How Faith Helps Me Overcome My Fears
In 1951 comedian Red Skelton and a party of friends flew to Europe, where Skelton was to appear at the London Palladium. As they were flying over the Swiss Alps, three of the airplane’s engines failed. The situation looked very grave and the passengers began to pray. Skelton went into one of his best comic routines to distract them from the emergency as the plane lost height, coming closer and closer to the ominous-looking mountains. At the last moment, the pilot spied a large field among the slopes and made a perfect landing. Skelton broke the relieved silence by saying, “Now, ladies and gentlemen, you may return to the evil habits you gave up 20 minutes ago.”
Skelton’s joking advice underscored the truth that whatever religious “commitments” those terrified passengers may have made was strictly temporary. The minute they stepped safely out of that aircraft, all deals with God were canceled.
But for the disciples of Jesus, there were no temporary commitments or cancellations. Once they stepped into the boat with Him, as it were, they were on board for the duration. Of course, there were times when the disciples wondered what they had gotten themselves into with Jesus. Today’s story was one of those occasions. Jesus concluded a long day of teaching by getting into a boat with His disciples—a sure sign in the Gospel of Mark that something interesting was about to happen.1
“On that day, when evening had come, he told them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the sea.”” (Mark 4:35, CSB)
“The same day” refers to the day on which Jesus gave the “parables of the kingdom.” He had been teaching His disciples the Word and now He would give them a practical test to see how much they had really learned. After all, the hearing of God’s Word is intended to produce faith; and faith must always be tested. It is not enough for us merely to learn a lesson or be able to repeat a teaching. We must also be able to practice that lesson by faith, and that is one reason why God permits trials to come to our lives.2
In this particular passage, we see that Jesus and the disciples are in a boat on the sea and the storm comes around to stir up the place. Just another day in the life of Jesus.
1. Sometimes, circumstances in life can be frightening. (Mark 4:37)
“A great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking over the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” (Mark 4:37, CSB)
The elements of a perfect storm were gathering. First, Jesus was utterly exhausted. Second, the disciples, too, were tired and emotionally befuddled by their extraordinary experiences with Jesus. Third, it was already nighttime —late to be setting out to cross the sea. Fourth, a small flotilla of eager followers was trailing them, meaning that when they landed, rest would remain elusive.
Then there was the sea itself. The Sea of Galilee is like a bowl of water nestled nearly seven hundred feet below sea level. It is both fed and drained by the Jordan River, which enters at the northern end and exits from the southern end. Mountains flank nearly every side, forming valleys and gullies that set the stage for howling winds. When the cool air from the mountains swoops through the valleys and collides with the warm, moist air hovering over the sea, violent storms can erupt in a matter of minutes.
And that is just what happened. “A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat so that it was already filling.” Mark uses a Greek word for windstorm that can be translated “furious squall” or “hurricane.” Matthew describes the storm as a “great seismos,” or earthquake —as if the sea were being shaken by the winds. Fatigue. Confusion. Darkness. Tempest. The perfect storm had arrived.3
Like any major storm, circumstances in life can be very frightening. Whether it is a thunderstorm, tornado, hurricane, or snowstorm, any kind of extreme weather event can bring with it the opportunity to be anxious. So how do I respond to this circumstance?
2. I can respond with fear. (Mark 4:38)
“He was in the stern, sleeping on the cushion. So they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher! Don’t you care that we’re going to die?”” (Mark 4:38, CSB)
The disciples were extremely scared. They feared for their lives.
On August 14, 1989, Time reported the sad story of a man from East Detroit who died of fear. He had taken a number of fur-trapping expeditions over the years and had been bitten by his share of ticks. Then he heard about Lyme disease, which is carried by deer ticks. He became obsessed with the fear that he had been bitten in the past by a tick with the disease and that he had passed the disease to his wife.
Doctors tested him and assured him he didn’t have Lyme disease and that, even if he did, the disease was virtually impossible to transmit to his wife. But the man didn’t believe the doctors. Paranoid, because of the disease, the man killed his wife and then himself.
The police found the man’s mailbox jammed with material describing Lyme disease and a slip confirming a doctor’s appointment for yet another Lyme-disease test.
Fear distorts a person’s sense of reality. Fear consumes a person’s energy and thoughts. Fear controls.4
The disciples were extremely scared. They feared for their lives. Yet Jesus showed no emotion. The reason is that Jesus responded with faith.
