As I write this, Sri Lankans are dealing with the aftermath of a ‘deadly terrorist attack that killed 290 people (recently revised to 310)…’ Not only are locals facing what this means for their future; ‘tourists are scrambling to leave Sri Lanka and hotels are bracing for cancellations…’ Even as I sit safely many miles away reading of this frightening event, I feel a tingle of fear.
In South Africa the elections are just over two weeks away. The politicians are ‘scrambling’ to respond satisfactorily to the fears of the electorate, fears that would be familiar to just about anyone anywhere in the world: the economy failing, unemployment, poverty, violence, insufficient health care, inadequate education for our children. The list is endless. And in many parts of our world, people are ‘scrambling to leave’ their homeland in the hope of a life elsewhere with less fear.
in many parts of our world, people are ‘scrambling to leave’ their homeland in the hope of a life elsewhere with less fear.
Jesus’ thoughts on fear
Two thousands years ago Jesus made a statement to his disciples that struck fear into their hearts:
“Little children … where I am going you cannot come.” John 13:33
For these disciples, the absence of Jesus in their lives had become just about their biggest fear. Jesus’ presence soothed the fears of their hearts – the future of their nation, the significance of their lives, their own death and a happy outcome in the afterlife. And so all their anxiety came to the fore, when he announced that he was going and they could not go with him. They had followed Jesus for three years believing he spoke the ‘words of eternal life’ John 6:68. And now they ‘cannot come’ with him.
Unpacking Jesus’ thoughts on fear
At its heart, fear is a worry about the things we hope for in the future. When they are threatened we get anxious. Our dreams and ambitions, our financial certainty, our purpose, our health, life and death; all these provoke anxiety, provoke fear. Whether it is our next meal or our plans, we worry about our future.
At its heart, fear is a worry about the things we hope for in the future.
But Jesus’ answer to their hearts of fear seems utterly glib:
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. John 14:1
Jesus does not immediately reassure his disciples; he does not take back his statement nor does he promise to fulfill all their many-coloured ambitions for the future. He chooses to go deeper and bigger in getting to the heart of their fear.
Deeper into their heart of fear
At the heart of our experience of fear is our lack of belief in God’s promises.
At the heart of our experience of fear is our lack of belief in God’s promises. We are not just anxious about our financial well-being or our physical safety. These are symptoms not the condition.
We all doubt at a deeper level than that – we doubt God’s goodness to us. If something does not go our way that just serves as evidence that this God is not a loving, good God. We experience anxiety ultimately over whether God truly loves and cares for us: is he really all-powerful? Is he really all-loving towards me? If not, is he really there; does he even exist?
But Jesus’ simple call over and over again is to believe in him. In our worry our dominant characteristic is panic. It reminds me of a scene in the movie Deepwater Horizon. An oil rig out at sea in the middle of the night, was burning. The sea all around it, was burning. The workers on the rig could not stay a moment longer and equally they could not simply hop into the sea. The Chief Electronics Technician, Mike Williams, concludes that the only hope for him and another oil rig employee was to climb up to the highest point on the rig and jump far enough to clear the flaming waters below. However, the other employee could see the problem but could not see any solution let alone this particular one. She was panicking and frightened. Her heart was full of fear.
Our lives are a burning oil rig. Whether you are a believer or not, our rig is going down. There is much to be frightened about. But Jesus says, ‘Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.’
There is much to be frightened about. But Jesus says, ‘Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.’
Going bigger than our fears for the future
But further to this God’s vision for me and for you is bigger than our dreams. In fact, for many of us we may need to sacrifice our ambitions to truly learn what it means to believe in God for his bigger plans for us:
God’s vision for me and for you is bigger than our dreams. In fact, for many of us we may need to sacrifice our ambitions to truly learn what it means to believe in God for his bigger plans for us
In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. John 13:2-3
In the late 1800s John G Paton was a missionary to the cannibal peoples of what was called the New Hebrides. He faced down these cannibals on many occasions. When asked how he managed his fear of being eaten this was his answer: ‘I am invincible until Christ calls me home’.
Jesus’ plans to call us home are ultimately not plans for the here and now; they stretch far beyond this life and this world. The degree to which our hearts are troubled is a measure of the degree to which we have unbelief; the degree to which we doubt.
It is a great litmus test of our faith. As we grow to believe in God and in his Son Jesus; as our hearts begin to accept that Jesus is the one who speaks the words of eternal life; we learn to trust his plans for our future. Then we, regardless of circumstances, begin to experience in our hearts fear being replaced by peace and joy.