What words of comfort can help me fight fear and anxiety?
FERGUSON: This is a time for us to prove in our own lives the gospel that we’ve always professed to believe. To start the conversation, in the well-known passage in which Jesus teaches us about living the Christian life during the Sermon on the Mount, there is a section where He underscores for us that the knowledge of God as our loving, caring, heavenly Father delivers us from two things.
First, the knowledge of God as Father delivers us from hypocrisy (Matt. 6:16–18). We no longer need to pretend to Him to be something that we’re not. We no longer need to pretend to anyone else that we are something we’re not. Second, Jesus underscores that the knowledge of God as our heavenly Father delivers us from anxiety (Matt. 6:25–34). We know that, no matter what happens, our lives are in His hands. Our lives are securus, as our fathers used to say. Our lives will never be done until the Lord’s numbering of our days is completed. As Christian believers, this is what anchors us, along with much else in Scripture that anchors us.
This experience, which is paralleled for Christians in the past and in various seasons, is unparalleled for most of us. It is a challenge to us as to whether we really believe the gospel we have said we believe, whether we trust in our heavenly Father, and whether we really know Him as a caring Father. These things being in place, this security is one of the anchors that enables us to minister to others. As Paul says, we are able to comfort others with the comfort that we ourselves have received in Christ (2 Cor. 1:3–5).
CHARLES: I would tack on to what Sinclair said by noting, as an initial comment, Philippians 4:6–7, where Paul says what Jesus says in Matthew 6: “Do not be anxious.” Paul gives a very clear, direct, simple strategy for overcoming the anxieties, worries, and fears of life, and that answer is prayer.
It’s important during this period that the saints are stepping up their devotion to spiritual disciplines, being in His Word and communing with God in prayer. Paul bids us to take everything off of our worry list and put it all on our prayer list. He literally says that there’s nothing that happens in life that is worth worrying about, but everything is worth praying about. There’s nothing too small for God to care about and nothing too big for God to handle.
One thing to note about commands to pray is that there are often promises attached to these commands. Philippians 4 means so much to me because of the promise attached. The promise attached does not bid that God will change circumstances, even though He is able to do beyond what we could ask or think, as Paul says in Ephesians 3:20. He says in Philippians 4 that if we give all of the matters we’re tempted to worry about to God in prayer, God will give us peace that surpasses all understanding and that will guard our hearts and minds. It’s not so much a divine intervention to circumstances, but a divine insulation for our hearts and minds so that we’re not living lives dominated by worry, doubt, and fear.
Of course, at this point, we have limited means to have contact with our congregation. However, in every opportunity I have, I’m encouraging the saints to pray to the God who hears, knows, and cares.
PARSONS: That’s a good word H.B. We were talking earlier about measures we’re both taking and striving to put in place, along with the other elders in our churches, for worship services and for all the midweek activities and events that are being canceled for the time being.
This is a complicated matter, and I think we tend to oversimplify things when it comes to anxieties, worries, and cares. The Bible tells us—it doesn’t just suggest to us, but it tells us—to cast our cares upon the Lord because He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). The Bible is allowing for the reality that we do have cares and that various concerns and anxieties will indeed bubble up in our lives. We all know people in our lives, friends and family, who are given to anxiety and given to great concern and worry. Even some of us are more prone to anxiety and worry.
This is complicated because you have people who are concerned not only about contracting this virus, but spreading this virus and transmitting it to others. They are concerned about their loved ones who are older or who are high-risk individuals. They are concerned about their children who have problems with their breathing, their lungs, and so on. I was just talking with my brother about that today. We both have children who could be affected because of their lung problems.
A lot of people who weren’t concerned two or three weeks ago about the impact of the virus are now very concerned about the economic and financial impact, not only to their companies, organizations, schools, and so on, but to their own savings and retirements. There are people who are worried that they’re not going to have enough money to continue living or to continue to have the things that they have worked for all their lives.
One of the things we need to make sure we are understanding and striving to serve people with is the reality of the worries, the reality of the anxieties, the reality of those fears. The question is not whether we have anxieties and worries. There are people who will say, “I don’t worry about anything.” Often when I talk with people who say that, I realize that they’re either being very foolish or they’re lying, because we all have concerns about tomorrow and about the future. The question is, What do we do with those worries? What do we do with those fears? What do we do with those anxieties in our lives?
We must determine that, as we strive to lead our friends, our families, and our churches, we don’t run to the answers the world gives us, or even to the answers that our own flesh might give us. Rather, we run to the Lord with our worries. We go to Him with our anxieties. Too often, we worry, we fret, and we are scared, but we don’t stop to pray. We don’t stop to say, “Lord, please help me not to be anxious for anything, and Lord, please help me not to worry about tomorrow, but to seek first Your kingdom and Your righteousness.”
In Scripture, we are told, “Cast all your cares upon the Lord, for He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). Sometimes we read that passage, or we’ve memorized it or heard it, and we think it means that we should try to handle everything in our lives. We think that we can only go to the Lord with only certain things that get out of control or things we recognize we can’t control—and only those things. However, we need to always be about the regular pursuit of casting all our cares upon the Lord, because He cares for us.
The Lord cares for us far beyond what we could even care for ourselves. That’s something I try to remind my children of regularly, as hard as it is. I remind them that, although I love them and care for them, their heavenly Father cares for them far more than I ever could. That’s hard for me to admit, but that’s the truth.
This is a transcript of Sinclair Ferguson’s, H.B. Charles’s, and Burk Parsons’s answers from the Pastoral Care in Times of Crisis panel discussion during our Made in the Image of God event and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.