But immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” (Matthew 14:27)
I was not in the boat with the disciples when they heard Jesus speak these words, but if I was there I would have been the guy asking the obvious question – “Why not”? After all, they were sitting in a boat in the middle of the night, far from the shore, caught in a tremendous storm. Who knows how long they were being battered by the waves? Suddenly, Jesus appeared to them, walking on the water. They were overcome with terror and assumed that He was a ghost. It’s not a stretch to assume that His words didn’t make the panicked disciples feel any better. They were struggling to stay alive in the battered boat and He was calmly walking on the water. Why in the world should they listen to Him?
Before I answer the question, let me call attention to the fact that we are those disciples. Although we may not be literally sitting in a boat being pounded by waves, we are faced with potential storms every day. Financial concerns, the possibility of nuclear war, terrorism, data breaches, natural disasters, violent crime and other potential threats can easily cause us to plunge into panic. We don’t have to be in a storm-tossed boat to get a feel for how hollow the words “Have no fear” can sound. When Jesus tells us to “have no fear”, is He implying that He will fix all of our problems if we trust Him? Not exactly, but I’ll let Him tell you:
“In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Nowhere in the pages of Sacred Scripture did Jesus ever promise that following Him will result in a problem free life. If anything, He said exactly the opposite. Why then, should we listen to His words about fear? Realistically speaking, if He’s telling me that I should have no fear, He has to do something about all of the threats that are causing me to be afraid…or does He? The answer to this question can be found in a message that he delivered to the prophet Isaiah: “Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
In His message to Isaiah, the Lord tells us exactly why we should not be afraid. Did you catch it? It’s so simple that it can easily be overlooked. The reason we should have no fear is not because God will remove all of our problems and suffering. It’s because He is with us. That’s it. No other reason is necessary. Wherever you go and whatever you do, the Lord is with you. In case you need references, He’s the same God who created the entire universe out of nothing and who loves you unconditionally. You have a great friend who is more powerful than any problem you could ever face. Why should you be afraid if He’s by your side?
While growing up in Philadelphia, I spent a great deal of time playing stickball on the street. Even though we played on a side street that didn’t have much traffic, we would have to contend with the occasional car that needed to get through. Because we were kids and believed that our game was the most important thing in the world, we didn’t always step aside with lightning fast speed. While normally it wasn’t a problem, one day a teenaged driver (much bigger than any of us) got out of the car and told us that we should stay out of “his” street. After some tough talk and moderate pushing, our adversary got back in his car and drove off. One of my friends told his older (and much bigger) brother, who was upset about the altercation. He offered to stay with us the next time we played ball and promised he would take care of any problems that came up. True to his word, the older brother showed up, got out of his car and stood there as we played our game of stickball. Even though I was a skinny weakling, I felt confident and hoped that our bully friend would come back. The mere presence of our guardian was enough to take away my fear. It wasn’t what he said, it wasn’t what he did, it was simply the fact that he was there.
Joshua had the unenviable task of taking over for Moses and leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. Talk about having big shoes to fill! After appointing Joshua to this important mission, the Lord spoke the following words of reassurance:
“Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
We are afraid because we can’t see the big picture. Whether we are aware of it or not, God is always in control and will never desert us. You may encounter frightening situations and undergo suffering, but He is there. The message to Isaiah, Joshua and the disciples in the boat applies to each of us. God will strengthen and uphold us in times of trial. You will never find peace until you accept that fact. Learn to call on Him every day. Tell Him you’re afraid. Ask for His help. He is with you and that is enough!