Ruled By Joy
Updated: Oct 28, 2020
Five Questions for the Fearful
By Jason Harrison —
There are times in my life when I have felt particularly fearful. It usually centers on things out of my control. Perhaps you’ve been there. Perhaps you are there now.
Right after college, I was asked to be a lead counselor at a Christian camp in Wisconsin with the task of leading a team of counselors alongside a co-leader. She and I would cheer, counsel, and provide leadership for our team.
Midway through the summer, I noticed I was becoming increasingly anxious and agitated. The stress and competition were getting to me. It was then that another leadership staffer pulled me aside and asked this question: Are you leading out of fear or out of joy?
That moment made me pause. I’d never considered fear as the root of the anxious symptoms in my life. But as I considered his words, I realized he was spot on. I was leading from a place of fear, letting my fears drive my decisions. But for many of us, it’s not just our leadership, it’s our life. Are we being ruled by fear or by joy?
I am quick to think that all that needs to change is my perspective—more optimism—or my circumstances. Nevertheless, the fear grows like a worm eating a rotten apple. It seeks the core to destroy whatever joy I had. I begin to look at my days as stressful, anxious moments where I respond poorly to those who are around me. My life gets smaller and smaller. Yet, I long to be a husband, a father, and a pastor whose life is ruled by joy rather than fear. But how?
Here are a few questions I’ve used to help me in these moments:
1. Are my concerns solely about me?
Ask yourself, “What is bothering me? And what am I afraid of?” Too many times my thoughts are not about my wife, my daughter, or my church. Often, my thoughts and fears are centered on myself. It’s only about me in this moment. That’s what it means to be driven by fear. Fear pulls in on itself (see Prov. 29:25). Joy, on the other hand, says God’s concerns and other's concerns are more significant than my own (see Philippians 2:1-4). By considering others, I have the mind of Christ.
2. Am I dwelling in possibilities versus reality?
God calls us to think about what we are facing today rather than tomorrow. Jesus speaks clearly to this in Matthew 6:34: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” I recently read this from C.S. Lewis:
"A more Christian attitude, which can be attained at any age, is that of leaving futurity in God’s hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to him or not. Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord’. It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received" ("Learning in War-Time” from The Weight of Glory).
3. Am I letting thoughts come without purpose?
Some people call this “preaching to yourself.” But what I mean is maybe more basic. We all think thoughts without intention—unformed thoughts. But as believers, we are called to bring our thoughts captive to Christ. And although we redeem the time with our actions, we are not always careful with our thoughts. For instance, I wake up and by the time I am sitting down to read my Bible, I’ve thought about the new baby on the way, my need for a van, projects around the house, my tasks at church, who is going to cover while I’m off, election, the status of the world, and more. All without intention. And sometimes what we need is a little intention. Could you meditate on Proverbs 3:5-6? Or sing There Is A Fountain? Or ask yourself, What are five ways I can bless my husband or wife today? Or my kids? Or my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? Joy comes from intentionally, taking your eyes off yourself.
4. Am I thinking about my sin more than I’m thinking about Christ?
We’ve all heard the famous line from a letter by Robert Murray McCheyne in which he said, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” Here’s what he said later in that same paragraph:
“Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.”
I think that gets to the point—we fill up with Christ, making no room for our fears or other concerns. Are you thinking more about your sin than you’re thinking about Christ?
5. Am I ready for suffering?
I do not mean persecution alone, but suffering. This comes by way of the inevitable pain, meaninglessness, drudgery, and dullness that accompanies us through life. Am I ready for the breaking bag of groceries or the unexpected dent in the car? Am I ready for the unproductive day or dreadful news? Am I ready for the sickness, the loss, and the pain? To ready ourselves is one of the countless movements of faith in our lives, and it comes by anchoring ourselves in the truth—in Christ. Preaching from Romans 8, Tim Keller (summarizing Jonathan Edwards) makes three statements that should anchor the Christian’s joy:
Our bad things turn out for our good (Romans 8:28)
Our good things can never be lost (Romans 8:29-30)
The best things are yet to come (Romans 8:30)
Joy comes when you realize you cannot miss out. You cannot thwart God's plan, and He loves you. And every day with him in glory will be joy, so that all your fears and concerns pale in comparison (Romans 8:18).
Are you living ruled by fear or joy?