HEN MY SON Justin was about 15 years old, he was not feeling well one night and couldn’t sleep. So he came to our bedroom about two o’clock in the morning to ask if there was anything he could take to make him feel better.
It was a cold night and he had a blanket wrapped around him and over his head. He did not turn on any lights, and quietly bent over his mom to whisper in her ear. However, as he was bending over, Udella sensed this presence hovering above her and she opened her eyes. She saw this dark, hooded figure moving toward her face, and she screamed!
Out of a dead sleep, I sat straight up in the bed and started screaming too, but I had no idea why! Justin fell flat on his back, which sent the blanket flying in the air. He yelled, “Mom, it’s me, Justin!”
My son, my wife, and I were shouting, yelling, and screaming at . . . well . . . nothing. For about 30 seconds, we were experiencing sheer terror when there wasn’t anything terrorizing us. We were reacting to perceived fear.
Fear has several meanings:
• to have an unpleasant feeling of anxiety aroused by impending danger, real or imagined
• to be cowardly and timid
• to have concern, anxiety, and nervousness
• to show reverence, respect, and awe (Encarta).
Fear and Faith
The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake approximately 8 miles wide and 13 miles long. Because of its position beneath the surrounding hills, a sudden shift in wind can create a wind-tunnel effect bringing on a violent storm without warning. In Mark 4, such a storm seems to have blown in as Christ and His followers headed across the lake.
Jesus Christ was asleep in the boat as the storm raged, and His disciples awakened Him by pleading, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (v. 38 NIV). Christ performed a miracle by calming the wind, waves, and rain with a single word. He then asked two peculiar questions: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40 NIV).
Christ didn’t ask, “Why are you afraid?” He asked, “Why are you so afraid?” Christ wasn’t questioning their fear, but their level of fear. He was asking, “Why has your fear level reached this height?” They were overreacting—they were having an unhealthy fear response.
Christ didn’t downplay the size of the storm. Instead, He asked, “Do you still have no faith?”
Their unhealthy fear was not a storm issue, but a faith issue. When we place Christ’s two questions together, He seemed to be saying to the disciples, “Your fear has reached such a level that you’re reacting as if you have no faith.”
Unhealthy fear will arise when (1) we don’t trust what can sustain us, or (2) we are trusting in something that cannot sustain us. Our faith is either lacking or misplaced.
The obvious question then becomes, “How do I respond to fear-invoking circumstances with properly placed faith?”
Three Fear-and-Faith Observations
1. The object of my faith must be greater than the size of my storm.
Most of Christ’s followers accompanying Him across the Sea of Galilee knew how to weather a storm, but this one was larger than their training, experience, and expertise. It was beyond their capability and confidence to handle.
My family discovered the sudden wind of change when, in 1980, my older brother and only sibling, Paul Dana Walker, was killed in a head-on collision two days after Thanksgiving. As a family of pastors and ministers, we had counseled, taught, and preached to people that they can trust Christ in such painful and challenging times. We were highly trained and experienced in spiritual and faith matters. But now our life-storm was greater than our training and skill. The trustworthy Jesus we talked about now had to become the Jesus we fully trusted in. Our sermons weren’t enough; we needed Him alive and real.
He didn’t disappoint. Just as He proved Himself to His followers that day on the sea, we discovered Jesus is larger than any life-storm.
2. Faith in Christ leads to more than temporary solutions to temporary problems —it leads to an eternal life plan for an eternal destiny.
Even though the fear of Christ’s disciples apparently overshadowed their faith, they knew where to turn for help. Too many people call on Christ only when they have a problem. Until they have a storm they can’t handle, they want Christ to stay asleep and let them steer their own lives.
Christ wants to be more than a temporary problem-solver; He wants to be our eternal, abundant life-giver.
I remember visiting a man fighting cancer. He had just received word from the doctors that they could not do anything else for him. Barring a miracle, he would soon die. I was trying to comfort him, but he ended up comforting me. My friend said: “Pastor, Christ is my life and should He heal me, I will spend the remainder of my days glorifying Him by telling of His great love and power. If He chooses for me to remain ill for a longer period of time, I will glorify Him until my death, testifying of His sustaining comfort and grace. If He chooses for me to die soon, I will be with Him forever and my death will glorify Him. No matter what, Pastor, I can’t lose!”
3. Fear sees the temporary ruling the eternal; faith sees the eternal ruling the temporary.
The disciples let the temporary storm seem greater than the eternal Creator who was in their boat. Fear tends to exalt the temporal above the eternal, so we begin to believe our life-storm is greater than the resources we have in God. Faith looks to the eternal God who is greater than the storm.
In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, the apostle Paul says our earthly troubles are temporary and light compared to the eternal existence that awaits us in Christ. He even suggests that our temporary storms actually work for us a better eternal life- experience. We should “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (v. 18 NIV).
Paul did not instruct us to avoid looking at our storm; he instructed us not to become fixated—consumed and obsessed—by it. Instead, we should become consumed and obsessed with the eternal person, purpose, and promises of God.
Shifting From Fear to Faith
Rest in the One who is leading. Jesus Christ initiated the trip across the lake, and He said they were going to “the other side” (Mark 4:35). Christ’s promises will come to pass, and no storm can stop them.
If Christ is my Leader, then He has brought me to where I am, no matter how great the storm. If I trust in His sovereignty, He can take any storm and work it to my greatest good and His greatest glory. I can rest in Him.
Resist expecting the worst. “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped” (v. 37 NIV).
Was the disciples’ boat taking on water? Yes. Were things looking bleak? Absolutely. However, the disciples didn’t wake up Christ and say, “Hey, we are taking on water!” They said, “Don’t you care if we drown?” (v. 38 NIV).
Why do we expect the worst in adversity? Here’s a news flash: “The worst may not happen.” And if it does, we can rest in the One who is leading.
I heard the story of an elderly woman who lived in London, England, during World War II. The possibility of air raids was imminent, so her adult children attempted to convince her to stay with them outside the city, but she refused. She pointed to a plaque hanging on the wall and said, “You know that’s what I live by, and I’m not leaving,” The plaque read, “Don’t worry. It may never happen.”
Her children reluctantly gave in and left her there. Soon, the city was bombed as they feared. It was days before the woman’s children could make it to her apartment building, only to find her section of the building quite damaged. They feared the worst.
However, when they arrived at their mother’s apartment, she was sitting in her rocking chair rocking away. One of her children pointed to her plaque that now hung crooked on the wall and mockingly questioned, “What do you have to say about your ‘don’t worry’ plaque now?”
She jumped up and said, “Oh, I forgot!” She turned the plaque over. The other side read, “Don’t worry. You can take it.”
Try to resist immediately expecting the worst; it may not happen. If it does, rest in the One who leads.
Realize who is in your boat. Christ leading His disciples through the storm brought them to a fuller understanding of His greatness. They declared, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (v. 41 NIV).
Why did the winds, water, and rain obey Him? They obeyed because He made them.
Do we know who is in life’s boat with us? Are we getting to know Him, or is He just someone we know about?
Christ said, “Let’s go over to the other side.” Do we trust Him?
Mark L. Walker is lead pastor of the North Mount Paran Church of God in Marietta, Georgia. This article is adapted from his book Mind Games (Pathway Press).