This is a season of panic and disaster preparation. People are stocking up on food, water, and guns, and doomsday preppers are saying, “I told you so.” If things settle down, it really won’t be long until the next disaster comes and we cycle through all this again. Preparation and panic may seem like the same thing, but they are not. So when does preparation turn into panic? There is a fine line between the two approaches, but there are ways we can think through this issue with some clarity.
Panic and fear are not always easy to discern. It would not be beneficial for us to label specific actions as “panic” or “preparation. For instance, maybe you buy five canned goods to be prepared, but does purchasing the sixth can enter you into the “panic zone”? Do we accuse someone of sinning if they buy a firearm and say, “they are not trusting the sovereignty of God.” In summary, you can see how complex the issue is. The truth is that people prepare and people also panic, and it’s not easy to determine when you have crossed from the realm preparation into the land of panic. What does the Bible have to say?
The Bible and Preparedness
The Bible calls us to be prepared. We’re to prepare for spiritual warfare (Eph 6:10-20), to prepare for the coming of Christ (Matt 24:44), to prepare to be wise in all circumstances (Prov 1:1-7), to prepare to work hard (Prov 6:6-8), and to prepare shrewdly to avoid danger (Prov 22:3). Husbands are commanded to nourish and to cherish their spouse (Eph 5:25-29), they prepare by leading their households. The Bible speaks both of spiritual and physical preparedness (mostly spiritual). Therefore, general preparedness for physical safety is a wise practice for Christians. For instance, we wear seat belts, lock our doors at night, buy food for more than just one day, and save money for retirement all in the name of preparation. These things are all fine and wise, but as we prepare the Bible also reminds us not to live in a state of fear.
The Bible and Sinful Fear
The Bible does say there is a type of fear that is not beneficial for the Christian and potentially sinful. God does not want us to worry when He guarantees the necessities of life for those who seek Him (Matthew 6:25-33). We are called to be anxious for nothing (Philippians 4:6) and not to fear any evil (Psalm 23:4). Any fear elevated above the fear of God is an unhealthy fear for the believer (Matthew 10:26-31), and we can go on with many more passages. The point is that the Bible promotes preparedness but also warns against unhealthy fear. So how do we know the difference between the two?
How Do We Evaluate for Panic?
As I stated earlier, this is not easy to discern in every circumstance. Some situations are clear, some are not. Some circumstances may have people reacting with both preparedness and fear simultaneously. For them, maybe it’s 40% a heart of preparation but 60% a heart of fear, or vice versa. Since this is the case, it is better to have a principled approach rather than commanding specifics for people to follow. Here are some tests to determine if your current actions express a heart of preparedness or panic:
1. Check Your Heart
Stop! Slow down. Assess the situation and pause to reflect. Pausing to contemplate is a good sign that you are being cautious with your cautious actions. Test yourself constantly to see what your heart is yearning. Some have been so consumed by addressing their troubles that it’s all they think about. Maybe this situation has revealed something about your heart that you weren’t aware of? How frequently are you thinking about it? How passionately are you thinking about it? How much time is it taking up?
Are you trusting in the sovereignty of God? Not just giving lip service to it, but having it penetrate your mind and everyday choices. What is happening internally? Does your fear of this situation paralyze you?
Maybe not every area of your life is a fear-based response, but maybe it exists in small portions. Maybe you’ve correctly evaluated yourself, that’s great! Or maybe you haven’t evaluated yourself accurately and have ignored some serious heart issues. Go before the Lord and ask Him to evaluate your heart and help you see what you cannot see (Psalm 26:1-2).
2. Talk to Other Mature Believers
Trusted men or women of God can help in this area. Go to them for an outside perspective (be careful who you approach!). Fellow church members and friends can help evaluate, show your blind spots, and speak biblical truth to your emotions, feelings, thoughts, or actions. They can help you see what you have overlooked. Have you asked others what they think about your actions? Ask a mature believer what they think, but make sure to take their answer with wisdom and humility.
3. Compare Yourself to the World
The world is panicking, society is paralyzed by fear, and its trying to solve its problems with its own solutions. Are you reacting just like it? Maybe you’ve never thought about disaster preparation until now and everything is just an over-reaction to media hype. Are you just doing what others are doing because the majority are doing it? Worldly mindsets show itself in worldly actions. If your actions mirror your panicking unbelieving neighbor, then we have to pause and reflect. To be fair, society can recommend good suggestions for disaster preparation, but if we adopt wise approaches we must apply them with a Christian worldview and wisdom. We must show that we are “set apart” as Christians.
It boils down to the heart. Do our attitudes and motivations reflect the same hopelessness of the non-Christian? We may be in dangerous territory if our life choices and attitudes reflect the unbelieving community.
4. Discern the Christians Liberties
What are the areas of Christian liberty? Christian liberty affects personal decision-making and the evaluation of others. We must allow room for Christian liberty in the discussion. Some circumstances give people the freedom to choose between Option #1 or Option #2 and neither would be sinful or unwise.
Someone should be given the liberty to choose two or three canned goods, or save for a rainy day fund without being accused of stockpiling cash. Others should be free to purchase tools of protection for their family in ways that are healthy and responsible.
Understanding liberty is liberating, and can free up anxiety and calm emotionally charged conversations. Maybe that choice that you are making is okay, and that person who made the opposite choice is okay too.
We may disagree with other people’s decisions and not see them as responsible as your decisions. Some actions are clearly sinful, and violations of Scripture, but some actions fall in the realm of liberty. We must acknowledge these areas of liberty that the Bible allows for different decision-making (Rom 14; 1 Corinthians 8-9), and our posture should be that of charity and grace towards one another.
4. Honor the Conscience
Listen to your conscience as general guide (Rom 14). Are you ignoring the warning signs? A biblically informed conscience will help in this area. A corrupted conscience might justify its panicked decision-making. In terms of Christian liberty, some may be free to make decisions that don’t bother their conscience, others may not be able to make such decisions. Some should not parade certain actions in order to not stumble the weaker consciences of other believers (1 Cor 8). Consider the conscience!
5. Continue the Conversation
The situation is fluid, and new information arises everyday. We may even disagree about labeling an action as a Christian liberty versus labeling it as a biblical command. Or, we disagree about labeling certain actions as “preparation” versus “panic.” People are disagreeing about disagreement! Maybe you think it’s all blown out of proportion. Maybe you have the godly statistics to prove it. Even if you are 100% right, then still be sensitive to your neighbor.
Remember, continue the discussion.
Your convictions can be refined and tightened (maybe not changed, but more polished). Be sensitive to our neighbors, to believers with weaker consciences, and to the the fears and hardships of friends which are true and real to them (even if you think they’re unwarranted).
You will win hearts and ears by listening, understanding, having a back and forth, and responding to legitimate concerns. Ask how you can serve them and help them in this time, rather than fixate on winning them to your solution on how to save society.
We need grace and kindness. Opinions about “responsible choices,” or the “right and wrong choices” in liberty is an emotionally charged conversation, so these discussions need to be just that—discussions. There are many things we know, and many things we do not know. We must be willing to continue the conversation.
A Word to the Panicked
I want to encourage those who feel panicked and afraid. If you’re panicking, then this is not meant to criticize you, it is meant to encourage you to lay your burdens upon the Lord who deeply cares about you (1 Pet 5:7). It’s okay to be prepared, it’s okay to provide for yourself and your family. It’s okay to have disaster response plans and prepare for the worst. But in your preparation, seek the kingdom of God and keep in mind that God is your ultimate protector and the one who is keeping you.
For more resources on anxiety, fear, depression see the following link on biblical counseling: