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Tagged ‘Fear‘

That Sinking Feeling

A few weeks ago I shared my experience when I grounded my sailboat while navigating Lake Okeechobee. It is currently in long-term storage at a marina while I wait for God to provide the resources needed to repair the rudder. It excites me to see God at work in my life and relationship with him through this experience. I shared on social media the work God has done in my life in my understanding of stewardship versus ownership. It is truly a place of rest when I keep my focus where it should stay.

If you read only those blogs, you might think I always respond the way I should. Nothing is further from the truth. In the following days I found myself struggling to keep my focus on God and not on my circumstances. Most of the time I kept my focus on him. But there were quiet moments when I was alone, far from the spotlight of ministry, and I wrestled with my lack of faith.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 103:14, “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” This deeply ministers to me in the moments when I feel all too human. God created me from dust, and to dust someday I will return. In the moments between, I am dusty. I am of this world. I am human. My heart does not always respond the way my head knows it should. It is okay. God knows how he made me. He remembers I am dust.

Throughout Scripture we meet many interesting characters who carried the dust of the world on their journey. Peter is one of my favorites. He is bold, outspoken, quick to action, and undeniably human.

Following the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, Jesus sent the disciples on ahead of him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus stayed behind to dismiss the crowds, and when all had departed, he found a place where he could pray in solitude. In the coolness of the evening he was alone. By this time the disciples were far from shore. A storm had risen, and they labored against the wind and the waves.

After many hours, the disciples had only managed to traverse two-thirds of the way across the lake. Darkness consumed the vessel. The tempest beat upon them. They were weary. Their arms ached from rowing. In the waning darkness, the disciples saw the figure of a man walking on the sea. Terror gripped their hearts. “It is a ghost!” they cried.

But it was Jesus! He came to them in the midst of their trial, walking on the water. “Take heart,” he shouted above the wind, “it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Here is where my brash friend Peter makes me smile. He blurted out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Be careful what you ask!  For Jesus says to him, “Come.” And, in one of the most understated moments in Scripture, it says, “So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus” (Matthew 14:28, ESV).

Now we could stop our story right here, and Peter’s actions would impress all of us. Just as you might think more highly of me than you ought after reading the blog of my response to the grounding of the vessel. But let us continue our tale, for this is where it gets interesting.

Peter leapt from the vessel and strutted across the water. He was almost to Jesus. For a second, a flash of lighting illuminated the boiling sea. He glanced to his left and saw the frothy waves kicked up by the fierce wind. In a terrifying moment, he realized he was in the middle of the lake, and the boat was far behind. Fear pierced his heart. He was no longer walking on water. His feet sank beneath the surface, and he felt the cold water engulfing his legs. In a panic he cried, “Lord, save me!”

Jesus reached for him, lifting him above the waves, and with compassion said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Peter and Jesus walked back to the boat and joined the other disciples. The wind and waves ceased their roiling. The trial was ended. (Read Matthew 14:22-33 for the full account of this story.)

I relate to Peter. I want to step out of the boat in the midst of the storm to walk closer to Jesus. I want to focus on him so deeply that logic dissolves, and I find the water firm beneath my feet as I step toward him. But I also know what it means to take my eyes off of Jesus and to focus instead on the wind and the waves. I know that sinking feeling. I know the sensation of cold water engulfing my feet. I know the moments of fear in the midst of trying to trust him fully. I know how the hands of Jesus feel when he reaches down to lift me up. I know his voice when he says to me, “Tim, oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Yet his voice is not condemning. In my mind, I see his eyes looking down at my dusty clothes. Then he looks back to my eyes, smiles and with a wink says, “Yep, you’re dusty. You’re still human. And I’m still God.”

My friend, we are all human. We are dusty. We do not always respond the way we know we should. Sometimes the wind and waves overwhelm us. In those moments, even though we fail to trust him fully, God understands. He still rescues. He still leads us to a place of rest. He still loves.

When Peter and Jesus return to the other disciples in the boat, the seas stopped churning. The wind died down. Rest settled upon the weary. And everyone in the boat, including Peter, worshiped Jesus saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Their focus returned to Jesus. They worshiped. They understood a little more who he was. Our trials illuminate our need of Jesus. In the process we find he truly is the Son of God.

Our God is a God of grace. May we use each trial to trust him more fully. May God increase our faith. May we grow in our relationship with him. May the moments of doubt and confusion decrease, and our moments of trust increase.

Sometimes we walk on water. Sometimes we sink beneath it. May each moment draw us closer to him.

I enjoy reading your thoughts. Please write your comments below.

