Living with the Right Kind of Fear

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

What are you afraid of? For me, one of my main fears over the years was the fear of heights.

For years I did what anyone would normally do when afraid of heights. I avoided leaning too far out from the side of cliffs and didn’t necessarily go to the viewing areas of tall buildings. But then my friend, Dale, was celebrating his 40th birthday and invited anyone who wanted to join him to go skydiving.

What better way to conquer a fear than to jump out of the side of an airplane thousands of feet above the earth? What could really go wrong? Well…a lot…but here I stand before you…a lot less afraid of heights than before.

Jesus says His people need to have the right kind of fear. Some of their fears, like the fear of physical suffering or fear of those in authorities, need to be reduced and put into perspective. Physical suffering is not good. Those with authority do often misuse their authority, and none of that is good. Jesus is not saying such things are good or even that they’re trivial. But He is saying that such troubles are not nearly as bad as facing not only physical but spiritual destruction in hell. In a sense, he’s saying we need to be afraid of the right things.

One theme throughout the Bible is that there is wrong fears and right fears. And the most important fear to have is an appropriate fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord is not terror of God smiting us, but fitting reverence for who God is. Fear of the Lord should motivate us more than fear of suffering. To put it another way, our reverence for God should be stronger than our reverence for our own safety or for preserving our physical bodies.

When I consider this, I think of believers we are connected with who live in other parts of the world where religious persecution is real and regular. There are believers we know who are right now imprisoned for their faith. The outcome is unclear and the timing is undefined. They have endured hardship, sickness, and hunger while imprisoned. It is risky for others to bring them supplies, even in this situation. They trust themselves to God even in the face of their fears because God is bigger than their captors and their suffering.

And what about us? What do we fear in relation to our faith? What do we fear about sharing Jesus with others? What anxieties hold us back from asking someone if we can pray for them?

Jesus says that God knows us, even down to the number of hairs upon our head. Jesus says that God knows the sparrow, even when one drops dead to the ground.“So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31). We need to fear the right things and trust the right things. Jesus says to the apostles, and through them to us, that we can rest in God’s care and focus our lives on appropriate reverence for God. This will help us have the right focus as we live our lives on mission for God in this world.

Why Worry?: Jesus on the nature and uselessness of worry

An article entitled “You’re Not Alone: Top Things People Worry Most About”[1] identified four main categories of things we tend to worry about:

  • money and the future
  • job security
  • relationships
  • health

Many of us can relate to those general categories of worry, even as we all likely have areas of worry that may be specific to us and our circumstances.

In His masterful teaching in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus directly addresses the topic of worry, which He sees as deeply connected to the good life as He is outlining it. He says:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25)

Jesus tells us that His disciples learn to release worry by getting ahold of God’s Fatherly care and prioritizing God’s kingdom.

“My life has been full of terrible misfortunes…most of which never happened.” That statement by an unknown author humorously draws attention to the predicament of worry.[2]

Throughout Matthew 6:25-34 Jesus addresses worry again and again as deeply connected to our spiritual life of faith.

What is worry? To worry is to give way to anxiety or unease; to allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles. To put it another way, worry is a preoccupation in the present with fear about what may happen in the future. Worry is unease about the unknown.

As human beings, we tend to worry because we do not know the future. Some psychologists distinguish between healthy future thinking, by which we anticipate and prepare for the future, and unhealthy worry, where we either fixate on something or dwell on worst-case scenarios about the future.[3] As unease about the unknown, worry hinders us from living fully in the present.

This is why Jesus, when teaching about the good life, exhorts His disciples not to worry, particularly about the basics of life. As we become increasingly present to our worries, we become less present to our real life, real people, and our real God.

