In my Bible study we've been studying Job, which is, I think, not a book anyone naturally gravitates to for personal encouragement. Job is a discomforting book, and Job's life experiences are beyond discomforting to me.
I felt an overwhelming sense that I needed to sit up straight and pay attention, that God had something to say to me, which immediately shot fear straight up my spine. God, are you going to ask me to suffer for You? I thought about His response to Job in chapters 38-40, where He highlights His perfect sovereignty. And I thought about Paul's lesson learned in suffering, that His grace is sufficient. I realized that He was reminding me that, come what may, God is sovereign and sufficient. I knew He was asking if I'd trust Him no matter what. Those are the times you kind of don't want to say yes because He really might test you.
That sense of foreboding has been hard to shake, because it's led me to fear suffering. But it's also taken me to prayer and to the Word, and I see God's intention was to teach me the opposite: to not fear suffering. What He's teaching me is to respond to my sense of vulnerability with faith rather than fear.
Because this is what I am recognizing: the older I get and the more the Lord calls me to walk forward in faith, the more vulnerable I feel. The three major ministries He's called me to--parenting, church planting, and writing--require me to hold my heart out in the most vulnerable position where it can be trampled, rejected, evaluated, and broken. Sometimes I discern rumblings of attack and I feel that my heart is too much on the line, that I'm going to be hurt or that these three things that I hold so dear are going to be damaged.
My instinctive response to this sense of vulnerability is to defend and protect myself and what I care most about. At those times, it would be easier not to care. It would be easier to draw my heart back and cup it away from hostilities or perceived hostilities. And that response tends to lead to anger, bitterness, feelings of failure, isolation, a lack of love for others, and insecurity. That response carries with it a strong feeling of helplessness, weakness, and--here it is, folks-- a fear of suffering.
So the Lord was addressing my fear of suffering, but He was really getting at my tendency to defend and protect myself. If His power is made perfect in weakness, He can only show that power when I lay down my defenses, remain vulnerable, and let Him be my shield and defense.
But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You;
Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them;
Let those also who love Your name be joyful in You.
For You, O Lord, will bless the righteous;
With favor You will surround him as with a shield.
I am not my own strength and defense and when I try to be, I only feed a fear of suffering and a distrust of God. The only way I can walk forward in faith and do what God has called me to do is to walk forward with my heart out in the open, soft and vulnerable, trusting that God will defend and protect as a shield about me.
Does that mean I won't experience suffering? We need only look at Job for an answer to that question. No, I'm not protected from suffering, but I am protected from being abandoned by the Lord in times of despair and need. I am loved by Him, so the arrows of rejection and being unloved cannot pierce that shield. I am allowed weakness, because He is strong in my place. I don't have to fear what may come, because He always goes with me, even into death. Simply put, the ultimate arrows of destruction cannot reach me.
So there really is only one response in the face of fear: I lay down my defenses, because my Defense is already there.