Edward T Welch, Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest, New Growth Press: 2007.
Welch is a part of CCEF (Christian Counselling & Educational Foundation) and this book is a great advert for that organisation. Biblical, pastoral, conversational, honest, deep, practical. Helping you dig to the roots of your fears – not as an exercise in introspection but as an exercise in applying the gospel word.
“Rather than minimize your fears, find more of them. Expose them to the light of day because the more you find, the more blessed you will be when you hear words of peace and comfort”
Listening to fear
Welch shows how fear manifests in different ways:
The trick is to listen carefully as “fear speaks” and tells you what you think you need, what your idols are, where your treasure is, where you are putting your security, who you think is in control, what you think God is like.
“Scary objects reveal what we cherish. They point to our insatiable quest for control, our sense of aloneness.”
How to deal with fear
Welch blows away all our normal strategies.
- You can’t engineer your way out of fear. More insurance, more security systems, more money. “Control and certainty are myths.”
- You can’t reason your way out of worry. Although CBT-type approaches can be part of the answer, worry is strangely impervious to sensible arguments, evidence and statistics.
- You can’t claim a promise from God that nothing bad will ever happen to you. You can’t claim a promise that you will not die or even that you will always have your physical daily bread provided.
So how can we face fear?
1. The Word of God
Over 300 times in Scripture God tells his people not to be afraid. And what Welch does does so well is show what that repetition tells us about God.
“He understands how intractable fears and anxieties can be. He knows that a simple word will not banish our fears. He knows that our worries aren’t waiting patiently for permission to leave.”
Welch’s discussion of the implications of God making an oath to man (Heb. 6:16-18) is simply brilliant.
2. The presence of God
“rest can only reside in someone rather than something“
It is the presence of a parent that reassures a scared child, it is the presence of a friend that takes away aloneness, it is the presence of a strong protector that takes away the terror. We need to personally know this God.
3. What we really need
We need the presence of God. The problem is we think we need X,Y,Z. We think what we most desperately need is health and food and money. Seeking first the kingdom, having our treasures in heaven, all sounds a bit floaty and impractical. But,
“Spiritual means more real.”
What we need is the fear of the Lord, a vision of His holiness, to be enthralled by his beauty, to be made more like Christ. We need grace to love God and love others.
4. Just-in-time grace
Welch goes through various Bible narratives – Abraham, the Exodus, manna in the desert, showing how God’s deliverance and grace very often comes at the last minute. I was reminded of the famous Corrie Ten Boom testimony:
“When I was a little girl, I went to my father and said, “Daddy, I am afraid that I will never be strong enough to be a martyr for Jesus Christ.” “Tell me,” said Father, “When you take a train trip to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?” “No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train.” “That is right,” my father said, “and so it is with God’s strength. Our Father in Heaven knows when you will need the strength to be a martyr for Jesus Christ. He will supply all you need – just in time…”
(Corrie Ten Boom, Tramp for the Lord, p. 125)
This is not so much about stories of an M-Pesa coming through on the day the school fees need to be paid. It is about grace and strength to endure and cling to Christ whatever:
“Those who imitate Abraham’s faith are always pushing the last minute farther out until it comes even after physical death. Such a person is fearless.”
“It is enough to know that I will receive grace. I will know the presence of the Spirit and I will die, or I will be rescued, in a way that pleases the Lord.”
5. The gospel
“If you are finding peace elusive, wither you still don’t believe you are forgiven or you don’t really care that you are.”
Welch takes us to the gospel and particularly the truth that “You are already dead”
“No longer do we have to protect our reputation. Instead, we can.. concern ourselves with more important matters such as how to love others. No longer do we have to be consumed with how we are treated. Dead people aren’t concerned about personal glory.”
Welch brilliantly notices that fear is fought not simply by our focus on Christ but also by our focus on loving others in joyful, self-forgetful, gospel obedience. I was reminded of Luther:
“A Christian lives not in him or herself but outside him or herself – in Christ through faith and in the neighbour through love. By faith he is carried upwards above himself to God…” (Martin Luther, Freedom of a Christian)
Welch encourages us to cultivate a childlike eager obedience that asks, “Now what?” (which also strangely reminds me of the West Wing…)
What is so helpful about Welch’s book is that he (to steal an expression from Dale Ralph Davis) rubs the Word of God into the reader like a cook rubbing salt and pepper into a piece of meat. Just as God know that we won’t get the message the first time, so Welch follows that cue and goes over these themes of the Word of God, the presence of God, the sufficiency of God again and again, from different angles, from different passages. This can mean the structure of the book is not always easy to follow but it does mean that it works really well as a devotional to read a chapter a day and then, when you get to the end, to start at the beginning again. Which is what I intend to do.
Welch has also produced a free pdf workbook – When I am afraid: A step-by-step guide away from ffar & anxiety – which takes you through the self-diagnosis to get to the bottom of and start tackling your personal fears. It’s designed to be used with the full book but there’s enough text and Scripture in it to make it a helpful resource in its own right.