Many years ago when I was a young preacher, I noticed one day that a new family had moved into a neighborhood not far from my church. So I dropped by late one afternoon. I noticed that one car was parked in the carport. I went to the side door, the one opening onto the carport. I had rung the door bell only once when I heard a deep, bass growl that sounded like the rolling of thunder. It was coming from the back of the carport and it made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up.
I glanced to my left and there, about 20 feet away in a crouched position, was a huge German Shepherd with glowing, malignant eyes and pearly-white teeth. I could tell he wanted some of me.
I began backing slowly away from that door, in the direction of my car, all the while speaking words of pastoral comfort to the dog. The dog eased in my direction, keeping that same 20 feet between me and him.
It must have been a Baptist dog; I never saw a dog in my life have such a problem with a Methodist preacher.
Finally I reached my car, jumped in quickly and slammed the door, and offered a quick prayer of thanks for heavenly protection.
I wasn’t worth much good at work the rest of that day. Fear had stolen my energy. I went home. I did make one more phone call. I called my friend, the local Baptist preacher, and told him about this new family that had moved in, and that I was pretty sure they were Baptists.
Basil King, in his book The Conquest of Fear, points out that fear causes more misery than all the sin and sickness of our lives combined. He writes, “We are not sick all the time. We are not sinning all the time. But most people are afraid of something or somebody all the time.”
Because fear and anxiety are so pervasive, my message for today is designed to help us overcome those problems.
I must first remind you that reasonable or normal fear is a good thing, a gift from God. Otherwise, when I’m visiting the zoo I might be tempted to crawl over the fence and pet the polar bear on the head. Fear holds me back. Most of us busy people might break the speeding laws more frequently if we didn’t fear the man with the revolving blue light.
That reminds me. Several weeks ago I was driving through Piperton, Tennessee, just on the other side of Collierville, when one of those 40-mile-per-hour zones slipped up on me unnoticed. Suddenly those blue lights were flashing behind me. I must confess to you that I was so flustered that when the policeman asked for my driver’s license, I gave him my VISA card. Then I worried that he might think I was trying to bribe him.
The point I’m making is that reasonable or normal fear protects us from danger.
On the other hand, abnormal or excessive fear is a monster which can paralyze and destroy. Panic is fear out of control.
The magnificent miracle story that is our text for the morning is God’s gift to us fearful people.
One night Jesus and His twelve disciples were sailing across the six-mile-wide Sea of Galilee. Jesus and his disciples filled their fishing boat to capacity. Jesus was asleep on a cushion in the stern of the vessel. A storm struck. Consider the disciples in that boat at night facing a storm that seemed on the verge of swamping them. They were probably over two miles from the nearest shore, with no life preservers. In their panic they screamed, “Jesus, wake up! Don’t you care whether we die or not?”
Jesus awoke and looked around. Then he performed a miracle that astounded the disciples. He ordered the storm to be quiet, and a great calm fell upon the Sea.
As we consider this story we see right away the cause of excessive fear in any situation. Any time your source of security is not strong enough to sustain you, then fear runs wild.
The disciples were still rookies in their relationship with Jesus; therefore, they weren’t yet sure who He was or how much they could depend on Him. They assumed that their main protection against the storm was the little boat, and it was clearly not strong enough or big enough to sustain them.
Sometimes I have this recurring dream that really energizes my fear responses. I am about to take the final examination in a college calculus course. Now I know that would not panic many of you, but I have only four math circuits in my brain, and they are neatly labeled addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. I don’t have an extra circuit for calculus. Therefore, when confronted by calculus, my mental computer starts flashing red lights and an inner voice says, “Run for your life; you’re in deep trouble.”
Excessive fear is caused when our source of security is not strong enough to sustain us.
