Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Faith Chronicles Part 1: Faith versus Fear

They rise up around you on every side, choking, suffocating, drowning you. With deadly vengeance they slam you repeatedly beneath their hammering blows. You try to fight, but they are too powerful, and each time one of the mighty waves crash upon your weakened form, you feel another piece of your endurance eroded away and rushed mercilessly into the tempest.

But these are not waves of salt water and foam, and the storm is not one of unrelenting rain and roaring thunder. You may have never found yourself being devoured by the waves of a monstrous sea amidst a dragon-hearted downpour, but these waves are a foe that is all too familiar. Each surging breaker has its own descriptive name – a horrid, devilish name – but there is one that unites them all. Fear.

Like a mighty ocean it engulfs its prey, sinking you into its cold, wet, dripping fangs.

What fear holds you in its grasp? Fear of poverty? Fear of loneliness? Fear of mediocrity? Fear of an unknown future? There is no end to the creative forms fear takes in order to plague us. Worst of all, we seem to be defenseless against its onslaughts.

But are we?

To answer that question, let’s travel back to the scene of an infamous storm on the Sea of Galilee. A storm where fear was rampant and defeat, so thought Jesus’ frazzled disciples, was imminent.

Alone in the middle of the sea, the disciples struggled in vain as their tiny vessel was thrashed by the opposing wind and the menacing jaws of black water that threatened to swallow them whole. Jesus was back at the mountain where they had left Him to pray, and chances are they were really yearning for His presence right about this time.

And just when every ounce of their strength and hope had been drained by their fight with nature – things seemed to get worse. As if they weren’t freaked out enough, they now saw a new reason for terror. For there, hovering and gliding across the choppy waters was what could only be … “a ghost!” After all, what other creature could be so totally unaffected by such a storm?

But breaking through their shouts of panic came a familiar voice. The voice of One more powerful than the howling wind that swirled around them. “Have courage! It is I; do not be afraid.”

Do not be afraid.

Peter was the first to obey that command. While the others were still dazed, still clinging to the mast and gripping the oars, Peter understood Jesus’ meaning. If Jesus could walk unharmed atop the source of their fears and troubles, then surely He would protect His followers as well. At that moment, Peter decided that the safest place to be was not in the flimsy shelter of their ship … but right there next to Jesus.

And so he did the unthinkable. He asked Jesus if he could join Him on the water.

We often pick on Peter for his lack of faith, but we forget what great faith it must have taken for him to step out in the first place. Notice that Peter did not attempt to venture out in his own power. He knew the task was impossible for a mere man to accomplish. But he sought the Lord; he asked permission and simultaneously requested supernatural means to accomplish this feat. His primary focus was on drawing closer to Christ, and his gaze was fixed entirely on his Lord. It didn’t matter to him that men just don’t walk on water. If some of his fellow disciples warned him, “Peter, that’s suicide!” he didn’t care.

He knew that if the Master willed it, he could transcend the very laws of nature.

So out he walked, mesmerized by the Prince of Peace in the midst of raging chaos. He knew he was supernaturally protected. His Lord had called him forward and so he could come.

But, as so often happens in a Christian’s life, Peter’s heavenly gaze faltered and he suddenly found himself examining the “reality” of his circumstances. Worldly truth began to sink in … and so did Peter.

“Hold on a second!” he must have thought, “I’m not supposed to be surviving this!”

And when his focus was turned from Christ to his circumstances, his fears were realized and he lost the power to stand. When he lost sight of the Source of his power, the impossible became impossible once again.

At that moment he could only do one thing – look back to Jesus to save him.

I love what Jesus did next. Scripture says that Jesus immediately grabbed his hand. He didn’t hesitate for awhile and watch Peter go down. “Well, serves ya right for not having enough faith in My power! You need to learn your lesson …”

Ah … no. Jesus immediately rescued him.

But though Jesus wasted no time in pulling Peter out of the inky black waves, that doesn’t mean He wasn’t disappointed. No doubt with sadness in His dark Hebrew eyes and an incredulous shake of His head, He told Peter, "You have so little faith! Why did you doubt?"

The goal had been in sight. Peter had ventured out in faith, literally in deep water (or on it), in a bold move that no one else had dared to try. His troubles started when he let doubt swallow his once-invincible faith.

That’s the biggest problem with fear … it drowns out our faith.

Often we are just like Peter. Just when we feel God’s power the strongest, just when His peace is flowing over us like never before, just when we feel that He has given us a rock-hard faith to walk on … suddenly a split second arrives when we look at everything surrounding us. And then the doubt and fear slowly worm their way to overcoming us. That’s when we must pray for Him to save us and pull us above our circumstances once again.

Jesus never told the disciples, “You have the power. Don’t be afraid.” He said, “It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“I am here,” He was saying, “I am with you. Place your faith in Me and you will not sink.”

Don’t let fear overtake your faith. Next time you find yourself battling against a bigger-than-life storm, I challenge you to look past it. Ignore the wind. Ignore the life-sucking waves. Ignore the screaming disciples who are beside you in the ship. Look to the only One Who has power to walk above your problems … and Who can enable you to walk beside Him.

Go out to Him. And don’t be afraid.

(Story found in Matthew 14:22-33 and Mark 6:45-51.)