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Running Scared: Fear, Worry and the Rest of God

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I do not generally consider myself a worrier. I am more the easy-going type–the kind who is generally carefree and and does not succumb to fear. Or so I like to think. But even then I have to admit that I can be fearful–I can give in to the temptation to worry. Even if I worry about the things I consider “big,” I prove to myself that I am still a worrier at heart. And to tell the truth, I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t worry about something at sometime. We all tend to feel fear at one time or another; we all tend to be afraid of life, of what it brings, or of what we think it might bring in the future.

Running Scared is a book for fearful people, which is to say that it is a book for everybody. It is notable not only for its subject matter, but for its author–Edward Welch who has written, among other highly regarded titles When People Are Big and God Is Small. The book is divided into thirty chapters and Welch encourages the reader to tackle one chapter per day and to not return to the next until he has taken the time to discuss each one with another person. The chapters fall into two uneven parts, one with four and the other with twenty six chapters.

Welch begins with some initial observations, perhaps the most important of which is in the third chapter. It is here that he reveals that “fear speaks.” This is to say that fear tells us about…us. It tells us about how we understand ourselves, about how we understand God and how we understand the world around. Fear is “a door to spiritual reality.” “There is a close connection,” Welch says, “between what we fear and what we think we need. … Whatever you need is a mere stone’s throw from what you fear.” That statement is profound and well worth further consideration. It is little wonder that Welch suggests pausing often to ponder. Another point that I found worth of extra attention was this one: “Worriers live in the future.” Worriers are constantly looking into the future and using their imaginations to construct their own version of what the future will look like–what it must look like based on their understanding of what has happened, what will happen, and how God works.

Here is where adult imaginations show their mettle. Imaginations are our ability to consider things that don’t presently exist. Sometimes we call it vision. A visionary is one who looks ahead and envisions the trajectory of a church, business, or individual life. A talented visionary is one who can see future possibilities and persuade others of that future. Visionaries are rarely right (at least in the details), tend to be optimistic, and are always confident.

What does this have to do with worry? “Worriers are visionaries minus the optimism.” Ouch. Worriers construct worse case scenario futures for themselves and begin to believe that these futures must be theirs. In this way they take on the role of prophets, but only of false prophets. And we all know what the Bible prescribes for false prophets…

Having shared his initial observations, Welch turns to the voice of God, providing a series of chapters in which “God speaks.” God first speaks about some general principles related to fear and worry and then to more specific matters–money and possessions; people and their judgments; death, pain and punishment; and then peace. Each chapter turns to Scripture for its authority and each concludes with a point or two of a personal response of application or reflection.

With surprise I admit that this is my first foray into the books of Edward Welch (though it certainly will not be my last). He has quite a unique writing style, one that made me think of Mark Buchanan with maybe a few shades of Max Lucado or Phillip Yancey (which in this case I mean to be a compliment). He writes conversationally, almost poetically, but also exegetically, drawing what he teaches primarily from the Bible. It is clear that He relies on Scripture as his authority and his source.

For someone who does not consider himself much of a worrier, I was surprised to find that this book offered me a lot to think about; it offered me a challenge to see where (not if) I worry. And as it offered the biblical diagnosis, it offered also the biblical cure. It showed me that worry, though usually a hidden sin and perhaps even a sin that most often seems harmless, is a sin that impacts my life and serves to distance me from the God who says time and time again, “Do not be afraid. Peace be with you. The Lord give you peace.” It showed me most clearly of all that the way I feel about fear and worry is a sure indication of what I believe about God.

Running Scared is a book I highly recommend. I think you’ll want to add it to your library as well.


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