“It doesn’t start with a plan” is a sentence which stuck in the back of my head this week like a strand of stray jerky gets stuck between those back teeth you can’t quite reach with your fingernail. Fetching imagery, I know. What’s important is that it was a statement about peace. ‘Peace doesn’t start with a plan,’ the person said. Interesting… because I always act like it does. I see in front of me a host of circumstances I feel or know I can’t handle, and I lose my peace to fear. So what’s my next step? I try to fight my fear by planning; I try to plan my way out. I wrestle with mental schematics, I juggle schedules, I scheme and second-guess and obsess about what I can or could have done better, about what might be or what might have been. But still… no peace. Why?
As I write this, it’s day 7 of 2010, we’re exactly one week into a new year, and for many, the months that stretch ahead are a dark mist of frightening uncertainty. Will you still have a job by the end of this year? Will you be able to pay rent each month? Will you ever figure out who you are and what you were made for? Are you doomed to repeat last year’s failures, or is there hope in 2010 for change? These are the footprints of fear. In 2 Chronicles chapter 20, there is a story that captures, in 26 verses, the perfect response to fear of any kind. In this story, Jehoshaphat king of Judah discovers a plot by a multitude of rival peoples to overthrow his kingdom. His reaction? “And Jehoshaphat feared…”
Maybe instead of trying to fight fear head-on like me, you deal with it by ignoring it. My son used to think, since he couldn’t see me when he closed his eyes, that I couldn’t see him either… That tactic works until the thing you think you’re hiding from walks over, picks you up and throws you over its shoulder. Or, another tactic—we water reality down by calling our fear ‘anxiety’ or ‘worry.’ But that’s like arguing the differences between a maple leaf and an oak leaf— they’re both leaves! The truth is, we all have to deal with fear, on a daily basis. Until the day we die, fear will stalk us, trying to cripple us and all we do by coaxing us to focus on it. Fear is real. The real issue is – if freedom from fear doesn’t start with a plan, what does it start with? What do you do with the fears in your life?
I used to play a lot of soccer growing up. That was before my feet grew into skis. Anyway, unless you’re in the position to shoot a goal, you really only have two options when playing soccer. You can dribble or you can pass. Dribbling is the more glamorous of the two because it draws attention to one person’s valiant efforts. But passing is wiser, because it increases the odds of success and better distributes the responsibility (as well as the ball). Back in those pre-ski days, I vividly remember a game when I played halfback, which in soccer just means the coach is mad at you and wants you to run twice as much as everyone else. As we scrimmaged that day, my team pushed the ball up towards the opposing goal until one of our forwards got stuck trying to dribble through everyone on the right side of the field. Meanwhile, wide open and right in front of the goal for a center pass was our striker. He waited and waited for the pass that could have produced a goal, but no pass came. Finally, in frustration, he shouted out the lyrics of a song we used to sing in chapel, with a minor change: “Isn’t it amazing,” he screamed off-key, “what a PASS can do?”
In reality, that striker could have left in the original word of the song, ‘PRAYER,’ and conveyed the same meaning, because victory in the face of our fears doesn’t start with a lone-ranger dribbling effort, it doesn’t start with you, coming up with a plan— it starts with a prayer. When you try to dribble your way through obstacles, you’re on your own. Meanwhile, God stands alone and unnoticed, waiting for a pass that could change the game. Let me spell this out for you: When it comes to dealing with fear, prayer is a pass to God.
Here is what King Jehoshaphat did when he faced obstacles of uncertainty in his life: “And Jehoshaphat feared -- and set himself to seek the LORD” (2 Chron. 20:3)… He prayed. Verses 6—11 chronicle this prayer, which ends in verse 12 – “O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” And what was God’s response?
17 “’You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged…' "
Our peace doesn’t start with a plan. It starts with a prayer— and it really is amazing what a prayer can do. “The Lord is at hand,” says Philippians 4, He’s open, He’s waiting for you to pass your needs, your concerns, your fears to Him. You can dribble the ball all you like, take on your fears with bravado even, but God knows you’ll fail. Wrestling with your fears is God’s job. You do not have to fight that battle. He is in charge of outcomes, and He’s already promised they’ll be ‘good.’ Your job is to pass the ball. Your job is to pray. “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” And do you know what happens then? When you give Him the ball, He passes you back something in return: peace. Name your fears to God, the ones 'out there' and the ones you feel you deserve. Own your mistakes and the consequences they'll produce (confession), but then stop trying to control what happens next. Take your fears and lay them all on the table and then pass them across to Him, “And-” in return, “-the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”(Phil. 4:5-7). Peace in your heart, that 'all things will work together for good.' Peace of mind, that the battle belongs to the Lord. Kind of makes me want to go play soccer.