When I Am Afraid, A Step-By-Step Guide Away From Fear and Anxiety
Ed Welch has written another great resource for those who battle fear, worry and anxiety, and the people helpers who want to guide them to victory. When I Am Afraid, A Step-By-Step Guide Away From Fear and Anxiety, answers the need for a concise, organized approach to this life-dominating issue.
While I have read and used many excellent books about this subject, this one is different. I really like how the book is organized into weeks. This makes it especially helpful for weekly counseling, or for a small group or Sunday School class. I also believe that a counseling book that is divided into segments of time instead of chapters helps the reader to be more disciplined in working through the material in a timely manner.
Welch begins the book by asking the reader to locate and write down every fear they face, and think about what those fears predict. But he doesn’t stop there, as that would leave the reader simply thinking about her fears. Instead, he points the reader to examine what her fears say about her view of God. The more I counsel, the more clear it is to me that most presenting problems have been brought on, somewhere along the way, by a wrong view of God. I really like this focus in the very first chapter, because it is such an important part of worry and fear.
Another great feature of the book is that Welch lays out clear goals for each week. He makes it very clear what the reader is to have recognized and learned, which makes it easy for the counselor to see if the counselee is “getting it.” I think I will encourage my counselees to look at the weekly goals before starting each chapter, just so they know what is to be accomplished. This clear-cut, concrete goal setting will be very helpful in many counseling cases.
Next, the author helps us to see that God uses all of our trials to grow us, and to make us more like Him:
“What we need is a divine tutorial, and God often uses seemingly dire circumstances for his best tutorials (Page 16).”
Using the accounts in Exodus 14, about the manna that God provided to the Israelites, he helps the reader to understand that God’s provision of grace always comes at just the right time, and is never less or more than what we need:
“Can you understand why you worry when you think about tomorrow? You worry because you don’t have what you need yet….You predict that tomorrow’s grace will not be enough…But God promises grace when you need it (Page 21).”
“…act on the grace God gives today by collecting the manna and enjoying it…trust him for tomorrow (Page 20).”
After two chapters on the basics of identifying our fears and correcting our view of God, Ed Welch gets into some specifics of the most common worries: Money, death, and fear of man. In each of these chapters, the reader is continually pointed back to Christ, and away from his fears. For example, Citing Luke 12:22-31, he offers comfort to the reader who is anxious about finances. Again, he personalizes it by asking questions throughout the chapter about specific financial worries, and whether those worries show that the reader is thinking about Jesus’ kingdom or his own. This is a sobering question in light of the Scripture passage, and definitely, offers an opportunity for the counselor to help the reader with a heart check in this area.
Fear of death is the next subject tackled and, once again, Welch asks the reader to identify what kinds of fears the reader has, such as the time and manner of death. But he gives the most time to the idea of fear of judgment, citing several Scriptures in this regard: Matthew 12:36; Acts 24:25; Romans 14:10-12; Hebrews 9:27. After fleshing out the truth of our standing before Christ on the Day of Judgment, he assures the reader that there will be nothing to fear for the believer. This is the only part of the book that was a little disappointing to me. I was hoping he would have a more complete Gospel presentation. I often have counselees who believe they are Christian, but I suspect that they are not truly converted. I wouldn’t want to present these comforting words— that we don’t need to fear judgment— to someone with false assurance. In a counseling session, that can be brought out. But someone reading this on their own, who probably really should fear judgment, may be in peril. Of course, under the sovereignty of God, all things work together for good, but this is one caution I wanted to point out.
Fear of Man is present in almost every counseling case I have. Honestly, I struggle with it myself at times too, so I was eager to hear what more Ed Welch could say about than he did in When People are Big and God is Small, which is my favorite resource on this topic. While I didn’t find anything new, I was amazed at how concisely he sums up the content of that whole book in just one chapter of this one! He covers the love of God and how it casts out fear of others’ opinion of us, then moves right into shame’s part in fear of man. This is an excellent summary on the topic, and it closes with a powerful quote:
“Here is the connection: One of the most important things Jesus will ever say to you is, ‘I am with you.’ That is the treatment for fear, and the only thing that could jeopardize his presence is your sin and shame. If he has dealt with that problem, you never have to fear that he will leave you (Page 60).”
Welch goes on to explain that, when Jesus touched unclean people He not only took the shame of the person onto Himself, but he also passed his holiness onto the unclean person. The same holds true for us. He doesn’t just take our shame on himself. He gives us His holiness and makes us eternally righteous. This is a powerful antidote for shame-based fear of man.
The book wraps up with two powerful chapters on the promises of God and His sovereign control and power to back up those promises. First, he shares the application of the account of Moses and the promise, or covenant God made with him. Then he takes us to Hebrews 9:15, to show us that the new covenant is equally binding as far as God is concerned, and better than the first because it is eternal and includes the entire kingdom of heaven.
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).
The last chapter of this book is my favorite, and the one that I will go to the next time I’m struggling with fear or worry. It is an exposition of Psalm 46, in which three important truths are brought out:
God helps when He is needed.
Wherever God is present, there is no reason to be afraid.
Judgment day will bring great joy for the believer.
Each of these directs the fearful believer to Christ; reminds him of his complete and utter dependence on God; and prompts him to look forward to the glorious eternity that awaits him in just a little while, when all fears will be vanquished forever.
I love the parallel Welch draws between the third stanza of Psalm 46, “Be Still, and know that I am God;” and the passage in Mark 4 about the fearful disciples who woke a sleeping Jesus during a storm on the sea:
“He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”
Completely calm. When was the last time your worried counselee (or you) enjoyed that state of mind? I can’t honestly say that I enjoy complete calm all the time, but this sweet reminder of the power of Jesus to calm a raging sea goes a long way toward calming my fears. I believe it will do so for you and those you disciple, too.
I highly recommend When I am Afraid. It is a small but powerful and very practical resource for the counselor or discipler who desires to help a sister learn to put off fear and worry, and put on trust in God.