“I’m going to ring you up quickly so that you can leave before they lock the doors,” the cashier told me as sirens wailed outside. “We do that when there’s a tornado warning.”
My thoughts began to circulate: What if someone I loved gets hurt? What if my house got destroyed? What if a tornado meets me on the road? In nearly poetic irony, I was buying – of all things – a new planner for the new year. As I got my agenda for my year, the weather reminded me that we never know what the next hour brings.
When I returned home, the only casualty was an overwatered lawn. My relief lasted ten minutes – until I checked the forecast and saw more severe thunderstorms on the way. Dread rained down on me, and I felt doomed to repeat this cycle of fear. Inside, an internal dissonance was brewing. What kind of witness is an anxious Christian clutching her yearly planner with white knuckles?
As I began to investigate my feelings, I learned that many Christians experience fear as a daily part of their lives. A 2018 Christian Post survey found that 80% of churchgoers live with moderate to significant levels of fear. This contrasts with the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to his acolyte Timothy:
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7 ESV
We have spirits of power, love, and self-control – not anxiety, fear, or worry. Paul’s words showed me that I was living beneath the spirit that God has given me, so I set out to learn how I could overcome fear, and the book of Daniel paved the way.
Four Hebrews who Overcome Fear
In the book of Daniel, we see how four Hebrews – the eponymous Daniel along with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – overcome fear. The account begins when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquers Jerusalem. He takes the four to Babylon to be educated, and, through a series of providential events, appoints them over Babylon.
The Fiery Furnace
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego soon confront fear. King Nebuchadnezzar builds a giant golden statue and commands all government officials to bow down before it. Those who refuse will be thrown into a fiery furnace. Despite this threat, the three do not obey and a furious Nebuchadnezzar demands an explanation. This is how they reply:
[O]ur God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.
Daniel 3:16-18 ESV
The king casts them into the furnace. Soon, however, he sees four people – the Hebrews and one “like a son of the gods” – walking among the flames. He calls them out and the three are unharmed – they do not even smell like smoke. In a sudden change of heart, the king praises God and promotes the three.
The Lions’ Den
Several decades later, the kingdom of Babylon has split and the Persian King Darius plans to set Daniel, whose faith is well-known, over the empire. Conspirators manipulate the king to make prayer an offense punishable by death. When Daniel hears that the law had been signed,
[H]e went into his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.
Daniel 6:10 ESV
The officials throw Daniel into a den of lions to die. The next morning, King Darius checks to see if he is still alive. Daniel responds:
O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.
Daniel 6:21-23 ESV
In response, King Darius makes a decree that people in his dominion should worship the God of Daniel.
The Miracle of Overcoming Fear
The Hebrews’ beliefs about God do not change based on their circumstances. The threat of execution did not frighten them into submission; they trusted in God as they walked into the flames and as the lions neared. Matthew Henry, a 17th-century Bible Commentator, writes,
And truly, the saving of them from this sinful compliance was as great a miracle as the saving of them out of the fiery furnace.
Matthew Henry, Bible Commentary (Daniel 3)
By overcoming fear, the Hebrews become vessels of miracles just as stunning as their deliverance from flames or lions.
Two Essential Beliefs about God’s Character
God can do the same miraculous work within our hearts. The Hebrews’ faith is rooted in two specific beliefs about God’s character, and we can root our faith in them as well.
The first belief is that God is sovereign. This means that he is in control of everything. We see this truth in Psalm 115:
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
Psalm 115:3 ESV
Nothing happens without God’s jurisdiction. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego displayed this belief when they told Nebuchadnezzar, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:16 ESV). They knew that nothing would happen to them without God’s consent.
Knowing that God is sovereign brings us relief because he is also infinitely good. We see this in Psalm 136:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Psalm 136:1 ESV
The Lord’s love for us will never end, and no circumstance will ever bring his love into question. Daniel knew this. Despite suspecting the imminency of his arrest, Daniel “gave thanks before his God.” He knew that God was good to him, regardless of what his circumstances looked like.
