Fear is such a powerful force in our experience.
Fear is designed by God and has a wonderful, protective benefit for us when it functions as God designed it. Instinctual fears are tremendous mercies, protecting us from danger before we even have time to think. Rational fears, the fears we have time to think about, when operating under the governance of faith, can protect us from all manner of foolish and sinful impulses and from external, deceptive evil.
But for most of us, fear often does not function as it was designed. It is not under the governance of our trust in God and therefore wields an excessive, distorting influence over our thinking and behaviors. If fear is misplaced we think and act wrongly. Misplaced fear becomes a tyrant that imposes constrictive limits and leaves us debilitated in some or much of our lives. Under its rule we don’t do what we know we should because we are afraid.
We all desire to be free of this tyrant. But is this possible? Can we really be free from excessive fears? Jesus’s answer is yes.
“Why Are You So Afraid?”
But to pursue this freedom, we must allow Jesus to ask us the question that he asked his disciples after he calmed the deadly storm: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).
Who or what you believe is most powerful will be master of your thoughts and actions.
Why were the disciples so afraid? Had you asked them while the storm was raging and Jesus was sleeping they would have shouted, “Look around! Isn’t it obvious?” They had good earthly reason to panic. A number of them were experienced boatmen, familiar with Galilean storms. Large waves like these had quickly swamped and sunk other boats like theirs. But had you asked them after Jesus calmed the storm, they would have said, “We really didn’t believe that he had that kind of power.”
While the storm raged the disciples believed that it was more powerful than Jesus and acted accordingly — in a panic. They did not acknowledge, because they did not believe, that Jesus ruled over this earthly danger. They didn’t trust him. In fact, they were exasperated with his apparent indifference and cried out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38).
But it’s important to note that when Jesus rebuked the disciples, it wasn’t merely because they feared the storm. Fear of a danger stronger than we are is appropriate, right in line with God’s design. Jesus rebuked them for fearing the lesser power over the greater Power. And this gets to the nub of the issue for our fears too.
Why are you so afraid? It’s a very profound question. It drives right to the heart of the matter.
Because who or what you believe is most powerful will be master of your thoughts and actions. Which is why, if we answer the question honestly and humbly, it will point the way to our freedom.
The Secret to Freedom from Misplaced Fear
What occurred in the disciples that night in the boat was a fear transfer. After Jesus had stilled the storm and rebuked them, “they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” (Mark 4:41).
Did you catch that? They felt “great fear.” But this fear of Jesus was very different than their fear of the storm. It wasn’t oppressive. It didn’t impose constrictive limits or leave them debilitated and cowering. This fear opened up a universe of possibilities to them! What was dawning on them in the boat was that this Person who was with them had absolute supreme power over all aspects of both nature and supernature (Mark 1:23–27; John 3:35; Philippians 2:9–11). And if the natural world and the supernatural world obeyed him, what would be impossible with him?
Answer: nothing (Mark 10:27)!
The secret to our emancipation from enslavement to our excessive fears is a fear transfer. We need to stop fearing other things more than Jesus. Those other things, whether imagined or real, may be bigger than we are and therefore frightening to us. But Jesus tells us to “not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6). Why? Because he rules over them. He is, as Martin Luther sung, the “Word above all earthly powers.” When we fear earthly powers more than Jesus, not only do we dishonor Jesus, but also we enslave ourselves to fearful tyrants that distort our thinking and produce unfaithful behaviors.
Do Not Fear, Only Believe
The rubber-meets-the-road question is: How do we transfer our fear from the storm to Jesus when the storm is still raging? The answer is the simplest and yet often the most difficult thing for sinners to do: believe Jesus. All God’s promises are yes to you in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20). It does not matter what your past was like, your family of origin, how gross your sin, how often you’ve failed, or how impossible your current situation seems. Nor do any of your weaknesses disqualify you from these promises. Nothing is too difficult for the supreme Lord of all (Jeremiah 32:27). That is what the Bible teaches: Believe Jesus and obey him.
Like the disciples, Jesus is in your boat with you. And like the disciples, you take your fears to him. But unlike the disciples, don’t panic and assume that he doesn’t care. He cares far more than you know, and this storm is serving a purpose you don’t yet understand.
For the Christian, every storm serves the Lord Jesus and demonstrates some aspect of his sovereign power. And if we trust him, he will deliver us from every single storm — even the storm that kills us (2 Timothy 4:18). For Jesus, in weathering the storm of his Father’s wrath for us, has stilled even the storm of death (1 Corinthians 15:55) so that “everyone who lives and believes in [him] will never die” (John 11:26). Yes, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
So what fears are threatening you now? Take them to Jesus, “[cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7), trust in him with all your heart to direct your path through the fearful storm (Proverbs 3:5–7), “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
Living free from our excessive fear is not only possible for you; it’s available to you. All it requires is faith. And it doesn’t require heroic faith. It requires only a child’s faith. All you need to do, according to Jesus, is, “do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36).