Report suspicious activities. Those were the words on the road signs we saw as we drove through Washington, D.C. on a recent vacation.
Take cover in an interior room. That’s the rule that came to mind when we received the tornado warning and heard the sirens, the rule I repeated to my wife and children as we huddled together in our downstairs bathroom.
Don’t panic, and try not to swerve. If but for a fleeting second, this is the advice that flashed into my mind as the deer bolted across the road in front of me. I didn’t have the time to panic or swerve, and I wasn’t hurt. The same can’t be said of the deer (or my truck, which was totaled).
Life is full of warnings, rules, and adages that are intended to keep us safe and secure. Beyond that, we all share the universal human desire for comfort and security. Life is precious, we tell ourselves. Be prepared. Have a plan for any threat.
Yet, we live in a world of threats. People engage in suspicious activities and seek to harm. Tornadoes roar and destroy. Deer (and other things) come out of nowhere while you’re driving. The threats to life are endless. It’s very easy to be afraid.
It’s also very easy to let that fear become the centerpiece of your life. In response to life’s threats you may seek to construct more safety, more security, more defense. You can wear more armor. You can build the castle wall higher. You can forge a bigger sword.
Likewise, we can keep making the signs bigger. We can make the storm shelter stronger. We can buy bigger and tougher trucks. It’s not that these are bad things; they can be the difference between life and death.
However, we all know that life-threatening things get the biggest headlines. Fear gets huge ratings. Our lives are lived in the midst of that fearful noise. Sometimes without even realizing it we become captives to our fears, and anytime we live out of fear rather than faith, we cease to really live at all.
The good news is that God wants us to live. The Bible has no fewer than 365 verses encouraging us to not be afraid. If you want to sum up the Christian faith in a few words, “Do not fear” is a pretty good place to start. The antithesis to fear is not courage — it’s faith. And what is faith, but trusting in the God who created you even when life is threatened?
When we make that trust rather than our fears the centerpiece of our lives, a funny thing happens. You see the threats. You weather the storms. You refrain from panic. And more importantly, you are freed. You’re free to step out into risky places. You’re free to serve, to love, and to live, and to do so knowing that your life is held in the secure hands of the One who created you and all things.
The Rev. Lee Koontz is the senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Gainesville. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.