When Hope Seems Lost

The huge crowd pressed forward, surrounding Jesus and his disciples. Jarius pushed through the throng. He jostled his way to the front of the pack. As the leader of the synagogue, he knew better than to barge through, but the need was urgent. Death had come to the door of his home. At any moment, his daughter might breathe her last. In a final desperate act, he threw himself at the feet of Jesus.

With arms upraised, he pleaded with Jesus. “My little daughter is at the point of death,” he cried. “I beg you, come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.”

Time stood still as Jarius waited for a reply. But Jesus barely looked down at the man. Without breaking stride, Jesus and the disciples continued on. In a moment, the wave of people swept past him as he knelt on the ground.

Jarius jumped to his feet and pushed forward in the throng, trying to make his way back to Jesus. If his request were denied, he would have no hope. He had just humbled himself before the Rabbi, and it seemed his request had been completely discounted. He reeled from the knowledge his cry was unanswered.

He had almost caught up when Jesus stopped and asked the crowd, “Who touched me?” Jarius was frustrated and confused. Seriously? I just begged you to save my dying daughter, and you ignored me? Yet in a crowd this size, someone touches you and you stop to find out who it was? It was inconceivable.

Jesus looked around to see who had touched him. For a moment Jarius thought Jesus might see him and respond to his request. But his hopes were crushed again. Jesus looked right through Jarius, and his gaze stopped on a woman who cowered behind him. Jarius watched in astonishment as the realization spread that his plea was unheeded.

Time stopped. Jarius could hardly breathe. His opportunity had come and gone. It was obvious Jesus had moved on. Now Jesus spoke with a woman. To think, a rabbi speaking with a woman! How could Jesus ignore the request of the leader of the synagogue, but give his full attention to an insignificant woman? There was a commotion in the crowd. The woman had needed to be healed. Somehow power had gone out of him when she touched the hem of his garment.

Jesus looked at her and said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

In an instant, she was healed! The crowd received what they came for. The rabbi had miraculously healed again! The news spread through the throng. They looked at one another as excitement leapt from face to face. While everyone else celebrated, Jarius stood motionless. His request had been denied, and yet the Rabbi had taken the time to heal someone else. A woman, no less. It made no sense.

He felt a tug on his sleeve, and he turned to see one of his household servants. The servant looked him in the eye, and for a moment neither said a word. Even before he spoke, Jarius knew. He could see it in his eyes. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Why trouble the Teacher any further?”

Jarius fought to maintain his composure. Finally, he could hold it no longer. Tears streamed down his dusty cheeks. His body shook. He struggled to silence his sobs.

An odd quiet settled on the crowd. Jarius looked up to find everyone looking at him. Jesus had turned to him as well. He looked down to avoid the stares. He was embarrassed. He smeared the tears from his face with the back of his hands. He tried to compose himself, but his daughter was dead. His efforts had failed. The only one who could help had entirely disregarded his pleas. He could not look Jesus in the face.

But Jesus looked directly at him. He had overheard the servant. He knew. He understood. He had seen Jarius humble himself before him. And though it appeared he had snubbed him, Jesus had another plan in process.

Jesus moved closer to speak to Jarius face to face. “Do not be afraid,” he said. “Only believe.”

What happened next would be retold for generations. For in the moments that followed, Jesus went to Jarius’ home and raised his daughter from the dead.

Adapted from Mark 5:22-43, ESV.

Jarius’ experience is an example for all of us. We pray. We ask God to intercede. We believe he will make a difference. We fall at his feet in our desperate moments and cry out to him. But it seems as if nothing happens. To make it worse, we see God at work around us, meeting needs in other people’s lives, while our needs go unmet. In these moments, what do you do? What will you do when your request goes unanswered?

I share Jarius’ story with you because it illustrates an important truth. In our moments when we feel our prayers are overlooked, Jesus comes to us with two simple commands: Do not be afraid. Only believe.

It speaks to the heart of one of the most difficult aspects of waiting on God: unanswered prayer. Volumes are written on this topic, but the bottom line is this: We don’t know why God chooses to answer some prayers while other requests seem to be disregarded. We do know the words Jesus spoke to Jarius thousands of years ago apply to us today. When hope seems lost, he comes to us in our frailty. He speaks to us in our moment of devastation. His words echo across generations. “Do not be afraid. Only believe.”

I take comfort knowing Jesus understands my humanity. He knows my fears, so he reminds me not to be afraid. He knows my faith falters, so he reminds me to believe in him. His understanding and kindness are a treasured gift. It is a gift he gives to you as well.