The most common fears relate to matters we cannot control. None of us can guarantee success in marriage or on the job. Our companies could be down-sized or sold, leaving us without jobs. Neither our health nor the health of our families can be guaranteed. We cannot control our children 24 hours per day even when they live at home, much less when they go away to college. Therefore, if we are our own primary sources of security, we will be tempted to panic.
When Jesus was awakened in the middle of that stormy sea He asked, “Why are you afraid?” That might have seemed a foolish question to the disciples. “Isn’t it obvious why we’re afraid? We’re about to drown.”
But Jesus knew He could stop that storm and He thought the disciples knew that. They didn’t; therefore, they panicked.
We become fearful when we doubt that our source of security is strong enough to sustain us. What is the cure for fear? The cure is to develop confidence that God is with us and is sufficient for our needs. That confidence is called faith.
In the middle of that stormy sea, Jesus shouted, “Hush! Be quiet!” and the wind ceased and there was a great calm. After that night the disciples never again feared a storm on the Sea of Galilee if Jesus was with them. They knew He was sufficient.
Later the disciples learned that Jesus would not always make the storms go away. Sometimes He gave the disciples the grace and grit to sail through the storms. But increasingly they learned that Jesus Christ was always sufficient for their needs.
If I develop confidence that God is with me and is sufficient for my needs, I can laugh at tomorrow, because nothing can confront me that God and I cannot handle together. To believe that is to have the cure for excessive fear.
One time a young skater was entered in her first competition. Just before she was to go on to the ice, she turned to her coach and said, “I can’t do it. I’m too afraid.” Her coach said, “No, you’re nervous, not afraid. There’s a big difference. For example, if a man goes into a restaurant and orders a $100 meal, he may be a bit nervous, but if has the $100 in his pocket, he knows he can handle it. Fear is ordering a $100 meal knowing you have no money.” The skater got the coach’s message. She concluded that she had the ability and training to perform well, so she went out and finished first in the competition.
Christians have a source far greater than $100 in the pocket or self-confidence. We have the unlimited God of the universe on our side. He has promised us, “I will never fail or forsake you.” “My grace will be sufficient for you.” The more we believe in the sufficiency of God, the more immune we will be to excessive fear.
Now, I want to give you a practical strategy for repelling fear attacks:
1. Identify the fear and rebuke it in the name of Jesus. You see, Satan is part of our problem. He wants us to live in fear. But the Bible says that if we confront him in the name of Jesus, he will turn and run. (
2. Discuss your fear with a trusted Christian friend. A fear shared is a fear reduced.
3. If possible, take a walk and tell God about your fear. There is something therapeutic about exercising out of doors. When one combines that with prayer, the comforts are powerful and profound.
4. Read the
5. Keep a private journal or diary that records fears you and God have conquered together. With each victory will come additional confidence for the future.
One of the most beloved and colorful sports personalities was a basketball coach known affectionately as “Jimmy V.” Of course, I’m talking about Jimmy Valvano, the coach who led his North Carolina State team to a national championship in 1983. Later he became an outstanding TV analyst and a lovable, wise-cracking humorist. But most of all, Jimmy V will be remembered for the courageous way he faced cancer. Just a few weeks before he died, he was honored on national television. In his remarks to that vast audience, he showed us his heart, a heart that was not terrorized by cancer or anything else.
Jimmy V said, “Today I fight a different battle. You see, I have trouble walking and I have trouble standing for a long period of time. Cancer has taken away a lot of my physical abilities. Cancer is attacking and destroying my body. But what cancer cannot touch is my mind, my heart, and my soul. I have faith in God . . . and hope that things might get better for me. But even if they don’t, I promise you this – I will never give up. I will never ever quit. And if cancer gets me . . . then I’ll just try my best to go to heaven and be the best coach they’ve ever seen up there.”1
Jimmy V knew the secret for overcoming fear. St. Paul expressed that secret in these words: “Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (
1. Moore, James W., Attitude is Your Paintbrush, (Dimensions for Living: Nashville, 1998), p. 64.