Thursday, August 28, 2014

Faith Over Fear

From the time we are children to the time we’re adults, the things we fear change.  As children, we’re afraid of monsters in the closet or thunder or the clowns at our birthday parties.  As adults, we fear bankruptcy, disease, or disaster that may overtake our children.  Jesus was clear that fear and faith were two completely opposite ends of the spectrum, inconsistent with one another and contending for control of the soul.  In Matthew 8.23-27 (NIV), we read how Jesus’ disciples react out of fear rather than responding with faith:

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him.  Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.   The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Jesus says that fear is caused by lack of faith.  Had the disciples believed, they would have realized that as long as their Lord was with them, no evil would befall them.  Had they looked to Jesus’ example, they would have found their Master so at peace in the storm that he could sleep in the bottom of the boat.  Instead, we watch as they focus on the wind and waves, and let their fear control them instead of looking through the eyes of faith.

In Meditations of a Hermit, Charles de Foucauld wrote:
“One thing we owe to Our Lord is never to be afraid.  To be afraid is doubly an injury to him.  Firstly, it means that we forget him; we forget he is with us and is all powerful; secondly, it means that we are not conformed to his will; for since all that happens is willed or permitted by him, we ought to rejoice in all that happens to us and feel neither anxiety nor fear.  Let us then have the faith that banishes fear.  Our Lord is at our side, with us, upholding us.”

The story of Jesus calming the storm comes just after verses 19-22, where on two different occasions Jesus confronts the fears of would-be disciples, calling them to step beyond the concerns that would control them:

Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

The narrator never tells us whether these two aspiring apostles follow Jesus’ commands or not.  We’d like to hope that the indoorsy scribe, who no doubt prefers his comfort and his books to sleeping under the stars, would respond with an exuberant willingness to camp out with Jesus anywhere.  We’d like to picture the son, whose dad may yet be only aging, leaving it all like James and John who left their father and his boats.  Yet the Gospel writer never tells us the outcomes of these two conversations.  Do they leave it all and follow Jesus?  Do they allow their fears to keep them from obedience?  The story is left open, because it’s up to us to finish it.  What will we do with our fears?

Jesus knows exactly the words to use in order to confront these two men’s specific fears—because He understands the hearts of all.  Jesus also knows the things that threaten your trust in Him.  He’s aware that you’ve gotten your mind set on the wind and waves, and have forgotten that He’s right in the boat with you.  Jesus remembers that you’re afraid of exchanging the comfort of home for the uncertainty of the mission field.  He feels the control that your family obligations exert over your heart, and knows that loyalty to them might just prevent you from serving Him fully.  Jesus made your heart and soul, and isn’t surprised by any fear you may have.  But He’s there to speak peace to you, to calm the storms of your heart.  He wants you to take courage, because fear and faith are incompatible. 

Dr. E. Stanley Jones wrote:

“I am inwardly fashioned for faith, not for fear. Fear is not my native land; faith is. I am so made that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life; faith is the oil. I live better by faith and confidence than by fear, doubt and anxiety. In anxiety and worry, my being is gasping for breath--these are not my native air. But in faith and confidence, I breathe freely--these are my native air. A John Hopkins University doctor says, ‘We do not know why it is that worriers die sooner than the non-worriers, but that is a fact.’ But I, who am simple of mind, think I know; We are inwardly constructed in nerve and tissue, brain cell and soul, for faith and not for fear. God made us that way. To live by worry is to live against reality.”

“Follow me,” Jesus said to so many of His disciples.  “Peace, be still,” He said to the wind and the waves.  For us, these two commands go hand in hand.  If we are to follow Him, we need His peace to face our fears.  This peace can only come when we trust that as long as we’re in the same boat with Jesus, He will see us through.  What are your fears?  Probably not monsters or thunder anymore.  Whatever they are, Jesus has both them and you in His powerful hand.  You can trust that He’ll shelter you in His love and keep you in His care.

1 comment:

Greg said...

One reader, through personal email rather than through this comment box, wrote:

"Greg, I enjoyed your blog, but I believe that faith is not the absence of fear, but doing what is right in the midst of fear. I believe the idea of fear in the Bible is talking about paralysis in the midst of fear. I love to read your blog! Blessings."

In response, I'll agree with you about paralysis in the midst of fear. Ordinary fear is a natural, God-given response to a threatening stimulus. When a snarling dog jumps out at you from nowhere, of course you're going to be afraid--and God instilled this fear in us in order to keep us safe. Ordinary fear is a momentary experience, whereas crippling fear stifles faith.

Crippling fear--the kind of anxiety that owns you, the sort of terror that keeps you from having faith or acting in faith, is what Isaiah 41:10 is referring to when God says, "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

Perhaps the authors I quoted, as well as myself, could have benefited from this great adjective "crippling." That certainly is what I intended in my article.

Thanks for your comment. Blessings.