Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve struggled with fear, anxiety and worry my whole life. My mother used to tell me that the best way to handle worry was to imagine the very worst thing that could happen. Then she’d say, “Things would never be that bad.” I was groomed to think the worst.
My friend’s dad took a different approach. He’d say, “Nothing is ever as good or as bad as you think it is.” That philosophy helped a lot until one day another friend said, “Sometimes things are worse.”
I know that you’ve occasionally mentioned from the pulpit some of your own severe struggles with fear, anxiety, worry...
Could you please give me some thoughts on how to handle things when my worst fears come true?
Once upon a time, we asked our church family to write down and share with us their greatest fear. We received over 400 responses.
Here are three of them:
“I’m afraid I will never fall in love.”
“That my (Christian) husband will someday leave me for another woman especially as I grow older, and I will end up living under a bridge.”
“I'm afraid the cancer will return and I won’t see it.”
The best example of someone’s worst fears coming true has to be what happened to Job (Job chapters 1-2). Let’s use him in his responses as a model.
In a quick and brutal sweep of calamities, allowed by God but engineered by Satan, Job is left penniless, homeless, helpless, and childless.
On day one Job lost his family and his possessions. But on day two, it got personal. Who could have guessed that the next day he’d be sitting in the garbage dump, covered from head to toe with painful boils, scraping off dead skin with a piece of broken pottery.
At this point Job revealed that his absolute worst fears were coming true: “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me" (Job 3:25).
For Job, as for many of us, there was no date, no warning, no understanding. It’s just that one day things were fine and the next day they were horrible. One day he was healthy and moments later he was sick unto death.
His worst fears came true.
Let’s consider some of the nightmarish fears that actually came true for Job— and are still things to fear today.
Job feared physical pain.
We do not know the disease he suffered, but we know it was so painful that he couldn’t sleep at night. It was gory. It was tormenting.
We all fear to some level a failing body or longtime experience with pain. I’ve walked often through the doors which nurses have told me should be emblazoned with the words, “Man’s greatest inhumanity to man.” I’m talking about the ICU unit at the local hospital where patients are kept alive medically and not allowed to die naturally. Pain.
I’ve told Julie that if I end up in the hospital with debilitating pain to call my doctor and have them turn off my pacemaker. I don’t want to die in pain. Neither do you.
I know what it’s like to live in great physical pain. Too many operations in too many places. But there’s one pain I fear greatly. It’s called, “the devil’s grip,” which occurs when the fluid in the pericardial sac around the heart dries up. Those who measure pain with an brain-inserted electrodes say that kidney stones and childbirth shrink to insignificance in the presence of “the devil’s grip.” I suffered with it twice—which is twice too many. I fear it.
Job feared emotional pain.
Sometimes the emotional pain is so great that we can’t even begin to process it.
One of our daughters was sexually molested in high school. She was so horrified and shamed that she buried her secret deep within. She carried that pain for years.
She joined the fencing team in college. Occasionally, she’d stab with her rapier at a man’s crotch. The pain in her subconscious mind was manifesting itself in inappropriate ways because of what she had experienced.
Not long afterward she fell in love and built up enough courage to tell her fiancé. After months of counseling, she found late emotional healing.
In my online, “Ask Roger,” column, at preachitteachit.org, I’ve dealt with hundreds of women whose marriages bring nothing but pain, embarrassment, abuse, rejection, abandonment and misery. Marriage was never designed by God to be like that. However, far and away the most frequent issue that I deal with is the emotional pain suffered by women because of an abusive, jerk of a husband. The worst fears of these women has come. It’s gut wrenching to see their fear and pain.
Job feared mental anguish.
He couldn’t comprehend how he and his wife would survive. He was wondering what terrible calamity would come next.
In college, Julie was stalked for several weeks until the police finally got involved. Her apartment was broken into by the stalker. She was afraid to walk home at night.
In Tucson we finally stopped telling the church family whenever I was leaving town for a conference in another city. The problem was that whenever I left town Julie would receive frightening crank calls. One night when I was gone the phone rang and a man said, “I’m on the roof, and I’ve come to get you.” Julie began to have nightmares whenever forced to be alone. Her mental anguish during these times was debilitating.
Spiritual pain was probably Job’s deepest fear come true.
He felt that the God he knew and loved and served and worshipped had forsaken him.
His wife, his beloved partner, told him to curse God and die.
He wondered over and over again why God would let this happen to him.
I have grieved with many people who have suffered spiritual pain in unspeakable ways. Many feel that that God deserted them in their most desperate moments. Some feel that He has led or left them in some difficulty that was all His doing—and they are struggling to find solutions on their own.
The broken faith that they dreamed would never happen to them has come.
“What shall we do when the things we feared the most come true?”
1. We can experience the loving heart of God the father through Jesus Christ.
God the Father understands and has experienced fears and the horror of those fears coming true. Jesus struggled with fear and dread.
Matthew 26:38: Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane facing death: “Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’"
Matthew 27:46: About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"-which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
His worst fear was finally realized. He was separated from His Father.
However, it wasn’t long until the relationship was restored. We will often discover that what seems to be forsaking is just the prelude for deepening love and kingdom success.
God’s “perfect love” is able to cast out fear: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear… We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19).
2. We can experience peace because our suffering is for something—and for someone.
“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).
Scientists are now able to measure the intensity of the pain we feel. They can measure that a migraine hurts more than a skinned knee.
And they have determined that two of the most painful things human beings can experience are giving birth and passing a kidney stone (and the “devils grip”).
But the two are so different. The pain of passing a kidney stone is simply pointless suffering, the result of a natural malfunction in our bodies. But the pain of birth is creative pain. It is pain that has meaning, life giving pain that leads to something special.
That is why the person who passes a kidney stone will usually say, “I’d give anything not to have to go through that again.”
But, the woman who has given birth to a child can transcend her pain and contemplate repeating the experience. “Honey, I think I am ready to have another one.”
No one wants to suffer for nothing (kidney stone). We handle it better if we are suffering for something (having a baby).
We handle life best if we understand that even our greatest fears have a purpose in the plan of God.
“Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:10-11).
3. We can experience contentment because God promises to pour in the power when we need it.
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).
4. It’s probably time to go to the doctor.
I’ve used coping mechanisms of every sort in attempts to alleviate my fears, anxieties and worries. I’ve done everything from putting them in imaginary boxes and closing the lids to spending two or three hours at the gym just trying to get enough endorphins to get emotionally up off the floor.
I’ve found much relief from discovering that much of my worry, fears and anxieties are chemically driven by the neurotransmitters in my brain. Ongoing, out-of-control worries fears and anxieties are mostly brain chemistry issues. Of course, there are times that we need to be afraid, anxious and worried because of bad circumstances surrounding us. However, if our problem is ongoing and not just situational, then under a doctor’s care the right medical drugs can bring much of the worry, fear and anxiety to a screeching halt.
Of course, no amount of medical help could have isolated Job from the sufferings and fears he endured. Nevertheless, the right medicines could have made a big difference in how he handled everything that happened to him.
Well Roger, I hope that you find some useful thoughts as I shared my thoughts. With God’s help and grace, and perhaps balanced medical care, your life will be much more enjoyable.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese.His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.