What Are You Afraid Of?
“Why Are You Afraid?”
I am afraid of things that lurk in the water. Not swamp monsters or giant squid-type things, but the type of little things that brush against your leg or foot – like seaweed or leeches or minnows. I think it began one day when I was a tween. I had been swimming and playing in the lake with my cousins, goofing off and having a great time. When I finally emerged from the water, I discovered dozens of tiny fresh-water shrimp had attached themselves to my brightly coloured leggings. The gross-out factor really put my fight or flight instinct into high gear. I haven’t looked at a natural body of water in the same way since.
Fear can creep out of many places, even ones that we never expected, or places we once felt safe. Fear can seem rational, logical, sensible, even. (To this day I will not swim in anything other than a chlorinated pool.) But giving in to fear, big or small, undeniably prevents us from moving forward. So, what can be done when we are faced with fear?
In three gospels we are told about a wild storm that came upon a boat Jesus and the disciples were in one night. Jesus was sound asleep because he was so exhausted. The disciples, however, were completely panicking because the storm was so violent. (I cannot fathom the level of weather that would put seasoned fishermen in that level of distress.) Jesus, however, continued to sleep through it all, even when he was presumably getting doused by the waves that threatened to swamp the boat. What an example of two completely opposite reactions to the storm – on one end, the creator of the waves, peacefully sleeping, knowing that they would ultimately live to see another day; on the other end, the disciples who were so far beyond their comfort level and capacity, fearing they would never see another sunrise and they would be undone by the next consuming wave.
How many times have I felt like the disciples – panicking, wondering if I’ll ever make it through the day? Sometimes circumstances feel overwhelming, like they will crush me and sweep me over the edge to certain doom. Then I look over to my side and see Jesus, apparently asleep, and wonder why he’s not, in the very least, awake and holding on to me. Like the disciples, I wonder why Jesus is literally asleep on the job, why he doesn’t appear to be actively helping?
In the story recorded in Matthew 8:23-27 once the disciples frantically wake Jesus up, fearing for their lives, the first thing Jesus does is… ask them a question??? What were the thoughts that must have gone through the disciples’ minds at that moment? I wonder if a few jaws dropped on the ground when Jesus asked, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” If I was on that boat I think I would have thought Jesus was a little loopy after his nap. Couldn’t he see the chaos happening around him? Why wasn’t he concerned?
No doubt to the relief of the disciples, after that shocking question, Jesus did get up from where he was sleeping and “rebuked the winds and the waves and it was completely calm.” (v. 26b) Just like that. No big deal. All in a day’s work. I can imagine Jesus saying, “What was it you were so afraid of? If I made the water, the wind, the forces behind them, put the weather patterns into place, and the laws that govern the universe, why do you think you can’t trust me?”
In my humanness, I fear. I have learned I cannot control things, as much as I might try. And after I’ve given in to fear enough times, God has been able to show me that fear really can have no end, no natural conclusion on its own.
Jon Acuff said, “Fear never ends on its own because it always moves the goal posts, rewrites the rules and changes the game. Fear doesn’t finish, bravery starts.”
In The Quest Bible study by Beth Moore, she addresses fear saying that, “if you can find your fear, you can always know where to send your faith. No, faith is not as easy to come by as fear, but it is colossally easier to live with. What faith costs you in tenacity, fear up-charges you in misery.”
Jesus himself said that fear is found where there is a lack of faith. He thought it was so important to point out, that he said it to his disciples before he took action to settle that wild, life-threatening storm. He needed them (and us) to understand that faith is the only thing standing between us and fear.
Our response to fear, any fear, should be to push against it, move against it bravely and with perseverance, “filling up the space it’s vying for” (Beth Moore). Filling up the space with Jesus is the best revenge. After all, over 350 times the Bible reassures us not to fear because God goes with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:9), God will strengthen and uphold us with His right hand, He will hold our hand and help us (Isaiah 41:10, 13), God has redeemed us, summoned us by name, and we are His (Isaiah 43:1), We are God’s witnesses, He is our Rock and our God (Isaiah 44:8), Our Father has given us the kingdom (Luke 12:32) and we are given God’s peace. We shouldn’t let our hearts live in fear (John 14:27). Just prayerfully looking into God’s word can give us enough bravery to take the next step forward in faith.
I believe bravery starts when I look to Jesus and trust him with my life. As we journey together, I know Jesus is brave enough for both of us and provides a super-natural bravery to me through the Holy Spirit and through His word (the Bible). I need to lean into Jesus, with prayerful faith, and move forward. Even the fearful disciples became brave when they surrendered their lives to the resurrected Jesus and received the Holy Spirit. Their faith defeated so many fears that God was able to use them to change the world.
I am far from conquering all my fears, but I know that Jesus is always there, waiting for my faith to kick in so he can do what only he can do. He already has everything under control… I just have to believe it and continue to grow my faith.
So when the waves threaten to overwhelm your boat, look to Jesus and answer his question: “Why are you afraid?” When you remember who is in the boat with you, I think you’ll find bravery is easier to find as you and Jesus push back those fears together and grow your faith one step at a time.