kids' future? For our grandkids' future? We may not think that fear controls us, but our mounting anxiety is giving us away. When we're adamant that a certain presidential candidate must win (or lose) this upcoming election or we're doomed, our fear is getting the better of us.
Our circumstances, as bleak as they may seem, are not as frightening as our fear itself.
Fear isn't just an innocent, neutral response that we make. It's natural, sure. I’m the kind of person who can be plagued by fear and anxiety. Being afraid is sometimes as natural as breathing is for me. But just because it's natural doesn't mean that it's good. Fear enslaves us. It blinds us. It makes us do things that in our right minds we'd never do. If you doubt that, just look at the current American political scene. We're panicking. We might be tempted to think that this response is natural and healthy, given the chaotic mess that we're in. But Jesus seems to think that our anxiety is not our friend.
In one of His most famous parables, Jesus warns us how dangerous worry is.
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. 20 The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 23 And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23, my emphasis)
Apparently, our worry isn't as harmless as we might think. Jesus says that it can prevent the message of God's kingdom from penetrating us. This is scary. If we're listening carefully and being honest, this is shocking to most of us. If we're familiar with Jesus' teaching, we might agree that "the deceitfulness of wealth" (see v. 22 above) can keep us from entering God's kingdom (maybe--we probably try to wiggle our way out of that one). But worry? Really? How is worry all that bad? Jesus is warning us. He seems to know something about our anxiety that we don't. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Jesus knows that our worry is closely connected to our treasures (i.e. what we value). If you pay attention to your anxieties, then you'll start to see what you love the most. You'll start to see what you put your hope in. This is why this election year is so telling. I'm not advocating a form of escapism that does not care about what's happening in our country. But the pervasive fear in the American church right now is giving us away. It seems like we're forgetting our identity as exiles--that we're citizens of another kingdom (1 Peter 2:9-12).
Jesus warns us that if we want to be ready for His glorious return, then we need to be on guard against our worry.
27 Then they will see the Son of Man arriving in a cloud with power and great glory... 34 But be on your guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day close down upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will overtake all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that must happen, and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:27, 34-36, my emphasis)
Maybe we should take our fears and anxieties as seriously as Jesus does.
Our fear is not a harmless, neutral emotion. Something deeper is going on. Our fears and anxieties give us away. They show what we put our trust in, and whatever we put our trust in is what we will pledge our allegiance to. If our hope is in an earthly kingdom, then we have every reason to be afraid. But if our hope is in a kingdom that cannot be shaken by any circumstance we find ourselves in (including any political leader or system), then we need to be on guard against the fear that so easily deceives us. We need to fight against our enemy. We need to wage war against our fear. It's certainly waging war against us.