As I paddled my rickety rowboat—I was on a rushing river somewhere—a couple of humungous alligators came up underneath, flipped me over, and started biting my feet.
I've always hated that about alligators.
It was 2:14 a.m. and thankfully only a dream. I tried going back to sleep, but the alligators were waiting to finish me off, so I turned on the TV and listened as four political commentators discussed the current crisis of the day.
The more they yipped at each other, the more I longed for the alligators eating my feet. At least they were only a figment of my subconscious, and the likelihood of me being in a rickety rowboat in a rushing river is, um, nonexistent.
But the news of the day—pick a crisis—is all too real. These are unsettling and scary times. Even our best leaders aren't sure what to do. Everybody's shouting and no one's listening and we, the people, are doing our best to patch the holes in our rickety rowboats with chewing gum and duct tape, while alligators lick their lips in anticipation of lunch.
This morning I woke up scared and flipped through the Bible, reading about the various times God told someone, "Do not be afraid."
In more than 60 different places in the Bible, God uses that phrase in one form or another. Sometimes he adds, "Do not be discouraged," "Do not tremble," "Do not be terrified."
God once told King Jehoshaphat as he faced three armies not to be afraid because "the battle is not yours, but God's." He told the prophet Ezekiel not to be afraid, even though he was surrounded by briers and thorns and he lived among scorpions.
My favorite "Do not be afraid" passage involves Jesus and his disciples in, if not a rickety rowboat, then a boat in a rickety situation.
After Jesus spent all day teaching, he and his disciples got into a boat and Jesus fell asleep. While he slept, a huge, violent storm rose up. And as the waves crashed into the boat and tossed it all over the place, everyone except Jesus frantically tried to rescue themselves.
Terrified, they woke Jesus saying, "Do something! We're drowning here and need some help" (my paraphrase).
Jesus called them "men of little faith," stood up in the storm-tossed boat, and with one word—"Silence!"—commanded the wind and sea to be still, and they were immediately (Matthew 8:23-27).
In that instance, Jesus calmed the turmoil and chaos, but that doesn't always happen. Sometimes hurricanes level entire communities. Sometimes national economies fail and leaders don't lead well or wisely. Sometimes unethical businesspeople prosper and ruin the innocent.
Sometimes we send our children off to war, and we lose the money in our retirement funds, and taxes rise, and our freedoms get taken away little by little.
And in the midst of it all, God says, "Do not be afraid."
Recently, my pastor spoke about the time he and his youngest daughter went whitewater rafting, fell into the rough water, and were swept away.
As my pastor was thrown against the rocks and fought to keep himself and his young daughter from going under, he had only one thought: Hold onto Amy.
After a harrowing few minutes, they arrived in calmer water, both intact and safe.
With eyes as big as saucers, Amy exclaimed, "I held on to you, Daddy!"
When things get scary, God tells his children, "Do not be afraid." But we are, and in our fear we try our hardest to hold onto God with all our might. That's what people tell us: "Don't be afraid—just have faith and hold on."
But, as my pastor said, we don't hold on to him. If our safety depended on us doing the holding, we all would be in the water, alone and sputtering.
The reason we can go through the water, even in a rickety boat, is because God goes with us and he does the holding on. And he won't let go. We are ultimately safe in any storm, in any calamity, no matter how hungry the alligators are as they circle underneath us.
So, child of God, don't be afraid.
What is your comfort when fear grips your heart? Do you have a favorite Scripture or word picture that calms your fear?
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