Monday, January 30, 2017

Some Thoughts on Fear



As a family we’ve been talking a lot about the story I mentioned in my last post—the one where Christ calmed the storm in Mark chapter 4. And as we’ve been looking deeper into the account, something stuck out to me that sent my mind reeling in a whole new direction. Specifically something Christ said to His disciples, which means it’s something He’s saying to me as well. I’ll share what it is in a minute, but let’s run through the story really quick just to review all the details:

   And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.
   And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.
   And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.
   And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?
   And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
   And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?
   And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? (Mark 4:35-41).

The first thing that jumped out at me is that this wasn’t just another Judean storm. This was as bad as it could get. I have an app where I can look up the account in several different Bible translations, and one (AMP) said the tempest was “of hurricane proportions.” In other words, the storm wasn’t just tossing the boat around a bit and getting the disciples a little wet. Verse 37 says the waves had beat on their ship with such force “that it was now full.” Stop and picture that for just a minute. It’s the dark of night, and the men have reached the point where their vessel is completely filled with water. It’s ready to sink at any moment. I’d say they’re way past the point of a little nervousness and anxiety, and they’ve moved into the realm of all-out terror.

And yet, where was Jesus?

Yep, that’s right. He was in the back of the boat, “asleep on a pillow.” I love it. Even with the mountainous waves and the howling wind and the cries of the terrified men, He remained as calm as a summer day—so calm, in fact, that He was sleeping like a baby. He wasn’t troubled by the danger in the least.

Finally, the disciples couldn’t take it anymore (can we blame them??), and they woke the Lord up in a panic, incredulous that they were about to die and He didn’t even seem to care. But before we get to His response, let’s freeze the story right here and think about how we would react in a similar situation.

Wouldn’t we be scared out of our minds just like the apostles? Sure, we could pretend we’d be all stoic and brave, but put us on that ship in the dead of night and the truth would reveal itself in about 2 seconds. That’s because, just like the disciples, the threat of death scares us. A cancer diagnosis scares us. A financial crisis scares us. Losing someone we love scares us. These kinds of trials are very real, and can be very, very terrifying.

And the weird thing is, it’s not like we have to try to be scared in these situations….it happens so naturally that we hardly even think about it. Suddenly, our heart begins to pound, our mind runs through all kinds of “What if” scenarios, and soon we’re completely overtaken with feelings of stress and anxiety. It appears that fear is sometimes just part of the human experience. What's more, if we happen to be feeling what the disciples were feeling—that Jesus appears to be “asleep” and He isn’t doing anything to help us in our precarious circumstances—well, then, our fear may even rise to higher heights and deeper proportions.

So just like the disciples, we run to Him and try to wake Him up as fervently and loudly as we possibly can. We cry out in prayer again and again, overcome with anxiety over our scary situation and His apparent unwillingness to come to our aid. I think what we’re hoping in these situations is for the Lord to wake up and say something comforting to help us calm down. Something like, “Awww, I know how hard life is right now. I can see why you’re so scared. But don’t worry, it’s OK, I’m here and I’ll help you.” (And I’ll admit that sometimes in the scriptures, He does say exactly that. Like in Isaiah 41:10 for example.)

But that’s not at all what happened in Mark chapter 4. When the Lord woke up and saw them in full-blown panic mode, He didn’t offer any comforting words or sympathetic pats on the shoulder. Instead, He actually rebuked His terrified disciples with the words, “Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?”

I have to say, this moment in the story totally blows my mind. He asks why they’re so fearful, but seriously....don’t they have a MILLION reasons to be fearful?? Their boat is full of water in the middle of a hurricane! Why in the world would Jesus ask such a question? Isn’t it completely obvious? Don’t they have every right to be freaking out? How can He be so insensitive to the terrifying thing they’re experiencing?

Thankfully, I found some counsel from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland that really helped me understand this account. Here's what he said about Christ’s unique (and what may appear to some as unfeeling or insensitive) response to His terrified men:

Always remember in that biblical story that He was out there on the water also, that He faced the worst of it right along with the newest and youngest and most fearful. Only one who has fought against those ominous waves is justified in telling us—as well as the sea—to “be still.” Only one who has taken the full brunt of such adversity could ever be justified in telling us in such times to “be of good cheer.” Such counsel is not a jaunty pep talk about the power of positive thinking, though positive thinking is much needed in the world. No, Christ knows better than all others that the trials of life can be very deep and we are not shallow people if we struggle with them. But even as the Lord avoids sugary rhetoric, He rebukes faithlessness and He deplores pessimism. He expects us to believe! (October 1999 General Conference)

The thought is actually pretty daunting if you think about it. Yes, the Lord understands our plight when we’re knee deep in a really tough trial, but regardless of our feelings, He lays down an almost mind-boggling expectation. Bottom line: as His disciples, He expects us to trust Him. Period. Even in the most difficult and stressful and frightening of circumstances. No matter how hard or scary or out-of-control things seem to get.

At first glance, it's an expectation that can seem almost impossible to comprehend. Somehow we’re supposed to stand fearless in these types of trials when our initial gut response is to quake and tremble and perhaps even completely lose it?? Yep. Apparently, that’s exactly what Jesus is saying.

I like the way Christian author Oswald Chambers explains it:

When we are afraid, the least we can do is pray to God. But our Lord has a right to expect that those who name His name have an underlying confidence in Him. God expects His children to be so confident in Him that in any crisis they are the ones who are reliable. Yet our trust is only in God up to a certain point, then we turn back to the elementary panic-stricken prayers of those people who do not even know God. We come to our wits’ end, showing that we don’t have even the slightest amount of confidence in Him or in His sovereign control of the world. To us He seems to be asleep, and we can see nothing but giant, breaking waves on the sea ahead of us.
   “…O you of little faith!” What a stinging pain must have shot through the disciples as they surely thought to themselves, “We missed the mark again!” And what a sharp pain will go through us when we suddenly realize that we could have produced complete and utter joy in the heart of Jesus by remaining absolutely confident in Him, in spite of what we were facing. (My Utmost For His Highest).

So this week, I’ve been asking myself over and over and over again: do my feelings of fear actually reveal a lack of trust in the Lord? Does my anxiety show that I “don’t have even the slightest amount of confidence in Him”? Can He take me to my breaking point without seeing me break, or am I turning back to the "panic-stricken prayers of those people who do not even know God"? It's definitely something to think about. (And it's something that I'm sure will bring a Part 2 blog post in the days ahead. This story is just too chock full to just leave it at that.) :)

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