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Fear that becomes Faith
The passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “In the Eye of the Storm,” published in 1991.
“They saw Jesus . . . walking on the water; and they were terrified.” (John 6:19)
FAITH IS OFTEN the child of fear.
Fear propelled Peter out of the boat. He’d ridden these waves before. He knew what these storms could do. He’d heard the stories. He’d seen the wreckage. He knew the widows. He knew the storm could kill. And he wanted out.
All night he wanted out. For nine hours he’d tugged on sails, wrestled with oars and searched every shadow on the horizon for hope. He was soaked to the soul and bone weary of the wind’s banshee wail.
Look into Peter’s eyes and you won’t see a man of conviction. Search his face and you won’t find a gutsy grimace. Later on, you will. You’ll see his courage in the garden. You’ll witness his devotion at Pentecost. You’ll behold his faith in his epistles.
But not tonight. Look into his eyes tonight and see fear—--a suffocating, heart-racing fear of a man who has no way out.
But out of this fear would be born an act of faith, for faith is often the child of fear.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” (Proverbs 9:10) wrote the wise man.
Peter could have been his sermon illustration.
If Peter had seen Jesus walking on the water during a calm, peaceful day, do you think that he would have walked out to him?
Nor do I.
Had the lake been carpet smooth and the journey pleasant, do you think that Peter would have begged Jesus to take him on a stroll across the top of the water? Doubtful.
But give a man a choice between sure death and a crazy chance, and he’ll take the chance . . . every time.
Great acts of faith are seldom born out of calm calculation.
It wasn’t logic that caused Moses to raise his staff on the bank of the Red Sea. (Exodus 14:15-16)
It wasn’t medical research that convinced Naaman to dip seven times in the river. (2 Kings 5:13-14)
It wasn’t common sense that caused Paul to abandon the Law and embrace grace. (Romans 3)
And it wasn’t a confident committee that prayed in a small room in Jerusalem for Peter’s release from prison (Acts 12:6-17). It was a fearful, desperate, band of backed-into-a-corner believers. It was a church with no options. A congregation of have-nots pleading for help.
And never were they stronger.
At the beginning of every act of faith, there is often a seed of fear.
Biographies of bold disciples begin with chapters of honest terror. Fear of death. Fear of failure. Fear of loneliness. Fear of a wasted life. Fear of failing to know God.
Faith begins when you see God on the mountain and you are in the valley and you know that you’re too weak to make the climb. You see what you need. . . you see what you have . . . and what you have isn’t enough to accomplish anything.
Peter had given it his best. But his best wasn’t enough.
Moses had a sea in front and an enemy behind. The Israelites could swim or they could fight. But neither option was enough.
Naaman had tried the cures and consulted the soothsayers. Traveling a long distance to plunge into a muddy river made little sense when there were clean ones in his backyard. But what option did he have?
Paul had mastered the Law. He had mastered the system. But one glimpse of God convinced him that sacrifices and symbols were not enough.
The Jerusalem church knew that they had no hope of getting Peter out of prison. They had Christians who would fight, but too few. They had clout, but too little. They didn’t need muscle. They needed a miracle.
So does Peter. He is aware of two facts: He is going down, and Jesus is staying up. He knows where he would rather be.
There’s nothing wrong with this response. Faith that begins with fear will end up nearer the Father.
I went to West Texas some time back to speak at the funeral of a godly, family friend. He had raised five children. One son, Paul, told a story about his earliest memory of his father.
It was spring in West Texas—--tornado season. Paul was only three or four years old at the time, but he remembers vividly the day that a tornado hit their small town.
His father hustled the kids indoors and had them lie on the floor while he laid a mattress over them. But his father didn’t climb under the protection. Paul remembers peeking out from under the mattress and seeing him standing by an open window, watching the funnel cloud twist and churn across the prairie.
When Paul saw his father, he knew where he wanted to be. He struggled out of his mother’s arms, crawled out from under the mattress, and ran to wrap his arms around his dad’s leg.
“Something told me,” Paul said, “that the safest place to stand in a storm was next to my father.”
Something told Peter the same thing.
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter says, “tell me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28)
Peter is not testing Jesus; he is pleading with Jesus. Stepping onto a stormy sea is not a move of logic; it is a move of desperation.
Peter grabs the edge of the boat. Throws out a leg. . . follows with the other. Several steps are taken. It’s as if an invisible ridge of rocks runs beneath his feet. At the end of the ridge is the glowing face of a never-say-die friend.
We do the same, don’t we? We come to Christ in an hour of deep need. We abandon the boat of good works. We realize, like Moses, that human strength won’t save us. So we look to God in desperation. We realize, like Paul, that all the good works in the world are puny when laid before the Perfect One. We realize, like Peter, that spanning the gap between us and Jesus is a feat too great for our feet. So we beg for help. Hear his voice. And step out in fear, hoping that our little faith will be enough.
Faith is not born at the negotiating table where we barter our gifts in exchange for God’s goodness. Faith is not an award given to the most learned. It’s not a prize given to the most disciplined. It’s not a title bequeathed to the most religious.
Faith is a desperate dive out of the sinking boat of human effort and a prayer that God will be there to pull us out of the water. Paul wrote about this kind of faith in the letter to the Ephesians:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—--not by works, so that no one can boast.”(Ephesians 2:8-9)
Paul is clear. The supreme force in salvation is God’s grace. Not our works. Not our talents. Not our feelings. Not our strength.
