“Do one thing everyday that scares you.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
Those words above by Eleanor Roosevelt seem counter intuitive to our normal desire as humans. But they hold a secret that we must embrace to live life fully. On the other side of fear is an incredible reward. I’ve often struggled with fear. Fear of uncertainty, fear of letting people down, fear of missing an opportunity to honor God and make Jesus famous. Fear is the focus of this month’s Remember Card verses and devotions at Refuge. We’ve asked the students on several occasions this month what some of their fears are and without fail there is always more than one student who says, “Death.” So many of these middle school students have a very real fear of dying. It was shocking to me because I still remember my middle school days and a fear of death was not something I ever really felt. I’m sure there are a number of reasons why young people face that tonight, we live in dangerous times. The news seems to report a school shooting at least a couple of times a month. Many of these students have family members who have been victims of violent crimes and that vast majority of them have experience tragic loss of a family member at or close to their age now. Their experience leads them to believe death is right around the corner.
While that is actually true of all of us, we are certainly not promised tomorrow, many of us don’t understand this constant nagging fear of death. Especially if we know Christ because in Christ we know that our physical death is not the end. As a matter of fact, through these conversations with students about life, death, and fear we saw 12 STUDENTS put their faith in Christ as their personal Savior in the month of September! Praise God!
Because of these conversations, our devotions each day have challenged students on how to use fear to drive us closer to Jesus and overcome some of the things that scare us. I’ve long asked the question, “Can fear be good?” Is it redeemable? Over the last several weeks I’ve landed on one crucial point that I have challenged our students with this month and I want to challenge you with as well. Not all fear is bad. But rather what we do with said fear determines whether it will benefit us or hold us back.
I find myself constantly coming back to the story in the Bible of Peter walking on water. The disciples were being tossed around in a boat on the water in the middle of a storm. Jesus walks out and tells them to “Take courage.” He assures them it’s him, Jesus, and tells them not to be afraid. Peter’s response is legendary, “If it’s really you, tell me to come out on the water to you.” Jesus’ response? “Come.”
You know the story. Peter climbs out of the boat, walks on water for a moment, takes his eyes off Jesus and immediately begins to sink because he was overcome with fear and doubt due to the storm surrounding Him. The point I want to focus on is that few moments before He began to sink. He actually did walk on the water! Jesus didn’t change, the storm didn’t change, the water didn’t change. The only thing that changed between Peter walking on water and sinking was what he put his focus towards.
How can fear be good? When Peter climbed out of the boat I can imagine that he felt more adrenaline than fear. He was so consumed with his passion for Christ, he may not have even realized exactly what was happening, all he wanted was to be close to his Master, his Savior. Nothing was going to keep him from getting there. When his feet hit the water, I can’t even begin to consider the incredibly depth of faith in that moment. A man was standing on top of choppy sea water in the middle of a growing storm. At that point Peter probably felt like he could do anything, overcome anything. But it didn’t last long. Because he took his eyes off Jesus. I wonder if he would have kept his eyes on Jesus how that story would have ended. I believe it would have ended with him making it to Jesus. Very much in the same way a child learning to walk for the first time gains momentum and courage with each step, Peter would have started slow and ended running into the arms of his Creator. But we’ll never know. Because he took his eyes of Jesus.
If Peter would have allowed the fear of the storm to pinpoint his focus more and more on Jesus, he would have continued to walk on water. “I can’t believe I’m doing this, I’m walking on water. It’s not because of me, it’s because of Jesus. Don’t look away. Stay focused on Jesus. The storm is big, that just means I need to focus on Jesus more. More Jesus, less me. This storm has nothing on Jesus.” But instead Peter shifted his focus from Jesus TO the storm. He didn’t allow his fear to drive his focus deeper into Jesus, but rather he allowed his fear to overcome his faith. Fear does one of two things, overwhelms your faith, or feeds your faith. You get to pick which way it goes.
We all heave certain fears. But those can be used to our advantage by driving us to focus on the eyes of Jesus and say, “I’m scared, but I’m walking towards You no matter what because you keep me afloat.” Fear at that point has not choice but to cower at the power of Christ. I think that’s why Jesus repeatedly says, “Fear not! It is I.” Be blessed.