a thought for Sunday

I just finished this RBC devotional last week, and though it isn’t quite ready for prime time, I thought that its content might provoke some thoughts in a sermon this Sunday, or at least give you something to preach against.  Easter is the one Sunday I have never been able to preach, as most pastors don’t take that Sunday off, but at least I can give ideas to others.  

faith and fear

read > Matthew 14:27-29

But Jesus spoke to them at once.  “Don’t be afraid,” he said.  “Take courage.  I am here!”  Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”  “Yes, come,” Jesus said.

 

Death scares me.  I love my life and I don’t want it to end.  There is also a part of me that wonders what the afterlife is really like.  What if it’s different from what the Bible says? 

        Some people might think that my fears are unchristian and a threat to my faith.  On the contrary, I think that they are not only normal—who honestly isn’t afraid of the great beyond?—but also they play an important role in my faith.  Fear doesn’t prevent me from having faith; fear actually presents the possibility for great faith. 

        It would be no great shakes for Peter to walk on land, but to lower himself over the side of the boat and splash through whitecaps toward our Lord—that took faith.  Of course, we can be overwhelmed by fear and lose our faith.  But we can also channel our fear into Peter’s desperate cry as he began to sink, “Save me, Lord!”

        Faith does not mean that we’re not afraid, but it is the courage to stand tall and to hang on in the middle of our fears.  And the greater our fears, the stronger our faith can become.

        We place our faith in Jesus whose resurrection has defeated death.  If we minimize death and claim that it’s no big deal, then we inadvertently also cheapen Christ’s resurrection which conquered it.  But if we honestly admit that death is the enemy that terrifies us, then we can begin to appreciate the unparalleled power of the resurrection.

        Faith doesn’t suppress fear and pretend that everything is okay.  But with shaky knees and sweaty palms, faith swallows hard and clings to God’s promise that we will live again.  Death is frightening, and for that reason it provides the ultimate test of our faith.—Mike Wittmer

 

more > But thank God!  He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57).

 

next > In what sense is faith the opposite of fear?  Do faith and fear cancel each other, or is it possible to have both at the same time?

8 Comments

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  1. Mike,
    Thanks for your transparent and honest reflection. I think you’ve hit on something important that I haven’t even grasped the full implications of yet. It also connects well with the ‘to have and to hunger’ post I wrote. How God can use hunger (a form of fear or worry) to strengthen our dependence on Him. I often wonder if we choose to have Jesus tell us what we want to hear instead of really listening to the ruthless trust he demands of us. I think that we are so sinful and particularly prideful that the discipline of dependence is so important. I think fear can lead to trust or sorrow. Fear, joined with faith leads to greater trust while fear joined with sin leads to greater sorrow… Am I on or off on this. Again, I am still wrestling over the full implications of your post.

  2. “Faith doesn’t suppress fear and pretend that everything is okay. But with shaky knees and sweaty palms, faith swallows hard and clings to God’s promise that we will live again. Death is frightening, and for that reason it provides the ultimate test of our faith.”

    I love this conclusion. These are powerful and moving words. I believe you are right that many would say this way of thinking is “unchristian.” But I think we lie to ourselves and others if we say we have no fear. As you stated, when I am fearful it causes me to cling that much tighter to the promises of God because I have no other hope. Much like a child who clings to a parent when they are affraid, we cling to our heavenly Father trusting him to keep us safe.

  3. Mike, thanks for your thoughts on Christ’s Resurrection, not only a word against death, but also against fear.

    You might be interested in seeing Ed Knippers’ suite of woodcuts “Fear Naught But God”. Here’s an a bit from the gallery card: “…presents living in absolute trust in God as an alternative to the consuming paralysis of our fears. The prints are paired first with a serious Biblical narrative, then with a more playful circus subject. This is similar to the Medieval morality plays with their clowns and minstrels making commentary on serious themes.”

    CBC just purchased “Christ’s Resurrection” from this suite, which you can check out on my blog http://www.3brewers.blogspot.com

  4. I hear you, and I don’t think that the thoughts expressed are “unchristian”. What is difficult to understand, is how our Creator could care so much for mere dust. Isn’t the love of Jesus something wonderful?!

    Mark 9:23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

  5. Yooper went to the same text that was rolling around in my mind.

    My “unchristian” faith lends me to appreciate doubt (closely related to fear I think) as allowing great potential for faith.

    “Fear [doubt] doesn’t prevent me from having faith; fear [doubt] actually presents the possibility for great faith”

    Security and certainty are not the result of faith; rather, they seem to be the antithesis of faith, while doubt and fear are its sister.

  6. Seth:

    Interesting points, though I wouldn’t say that certainty is the opposite of faith. I like Calvin’s definition of faith as “firm and certain knowledge,” and I want to make sure that doubt is a negative thing, or not something to be desired. And yet, it is the challenge of doubt that enables our faith to shine (though doubt itself is the antithesis of faith). I need to keep thinking on this, as it’s a difficult balance to get right.

  7. Seth, My intent was not to lift up doubt. I do not believe that the father of the boy was basking in his unbelief. But rather, cried out with tears to Jesus for help!

  8. I think my use of “doubt” and “certainty” was sloppy.

    I was referring to doubt in a modernist sense of that which cannot be known experientially or empirically.

    Christians ought not to use certainty as that which can be known without faith as I nearly did.

    Rather I was thinking along these lines: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” By doubt I was thinking of the sense that we cannot (typically) feel God’s work, nor can we rationally ascertain the coming resurrection (apart from faith). To attempt to “prove” the truth of the gospel to the point where one can see the “fact” of it (which I would think is impossible), is to eliminate the possibility of faith, which I agree is the basis of any certain knowledge.

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