When I Am Afraid

What fears creep into your heart most often?

Are you worried you might never get married? Or if you’re married, that your marriage may never get better? Are you afraid of failing at work or losing your job? Do you have fears about your health, what illness you might have or how you might die? Do you worry regularly about your children — their health, their relationships, their faith? When are you afraid?

What you fear most may be exactly where Satan is targeting you most. He preys on insecurity, anxiety, and distress. He pours the gasoline of lies on our fears — trying to persuade us that God is powerless, indifferent, or distant. Even King David, a man after God’s own heart, asks, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalms 13:1).

God is not powerless; his power is immeasurably great (Ephesians 1:19). God is not indifferent toward you; he cares for you as a Father for his child (1 Peter 5:7). And God is not distant; he is “near to all who call on him” (Psalm 145:18). But he can feel far away when we are afraid.

Sometimes God feels far from us in trials because we have put ourselves out of earshot from his word.

Every Reason to Fear

David wrote Psalm 56 when he was seized by the Philistines while running from Saul’s army. David thought he might find refuge there if the Philistines had forgotten who he was, but some servants of the king soon said, “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” (1 Samuel 21:11). So they seized him.

David, running for his life from one murderer with an army of soldiers, runs into the arms of another jealous and dangerous enemy. Those are his “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2) when he writes,

Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly. . . . All day long they injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil. They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps, as they have waited for my life. (Psalms 56:1–2, 5–6)

He lived each day wondering not just if he might die that day, but if today might be the day someone would kill him. Yet, more than once in this psalm, he says, “I shall not be afraid” (Psalm 56:4, 11). How can he say that when he is on the run and in captivity?

When I Am Afraid

David could face horrifying trials because he knew where to turn in horrifying trials.

When I am afraid,
     I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
     in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
     What can flesh do to me? (Psalm 56:3–4)

He begins by saying, “When I am afraid . . . ” He acknowledges that the danger, the trial, the fear is real. He does not deny being afraid in Philistine confines. Or in hiding from Saul. “I am afraid,” he confesses.

But for not long. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. . . . in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.” I am afraid for the moment, but I know where to turn when I am afraid. And when I cast my fears on him, he casts away all my fears. “I shall not be afraid.”

Anytime you see someone move from “I am afraid” to “I shall not be afraid,” you should ask how. Knowing David overcame fear might mysteriously inspire someone who is afraid, but unless he tells us how, his story will not help us face our own fears.

How to Trust in God

What happened for David between “I am afraid” and “I shall not be afraid”? He put his trust in God. So, put your trust in God when you are afraid? Yes, but does David say more about what it looked like to trust in God in the caves, in captivity, running for his life?

When I am afraid,
     I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
     in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
     What can flesh do to me? (Psalm 56:3–4)

When David put his trust in God, he put his trust, even his praise, in God’s word. He didn’t pray vague prayers of hope, but anchored his pain and longing and fear in specific promises of God. When I am afraid, I cling to you in your word. Instead of dwelling on the terrifying mountains in front of me, I set my mind on what you have said to those who love you. Suddenly, the threats no longer seem threatening because they’re being drowned out by a louder voice.

The Word on the Word

If you want to know what it looks like to treasure God’s word in the ups and downs of life, linger in Psalm 119. Nowhere else is Scripture exalted and celebrated like it is in Scripture’s longest chapter. Maybe most precious of all in those 176 verses, though, are when the psalmist talks about the power of God’s word to calm our fears and carry us through sorrow.

  • “My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!” (Psalms 119:28).
  • “I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!” (Psalms 119:107).
  • “You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word” (Psalms 119:114).
  • “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words” (Psalms 119:147).
  • “Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words” (Psalms 119:161).

Princes persecute me without cause — I suffer for no reason — but your words are still sweet to me. When I don’t know what to say because the trials are so heavy, I cannot get enough of your voice. My only hope for healing and strength and protection and help and deliverance is written in your book. My heart stands in awe of all that you say.

God Is for You

David almost repeats himself near the end of Psalm 56:

     This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
     in the Lord, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
     What can man do to me? (Psalm 56:9–11)

What does it mean to trust in God? It means to trust what he says. And what does God say in his word? I am for you. And if God is for you, who can be against you (Romans 8:31)? What can man do to you?

When fears come — and they will come, even today — you know where to turn. You know the voice you need to hear, the voice that instills a peace that surpasses all understanding. And he says to you, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And because you are in him, and he lives in you, through faith, you have overcome the world (1 John 5:4–5).

You can say with David, “I shall not be afraid.”