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New Horizons

Not Afraid of Bad News

A. Craig Troxel

“Let’s not kid ourselves, this is not good news.” Those were the words I spoke to Heather Bosgraf as her parents, Jim and Judy, her sister, Kim, and I stood around her hospital bed. Heather had recently won an extended bout with cancer—or so we thought—but her foe had appeared again, and this time it came with a vengeance. Here she was back in the hospital, minutes away from undergoing brain surgery. It was one of those moments when no one, not even a talkative pastor, has words. So I read Psalm 112:6–8:

For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever.
He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.

We briefly talked about these verses and then prayed together, asking the Lord to see Heather through the surgery successfully and to strengthen her believing heart. That was the last conversation I ever had with Heather. She never fully awoke from the surgery and died soon after on June 21, 2008. Since then I have turned to this passage many times to encourage others in their faith when things were looking bad. But I will always see these three verses as Heather’s.

It is a remarkable thing that the psalmist claims—this righteous believer whose “heart is firm” and whose “his heart is steady” so that “he is not afraid of bad news.” Where does this strength of heart and faith come from?

The Heart’s Will

Let’s begin by understanding what the Bible means by the word “heart.” We tend to associate the heart almost exclusively with our emotions. God says it is much more than that. “Heart” is the Bible’s most frequently used word to describe the totality of our inner self. We can think of it as the control center of our life. As goes the heart, so goes the person. Every function of our spiritual life originates from this one point of unity (Prov. 4:23). At the same time, this unity also has a threefold complexity of functions, which we can think of as the heart’s mind (our knowledge, ideas, and imagination), desires (our longings, feelings, and affections), and will (our volitional strength or weakness; our determination or surrender, our courage or fear). Or to put it another way, the heart controls what we know, what we love, and what we choose. It is the heart’s will—the volitional function of the heart—that Psalm 112:6–8 has in view.

The will of our heart can be either weak or strong. It either yields to temptation or resists it. It either surrenders to God’s way or stubbornly fights against it. It is either enslaved or set free. It is either immobilized by fear or stalwart in courage. It decides whether we will say yes or say no. As is the strength of the will, so is the heart of that person (Judg. 8:21; 1 Sam. 2:1).

Ultimately, such decisions are dictated by whether a person is a Christian or not—in other words, whether their heart is “born again” (John 3:3) or hardened by sin (Eph. 4:18). Thus, the unbelieving heart stubbornly struggles against God even as it weakly caves to sin. It fears man, but not God who made man. Thus, this heart is unstable, because it is not established or built upon anything solid. Instead, the unbelieving heart looks to things that perish, things that can be stolen or destroyed (Matt. 6:20). When bad news threatens, it sees everything it has put its hope in crumble before its eyes. In the end, the unbelieving heart melts with fear.

His Heart Is Firm

The believing heart is different. The issue boils down to what we trust in. Faith is not merely about knowledge (the heart’s mind) or love (the heart’s desire), but also about what we choose (the heart’s will). That being so, in what do we choose to place our confidence and to whom do we ultimately yield?

Jesus was clear that it is not the size of our faith but the object of our faith that matters: “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matt. 17:20). As John Murray wrote, it is not faith that saves. It is faith in Jesus Christ that saves. Remember how Jesus concluded the Sermon on the Mount? He said that the person who “hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” And though “the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house” it “did not fall.” Why? Because it was “founded on the rock” (Matt. 7:24–25).

Jesus is saying, “Trust in me! Build your life upon me!”  Whoever believes in him will never hunger or thirst (John 6:35), will never die (11:25), and will not remain in darkness (12:46), and their hearts need not “be troubled” (14:1).

The heart of the believer is set upon the Lord, trusting that God will be true to himself, to his promises, and to his people. Those whose confidence is in God cannot be moved. The worst that life can throw at them will not topple them. They show unnatural stability amidst the whirling commotion. Their foundation is sure because their faith is grounded in Christ. Faith is a saving grace by which we “receive and rest upon” Jesus Christ alone for salvation (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 86). In faith we rest in him and yield to him. Here is the strength of the Christian’s heart. Here is the bedrock of our life.

Psalm 112 commends this righteous believer as the one who “will never be moved.” Their heart is “firm” and “steady,” because they are “trusting in the Lord.” This explains the strength of their will and why this believer “will not be afraid”—even in the face of bad news. It is because their confidence is not in the news, which changes constantly and proves unreliable. Their faith is in God, the “Rock of Israel,” who does not change (2 Sam. 23:3; Isa. 30:29).

The righteous have always known this and have placed their hope in God accordingly. Daniel’s heart was set upon serving the Lord (Dan. 1:8; 10:12). Ezra “set his heart” to study God’s Law (Ezra 7:10). Ezekiel set his heart on what God had revealed (Ezek. 40:4). Ruth’s heart “was determined” to go with Naomi (Ruth 1:18). And then there is Job, who had heard the worst of news—not just the loss of all his property, but the death of his beloved children—and yet his unwavering faith was anchored in the Lord. His heart remained fixed upon his God. True faith is not merely about our knowing what is right. It also involves our sticking to what is right—no matter how bad the news is. To walk by faith means to be “always of good courage” (2 Cor. 5:6).

We have professed to follow Christ and to build our lives upon him. We are committed to bow before his purpose in our lives—whether his purpose appears to us as his bright countenance or as his frowning providence. It all works together for our good (Rom. 8:28). Even bad news will supply a vital thread to a good ending. “To the pure, all things are pure” (Titus 1:15). No matter what kind of reports we hear or what kind of circumstances we face, we “will never be moved” as we continue trusting in the Lord (Ps. 112:6). The firmness of our faith, the steadiness of our heart, and the steadfastness of our courage must not waver due to the course of events or trends around us.

Unceasing Unrest until the End

Everything about this world—its seasons, its history, its civilizations, its kingdoms, its news—is constantly changing. Consequently, we routinely revise our plans, investments, and strategies to accommodate this unceasing metamorphosis of our world; much of which comes to us through the relentless assault of headlines, gossip, rumors, this story and that story. Let us be honest, we are too easily influenced by the things that we hear, and they often unsettle us. In those moments we are walking by sight, and not by faith.

Let us walk by faith. Let us look to what cannot be moved. We trust in the Rock of our salvation and his word which “will stand forever” (Isa. 40:8). The source and the renewal of our strength lies in “the strength of his might” (Eph. 6:10; see also Isa. 40:31). If God is our strength and a “very present help in trouble,” then “we will not fear” (Ps. 46:1–2). If he is the stronghold of our lives, of whom will we be afraid? (Ps. 27:1). Even if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil (Ps. 23:4).

But to put things into perspective, none of the turbulence that we see, or the news that we hear in our day, compares to the great day that is coming. On that day, the Word of the Lord will shake the heavens and the earth so that what is immovable might remain (Heb. 12:27). We have been received into a kingdom that cannot be shaken, because it is built upon Christ, the cornerstone. All who trust in him are like living stones, built upon the one who cannot be moved. Because of him, our hearts are firm and steady. Because of him, we need not be afraid. Because of him, what we believe in truly is good news.  

The author is an OP minister, professor at Westminster Seminary California, and author of With All Your Heart: Orienting Your Mind, Heart, and Desires Toward Christ (Crossway, 2020). New Horizons, September 2020.

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