These Truths as Anchors
These two truths – that God is sovereign and that he is good – limit our fears by preventing us from descending into thinking that God does not hear us or care about what we are facing. They are like anchors, pulling us back into faith when our circumstances tempt us to drift away into fear. As Charles Spurgeon writes in his sermon “Divine Sovereignty,”
There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them…I am persuaded that the Sovereignty of God must be held by us if we would be in a healthy state of mind.
Charles Spurgeon, “Divine Sovereignty”
God’s sovereignty and goodness are inviolable truths that bring rest to our souls because they remind us that God is in control of everything and that he is trustworthy. Amid the uncertainty in our lives, they help us submit to the will of God, as the Hebrews did, instead of foundering in fear.
While the formula for fearlessness – trusting in God’s goodness and sovereignty – is simple, there is sometimes a gap between our intellectual assent to these truths and our lived-out experiences. And the gap makes sense – these truths can be hard to believe.
Sometimes, our fears come true – and then God seems neither sovereign nor good. Spurgeon acknowledges this; God will not shield us from “adverse circumstances,” “severe trials,” or “afflictions.” Indeed, Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego had to walk into the furnace. Daniel had to spend a night with hungry lions.
The Hebrews were able to press into their beliefs that God was sovereign and good despite their trials because they did not couple their faith with false expectations that God’s ways would align with their own. They could trust him through pain and fear because even though God’s ways are mysterious, his character is not. He is always good.
Overcome Fear by Surrender
We must decide if we’re willing to serve a God whose goodness and sovereignty rarely translate into every prayer answered how and when we want it to be. To overcome fear, we must give up control and our ability to understand. In his book When You Pray, Philip G. Ryken describes the necessity of surrender:
Realize that when you put your faith in Jesus Christ, there can be no holding back. Your will must hand God its letter of resignation. For unless you submit to God’s will in everything, you are not submitting to Him in anything. Think about it. If you only follow God’s will when it happens to correspond to your own will, then you never have to surrender at all. You are simply asking God to endorse your own agenda as often as He can. But if you want new life in Christ, you must adopt God’s agenda and throw away your own.
Philip G. Ryken, When You Pray
There is life in this surrender because it offers rest in God alone.
The Other Side of Surrender
On the other side of surrender is peace. We see this when Jesus speaks to his disciples after they have celebrated Passover together for the last time:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
John 14:27 ESV
He knew that his disciples would soon have a lot of questions – their savior was about to be crucified. Jesus wanted them to overcome fear with divine peace. Today, he offers the same peace to us. The English hymnist Anne Steele captures this beautifully in a hymn that dates to 1760:
When sins and fears prevailing rise,
And fainting hope almost expires,
Jesus, to Thee I lift my eyes,
To Thee I breathe my soul’s desires.
Art Thou not mine, my living Lord?
And can my hope, my comfort die,
Fixed on Thy everlasting Word,
That Word which built the earth and sky?
If my immortal Savior lives,
Then my immortal life is sure;
His Word a firm foundation gives:
Here let me build, and rest secure.
Here let my faith unshaken dwell;
Immovable Thy promise stands;
Not all the powers of earth or hell
Can e’er dissolve the sacred bands.
Here, O my soul, thy trust repose;
If Jesus is for ever mine,
Not death itself, the last of foes,
Shall break a union so divine!
Anne Steele, “When Sins and Fears Prevailing Rise”
When fear threatens to undo us, we can look upward to Jesus. His character will never change, and his promises are sure.
We cannot overcome fear through our own willpower or in our own strength. But God is more powerful than tornados, flames, lions, and even my own stubborn, unsurrendered heart. He is the one who pries my white-knuckled fingers from my agenda and makes them cling instead to his promises, to the truth that he is a sovereign God whose goodness rains down on me. I come to him again and again to surrender my fears, and he stills my soul with the same words that Moses once told the terrified Israelites as the Egyptian army neared:
The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.
Exodus 14:14 ESV
Moses was silent and the Red Sea parted.
We overcome fear by being silent so that the promises of God might speak.
About the Author
© Olivia Davis 2020, all rights reserved