Fear or Faith

Please welcome Laurie back to the blogosphere with this new post.

I am realizing how vulnerable my faith can be. Things like big fires burning in and near my town prove this to me. I recognize it immediately. I’m old enough and discerning enough now that I can tell immediately when the pull of my soul leans more toward fear than toward faith. The knots–and often the pain–in the pit of my stomach. The nervous energy that builds just under the surface and comes out every once in a while in a burst of oddly-timed and extra-loud laughter or commentary. The compulsive checking of whatever source will give me information that will make me feel better. During fire season it tends to be Twitter, which is unfortunate since most people on Twitter are posting out of their own irrational fear, too. (Have you noticed how contagious fear is?)

During this last fire–the Black Forest Fire–I ran into a friend whose fear was palpable. The spirit of fear is a deceiver and she had been blinded it—literally. Floating cottonwood from the trees had become ashes falling on her car. Voluntary evacuation notices had become mandatory ones in her mind. In fact, she told me that the entire city east of I-25 (yes, the whole thing) had been evacuated.

I know how this works–the same thing happened to me just a couple months ago, when I was driving up a mountain pass to Woodland Park during a spring snow. As I watched the roads get snowier and snowier, I remembered a few years before, when several friends and I slid off a snowy road only to get hung up in a bush that left us teetering a foot above a rushing river. “This looks exactly like that road!” I thought. I was gripped with fear. I turned around at the first place I could, my hands shaking and my stomach in searing pain, and I headed back home, defeated and completely frustrated with myself for giving in to fear. I drove down the mountain, noticing that the roads were not nearly as bad as I thought they were just a couple minutes before. It’s important to mention here that sometimes I have not driven in a snow storm out of wisdom. This was not wisdom and I knew it.

All this reminds me how susceptible my faith can be. The Father had told me and Tim that I would be okay, but I chose to listen to all the what-ifs, instead. Where was my faith?

Remember that story in Mark about Jesus and his disciples in the boat? You know, the one where they freaked out about the storm while Jesus was sleeping? I can imagine the disciples felt just like I did that day while driving up the mountain. Gut knots. Nervous, extra-loud talking. Constant checking of the skies to see where the breaks in the clouds were. And if they were anything like me, they were fueling each other’s fears, too, like we do on Twitter, working themselves up into such a frenzy that they forgot who they were and who they were with. Water pouring into the boat from the storm probably wasn’t helping much, either.

Where was Jesus, the one who had instructed them to take the boat ride in the first place? Asleep in the cabin.

They ran to him and woke him up. Don’t you care about us? Have you forgotten us? Don’t you care that we’re gonna die out here? It’s the same heart-question that emerged out of me when I unexpectedly walked back into the door of my house a blubbering, snotty mess. When I told Tim what had happened and why I was home, he said, “Babe, God told us you were going to be okay.” And I said—wait for it—“But what if God’s okay is different than my okay?!”

It’s the same heart-question that came out of the Israelites in Isaiah 40: “My way is hidden from the Lord; My cause is disregarded by my God.”

“Why are you so afraid?” Jesus asks the disciples. “Do you still have no faith?”

And then after Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples were again gripped with fear–my translation says “terrified”–this time because of Jesus and the fact that he could make the storm stop, and they asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

They had no idea who they were with.

The Israelites had also forgotten who they were and who they were with. And I sometimes forget who I am and who I am with. Can’t you just hear Jesus quoting Isaiah in response? “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.”

I used to think that faith was convincing myself that miracles and other awesome things could happen if I thought about it hard enough, if I just kept believing, as if faith were something I could drum up on my own. I’d try to believe harder to increase it. When in a mix of people praying for healing for someone–or for safety and protection from a wildfire or a snow storm–I’d find myself thinking in a sort of mantra-esque fashion, “I believe, I believe, I believe” as though that would help convince the Lord to do whatever I was asking for. As if he were up there in heaven with a bag of tricks and I just needed to get the magic words right.

In thinking about faith this way, I was actually quite unstable. Because my hope was in the healing, the safety, the giving of the gift or whatever I was “believing” for, if I didn’t receive it the way I thought I should or the way I imagined I would, I was thrown into a major tailspin. My faith was starting from a hope that was in the wrong thing: a specific result. And because that result didn’t always come about how I thought it should, I was always tossed around by the unpredictability of the natural realm and temporal things. I was having faith for results, rather than having faith in the very nature and character of the God that I love and the God that loves me–that his eternal promises and purposes have already been accomplished, whether my natural eyes can see it yet or not.

This is what James is talking about when he says that a man who doubts is double-minded, unstable in all he does, and that a man like that should not expect to receive anything from the Lord (James 1:6-8).

Jesus was not asking his disciples about their faith in his ability to calm the storm. He was asking them about their faith in him.

We would think it was silly if Jesus had joined his companions in their freak-out session. If he had had trouble relaxing in the midst of such fear and uncertainty, not to mention in the rocking of the boat on the sea. How could he rest so completely? Because he knew what would later be written in Hebrews 11:11: “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Most people take this verse to mean what I used to think it meant: our confidence and assurance is in the result we want even though we can’t see it. But Jesus confidently hoped in God himself, which is why he could say “yet not my will but yours be done.” His vision was always on the eternal; he was single-minded. He was stable. He knew who he was. He knew who his Father was. He knew that even though the circumstances were sketchy and even though his friends were panicked and fearful around him, that his destiny was sure. He knew that his word would not return to him empty, and that his purposes would be accomplished and had been accomplished. He knew that he MADE the sea, and everything in it. I bet that boat could have capsized or caught fire and he still wouldn’t have panicked. That is the kind of faith that is not susceptible to the enemy’s deceit or to fear.

I want that kind of faith.

I don’t want to go through life holding my breath, repeating some weird mantra and waiting to see what will come of it all. I don’t want to flip flop around like a fish without water whenever someone I pray for doesn’t receive healing I can see with my natural eyes. As my friend Ben likes to say, “I hope in the healer, not in the healing.” I’ve read the Bible; I know how this thing ends. I know who the victor is. I know the victory has been won. I know that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” he meant it. I want the faith that comes from an eternal hope; a hope that is not dependent on circumstance and temporary things. A hope that is stable. Unmovable. Unchanging. Unsusceptible.

I’ve exchanged my faith for Jesus’ faith.

Now when the what-ifs come knocking, when uncertainty and fear come to tempt me with their gut knots and anxiety pain, all they find is the faith of Jesus. They can’t access me. They can’t even find me because I’m tucked away, asleep with Jesus in the cabin of the ship. Resting, covered in his faith. And when the time comes for me to act, I’ll act with Jesus’ faith, and the sea will calm.

It’s time for another upgrade, church. We were born for a time such as this, so let our faith arise! Let the faith of Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of our faith, rise up within us so that we will be stable, firm, and unmoving in our hope in the one true God. Our faith begins and ends with Jesus. When we exchange our faith for Jesus’ faith, we will no longer falter or lose hope because our hope will be built on firm foundation. There is nothing that can hold us back when we hold firm to the faith we were given in Christ.

June 19, 2013