3. I should respond with faith (Mark 4:39-40)
“He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Silence! Be still!” The wind ceased, and there was a great calm. Then he said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”” (Mark 4:39–40, CSB)
Jesus responded with faith. As a matter of fact, Jesus was sleeping during the storm. He had enough faith to sleep during the storm. When you feel safe, you can sleep through anything. I can remember Hurricane Alicia that hit the Galveston area of the Gulf Coast in 1986. I remember because I slept through the storm. I didn’t worry about how my life was going to be affected by the storm that was raging. I was secure enough to know that I was safe. I had faith to know that I would feel safe. I felt safe enough to sleep through the storm. That is the difference between the disciples and Jesus.
That brings us to the problem in this passage. Do I really feel safe? You may say: “Sure, Jesus was safe. He was God’s Son. He had the power over the weather.” But the problem is that many times in life, you and I don’t act like Jesus has power over the circumstances in my life. Part of the reason is that we don’t like giving up control. We like to be the man who controls their own fate. We like to handle things by ourselves. And yes, Jesus gives us responsibilities. We are called to manage what He gives us. But He never tells us that there won’t be problems. Instead, He promises problems. Yet, He also promises that He will be with us.
The other part of the reason is a lack of faith. We look around us and we see our circumstances and we wonder how we will get through this. We should be saying: “God, you have helped me in the past. You will help me again.” Instead, we are scared. Jesus is in the boat with us. But we are scared. Jesus is sleeping in the boat, which should tell us something about the circumstances around us.
David Jeremiah has stated: “Many people believe faith is some kind of insurance against high blood pressure and heartache. Trust God and you’ll have no worries. But a great paradox of Christianity is that trusting Christ doesn’t keep the storms away. In fact, sometimes it pushes us into deep and turbulent waters.”5
Jesus challenges us to have courage and faith.
4. I have to overcome the problem that I don’t feel safe, even when I am with Jesus (Mark 4:41)
“And they were terrified and asked one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”” (Mark 4:41, CSB)
Problems will always come, especially after God has taught you something about Himself or yourself. The reason is because:
Jesus had taught about His Word, and had given His word that the disciples would make it to the other side. But whether regarding a promise Jesus gave to His disciples, or one He gives to you, after teaching comes testing. Always.6
Jesus can be trusted in the storms of life. Many people have the idea that storms come to their lives only when they have disobeyed God, but this is not always the case. Jonah ended up in a storm because of his disobedience, but the disciples got into a storm because of their obedience to the Lord.7
When author Gary Thomas and his wife considered buying a house, they prayed diligently for God to guide them. If it wasn’t His will, they figured He would close the windows of opportunity.
The window did not close, so they proceeded with their purchase. Five years passed, during which they enjoyed their home and the blessing of God. Then the economy entered a tailspin, and the house was suddenly worth less than they had paid for it. They wondered why God hadn’t stopped them from making a bad investment. They had prayed. They had listened. They had not heard “no.”
As Gary’s wife was seeking God one day, she heard His answer: Have you considered the possibility that I wanted you in that neighborhood to minister rather than to bolster your financial equity? That insight caused them to rethink their questions about God’s guidance. They realized it was all about lives touched for Christ rather than value earned from holdings. Now the question was, did they trust God enough to follow Him down a path with no financial profit, but with great spiritual profit?8
I have to feel safe and that can only happen when I have peace.
Two painters were in a contest where each said they could paint a picture of peace. One painter painted this sunset with the sun going down over the calm water. It all looked very nice and the picture had a very calming effect. The other painter painted a picture of a storm. In it, the sky was dark and there was lightning, thunder, and dark clouds rolling overhead. The picture showed the waves crashing against the rocks. Things looked fairly chaotic. But in the corner of the painting, at the bottom, were two big stones with a bird in the middle of them. The bird was singing. Now that’s peace. Peace is where God’s calm and God’s tranquility overrule your concerns.9
1 “Red Skelton,” Galaxie Software, 10,000 Sermon Illustrations (Biblical Studies Press, 2002).
2 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 124.
3 David Jeremiah, What Are You Afraid of? Facing down Your Fears with Faith (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2013).
4 Craig Brian Larson, 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers & Writers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 169.
5 David Jeremiah, What Are You Afraid of? Facing down Your Fears with Faith (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2013).
6 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 241.
7 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 124.
8 Gary L. Thomas, “The Freedom of Surrender,” Discipleship Journal, September/October 1996, 52. In David Jeremiah, What Are You Afraid of? Facing down Your Fears with Faith (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2013).
9 Tony Evans, Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations: Stories, Quotes, and Anecdotes from More than 30 Years of Preaching and Public Speaking (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009), 221.