What would you say is the most common command in scripture? It’s not for us to be more loving. It’s not a command to guard sexual purity or to walk with integrity, even though these qualities are commanded and important. The sing command in scripture that occurs more often than any other is formulated in two words: “Fear not”.
Fear is the number one reason why people refuse to get out of their boat. And so there are 366 “fear not” verses in the bible. One for every day of the year, including one for leap year.
This month we are looking at one of the most famous walks in scripture. It’s found in Matthew 14, the day Peter joined Jesus on the water. This week look at the subject of fear.
And this is the part of Peter’s story and quite frankly your story and mine that we may not like very much. The choice to follow Jesus –the choice to grow - is the choice for the constant recurrence of fear. Getting out of the boat is something we do as followers of Jesus every day. Every day we make the choice to get out of the boat and grow in our faith or we get back in the boat of security, comfort, even past brokenness and insecurity and sit.
For however long it lasted, Peter walked on the water. Then we are told three things happened. The focus of his attention shifted from Jesus to the storm… Vs 30 “He saw the wind” This shift in attention gave rise to a new set of thoughts and feelings that focused on panic and inadequacy: “He became frightened.” This in turn disrupted his ability to continue walking in Jesus’ power – he began to sink and cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Remember the cartoon characters who occasionally run off a cliff without noticing it – like Wile E. Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons. For a while he continues to pump his legs and actually runs as well on thin air as he had on the ground. Then suddenly he notices he has run off a cliff. He panics, holds up a little sigh, “save me,” and plummets thousands of feet to what would be the death of an ordinary coyote, but only leaves him with a few bruises. Apparently it is not running off the cliff that did him in – the fall started when he noticed. He forgot rule number one: Don’t look down.
When Jesus rescued Peter, he asked Peter “why he doubted”. I don’t think Jesus was blaming Peter, or even chastising Him. “You of little faith” wasn’t a criticism – it was a reality. Peter’s faith was young. I think Jesus was helping Peter learn an important lesson about water walking. There is fear even when we are walking on water with Jesus, but don’t let that fear distract you. Don’t doubt what God is doing in your life at that very moment. You were walking on water, I’m right here with you.
Here is what Peter will learn over time, and what we too will learn as we step out of our boat and walk. Fear will always resurface as long as I continue to grow. Fear is a part of growth. Each time I want to grow, it will involve going into new territory, taking on new challenges. And each time I do that, I will experience fear again. Someone said “fear and growth go together like Macaroni and cheese. It’s a package deal”. So the question is What do we do with that fear?
The Apostle Paul, summarizes his own series of walks with God this way: “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)(NIV) How did Paul learn that? Through adversity. Through times when he had to decide if he would keep his eyes on Christ and the walk he was invited to take with Him or if he would focus on the fear that came in the form of hunger, being without, the opposition he faced that resulted in him being beaten, jailed. The times he was shipwrecked. Called before authorities and wrongly accused. He said “I’ve learned the secret. Don’t look down. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Hope is found in Him alone.”
So let’s get really practical here for a minute. I want to share with you two laws that govern your life. This first is this. “You are what you think.” Research has shown that your thought life and mine influences every aspect of our being. Whether we are filled with confidence or fear depends on the kind of thoughts that we allow to occupy our minds. Now, before you turn me off thinking that I am talking about some new age, think yourself into healing mumbo jumbo, let’s take a look at scripture. In Romans Chapter 12 when we make the decision to respond to God’s call, to walk with Him, we are commanded in verse 2 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)(NIV) This is telling us that the way we think will change the way we act. We are transformed from the inside out by Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 goes on to say so. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)(NIV) We are in charge of what we allow into our minds and what we do with those thoughts. And in this we are commanded in Colossians 3:2 to “Set our mind on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2)(NIV)
Jesus said that a good tree cannot produce bad fruit and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. He was making this observation in terms of the connection between our inward condition and outward behavior. Over time, good thinking, accurate perceptions, healthy emotions, wholesome desires, honorable intentions – produce healthy behavior. And so don’t look down. Instead, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things…. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians4:8-9,b)
Be honest with yourself. When fear surfaces in your life as a follower of God. When you have responded to his invitation to get out of your boat of security or safety as you have believed it to be in the past to join Him in a new experience and fear comes to the surface again. What is it that your mind is focused on in that moment? Is it focused on what is true? That God is the one who called you on the water… that God has good intentions for you, a plan, a purpose, a future, hope…. that obedience to God is certain to bring growing pains, discomfort, but He is present with you, he is the one holding you up right now. What about the reality that God loves you so much that He was not only willing, but He chose to take the punishment for your sin, He chose to love you before you would even acknowledge Him… He loves you no matter where you’ve been, what you’ve done…..and His love is so strong He isn’t going to let you down. Or are you focused on the fear?
The second law is this – Your mind will think most about what it is most exposed to. If you are having trouble refocusing your mind, setting your mind on things above, you need to know that what repeatedly enters your mind occupies your mind, eventually shapes your mind, and will ultimately express itself in what you do and who you become. The law of exposure is like the law of gravity. No one is surprised by the law of gravity. No one says, “Hey, I dropped this priceless piece of china on cement and it broke, what are the odds of that?” Yet we are surprised that what our minds are constant exposed to and what we constantly dwell on eventually comes out in how we feel and behave. We are flooded with sexual images on TV, computers, magazine covers, Instagram, and Facebook. Sexually explicit images and e-mails are sent not just to teenagers, but to children who have virtually no chance to protect themselves from what they do not even know they are getting into – and then we act shocked when children engage sexually with other children and sex addiction levels are on the rise while marital fidelity and stability are plummeting. Social scientist are only now coming to realize what Jesus has said to be true all along - “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” (Matthew 12:34-35)(NIV)
Listen, the events you attend, the material you read (or don’t), the music you hear, the images you watch, the conversations you hold, the daydreams you entertain – all are shaping your mind and, ultimately, your character and destiny.
But the good news is this! You can put these laws to work for you. That’s why we want to try to not look down, but instead keep our eyes on Christ. It’s why Jesus said to Peter “Oh you of little faith.” Faith is being sure of what we hope for, what fills our mind, even when we can’t see it at the moment. Faith keeps looking at Christ!
You know my favorite part of Peter’s walk on water? It was when he began sinking and cried out to Jesus in his fear “Lord save me!” and Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. Even when we do look down momentarily and get overwhelmed by the waves, He still doesn’t let us drown if we will call out to Him. He is such an awesome and gracious God. The God of water –walking will never let you go.
I look forward to sharing more with you this weekend at 5:30 Saturday and 10:30 Sunday. Dave