I’m not “afraid” of much.
I don’t have any phobias that I can think of. I like adrenaline rushes. I’m not afraid to go anywhere by myself. I would love to sky dive. I love to travel despite my ineptitude at directions. I love thunderstorms, driving in sleet and snow, and am not afraid of hurricanes. (I do fear Wal-mart, shouldn’t everyone?)
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t fear.
For about 3 months now, I’ve started a new practice at night which has helped me get to sleep faster. After I’m finished reading, if I don’t fall asleep while reading, I turn to listening to something. I was using that time to listen to my YouVersion daily Bible reading, but I was falling asleep before it was finished, thus not really getting all of the scripture. I’ve loaded my phone with some cool podcasts I’ve found, including an entire university course on the life of C.S. Lewis. I also listen to sermons from preachers I respect: Tim Keller, John Piper, John Ortberg and others. But I rarely hear the entire lecture or sermon, as somewhere in there I fall asleep.
Last night I listened to a sermon on Fear, expecting only to hear about 1/2 of it. But instead I ended up listening to the entire thing. It struck a nerve deep within me. It was one of those times when you feel the message is aimed right at you.
The message title was Fear of Circumstances, and the passage was Mark 4:35-41. This is a very familiar story in Scripture of Jesus calming the storm while He and the disciples were out on the Sea of Galilee. Maybe you know the one–where Jesus was in the boat sound asleep while the disciples were terrified for their very lives?
Now I just finished telling you that I’m not afraid of many things–many circumstances. But maybe I would be afraid if I was on a boat taking on water in the midst of a storm, particularly if I was a fisherman and used to storms–but experiencing a storm unlike any others. But, like I said, there are not many “circumstances” that scare me, so that angle of the message didn’t really impact me. No, instead it was the honest discussion about the concept of fear, in and of itself.
Because I do wrestle terribly with fear. It’s an unreasonable fear that seems to have no origin. It comes from out of nowhere and grips me tightly to where I am absolutely paralyzed. I never know when to expect it to hit, though it is usually at night time, when I lay down and try to sleep, or when I am awakened from sleep. Or sometimes it plagues my day, making it nearly impossible for me to interact with people, or to be able to leave my house. I’m scheduled to go on a women’s retreat next weekend with our church and I’m scared to death. Sometimes I know the fear is of the future (which I guess is a circumstance). Either way, it’s embarrassing. It’s shameful. And it is oh, so very real at the moment.
I’ve read this passage several times. I’ve even written about it. But I saw it in a new light last night during this sermon. Several points resonated with me. One of those points shows up in the very first verses of the passage—Verse 35:
I hadn’t seen this before, but Jesus told the disciples in the boat to go across to the other side–when he must have known what they were going to encounter! Even though he had to have known that they would find themselves in the midst of a terrible storm, He told them to go ahead. To go forward. This means that Jesus had enough confidence in who He was and in who God was, to not be hesitant about sending his group of disciples, whom he loved dearly, into this dangerous situation. There was a reason. There was something important for them to learn.
Now I’m not saying that I believe all bad things that happen, happen because we are supposed to learn something from them. But I can’t deny, and you probably can’t either, that major lessons do seem to be learned in the midst or the aftermath of such storms in our life. Jesus could have had the boat stay anchored where it was until the storm had passed. He could have chosen another option. But instead He pushed his disciples forward. Forward into gripping fear.
And when the reached that fear, where was Jesus? Asleep, on a cushion, in the stern of the boat. In his humanity, he was exhausted I’m sure from the demands of ministry. But there is something more here.
These disciples–men used to the perils of being on the sea, wake Jesus up. They wake Him up and cry out “Do you not care that we are perishing? And last night I looked at this lament, this cry, in a completely different light. I hadn’t seen this before. Even though we don’t know the tone of this exclamation, the obvious fear is dripping throughout it. “Jesus–we are dying! Do you not see? Do you not care?” or, on the other side of fear and despair “Jesus, help. Help us.”–a plaintive cry.
And I thought…I know these cries very well in my own life. “Jesus, I am dying, do you not see? Do you not care? Jesus I am dying–I cant live another moment without your intervention.” and the more plaintive, pathetic cry of “Jesus, help me. Help me.”–because there are no other words available I’ve come to the end of me. The disciples had come to the end of themselves. Last night as I listened to this scripture, my soul echoed that of the disciples. I’m afraid, Jesus. I don’t know why or what of, but I am gripped with terror and it is paralyzing. It feels as if I am dying. Help me. Help.
The next part is familiar to many of us. Jesus wakes up, rebukes the wind and tells the sea “Peace! Be Still!” And it was. It was!
I often say that I need Jesus to say shhh to my soul, to my mind. To say Shhh, Peace, Be Still to my always thinking, never settling min an soul. During this sermon, when discussing Jesus response to the storm, I could sense His peace. I could sense Him saying “Shh, Shelly.” An a settledness descended on my soul. My mind was quiet, peaceful, attentive.
But Jesus’ does not just want to quiet my soul. And he didn’t just want to stop the storm so that the disciples would no longer be afraid. No, we see the great shift in the last two verses of this passage:
Do you see the shift? Their fear shifted from the storm, to fear of Jesus–this one that even the wind and the sea obey him! You may ask or say “I’m not afraid of Jesus, He’s my friend.” And that’s true. But there must also be fear-fear of tremendous respect of who Christ is and who God the father is.
But I look at Jesus’ question “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And I have to answer to Jesus that I don’t know why I am so afraid. I don’t know why my faith is so small. I want it to big. I want it to be so big that I can sail into the storm in complete confidence of my God’s will for my life. And yet, I’m still afraid. Greatly afraid. O Father God, please help my fear; help my faith; help my unbelief. And help others who struggle in this very same area.
I won’t say that I came away from the sermon with confidence that I can control my fear by remembering these lessons; these verses. But I did come away from the sermon clearly internalizing it–seeing myself in that boat with my Jesus, knowing tremendous fear, then knowing tremendous peace, then knowing tremendous godly fear of Jesus.
And I can say, that I slept all night. All night. That is not nothing.
You can find the sermon HERE. Once my Logos is fixed, I intend to tie this sermon to this passage for future reference, because it was the most powerful and gut-checking sermon I’ve heard that addresses fear. It had as much impact on me as John Ortberg’s sermon titled Saturday. I look forward to hearing the rest of the series as it covers Mark 5 over the next two weeks–addressing fear of dangerous people, and then the story of Jairus’ daughter–a very important passage to me personally-and the fear of death and sickness.