The nurse came flying into the chemo room and handed me my weekly slip of paper that documented my blood test results. “This looks fine,” she said. I responded with the same exact words I used every time she would hand me the paper: “That’s because I’m well.” As I glanced down to confirm that my blood work was good, I read the results. In that moment, a fiery dart of fear pierced my heart.
Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.
According to 1 John 4:18, fear is a tormenting spirit that threatens us with punishment. It comes in various forms—from intimidation to threat to torture. Fear loves to breed confusion and preys upon doubt. It presents itself as powerful and all-consuming, and it never shows mercy.
It was June of 2009 when cancer first called my name. Since then, I’ve had many fights with fear. I’ve had to learn how to align my thoughts, my actions and my body with God’s promises and character in order to keep my peace, walk in faith and receive my healing. I’ve learned firsthand that the Word of God is the only thing that can speak more loudly to me than the fear of death.
When you’re diagnosed with a serious illness, there is an instantaneous moment of disbelief, quickly followed by the first onslaught of fear. You face critical decisions and many invasions of privacy. You must discern your plan of action based upon the input of strangers who may or may not have your best interests at heart. Every decision feels life-threatening, and each day brings a new realization of the seriousness of the situation.
The story of Joshua shows us that God understands how afraid and intimidated we are when the threat of dying is near. The first chapter of Joshua picks up immediately after the death of Moses. Joshua, who had been Moses’ right-hand man, was faced with the challenge of leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land. I’m sure he was wrestling with fear, and I can completely relate. When I first heard the word “malignant,” it felt like a punch in the gut. But God opens His dialogue with Joshua by looking death straight in the face and removing its sting: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready” (Joshua 1:2). God doesn’t linger over the loss of Moses. Instead, He reminds Joshua of His promises and gives Joshua an instruction list for overcoming fear that applies to each of us as well.
First, God tells Joshua twice in a row to be brave and very courageous (Joshua 1:6–7). God required a faith response—an action—from Joshua. He does not make him brave. He commands him to be brave. Joshua had to choose to obey and take courage.
Next, God instructs Joshua to remember His Word (Joshua 1:8). The Word of God has every answer for our questions about healing and how to overcome the fear of death. He clearly states His plan (for long life and health), His heart (He desires for us to live) and His provision for us to obtain our personal promise of healing (by His stripes we are healed).
God wraps up His talk by exhorting Joshua one final time to be strong and courageous; only this time He also tells him not to be terrified or discouraged because He promises to be with Joshua and the people of Israel wherever they go (Joshua 1:9). In order to agree and cooperate with God, we have to disagree with our fear and trust that God is always with us.
Much like Joshua, when we face a serious situation—whether it’s a life-threatening illness, a relationship loss, grief or suffering—God calls us to believe His promises. We are to take courage and resist fear in order to cross over into our individual promised lands of health and restoration.
Despite the evidence of God’s Word, many of us are often afraid to believe for healing. We don’t trust that God is good or that He is willing to heal. Some of us are so terrified of being disappointed that we fail to stretch our faith and exercise obedience. Others of us begin the battle strong but lose our momentum, because fear wears at the corners of our minds and day by day steals a piece of our faith. Sometimes, we listen to our symptoms more than we listen to the voice of God. A hurting body, grueling treatments and many tests simply scream sickness so loudly that we believe the lie. Many of us can’t get past our experiences. We’ve seen a friend or family member suffer and die, and the disappointment stands like a mountain in the way of our hope and faith. Leaping across what is “bad” to believe that God is “good” becomes a seemingly insurmountable obstacle for us. However, if we don’t learn to overcome fear, we will walk in constant anxiety and thwart God’s plan to bring healing and victory to us.
I understand that believing God and choosing to be brave isn’t easy, and it doesn’t mean that we won’t ever have doubt or fear. It simply means that we obey in the face of great obstacles, symptoms and intimidation. Eventually, there comes a season in our battle when we can fully rest in the hope we’ve placed in God, surrender the outcome to Him and trust in His faithfulness rather than in the manifestation of our healing. We know that whether we are healed in this life or not, God is faithful. When we diligently guard our hearts against fear and steadfastly hold to God’s promises, we experience the rewards of peace and hope.
That day in the chemo room led to a week or two of massive instability. I had to reach out to my husband and my friends, confessing my thoughts and asking for prayer again and again. I’ve had many skirmishes like this, and each time, I have to choose to follow God’s prescription to Joshua for overcoming fear: I take courage. I stand on God’s Word. And I use His promises to diligently guard and restore my heart against fear. As I persevere, I am filled with God’s peace. Even though I may leave the engagement bruised and battered, I am not defeated.
I love what David says in Psalm 27:3, “When besieged, I’m calm as a baby. When all hell breaks loose, I’m collected and cool.” No matter how many times fear comes against us, we can maintain our confidence and peace by believing His promise to Joshua and to us: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you.”
You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” You must do the thing you think you cannot do.