I just got back from a retreat up at this place called JH Ranch near the Oregon border. It’s a little different than your average weekend church retreat of listening to speakers, playing some group games, making a fool of yourself in skits, and eating smores by the campfire.
This is an action packed, week-long adventure that includes rope courses, river rafting, jumping off waterfalls, and various other high adrenaline delights. This year they came up with a new activity: BMX bike ramp into the lake.
One of the purposes of all these physical (and terrifying) events is to illicit fear in our hearts (i.e., the fear of a particularly painful injury and/or death; in the case of the bike ramp, the thought of a ruptured testicle did cross my mind), and then for us to interact with those fears with God on our side. The hope, then, is to use what helped us overcome those fears in our everyday lives when scary situations come our way.
Of course our capacity to fear is a God-given emotion to protect us, so not all fear is bad. But for many, fear has been a paralyzing force that prevents them from obtaing all that they are capable of, and this is particularly true of Christians who are called to embrace life that really is life. And those fears come in all shapes and sizes, from fears of failure to fears of physical pain.
It is interesting how often fear is juxtaposed against faith in the Bible. In Mark 4 there is an account of a huge storm that hits Jesus’ boat as Jesus and His posse were making their way across the lake of Galilee. This storm was so big that seasoned fishermen were scared out of their minds. And all the while, Jesus is comfortably asleep on a cushion.
When the disciples couldn’t take it anymore, they woke Jesus up, accusing Him for not caring if they die. In response, Jesus calms the waves, and He says to his disciples in v40, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” You would think the disciples would be quite relieved, perhaps ecstatic that Jesus just saved them.
But v41 suggests otherwise: They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” In seeing Jesus’ power over the natural order, the disciples saw a glimpse of Jesus’ true identity: He is the Son of God and the promised Messiah. And if God is among them, then they have much more to fear than losing their physical lives.
It is quite ironic that those who have a fear of God potentially have nothing to fear because of what Jesus has done for us. And while Jesus does not always calm the storms of our lives, our faith grounded in the very person of Jesus and His sure promises allows us to persevere.
At this point of my life I am walking with a great deal of uncertainty ever since I decided to work part-time to commit more to ministry and to attend seminary. I’m used to having my life planned out for the next decade so living without knowing even what might happen next year is quite terrifying for me.
But, if I am doing God’s will of advancing His kingdom, I have the promise that He will be with me to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). And if I have God on my side, then really, what is there to fear?
If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31
Is there something God is calling you to do, but fear is holding you back?