The first century Roman philosopher, Seneca, wrote: “There is nothing so wretched or foolish as to anticipate misfortunes. What madness it is in your expecting evil before it arrives!”[4]

After all, what does worry accomplish? As Jesus says in verse 27: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27). Or in verse 34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

Jesus is not espousing a pie-in-the-sky, “Don’t worry – be happy” mentality. Instead, He offers very practical instruction on the good life. Worrying will not make you flourish. Worrying will actually keep you from flourishing. It traps you in your mind through fears about the future. It hinders you from living free and in the present with yourself, others, and God.


[1] “You’re Not Alone: Top Things People Worry Most About,” Psychological Health Care, August 16, 2016, https://www.psychologicalhealthcare.com.au/blog/youre-not-alone-top-things-people-worry-most-about/.

[2] “I Am an Old Man and Have Known a Great Many Troubles, But Most of Them Never Happened,” Quote Investigator, https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/10/04/never-happened/.

[3] A. Pawlowski, “How to worry better,” Better by Today, May 10, 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/better/pop-culture/praise-worry-why-fretting-can-be-good-you-ncna757016.

[4] Epistolae Ad Lucilium. XCVIII.

The Weekend Wanderer: 9 January 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


Screen Shot 2021-01-07 at 1.03.39 PM“Faith leaders react to mob at Capitol with prayers, calls for end to violence” – Wednesday was one of the most unsettling days in our nation’s life that I can remember since 9/11. The breaching of the Capitol building by armed protestors sent shivers into the national consciousness in an already stressful and divided time. How did faith leaders around the nation respond? Here is a summary compiled by Religion New Service that spans the spectrum of beliefs and perspectives.


beyondW-epiphany21-2“An Unexpected Epiphany” – Ruth Haley Barton is an insightful Christian leader integrating spiritual formation with our leadership. Her book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership is one of my favorites on spiritual leadership, drawing upon the life of Moses as a guide for us. In a recent post, Ruth brought together some powerful reflections on leadership and the season of Epiphany, something I read only after I had already drawn a similar connection but toward different ends in my post yesterday. She writes: “Leadership matters. Transforming leadership matters. Untransformed leadership is dangerous and destructive in the extreme.” This statement summarizes much of what she is trying to get at, but the entire blog post is worth reading.


Anne Snyder - Sowing for Trust“Sowing for Trust” – Here is Anne Snyder writing an editorial at Comment: “We are living through times that often feel like one long commentary on Joni Mitchell’s line ‘you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.’ From quotidian encounters on the street to public sacraments, hospitality in the flesh to basic truth-telling from our leaders, it is not the sophisticated accoutrements of an advanced civilization that have screamed in their absence, but rather the rudimentary things. The things we ordinarily take for granted, the ‘essential’ and the core. As I write in the twilight of this most revealing year, there is one societal staple that is tremoring with a particular foreboding: trust. Trust in other people, trust in institutions, trust in the future, trust in a shared story of hope.”


MakoQuote“Theology of Making” – While working on a book review for Makoto Fujimura’s latest book Art and Faith: A Theology of Making (Yale University Press 2021), I stumbled across this wonderful film series by Windrider Productions that brings to life much of what is on the page in Fujimura’s book. I hope you’ll take a few moments to watch some of the thought-provoking video shorts on this site that reflect on the intersection of biblical theology and aesthetics through the work of Mako Fujimura, as well as other artists and theologians.


Dadivank Monastery in Nagorno-Karabakh“6 Christian Sites Armenia Fears It Has Lost to Azerbaijan” – Christina Maranci offers this beautiful and informative photo essay in Christianity Today related to Christian historic sites in question after the recent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. “In less than seven weeks of war last fall, fighting over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, known to Armenians as Artsakh, cost thousands of lives and created tens of thousands of refugees. It also left a wealth of Christian monuments in the balance. Below, a photo slideshow of the six sites most at risk as their final status and access is still being negotiated. But first, a summary of why Armenians fear the fate of their heritage.”


