You may be down to your last paycheck, solution, or thimble of faith. Each sunrise seems to bring fresh reasons for fear. They're talking layoffs at work, slowdowns in the economy, flare-ups in the Middle East, turnovers at headquarters, downturns in the housing market, upswings in global warming, breakouts of terrorist cells. Some demented dictator is collecting nuclear warheads the way others collect fine wines. A new strain of flu is crossing the border.
Fear, it seems, has taken a 100-year lease on the building next door and set up shop. Oversized and rude, fear is unwilling to share the heart with happiness. Happiness complies and leaves. Do you ever see the two together? Can you be happy and afraid at the same time? Clear thinking and afraid? Confident and afraid? Merciful and afraid? No.
Fear is the big bully in the high school hallway: brash, loud, and unproductive. For all the noise fear makes and room it takes, fear does little good. Fear never wrote a symphony or poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease. Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a country out of bigotry. Fear never saved a marriage or a business. Courage did that. Faith did that. People who refused to consult or cower to their timidities did that. But fear itself? Fear herds us into a prison and slams the doors.
Wouldn't it be great to walk out?
Good reason to fear?
Imagine your life wholly untouched by angst. What if faith, not fear, was your default reaction to threats? If you could hover a fear magnet over your heart and extract every last shaving of dread, insecurity, and doubt, what would remain? Envision a day, just one day, absent the dread of failure, rejection, and calamity. Can you imagine a life with no fear? This is the possibility behind Jesus' question: "Why are you afraid?" (Matthew 8:26).
At first blush we wonder if Jesus is serious. He may be kidding. Teasing. Pulling a quick one. Kind of like one swimmer asking another, "Why are you wet?"
But Jesus doesn't smile. He's earnest. So are the men to whom he asks the question. A storm has turned their Galilean dinner cruise into a white-knuckled plunge. Here is how one of them remembered the trip: "Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with his disciples. Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat" (Matthew 8:23-24).
These are Matthew's words. He remembered well the pouncing tempest and bouncing boat and was careful in his terminology. He chose the word seismos—a quake, a trembling eruption of sea and sky. The term still occupies a spot in our vernacular. A seismologist studies earthquakes, a seismograph measures them, and Matthew, along with a crew of recent recruits, felt a seismos that shook them to the core. He used the word on only two other occasions: once at Jesus' death when Calvary shook (Matthew 27:51-54) and again at Jesus' resurrection when the graveyard tremored (28:2). Apparently, the stilled storm shares equal billing in the trilogy of Jesus' great shake-ups: defeating sin on the cross, death at the tomb, and here silencing fear on the sea.
This story sends the not-so-subtle and not-too-popular reminder: Getting on board with Christ can mean getting soaked with Christ. Disciples can expect rough seas and stout winds. "In the world you will [not 'might,' 'may,' or 'could'] have trouble" (John 16:33, NIV, brackets mine). Christ-followers contract malaria, bury children, and battle addictions, and, as a result, face fears. It's not the absence of storms that sets us apart. It's whom we discover in the storm: an unstirred Christ. "Jesus was sleeping" (Matthew 8:24).
Now there's a scene. The disciples scream; Jesus dreams. Thunder roars; Jesus snores. He doesn't doze, catnap, or rest. He slumbers. Could you sleep at a time like this? Could you snooze during a roller coaster loop-the-loop? In a wind tunnel? At a kettledrum concert? Jesus sleeps through all three at once!
Mark's gospel adds two curious details: "Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion" (Mark 4:38, NIV). First-century fishermen used large, heavy seine nets for their work. They stored the nets in a nook that was built into the stern for this purpose. Sleeping upon the stern deck was impractical. It provided no space or protection. The small compartment beneath the stern, however, provided both. It was the most enclosed and only protected part of the boat. So Christ, a bit dozy from the day's activities, crawled beneath the deck to get some sleep.
He rested his head, not on a fluffy feather pillow, but on a leather sandbag. A ballast bag—Mediterranean fishermen still use them. They weigh about 100 pounds and are used to ballast, or stabilize, the boat. Did Jesus take the pillow to the stern so he could sleep, or sleep so soundly that someone rustled him up the pillow? We don't know. But this much we do know. Jesus decided it was siesta time, so he crawled into the corner, put his head on the pillow, and drifted into dreamland.
Does God care?
His snooze troubles the disciples. Matthew and Mark record their responses as three staccato Greek pronouncements and one question. The pronouncements: Lord! Save! Dying! (Matthew 8:25). The question: "Teacher, don't you care that we're going to drown?" (Mark 4:38).
They don't ask about Jesus' strength: "Can you still the storm?" His knowledge: "Are you aware of the storm?" Or his know-how: "Do you have any experience with storms?" But rather, they raise doubts about Jesus' character: "Don't you care . . . ?"
Fear does this. Fear corrodes our confidence in God's goodness. We begin to wonder if love lives in heaven. If God can sleep in our storms, if his eyes stay shut when our eyes grow wide, if he permits storms after we get on his boat, does he really care? Fear unleashes a swarm of doubts, anger-stirring doubts.
And it turns us into control freaks. "Do something about the storm!" is the implicit demand of the question. "Fix it or . . . or . . . or else!" Fear, at its center, is a perceived loss of control. When life spins wildly, we grab for a component of life we can manage: our diet, the tidiness of a house, the armrest of a plane, or, in many cases, people. The more insecure we feel, the meaner we become. We growl and bare our fangs. Why? Because we are bad? In part. But also because we feel cornered.
Fear releases the tyrant within and it also deadens our recall. The disciples had good reasons to trust Jesus. By now they'd seen him perform countless miracles (Matthew 4:23)! But do the disciples remember the accomplishments of Christ? They may not. Fear creates a form of spiritual amnesia. It dulls our miracle memory. It makes us forget what Jesus has done and how good God is.
Called to courage
In his teachings, Jesus waged a war against fear. His most common command emerges from the "fear not" genre. The Gospels list some 125 Christ-issued imperatives. Of these, 21 urge us to "not be afraid" or "not fear" or "have courage" or "take heart" or "be of good cheer." The second most common command, to love God and neighbor, appears on only eight occasions. If quantity is any indicator, Jesus takes our fears seriously. The one statement he made more than any other was this: Don't be afraid. Jesus was constantly calling his followers to courage:
- "I tell you not to worry about everyday life" (Matthew 6:25).
- "Take courage. I am here!" (Matthew 14:27).
- "Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me" (John 14:1).
- "Don't be troubled or afraid" (John 14:27).
- "Why are you frightened? . . . Why are your hearts filled with doubt?" (Luke 24:38)
Jesus doesn't want you to live in a state of fear. His question is a good one. He lifts his head from the pillow, steps out from the stern into the storm, and asks, "Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!" (Matthew 8:26).
Joy-sapping worries. Day-numbing dread. Repeated bouts of insecurity that petrify and paralyze us. Hysteria is not from God. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity" (2 Timothy 1:7). Fear may fill our world, but it doesn't have to fill our hearts. It will always knock on the door. Just don't invite it in for dinner, and for heaven's sake don't offer it a bed for the night. Let's embolden our hearts with Jesus' "do not fear" statements. The promise of Christ is simple: we can fear less tomorrow than we do today.
Max Lucado is the author of numerous books, including Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear. This article adapted from Fearless. Copyright © 2009 by Max Lucado. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson Inc. www.maxlucado.com.