Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest by Ed Welch
Of all the things intrinsic to being human, fear and worry have to be near the top of shared human experience. Designed to be in relationship with the Creator, an aspect of our relationship was to fear God and be dependent on Him. However, as our hearts are shaped, impacted, and influenced by the depravity of our sinful nature, fear and worry begin to display itself in a variety of ways. Our fears and worries range from the childish to the mature life-dominating anxieties brought on by human experience and adulthood.
Dr. Ed Welch of CCEF has written an astoundingly insightful and lucid book on the issue of fear and worry. Welch astutely observes in the first chapter of the book just how many modern-day psychopathologies are connected and influenced by fear and anxiety. Inevitably, the counselor and pastor’s worlds bump up into these issues while shepherding and counseling those entrusted to their care. Ed has given the reader an invaluable tool to help diagnose the roots of fear and worry, while simultaneously providing robust and biblical principles to walk people through. At the close of each chapter, Ed includes a personal response, one part anecdote, one part confession. These insights not only make the book more honest, but also more accessible for the reader.
Fear and Worry Unmasked
Welch writes in the initial chapters on the basic anatomy of fear and anxiety. Skillfully showing that fears and worries speak, they become an indispensible tool both to the counselee and counselor as they seek biblical change. In the remaining chapters and the greater balance of the book, Welch observes that God also speaks and has provided all we need to combat fear and anxiety—it’s his peace, the shalom which comes from being in relationship to the Creator.
The most repeated command in Scripture is ‘Do not be afraid’; whenever God speaks, and it is repeated we should pause, listen and respond. Welch writes, “Search Scripture and find that our fears are not trivial to God. ‘Do not be afraid’ are not the words of a flesh-and-blood friend, a mere human like yourself. They are not the hollow words of a fellow passenger on a sinking ship, who has no experience in shipwrecks, can’t swim, and has no plan. These words are more like those of the captain who says, ‘Don’t be afraid. I know what to do.’”
God’s words are powerful. Different than ours, God’s words are accompanied by promises of His presence and power to move and act. When God speaks, our hearts are arrested by the fact that these are not just mere words, but rather the Creator himself speaking into the most basic of human struggles and experiences. This is an opportunity for growth and change, which Ed brings out so lucidly in the remaining chapters where he covers topics ranging from money and materialism, people and their opinions and death and the end.
The Manna Principle
Anyone who has had the privilege of hearing Dr. Welch knows this theme of manna and God’s provision to His children is a frequent theme and underlying principle to much of his counseling paradigm. In Running Scared, Ed gives what I believe is his fullest explanation of what exactly he means when he talks about ‘manna.’
Highlighting the children of Israel’s freedom from captivity to the Promised Land, we are struck by how quickly the Israelites began to complain and cry out to Moses. God had just delivered them, had led them, and now in His grace would provide for them. That provision of manna though, came with parameters: only gather enough for today and rest on the Sabbath.
In hindsight we know how the story played out. The Israelites were worried and fearful about tomorrow; many gathered more than they were commanded. The manna spoiled, but more importantly their hearts were revealed. Jesus helps bring clarity and significance to the manna story in Matthew 4:4 where he responds to Satan’s temptation countering that man does not live by bread alone. Welch writes, “…in the midst of near starvation, he [Jesus] said that there was something more important than food: to be strengthened by the Spirit of God as he rested on the very words of the Father.”
To rest in what God has said and to depend on the daily graces He provides—the indwelling Spirit of God, the revealed Word of God, and the visible people of God—remind us all that worry and anxiety are there, but they must be put into their respective and proper contexts. God is near and He will provide. This is the daily manna fearful and anxious people need.
Running Scared is one of those books which come along and helps shape a counselor’s view of the nature of fear and anxiety while also providing a helpful framework to shepherd and counsel. Don’t buy this book if you’re looking for a 1, 2, 3 path to escape fear and anxiety. You won’t find it here. If you are looking for a book to help unmask what your fear and anxiety is saying and what God is saying, this book is for you. Several of the chapters helpfully unfold sensitive issues like being afraid of judgment, death, and people’s opinions of you. The latter part of the book might seem to some to be a bit more rushed than the first half, but Welch is assuming the reader’s familiarity with the foundational principles laid out at the beginning.
New Growth Press released a very helpful study guide entitled, “When I Am Afraid” which is a great companion piece to this book. I have used the study guide as a structural framework for counselees, and have found it to be both engaging and enlightening.