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Why are you afraid? Why indeed?

June 20, 2015

Have you ever felt like life was just too much? Too many things all crowding in at once. Everything needing doing not just now but yesterday?

Yes? Well join the club.

I find that once I get this feeling of being swamped by work and life and all its cares, then it just gets worse and worse. I find that once the panic starts, it makes it so much harder to deal with anything at all. If I’m not very careful then even the smallest tasks are too much to even contemplate – panic is everything, panic is all!

It reminds me of a story that a friend told me. He was at college training to be a farrier. Apparently it was an intense course that really pushed those who were training to their very limits. Unfortunately, it pushed one of those on the course too far, it pushed him well over the edge. The first anyone know about it was when one of the tutors came in to the office and found him. He hadn’t harmed himself. He had convinced himself that he was a hamster. He had emptied all of the filing cabinets, fed every bit of paper in the office into the shredder, and made himself a ‘nest’ under the desk. That is where he was found, curled up in a ball deep in shredded paper. It would be a funny image if it were not so tragic!

I don’t know what happened to that poor student – my friend never saw him again. Sadly, that event isn’t unique. Thankfully, we now recognise when soldiers can’t take it. We no longer shoot them for cowardice. Rather we seek to treat their PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Stress and worry can push anyone over the edge, and way down the other side, even Christians! We are certainly not immune.

That is when it is good to read passages of the Bible like the story of Jesus asleep in the storm (Mark 4.35-41). There the exhausted disciples set out to sea after a long day with Jesus. Jesus goes to sleep and leaves those who really know boats to get him safely to the other side. But on the way there is a huge storm and they are terrified that they will all drown. Whether their panic is made worse by their exhaustion isn’t mentioned, but panic they certainly do! This is where the first lesson comes in. In their panic they don’t throw themselves into the sea to just get it all over with. They don’t give up and sit down and die. They do the one thing that could really save them, they turn to Jesus. I then picture what happens next: Jesus calmly gets up from his sleep and tells the wind and waves to be still. All that the disciples had feared now looked small and insignificant next to the very special person they had in the boat.

That is the first lesson. When the waves are coming over me I need to find enough composure in my panic to reach out and shake Jesus awake. It sounds simple and obvious but believe me when panic and confusion descend then remembering your own name can be a struggle. So I call out. For me if it is going to come, the panic comes at about 3am. It comes once I’ve relaxed and my guard is down. I wake up being swamped by all the cares of ministry and family and bills and life in general. Then I need to stop and turn to Jesus. I do that and look to him saying, ‘This is your ministry, I am just your servant, I hand all this back to you’. Then Jesus laughs at my stupidity in trying to carry all this in the first place. I remember my place, smile back and settle back down to sleep. All those fears that were threatening to swamp me don’t seem so frightening any more. All is calm and sleep is possible once again.

Then I hear again Jesus words, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’. Why indeed? Then I drift back off to sleep with the repeated refrain from Psalm 42 gently comforting me, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.” (NIVUK).

Why are you afraid? Why indeed? … zzzzzz

I want to leave it here. But that would be far too dangerous. Sometimes life does break someone, Christian or not. Sometimes, calling to Jesus doesn’t make all calm and still. This is not a lack of faith nor is it that Jesus has abandoned me. That is when my weakness as a human being has to be faced. Then I can still call to Jesus and know he is there: This time he is holding me tight in his love, whether I feel that presence or not.

So again, why are you afraid? Why indeed?

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