It’s all very well to see that we don’t need to fear fear, that it can become a place of learning to know God more intimately. But how? In the midst of our struggle with fear, when our mind is racing and we feel helpless, how, in that moment, can we let fear drive us closer to God rather than keeping us distracted from Him?
A boy fearful enough to cry out constantly to God yet brave enough to tackle lions and giants is teaching me one way.
That fearful-brave shepherd-boy-king seems to be constantly living in prayer pictures. Take a look at Psalm 62. David starts out picturing himself in the safe nook of his rock-solid fortress: God.
“My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (v. 1-2)
Hidden in that safe place, he has the courage to be honest with God about his fears and his smallness. His mind drifts back to his enemies; in the midst of his prayer, he finds himself talking to them.
“How long will you assault a man? Would all of you throw him down – this leaning wall, this tottering fence?”
He hangs out in his smallness for a while, but as the thought of his enemies about to demolish the tottering fence of his own self becomes too overwhelming, he brings himself back to his unshakeable hideout.
“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.” (v. 6)
The greater the threats become, the more vivid his prayer pictures become. When God rescues him from a death threat, he pens Psalm 18, a word picture painted in lightening white and the midnight blue of waves about to suck him under. God in a thunderstorm races to rescue him, breathing fire and shooting lightening-arrows at his enemies, stretching to save him as he is about to sink under the waves for the final time (v. 4-5, 16).
We all have imaginations. And we use them whether we intend to or not. The question is how. Do we let them default to picturing the worst, or do we use them to dream truth-pictures in which God meets us?
Sometimes a picture prayer helps me be honest with God about my fear – and find him eager to be with me in it. In those times, I might be a little girl hiding under a table with Jesus calling me out to sit on his knee (. . . or coming under with me when I’m too scared to come out).
Other times a prayer picture helps me remember that reality is bigger than my fear. Then I might see myself hidden with Christ in God. (Have you ever thought what that might look like, or how secure that is? Embraced. Hidden. Tucked away . . . with Christ . . . in God.) Or I might use the image from Psalm 125 to picture myself in Christ as a mountain, unmovable despite the clouds of fear that come and go and hide the mountain at times. I can step back and watch the clouds and know that there is more to reality than the swirling changeability of my fear.
The starting place for a picture can be the fear itself (like the hiding-under-the-table picture), a dream, a gospel story (children sitting on Jesus’ knee), a psalm, or an image encountered in daily life.
So next time you find yourself in the middle of fear, if the syllables for a word prayer don't come, try a picture prayer. You may just find it helps you be still in His presence.