“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” FDR
My husband and I are complete history nerds—Ancient History, Middle Ages, Modern Age—there isn’t an era unable to pique our interest. For most, learning about days long gone rank right up there with a visit to the dentist. Amidst the current global crisis, we feel like we are in uncharted territory. A peek into the pages of history reveals a different story.
During his inaugural speech of 1933, newly elected president Franklin Roosevelt told the American public, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” a statement that has resonated with people facing difficult situations around the world ever since. With the rise of totalitarian governments across the globe and the collapse of economies worldwide, people had ample to fear in 1933. FDR delineated the extraordinary hardships that plagued many Americans: loss of jobs, loss of income, loss of food, and most detrimental, the loss of hope. Yes, life during the Great Depression was bleak, but trading the currency of fear and doubt for that of faith and hope, would make a much needed, positive difference.
No question we are living in a distressing time, but the current health crisis pales in comparison to the devastation during the early 1930s. Admittedly, until schools closed and toilet paper became a luxury, COVID-19 did not concern me much. But now, with my personal comfort compromised and my security bubble about to burst, my mental state has turned from calm to distraught overnight. Needing God to give me courage, hope and continued trust in His goodness, I recently bowed my head and prayed. While praying, the familiar story of Jesus walking on water came to mind. Matthew 14:26-3 (ESV):
“But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind,[e] he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Fear is Normal
Jesus sent the disciples out to sea so he could go up on a mountainside to be alone and pray. The disciples spent the night in the midst of a storm buffeted by wind and waves. In the early morning hours, they were greeted by an unknown presence walking on the water toward their boat. Most translations use the word “terrified” to describe the disciples’ response, while others read “they were full of fear.” Moreover, the passage states that the disciples actually cried out in fear, thinking they were seeing a ghost. Jesus immediately responded, “Don’t be afraid.” Upon hearing this, one would think the disciples would have let out a sigh of relief, exclaiming, “We know him! It’s Jesus! He performs miracles! We have nothing to fear!” Except, it didn’t quite go that way.
Peter’s fear lingered. Demanding proof that it really was Jesus, he climbed out of the boat and began walking on the water toward Jesus. At this point, I would be feeling pretty confident, but what about Peter? Wind kicked up, and once again fear overcame him. Peter began to sink, so he implored the Lord to save him, which Jesus did by reaching out His hand to take hold of him.
Doubt is the problem
In contrast to Peter’s response, I puff out my chest, quite proud of my “unwavering faith” in Jesus at all times. However, in reality, a scratch on the surface of my soul reveals a different picture—I am not afraid when life sails smoothly and the future shines brightly. Sure, it’s easy to trust in God’s goodness and provision for my family and me then. What is there to fear? But when waves of uncertainty swell and the “what-ifs” surge and the deck on which my life stands becomes barely visible, I lose my grip, sinking into doubt and fear. I doubt God’s protection, I doubt God’s providence, and if honest, I doubt God Himself.
It is important to note that Jesus did not criticize Peter for his fear, but his lack of faith. Picture yourself getting out of a boat to walk on water toward Jesus. Imagine Peter’s eyes locked in our Savior’s as he inched toward him. When all was calm, so was Peter, but when the situation shifted, his faith wavered. I confess to being just like Peter, trusting God until the slightest hint of an unsettling breeze rocks my world.
Y’all, these next few weeks forecast a lot of uncertainty.
Do we say that God is in control and hold fast to His promises when we encounter storm and stress, or do we fall apart?
Do we claim the Christian walk is about serving others, only to protect our own self-interests in times of crisis?
Do we allow the fear of tomorrow to drain the goodness of today?
The brightest time to shine for Christ is when the world is at its darkest. Faith in Christ does not eradicate worry; it is not a magic pill to make us forget our fears. Remember, when sinking, Peter took hold of Jesus’s hand to lift him up out of the deep. Trust in Jesus and God’s sovereignty gives us hope, a hope that sustains and lifts us up no matter the storms we must weather, worldwide or individually. Jesus is master of all; Luke 8:25 tells us that even wind and waves obey Him. And Because Jesus conquered death over two thousand years ago, He now rules and reigns in heaven and on earth. So, let not your heart be troubled. You who trust Him as your Savior will one day live in paradise with Him. And that is for certain. Until then, now is the time for Believers everywhere to take hold, take heart and shine.
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