Note: This article is also published on The Gospel Coalition.
“Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy … Let the righteous one rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him!” (Psalm 64:1, 10)
Fear of the future—also known as anticipatory anxiety—is one of the most common struggles in the Western world, plaguing both young and old. This fear manifests itself in a variety of ways, including trouble focusing, racing thoughts, high blood pressure, and insomnia.
Perhaps you’re experiencing it now. You’re looking at your calendar and to-do lists for the next few months, feeling your stomach churn at the mountains ahead of you. Maybe you’re thinking about a relational conflict that will come to a head soon. Your heart rate rises as you consider the myriad of possible outcomes. Maybe it’s a big life change on the horizon—a move, a job change, a child going off to college—that’s keeping you up at night.
Beyond the physical symptoms, fear of the future wreaks havoc on our spiritual lives, filling our time with stagnant anxiety when it could be filled with spiritual vitality and growth. As Corrie ten Boom observes, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.”
What can we do when we find ourselves paralyzed by anticipatory anxiety?
Battle of the Mind
Psalm 64:1 is a prayer we all desperately need to keep close—especially with a new year full of unknowns upon us: “O God. . . Preserve my life from dread of the enemy.”
Most of our lives are spent not actually fighting our enemies, but only the dread of them. Often our deepest anxieties are not over something in the past—or even something in the present—but something in the future. The idea of what might happen. Something hypothetical in our mind.
As Colin Smith remarks, “It is often the case that the fear of what lies ahead is actually worse than the reality itself.”
Yet we are called to take refuge in God not only when the future comes, but right now with our fears about the future (Ps. 64:10). As Paul writes to the Corinthians, we are to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
If we do not take our thoughts captive, they will take us captive. And that’s exactly what the enemy wants. He wants you to be ruled by your worry and taken captive by your fears. Satan wants to double-dip. He wants you to live in despair while you’re in trials and to live in dread while you’re not. As long as he can keep you in dread or despair, he can keep you from joy.
Fortunately, we have a defense for both kinds of attack. God’s refuge stretches beyond the battlefield and into the barracks, where the battle of the mind is often fought.
Taking Thoughts Captive
The primary way we take our thoughts captive is not by suppressing them or distracting them, but by informing them—especially with God’s promises.
There are many promises we can turn to in our worry, but one of the most important (and oft-repeated) ones is God’s promise of daily provisions (Ex. 16:4; Lam. 3:23; Mt. 6:11, 34, 2 Cor. 4:16, Heb. 3:13).
Be careful not to miss the timing contained in this promise. If you don’t feel the strength right now to handle what will happen tomorrow, do not be surprised! God has not given you today the strength you need for the rest of your life. He doesn’t promise that.
God does promise to give you today the grace you need for today, and he promises to give you tomorrow the grace you need for tomorrow.
Our mission is clear: Live for God today, trust God for tomorrow. The only thing that is certain about tomorrow is that God will give you fresh mercy for it (Lam. 3:23).
We can have hope not because we know the future, but because we know the character and promises of God.
As Laura Dingman quotes, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
Our ultimate hope is not in our ability to figure out the future; our ultimate hope is in God, who holds the future in his sovereign and loving hands. God is for you (Rom. 8:31), he has good planned for you (Rom. 8:28; Eph. 2:10), he will never leave you (Heb. 13:5), and he will stop at nothing to deliver you from your enemies (Rom. 8:32). Let’s commit to trusting him today!
Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive me for the countless hours I have spent needlessly worrying about the future (Matt. 6:34). Help me to trust your wise rule and loving heart when fears about the future arise. Be an anchor for my soul when the waves of life threaten to upend me (Heb. 6:13). Thank you for your presence, your promises, and your salvation — let me rest in these today. In Christ’s name, amen.
Read “The Only Person Who Can Complete You” here.