Salvation is God’s sudden, calming presence during the stormy seas of our lives. We hear his voice; we take the step.
We, like Paul, are aware of two things: We are great sinners and we need a great Savior.
We, like Peter, are aware of two facts: We are going down and God is standing up. So we scramble out. We leave behind the Titanic of self-righteousness and stand on the solid path of God’s grace.
And, surprisingly, we are able to walk on water. Death is disarmed. Failures are forgivable. Life has real purpose. And God is not only within sight, he is within reach.
With precious, wobbly steps, we draw closer to him. For a season of surprising strength, we stand upon his promises. It doesn’t make sense that we are able to do this. We don’t claim to be worthy of such an incredible gift. When people ask how in the world we can keep our balance during such stormy times, we don’t boast. We don’t brag. We point unabashedly to the One who makes it possible. Our eyes are on him.
“Nothing in my hand I bring; Simply to Thy cross I cling,” we sing. (“Rock of Ages, Cleft for me” by August M. Toplady)
“Dressed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne,” we declare. (“The solid Rock” by Edward Mote)
“T’was grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved,” we explain. (“Amazing Grace” by John Newton)
Some of us, unlike Peter, never look back.
Others of us, like Peter, feel the wind and are afraid.
Maybe we face the wind of pride: “I’m not such a bad sinner after all. Look at what I can do.”
Perhaps we face the wind of legalism: “I know that Jesus is doing part of this, but I have to do the rest.”
Most of us, though, face the wind of doubt: “I’m too bad for God to treat me this well. I don’t deserve such a rescue.”
And downward we plunge. Heavied by mortality’s mortar, we sink. Gulping and thrashing, we fall into a dark, wet world. We open our eyes and see only blackness. We try to breathe, and no air comes. We kick and fight our way back to the surface.
With our heads barely above the water, we have to make a decision.
The prideful ask: “Do we ‘save face’ and drown in pride? Or do we scream for help and take God’s hand?”
The legalists ask: “Do we sink under the lead-heavy weight of the Law? Or do we abandon the codes and beg for grace?”
The doubters ask: “Do we nurture doubt by mumbling, ‘I’ve really let him down this time?’ Or do we hope that the same Christ who called us out of the boat will call us out of the sea?”
We know Peter’s choice.
“[As he was] beginning to sink, [he] cried out, ‘Lord, save me!”
“Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.” (Matthew 14:31)
We also know the choice of another sailor in another storm.
Although separated by seventeen centuries, this sailor and Peter are drawn together by several striking similarities:
· Both made their living on the sea.
· Both met their Savior after a nine-hour battle in a storm.
· Both met the Father in fear and then followed him in faith.
· Both walked away from their boats and became preachers of the Truth.
You know the story of Peter, the first sailor. Let me tell you about the second, whose name was John.
He had served on the seas since he was eleven years old. His father, an English shipmaster in the Mediterranean, took him aboard and trained him well for a life in the Royal Navy.
Yet what John gained in experience, he lacked in discipline. He mocked authority. Ran with the wrong crowd. Indulged in the sinful ways of a sailor. Although his training would have qualified him to serve as an officer, his behavior caused him to be flogged and demoted.
In his early twenties, he made his way to Africa, where he became intrigued with the lucrative slave trade. At age twenty-one, he made his living on the Greyhound, a slave ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
John ridiculed the moral and poked fun at the religious. He even made jokes about a book that would eventually help reshape his life: The Imitation of Christ. In fact, he was degrading that book a few hours before his ship sailed into an angry storm.
That night the waves pummeled the Greyhound, spinning the ship one minute on the top of a wave. Plunging her the next into a watery valley.
John awakened to find his cabin filled with water. A side of the Greyhound had collapsed. Ordinarily such damage would have sent a ship to the bottom in a matter of minutes. The Greyhound, however, was carrying buoyant cargo and remained afloat.
John worked at the pumps all night. For nine hours, he and the other sailors struggled to keep the ship from sinking. But he knew that it was a losing cause. Finally, when his hopes were more battered than the vessel, he threw himself on the saltwater-soaked deck and pleaded, “If this will not do, then Lord have mercy on us all.”
John didn’t deserve mercy, but he received it. The Greyhound and her crew survived.
John never forgot God’s mercy shown on that tempestuous day in the roaring Atlantic. He returned to England where he became a prolific composer. You’ve sung his songs, like this one:
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind, but now I see.
This slave-trader-turned-songwriter was John Newton.
Along with his hymn writing, he also became a powerful pulpiteer. For nearly fifty years, he filled pulpits and churches with the story of the Savior who meets you and me in the storm.
A year or two before his death, people urged him to give up preaching because of his failing sight. “What!” he explained. “Shall the old African blasphemer stop while he can yet speak?”
He wouldn’t stop. He couldn’t stop. What had begun as a prayer of fear resulted in a lifetime of faith. During his last years, someone asked him about his health. He confessed that his powers were failing. “My memory is almost gone,” he said, “but I remember two things: I am a great sinner, and Jesus is a great Savior.”
What more do you and I need to remember?
Two sailors and two seas. Two vessels in two storms. Two prayers of fear and two lives of faith. Uniting them is one Savior--—one God who’ll walk through hell or high water to extend a helping hand to a child who cries for help. (199-207)
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