A Jacobs tech critique“From Tech Critique to Ways of Living” – One of the greatest challenges of our day is how to navigate the ever-increasing influence of technology in our lives. Much of it we are simply not aware of, or have become so quickly accustomed to that we rarely think of what we are sacrificing in order to give space to it. There are many who have raised concerns about technology and its subtle power in our life, urging us to resist or re-approach it in some way; voices like Neil Postman, Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich, Albert Borgmann, and others. In this valuable essay in The New Atlantis, Alan Jacobs summarizes what he describes as “the Standard Critique of Technology” before charting another way that we might critically approach and live with technology based on the work of Yuk Hui and his proposal regarding cosmotechnics.


Music: The Stance Brothers, “Resolution Blue,” from We Jazz Records 7″ Singles Box / Vol. 2

Five Recommendations on Election Day

Here are five recommendations I’d like to offer for followers of Jesus Christ on Election Day here in the US.

  1. Pray – We know as believers that God works through prayer (James 5:16). We know that our calling includes praying for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We know that our nation is facing many challenges that are not only difficult to overcome but may even appear insurmountable. We know there is a great need for people to turn back to God and His ways at numerous levels. Because of these things, we should pray that our nation will be awakened with a need for God, that the elections will be guided by God, that safety and peace will reign on this day and days to come, and that all the candidates up for public office will be strengthened by God regardless of their political party.
  2. Think Biblically – As followers of Christ we must always filter our actions through the truth of God as revealed in the Scriptures. We must let God’s truth both correct and encourage us, even as it renews our minds (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Romans 12:1-2). We must remember that Jesus is our King and our allegiance is first and foremost to His kingdom. The kingdom of God is bigger than any political party. The kingdom calls us to value human life as made in the image of God from before birth through the end of our days. The kingdom of God calls us toward stewardship of the environment as created by God and stewardship of finances as a gift from God. The kingdom of God calls us to care for the forgotten, the poor, prisoners, widows, orphans, and foreigners in our midst. The kingdom of God calls for truth where truth is disregarded and moral order amidst disordered lives and relationships. The kingdom of God is marked by grace, truth, righteousness, and justice. As we face into this election day, we must think biblically as we wrestle with the issues before us.
  3. Vote – It is a huge privilege in our country to have a voice in the political process. So many of my friends from around the world do not have this privilege where they live. They have little to no voice in the political process. This is similar to the first century church, which did not experience anything like this during their lifetimes under the Roman Empire. One aspect of Paul’s instructions about our relationship to governing authorities in Romans 13 is to exercise our right to vote. I encourage every follower of Jesus to take up this privilege.
  4. Maintain Perspective – In the coming days, there will be some of us whose candidate wins and some of us whose candidate loses. For those whose candidate wins, we may be tempted to believe this victory is the answer for our country. For those whose candidate loses, we may be tempted to believe this outcome is the worst reality for our country. Without downplaying the good or bad realities, we must maintain perspective on all of this. The prophet Daniel shows us how to do this. After being ripped from his homeland and launched into exile, Daniel witnessed many kings and kingdoms rising and falling over the course of his life. God gave Daniel a vision of even more changes yet to come in the future. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must maintain clear perspective that our hopes are not tied to a candidate, policy, country, or kingdom. All of these will come and go. There is only one “kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28).
  5. Love One Another – Scripture affirms again and again that we are called as followers of Christ to love one another and stand in unity (1 John 4:11; Philippians 4:1-2). Jesus Himself said that people would know we are His disciples if we love one another (John 13:34-35). Amidst one of the most divided times in our lives, as believers in Christ we most choose a different way. We must stand together as one in ways that those around us, divided by so many different political philosophies and party allegiances, cannot. Let us put on love, which binds all things together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:14) so that, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we might uphold the unity forged through the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus Christ.

A Prayer of Trust by Thomas Merton

A friend shared with me this prayer by Thomas Merton from his book Thoughts in Solitude.

It caught my attention, particularly during this time of so many unknowns and so much change. I hope it is meaningful to you as well.

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

By Thomas Merton from Thoughts in Solitude (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1958).