Fear is a destructive, enslaving emotion that, when fed, pushes us farther from the life God desires for us. The more we give in to it, the uglier and more selfish our behavior becomes until we bear little resemblance to our generous and loving Savior Jesus Christ.
We remember the Great Recession of 2008 that leveled countless Americans. Banks collapsed, over 2.6 million lost their jobs, and almost four million saw their homes in foreclosure.
We were living in Kansas City at the time, and though our neighborhood hadn’t been hit as hard as those in Los Angeles, Detroit, or Orlando, the devastation was obvious. Piles of furniture and other belongings littered the sidewalks and red foreclosure or for sale by auction signs stood in numerous lawns—evidence of loss, financial ruin, and deeply hurting families. Fear dominated. People worried the economy might never bounce back and began to fill their pantries and basements with canned foods and dry goods. Anxiety and survivalism rose dramatically while charitable giving plummeted—at a time when millions of Americans desperately needed aid. Maybe you were one of those desperate Americans, or maybe you joined in the stockpile craze. As we’ve seen again and again, chaos and need can trigger fear, and fear can lead to hoarding and selfishness. To apathy and isolation.
But fear can also be a catalyst to faith—an emotion that drives us not to ourselves but to our God as we seek His wisdom and power in our most chaotic situations. When we do that, what a testimony to grace we provide! This was precisely what the ancient world witnessed in a group of beaten down and oppressed new believers living in Thessalonica. While experiencing “severe suffering” that scholars believe included economic persecution and property seizures, they excelled in faith (1 Thess. 1: 7), in their evangelistic efforts (1 Thess. 1: 8), and in generosity (2 Cor. 8: 2). So much so that Paul used them as an example of faithfulness in his letter to the Corinthians:
“In the midst of a very severe trial,” Paul said, “their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing this service to the Lord’s people” (2 Cor. 8: 2-4, NIV, emphasis mine).
Despite their “persecutions and hardships” (2 Thess. 1: 4), they gave above and beyond, from a human perspective, what they were able.
What a statement this must have made to the watching world! It’s one thing to tell others about Jesus our Provider; it’s another matter to live as though He is. People might ignore our proclamations of God’s power and sovereignty, but when we behave as though we believe our words are true—that’s when questions arise, curiosity is stirred, and God-willing, our faith becomes contagious.
Sadly, there are times when I resemble the 2008 survivalists more than those world-changing ancient Christians. When that happens, it’s usually because I’ve lost focus. Somewhere between my struggle and my reactions, I forget my role and what’s at stake—that this world won’t last forever, and once their time on earth ends, my friends and neighbors will spend eternity in one of two places—experiencing the joy of God’s presence in heaven or forever separated from Him in the darkness of hell.
When I remember that, my desire to self-protect and sock-pile fade as God’s love for His broken and sin-ravished world take hold.
Let’s talk about this! When you feel afraid, does your fear normally drive you to Jesus? How might focusing on Him, His heart for you and the world, and the gospel, change your response in the middle of your greatest chaos? Share your examples, stories, and victories with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.