Have you ever noticed how fear feelings can distort perceptions? If you’ve ever awakened out of a nightmare you know what I mean. Finally awake, you realize there is no actual danger. Yet the feelings keep you dwelling on the horrible thoughts and the thoughts generate more fear feelings. To rid yourself of the anxiety you might have to get up, turn on a light, and read for awhile–all over a scary dream.
In genuine danger we need to take prudent action. But any time we remain in fear, bad guys look badder, darkness looks darker, problems look bigger and solutions smaller. It seems we are all alone and no one can help. This is a factor in Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) fear responses.
In Psalm 31 David wrote about a time when he felt “alarm.” In other words, he felt panic, panic from threat of serious harm. People were plotting to kill him. This wasn’t a just a nightmare. The threats were real.
He was “in distress;… wasted away from grief.” He had “become a reproach” to his neighbors, “an object of dread to my acquaintances.” Abandoned, even shunned by those who used to be his friends, he was “forgotten as a dead man.” So people who used to be his friends were ignoring him as though he didn’t exist. How humiliating! He says, “I am like a broken vessel”–useless, treated as trash. Furthermore, neighbors had slandered him, painting scurrilous graffiti on his broken vessel. David had no one who cared to help him! This is a picture of traumatic stress. (9-13)
If David applied principles in Psalm 31 in the midst of real danger, how effective might they be to apply in situations where the danger is not real and immediate, like Post Traumatic Stress, panic attacks, nightmares, and other extreme fear situations.
Beware of misperceptions.
The threat was real, but his response led him to a conclusion that was not. Have you ever been in David’s shoes? Perhaps at some time, “distress[ed]” with panic or “sighing” in despair of relief, you have said what David said,
As for me, I said in my alarm,
‘I am cut off from before Your eyes (22a)
It seemed that like everyone else in his life, God had either pushed him away or could not see him whirling in the tornado of slanders, schemes, and terror. How did he reach his false conclusion about God? He listened to his panic feelings and his perceptions were distorted. Not only did the bad guys look badder, it looked like his one last Friend had abandoned him, too.
Don’t obey your feelings.
In the last battle of the 1977 Star Wars movie, Obi Wan Kenobi tells the hero, Luke, “Trust your feelings.” Mr. Kenobi gave horrible advice. Feelings often lie. Fear is a powerful twister of perspective, in part because it focuses our attention on ourselves for self-preservation. Don’t trust your feelings.
What did David do with his feelings and the misperceptions they generated? He put on truth.
Nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications
When I cried to You. (22b)
“Nevertheless…” required going against feelings. “My feelings say ____, nevertheless…” Circumstances indicate that God has abandoned me, nevertheless I choose to believe the truth: God listens and cares. “Nevertheless” required willful choice.
Love the Lord Resolutely.
David doesn’t tell the reader of his panic “alarm” until way down in verse 22, but it apparently happened before he set pen to papyrus. Why wait? He first applied his own counsel, then wrote about it in this psalm. As a result, he began with his own commitment. Then his future readers, you and me, don’t have to wait for the solution. We meet it coming in the door: “In Thee, O Lord, I have taken refuge” (v. 1).
In the previous post, I highlighted what David knew about God that made his trust well-placed.
- The Lord saves powerfully.
- The Lord loves graciously.
- The Lord rules sovereignly.
- The Lord stores goodness generously.
- The Lord listens compassionately.
- The Lord avenges justly.
No wonder David cries out,
O love the Lord, all you His godly ones! (23a)
David loved God! He loved Him by believing Him. Trust expresses love for the Lord. How so? It believes the best about Him and believing the best is one characteristic of love (1 Cor. 13:7).
Fear opposes love. In the Roman arena, two gladiators could not simultaneously wear the victor’s wreath. Fear and love are like two gladiators. When fear dominates, love shrivels to the ground. When love overcomes, fear flees. To put off fear, put on love, love for God and others. Love for God corrected David’s perceptions. He remembered that,
The Lord preserves the faithful,
And fully recompenses the proud doer. (23b)
Again, Love the Lord Resolutely.
What principles are true for us today? No matter the appearance of the situation, trust in God is well-placed. His children can cry out to Him and know with all confidence that He hears and cares and rules the situation. Rejecting fear, we can and must love the Lord by believing Him. We love Him by believing the truth about Him that He tells us.
- Does your situation seem beyond improvement? The Lord saves powerfully.
- Do circumstances seem too harsh to take? The Lord loves graciously.
- Does it seem that a bad outcome is inevitable? The Lord rules sovereignly.
- Does it seem like your trial has no purpose? The Lord stores up goodness generously.
- Does it seem like God is far away? The Lord listens to His children compassionately.
- Does it seem like offenders are getting away with wrong-doing? The Lord avenges justly.
How can you apply Psalm 31 to fight fears?
Are fear reactions a problem for you? If so, you might be wondering what practical difference love for the Lord will make. I don’t know your particular situation, so here are a few wide-angle ideas:
Repent and be saved. To love Him, you must first be one of His “godly ones” because you cannot claim these promises if you aren’t. A godly one is also called, “the faithful.” One who is “faithful” faithfully trusts God. It is done like David did, only by grace alone through faith alone in his deliverer alone. You cannot be “the faithful” if you are not trusting in God for your salvation from yourself, your sin, and God wrath.
Don’t try to “cope.” This is man’s approach. Coping sets the bar way too low. Walking with God means more than mere coping, far more and far better. It means overcoming fears. We are commanded to turn from man’s ways, not to them.
Seek the glory of God more than your self-preservation. This one commitment takes your eyes off of you and your fears and moves you to doing what expresses love for God, even if you have fear feelings.
Think the best of God. Love thinks the best of others (1 Cor. 13:7). Psalm 31:19 says”How great is Your goodness!” Despite appearances to the contrary, the “godly one” will agree and be glad.
Put off lies. Beware of distorted perceptions. Don’t believe your feelings. Fears and sorrows can, and usually do, twist our thinking so that we believe things to be true that are not. If necessary, ask someone else to help you clarify the truth. Do your feelings tell you that God seems distant and your prayers go nowhere? The Bible says that God is everywhere, and that He hears the prayers of His children (1 John 5:14-15). Pray anyway, because talking to God demonstrates love for Him.
Put on true thoughts. Meditate on Scripture. Actively praise God. Sing hymns and (doctrinally rich) spiritual songs. Speak well of God to others.