Several centuries of saints have found refuge in the memorably rendered KJV translation: “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee” (Psa. 56:3). The NASB translates the same verse more prosaically but with identical meaning and absolute clarity: “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.”
I have not counted the number of times that David records in his various psalms the fact that he is fearful or the number of times we see the evidence of that in his life, such as when he feigned insanity in the presence of Abimelech. But I suspect we might be surprised by the frequency, given the fact that we recall that David killed a bear and a lion as a young shepherd boy protecting his sheep and when not much older and still a youth he slew Goliath. We also recognize that he was a great and successful warrior-king. It is somehow comforting, then, to realize that David experienced his fair share of fear because it reminds us that David owed his successes, not to an exceptional lack of fear nor to a special gift of courage, but to the truth he recorded in our text. And for that we may be especially grateful because his life and his recorded testimony provide a pattern for the rest of us to follow when we find ourselves in the clutches of fear.
What to do when fearful. Fear produces many unprofitable responses in most of us. At one extreme, fear paralyzes us, and we say, “I can’t.” At the other extreme, it catalyzes us into hasty and ill-considered actions, and we say, “I must.” And sometimes we find ourselves by turns with first one response and then the other. The wonderful thing about this verse is its absolute simplicity. When fear grabs our hearts it clouds our minds and rational thought becomes difficult. Knowing this, the Lord has graciously refrained from giving us a complex recipe with multiple ingredients. No, He has provided one step or one ingredient, if you will: “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.”
The recipe does not prepare itself. In other words, the Lord does not always or automatically shield us from fear when we are confronted with a frightening situation. In fact, He permits or even ordains potentially fearful circumstances for the purpose of drawing us to Himself. And David’s words describe what should be our response to those trials: a deliberate and conscious act of the will to trust in the Lord. How instructive that thought is. We cannot allay our fears by harnessing rational arguments nor by attempting to deceive ourselves about the seriousness of our circumstances. Doing nothing will certainly not calm our fears, nor, in the final analysis, will efforts to rescue ourselves.
How to do it. In our text, David affirms that he will trust the Lord rather than allow fear to consume him, but He does not tell us how to do the same, or even how he did it. We must go to an earlier Psalm by the same author in order to discover that. When fear threatens to undo us, how do we channel our thoughts and emotions and come to rest in the Lord? David explains: “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears” (34:4). This is not a secret recipe, but we must use it. Trust that scatters fear comes as we run to the Lord, read His Word, and pray. As we do that, we sometimes discover that our fears are the result of unconfessed and unforsaken sins and when we confess and forsake those, we find deliverance. Sometimes we find that our fears derive from a careless straying from the presence of the Lord and of His fellowship. Sometimes we learn that our fears are simply an expression of the fact that we have not yet fully matured in our spiritual life. Regardless, a continual seeking of the Lord—praying and believing and obeying His Word—will result in a peace that passes understanding. Coming to know and understand more perfectly Who the Lord is, what He has done for us, and how much He loves us—all the fruit of seeking Him—will evoke that trust of which David wrote and that the Lord wants us to experience. To trust glorifies the Lord and drives out fear.
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