My friend, perhaps you have cried out to God only to feel your request has gone unnoticed. You see God at work around you, while your need lingers. Have hope. The end of our story has yet to be written. We do not know what the outcome will be. While we have no guarantee, we will see the resolution we long for, we do know God is in control. He is kind. He is good. As we wait on him, we choose faith over fear. We choose to believe, even when it seems hope is lost.

While we wait, remember: Sometimes God heals. Sometimes God raises from the dead.

Do not be afraid. Only believe.

This article was originally published in the March 2017 Newsletter.

Transforming Fear Into Worship

Fear gripped Gideon with an icy hand. Against all reason, he gathered his servant and slowly stalked toward the enemy camp. Finally they stopped beside a tent on the outskirt of the sprawling army. Night had fallen heavily upon the plain. In the darkness, the light of a thousand fires silhouetted the tents that filled the valley like a swarm of locust. They were without number, as the sand upon the seashore in abundance, a mighty hoard against the three hundred men in Gideon’s charge.

Earlier that evening, God had clearly spoken to Gideon. The words he spoke sent shivers of fear through Gideon’s soul.

“Arise,” God said, “and go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand.” The words overwhelmed Gideon, for the task was impossible. “But if you are afraid,” the Lord continued, “go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.”

In the darkness Gideon and Purah crouched beside the tent. The men inside were speaking, and Gideon strained to hear what they said. Finally they heard a voice. “Behold, I dreamed a dream,” the man said, “and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.”

A long pause stifled the air. Gideon leaned in to hear more. Finally the man’s comrade spoke. “This is no other than the sword of Gideon,” he said, “the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.”

Gideon heard the interpretation of the dream. He fell to his knees in the dust and worshiped, overwhelmed by what God has done. Quietly they rose and hurried back to their camp. A new found courage surged through his veins. Urgently he called to his men, “Arise! For the Lord has given the host of Midian into your hands!”

In the darkness, three hundred men rose to follow their leader into battle, and by the light of morning their enemy lay decimated before them. The God of Israel had shown his glory again.

(Adapted from Judges 7:9-25, ESV).

I love the story of Gideon. He is one of my favorite characters in Scripture. But what is most interesting about his life is the way God interacted with him along the way. God’s patience and kindness is on display throughout his life. In this passage, I appreciate that it tells how Gideon was a man like I am, prone to fear and questions. I also appreciate that God understood Gideon’s fear. God cared about his frailty in spite of the immense task that he gave to him.

The first recorded instance in Scripture when someone was afraid is in the story of the first man God created – Adam. After Adam sins, in fear he hides from God. Before the fall, there is no mention of fear. It was a perfect relationship with God. But from the fall to today, fear has been part of the human experience. Fear is not necessarily sin. It is, however, a consequence of our sin nature. We are human, not divine. As a result, we do not always respond to circumstances the way we should. Sometimes that means we are afraid when we do not need to be.

This is where we find Gideon. Naturally, the task God gives him feels overwhelming. God already knew that he was afraid. So God kindly says to him, “If you are afraid, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” God accommodated his humanity. When Gideon hears the interpretation of the dream, his fear flees and his courage is renewed. God understood Gideon’s humanity, and made a way to address his fear.

Gideon could have puffed himself up and said, “I’m not afraid, I’m too spiritual for that.” Instead, he straps on his boots and heads down to the enemy camp. He was humble enough to admit that he was afraid. Are you? What would you do?

Sometimes when I feel a sense of fear, I ask God for wisdom to understand why I am afraid. I think if I could just figure out what is causing the fear, then I could fix it. The correct prayer is to ask God to calm my fear, and then to yield to him to change me at the deepest part of my life. I want God to inform me, but God wants to transform me. The challenge is to come to the place where my desire for transformation is greater than my desire for information. When I find that place, then I am ready to lay myself down at the feet of my heavenly father so that he can utterly transform me. In this way, the difficulties that come into my life have value when I understand that God uses them to mold me into the image of Jesus Christ.

In Gideon’s life, God initiated a helpless situation so that only God could receive the glory for the outcome. God may do the same for you and me. The result is that it led Gideon to a place of worship. Judges 7:15 says that when Gideon heard the telling of the dream, and the interpretation thereof, that he worshiped. His fear was transformed into worship. The word used for worship means to bow down in worship before God. It is the place of submission and recognition of God and who he is. It is a humbling of myself before God.

My friend, is there a sense of fear in your life? Are you in a circumstance that seems overwhelming to you? God understands your humanity. In these instances, he does not condemn you for your fear. Instead, he meets you in the midst of your fear to remind you that he is in control. Stop trying to understand the situation, and start yielding your life to him, so that he can utterly transform you. In the end, like Gideon, God will transform your life from fear to worship.

This article was originally published in the July 2016 Newsletter.