Life is filled with moments that grip us with fear. Often, we are held captive by that fear. I once read a story of a summer evening thunderstorm that caused fear to sweep over a little five-year-old boy. His mother came to tuck him in bed when he asked, “Mommy, will you sleep in here with me tonight?” She smiled and gave him a warm, loving hug and said tenderly, “Oh, sweetie, I can’t. I have to sleep in Daddy’s room tonight.” There was a long silence that was broken by the voice of the little boy. “Daddy sure is a big sissy!”
Certainly, life is filled with tough times. Some situations are much more terrifying than others. We experience difficulties and hardships that create within us a fear that can overwhelm. We are left with decisions to make in these hard times and the struggle over what the best option is often leads to more anxiety and worry. These emotions, coupled with the fear we are facing are enough to lead some down a path that can warp their faith. In John’s gospel, he shares with the reader the effects fear on faith. We read, “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him [Jesus], but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:42-43). The fear of what the Pharisees would do caused many to remain silent with regard to their faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Fear can cripple our faith.
Fear can also blind us to the power of God. It can develop a kind of spiritual amnesia where the mighty works of God are forgotten in the midst of challenging moments. Think about the experiences of the disciples of Jesus during his ministry. Mark gives us a great picture of this realty as we see their struggle to remember the power Christ possesses. Jesus heals a man with an unclean spirit (Mark 1:21-28). We are told that Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law and many others who were sick or oppressed by demons (Mark 1:29-34). We see Jesus cleansing a leper (Mark 1:40-45). Jesus heals a paralytic (Mark 2:1-12). Jesus heals a man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6). Many others who have heard about Jesus came to him for healing (Mark 3:7-12). All of these events were witnessed by the disciples of Jesus. Then we read of an experience they had where fear seemed to blind them to this power they have witnessed in Christ.
“35) On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ 36) And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37) And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38) But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ 39) And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40) He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ 41) And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” (Mark 4:35-41)
After seeing the power of God at work in the ministry of Jesus, one would think these disciples would have not fear in the midst of this great storm. But they fear for their lives. I can picture this scene in my mind. The disciples are frantically bailing out water, some with cups and some with their hands. In the chaos of the storm and a flooded boat, Jesus lies sleeping…peacefully. How could he do this? Why wasn’t he roused from his slumber by the violent nature of this great storm? The frustration and fear of the disciples comes out in their rebuking request, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” It’s as if they are trying to wake Jesus up so he can help them bail water. They are allowing their fear to blind them to the only one who can save them. And Jesus responds to them by bringing peace in the midst of this storm. But that’s not where he leaves it. He goes on to ask them a question that we all should seek to answer personally, “Why are you so afraid?”
This question cuts to the heart of our faith and trust in God. When we face the terrifying moments in life, when we are faced with circumstances that leave us gripped with fear, what does our faith say about our trust in God as the Great Redeemer?
As Isaiah speaks for God, he gives us a message from the mouth of God that helps us during tough times. “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2) When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3) For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3). Fear not because God has redeemed us. He has called us by name. We are his. He will be with us through the storms of life. Remember that he is the Lord our God. He is the Holy One of Israel. He is our Savior.
Nikita Khrushchev, during his time as premier in the Soviet Union, condemned many of the policies and cruelties of Joseph Stalin. Once, as he criticized Stalin in a public meeting, Khrushchev was interrupted by a shout from a heckler in the audience. “You were one of Stalin’s colleagues. Why didn’t you stop him?” “Who said that?” roared Khrushchev. A long silence followed as nobody in the room dared move a muscle. Then Khrushchev replied quietly, “Now you know why.” Fear. The problem is at times our fear leaves us motionless and speechless. During those time the grip us with fear, we must remember that we are redeemed of God, we belong to him and he has called us by name. Our God is with us in the storms of life. He is our Savior. Let’s remember who it is that we worship and praise!