A few years ago I had my first full-blown panic attack. To say it caught me off-guard and knocked me off my feet would be an understatement. Until that point, I had lived life going 100 mph at all times, like a speeding train with no brakes. I learned the hard way in that season that the only way to stop a speeding train with no brakes is to crash, and the crash wasn’t pretty.
The months following that first panic attack were dark, darker than I’ve ever experienced. Panic became my closest companion, a foe I wished would leave me alone but taunted me all day long. It’s been four years since that first panic attack, and there have been many more since. In my shortsightedness, my fears became bigger than God’s faithfulness. Panic overtook any sense of peace or purpose.
I wish I could say I overcame my panic attacks overnight, or that I never struggled with fear or panic again, but that would not be the truth. I have been a Christian for over twenty years, and I am still learning what it means to trust God, and He is still transforming my mind through His Word daily. For far too long, Satan convinced me I was alone in my struggle with panic, fear, and anxiety. Through His unchanging, living and active Word, God has healed many of those past wounds, but I am still learning and progressing. Through the help of wise counselors and faithful family and friends, He has shown me I am not alone, and He can redeem and use my struggles for His glory.
Jesus came to give us peace, not panic. He came to show us a better way to live. His perfection covers our failures and mistakes. His mercy exceeds our shortcomings, and His grace extends strength to us. My inner war with panic attacks showed me that God is truly greater than my fears. Even if the worst-case “what if” scenario happens, He is still God, and He is still good.
Panic is Not New
As the world responds to the Covid-19 pandemic, my eyes are opening to the panic that plagues the human heart. Millions have flocked to stores to stock up on essentials to survive the crisis at home. Fearful tension settles in the atmosphere when in public. Just turn on the news for a few minutes and you’re likely to feel the urgency and uncertainty of this global pandemic. We don’t know what the coming days will look like. News articles are constantly popping up, updates are continually being delivered, and at this point, we truly don’t know what tomorrow holds. People are panicking, but God is still providing.
When the Israelites were in the bondage of Egyptian slavery, they called out to God to save them. Their oppressors were cruel and harsh, and their circumstances were anything but easy. Exodus 2:24–25 says, “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.”
But deliverance wasn’t immediate. God called Moses, an unlikely candidate for deliverer of the Isaraelites, to approach Pharoah and command him to let the people of God go. Pharaoh refused repeatedly, and God sent plague after plague to strike the Egyptian people. The final plague, the death of the firstborn of all the Egyptians, sealed the deal, though, and Pharaoh finally allowed the Israelites to flee.
But as they fled, God led them on a longer route and told them to camp by the sea, knowing that Pharaoh would pursue them again. God told Moses, “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD” (Exodus 14:4). Why did God allow this? We see it here: for His glory to be revealed and for people to come to know Him.
When the Israelites saw the Egyptians pursuing them, they panicked and “feared greatly” (Exodus 14:10). So they cried out to the Lord again, telling him they wished they were back in Egypt. Already their present moment of panic had eclipsed the misery of slavery.
A Plot Twist
What happened next is a miracle that the imagination can barely conjure—God parted the Red Sea in front of them to walk through safely, and then He caused the waters to crash down on the Egyptian armies.
“And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from before Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians’” (Exodus 14:24–25).
God flipped the script and caused the enemy to panic, and He valiantly saved His people! But the story didn’t end there. After this miraculous rescue, the Israelites continued on their journey to the promised land, with many more periods of waiting, wondering, and even panicking. God, on the other hand, remained the same in every moment—true to His Word, able to do all things, and faithful in all His ways. We could learn a lesson here for our present crisis.
What Can He Not Do?
Last night I read a quote by Corrie Ten Boom that caused me to reread it several times. It said, “Do not ask, ‘What can I do?’ but, ‘What can He not do?’” (from Amazing Love by Corrie Ten Boom).
In a global pandemic where so much is out of our control, the question, “What can I do?” can often feel limiting. We are not in control to stop this virus from spreading, but we can be faithful to stay home, wash our hands, and do our best to prevent the spread. However, at the end of the day, what we can do still feels limited. But asking the question, “What can He not do?” changes the game. It makes the Red Sea possible again.
In our Bible reading and sermon preaching, it is far too easy to focus on the miracle of the Red Sea but forget the moments leading up to it. Those matter too. God even uses the panic of the human heart to reveal to us that He is God, and we desperately need Him. Right now, we are living out a “Red Sea” moment. It seems like this virus is attacking humans all over the world, and it can feel like we are helpless and not in control. And the truth is, we aren’t in control. God is. This is a grace to come to know, and a gift to believe, because in believing that we aren’t in control and He is, we embrace His perfect peace.
I don’t know what tomorrow holds. The government doesn’t know either. Scientists are studying and investigating and guesstimating, but at the end of the day we are all not in control. Though we feel limited, there is nothing God cannot do, including giving our hearts peace over panic.
Fight Fear with the Fear of God
This pandemic may end in two weeks, or it may stretch on for months. It’s unclear at this point. But it is clear in His Word that we can take hold of the miraculous peace of God in this present moment. We can fight the fear in our hearts with the fear of God. Living with peace, not panic, is the true miracle today—the Red Sea of hearts divided in two. Oh that the world would see Christians truly living out our faith like it’s real! The same God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, is the same God we serve today.
What can He not do?
If panic is pulling at your mind today, cry out to God. God sees, God hears, God knows, God delivers. Jesus came to give us peace, not panic. He came to show us we have hope when the world is unsteady. He came to offer us a better salvation than physical rescue from disease. Believers are healed from the disease of sin, and our souls secure in Christ. Come what may, trust in Him. When the panic rises, ask Him for peace. Go back to His promises that still part Red Seas today.
You are not alone, and you are not without hope. When darkness seems to hide His face, rest on His unchanging grace. Leave behind the panic, and embrace the peace He promises, day by day, moment by moment.