A couple days after Christmas, I woke up in fear. Everyone else was still asleep, but I was lying in bed in a pool of anxiety. After vain attempts at calming, it made sense to just get my stressball out of bed and take a turn on the hamster wheel. Exercise is not a discipline I regularly keep, so it was only minutes before I was drip-sweating and panting. I was the only body in the stinky little apartment gym, so I could outwardly moan my way through it. I was travailing inwardly too. I was casting my anxiety upon the Lord the only way I had ever known. The practice was akin to reviewing a mental grocery list. I was running over the boxes I really needed God to check off and take proper care of. It was prayer of the lowest order—explaining to God how valid and terrifying every single fear of mine was and how necessary it was for Him to do something about each one, and quick!
Because I am soft and undisciplined, the workout made me really weak, and in that weak place I started seeing things in that naked way that a fast induces us to see plainly. As if from outside myself, I could see my practice of giving God my fears (plural) for the misunderstanding that it was—the hair’s breadth distance from giving God my fear (singular) that made all the difference in the world.
I had been reading Peter’s words as a prescription for unloading my foul list of worries like terrible rot for God to take up on my behalf. Here, Lord, are all of the things that I project might happen. Here is the fruit of my sorcery, my vain imaginings of what the tea leaves predict my future holds. Here, Lord, are all the things that do not exist in this moment that I fear have far more power than Your very present self. But Peter was saying something altogether different.
Peter went on and on about suffering. He was writing to a persecuted church, and he was gently reminding them to submit to the suffering. You are blessed to suffer (I Peter 3:14)! Make your very purpose to suffer (I Peter 4:1)! Rejoice when you suffer! It is meant for your testing and your ultimate exaltation (I Peter 4:12-13)! According to Peter, suffering is a sometime-necessity for proof-of-life that our faith is still kicking (I Peter 1:6-7). Anxiety is the natural response to the onset of suffering. So the verse makes sense in context.
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,
The “therefore” is an acknowledgment of all the unavoidable suffering Peter has been going on about. Matthew Henry said that “the work of a Christian is twofold—doing the will of God and suffering His pleasure.” In the Latin, to suffer means to bear under. We are to humble ourselves, to go low, to bear under the pleasure of the God. It was God’s pleasure to crush Christ (Isaiah 53:10). Jesus humbled Himself to that. The work of a Christian is the same—to lay down and die. We are to put ourselves in the posture of humble submission. God has made at least this much of His will abundantly clear: we are to take up our cross and follow Christ to the suffering place.
that He may exalt you at the proper time,
The suffering is not the end, but the means. The outcome is the salvation of our souls (I Peter 1:3-9). “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (I Peter 5:10). Perfection, confirmation, strength and establishment lie on the other side of suffering. If it were not so in the order of this universe, Certainly God would have allowed Christ the other way He was seeking in the garden of Gethsemane. “’My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me’” (Matthew 26:39). But it was not possible. “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through suffering” (Hebrews 2:10). Christ was made perfect (whole) this way. While I have no ability to understand this fully, I know that “a slave is not greater than his master’” (John 13:16). It was necessary for our Master to suffer prior to sitting down at the right hand of God. I too must suffer before being glorified (I Peter 2:21, I John 1:5-6, Luke 9:23-24).
casting all your anxiety on Him,
The Greek word used here for anxiety (merimna) has, for its root word, distraction and means literally to divide or cut in pieces. Classically, the word distraction was understood as insanity. A person gone mad and driven to distraction is so frenzied, so divided and drawn into pieces that they are no longer whole or well. The anxious person, with his mind divided on a million objects of fear, is easily drawn into hysteria. Interestingly, anxiety/distraction/division is the opposite of perfection. We think of perfection as rigid, sterile, exacting, but the classic and biblical definition of perfection is integration, wholeness, and unity. Perhaps Peter meant that we were to cast the things about which we are divided and driven mad about onto our Lord. I think that was already done once for all on the cross, but it is possible he meant to remind us of that truth. What I find more plausible is that he meant for us to give to Christ all the energy and attention otherwise occupied with a thousand points of worry. When we cast off the division of anxiety, what we are really doing is choosing unification.
“Teach me your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name” (Psalm 86:11). The Hebrew word for heart means “inner man” and necessarily includes the heart, mind, will and emotions. David is asking God to unify his entire self. David is praying for God to make him whole, unified, of one piece. Implicit in this request for being joined together is the reality that our heart and mind can be divided, not whole. David’s request is that God make him whole so that he might fear His name. He is pleading with God to bind up his fractured self that he might properly see and serve God. David is seeking relief from distraction—from being cut in pieces and drawn in different directions. He desires to be whole and to be wholly focused on his God.
because He cares for you” (I Peter 5:7).
The Greek word here for care is melei. It means solicitude. Peter is saying that we can throw off our frenzied worry about so many things, because we have as Caregiver, the living God. We can submit to whatever suffering God allows, because we know the character of the One allowing it—that He is deeply solicitous on our behalf. Because we know that He cares for us to the nth degree, we can stop giving all of our care to all those vain imaginings.
I heard this all in a moment on that treadmill. I was staring at a whole host of little, plain Sparrows flitting all about me. I was trying to get His attention to rest on them too. I felt desperate for Him to look over there for me. See all of this that I have to be concerned about! But He was this gorgeous Rainbow Lorikeet, just begging to be seen in all his splendor—keenly aware of the transformative power of my seeing Him as He truly is. At the moment I turned my gaze on Him, I was free. I could not have approximated that kind of release had every box on my list been checked. This was an altogether “other” kind of release. I transferred my attention from my myriad fears to His fearfully wonderful Self, and healing tears mingled with the sweat pouring all over my red face. The release was palpable. I had an instantaneous release from every single fear. Because, in seeing the most fearsome One, I saw His sufficiency, His care, His omnipotence, and an infinite host of His qualities that made Him far more interesting and relevant than what I had been focusing on. God took that list of worries and just ate it up. The little clubhouse gym turned into a cathedral. Because the truth is that He wouldn’t let me distract Him from the singular object of His attention. The focus of His gaze has always been and will always be unwaveringly on the hope set before Him. That hope is His bride made ready, and He will do it.
Friends, I think we might have got it wrong. May I suggest that you stop giving God your fears (plural)? Give Him, instead, your fear (singular). Bind up your fractured mind with the one intention of standing in awe of Him. Give up to Him your distraction in exchange for a singularity of reverence. It is a gift that only you can give Him. It is due to Him (Jeremiah 10:7), and it will delight the giver and the Receiver in such a way as to make holy whatever place your foot is touching.