When You Are Alarmed

When I’m reading scripture, I keep my eyes open and my ears attentive to lines that stir me, provoke me or arrest me. When this happens, I take time to reflect further on these words. A while back, while reading the book of 2 Chronicles, a short passage caught my attention like this: 

Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him.

2 Chronicles 20:3-4

When I reflect on a passage like this, I always try to start with paying attention to what the passage is saying (rather than jumping quickly to “What does it mean?” or “How will I respond?”). These are both important questions, but they are best asked against the backdrop of caring listening. 

These words caught my attention: 

  • Alarmed
  • Resolved to inquire
  • Proclaimed
  • Came together to seek help

“Alarmed” describes their perspective on being under immanent attack. There is no human reason to think they would be able to fend off the attack of three different armies (Moabites, Ammonites, Meunites). 

There are times when I feel overwhelmed in the face of big challenges or hardships. Alarm can sometimes paralyze me, but I’m learning to respond like Jehoshaphat. I can direct the energy of fear or anxiety into a resolve to seek God and pay attention to His presence and His voice. This is the fruitful way forward. 

“Resolved to inquire” describes Jehoshaphat’s intentionality to ask for God’s guidance and help. When I feel threatened or alarmed, the first thing I can learn to do is to seek God’s help. It may seem obvious, but too often I jump straight to mental and emotional fretting, or doing an internal forecast of future horrible outcomes, or frantically doing anything that comes to mind without thinking much about whether it’s worth doing or helpful. It is usually more escape than engagement. Most simply, I can offer a one-word prayer: “Help!” 

“Proclaimed” says that Jehoshaphat wasn’t alone. He invited the people of God to join him in this inquiry. Part of the help God can give us comes from brothers and sisters near us. “I can do it myself” is usually not our most mature response to trouble. We can call out for the help of our friends. 

“Came together to seek help” say that there came a moment when God’s people actually gathered at Jehoshaphat’s initiative. Some meetings seem pointless, but this is a meeting where there is a united sense of purpose and focus. Community is a key source of divine help to us in our troubles. 

So what comes of this moment of seeking God’s help together? A prophet, Jahaziel, arises to speak on God’s behalf: 

He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.

2 Chronicles 20:15

Part of the help God gives is the help of confidence and courage in the face of our troubles or challenges. God promises that the battle before us is not just ours. God is taking ownership of it. He speaks to us, “I encourage you to be strong and courageous. What overwhelms you does not overwhelm me. I will be the one doing the overwhelming of that which troubles or challenges you.” 

Lord, enable us to learn, in very practical ways, how to seek you, walk with you, be at home in you, work with you. What a fruitful way forward! 

For Reflection

  • When you are alarmed, what is your usually first response? Take a moment to think of a recent moment that made you anxious or fearful. What is your common first reaction? 
  • What might it look like to follow the example of Jehoshaphat—to seek God’s wisdom, God’s help and the fellowship of brothers and sisters who will stand together with you? Talk with God a bit about that.

Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

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