In the spring we went through some difficult times. I have no doubt it could have been worse. I imagine that had it been years earlier, I would have lost many hours of sleep.
Christopher, my twenty-two-year-old son who works with me, was heavily involved in publishing a yearbook for foreign Army officers. We ended up spending extra time on the layout because one section in particular was not provided to us as we had requested (and in the manner on which we had based our cost estimate). That led to overrun on the design estimate. Then when it was printed, the yearbook pages began falling out—in the customer’s hands! We had to work with the customer and our printer to get the books repaired and redistributed before the officers left for countries around the world. During these challenges, I was extremely busy on another project that consumed my thoughts and time. In addition, we had several other problems that surfaced, plus I had a presentation I needed to complete, and it was not coming together. I don’t remember ever feeling such pressure—it was awful.
Then, fairly recently, we faced another time of intense pressure. There were no clear-cut answers to the numerous challenges that we faced. It easily could have become more than I could bear.
In Matthew 8:23 we read about Jesus and His disciples entering a boat to depart to the other side of the lake. The disciples were obediently following Christ’s direction. Verse 24 reads, “And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep.” Several of the men were fishermen and would not have been surprised by a storm. However, this day it was a terrible storm. It was so bad that the ship was covered by the waves, and they thought they would perish. They would have been accustomed to storms; however, this one was so severe they feared for their lives. (It occurs to me that my petty problems were not life threatening and nowhere near the severity these men faced in the storm.)
The disciples were helpless. There were no flares to be shot, distress signals to be radioed, or life vests and boats to be relied on. It was grave, and they had every reason to believe they were about to drown. What could they do?
The disciples did exactly what I would have done. In their terror, they went to the Lord Jesus, Who was asleep. They were deeply afraid and likely had no preconception concerning how Jesus could help them out of their crisis, yet they still went to Him. (This lack of preconception is obvious by their amazement after He stills the storm.)
There have been many times when bad news has arrived, and the only thing I could do was go to our bedroom, lie on the floor, and pray. I can now see that usually my prayers were motivated by fear. I know men aren’t supposed to be fearful, but often I respond to outward pressure with fear. It may be fear of failure, of being embarrassed, of financial loss, or of conflict. I may call that fear many things such as uncertainty, concern, worry, or doubt, but I think if I were to strip away everything else and ask God to examine my motives, most often fear is at the root.
Consider the difficulties we had with the yearbook. When we exceeded the estimate, there was fear of a confrontation with the customer. When the pages fell out, there was fear about not being able to deliver a quality product and our customer being upset. A disgruntled customer produces fear of financial loss. On and on it goes, with fear being at the heart.
Let’s look at Matthew 8:26 and read, “And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? . . .” By every appearance they were about to drown while Jesus slept. They were at the point of losing their lives. Jesus didn’t ask them why they woke Him up or why they weren’t baling water. While the wind raged in their ears, Jesus asked them, “Why are ye fearful?” Jesus knew exactly why they were fearful. He had a teachable moment and wanted them to think. Clearly, they were afraid to die, but the deeper cause was their lack of faith that Jesus was God.
I worked for a company that was laying off their employees. It is an awful thing to see the fear that runs rampant in men’s lives when they are faced with losing their job. It is very sad indeed. It would seem reasonable for a man to fear losing his job. However, in Matthew 6:30-34 Jesus says a man has little faith if he worries about what he will eat and wear. Worry and fear are closely related; they go about as co-conspirators, hand in hand to trouble us.
My heart aches when I hear of brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing persecution. It would be natural to be afraid of persecution. In Matthew 10:22-26 Jesus told His disciples not to fear persecution because of Him. He continues to tell them not to fear those who would kill them.
You and I are going to encounter problem after problem in life. How we respond to them is very important as it can have a significant effect on our children’s belief in a sovereign God. May we be bold encouragers of their faith and not fuel the fear that is so natural in children.
So where might we begin? The commands, truths, and promises of Scripture are what I often cling to. We see from Matthew 6:30-34, 8:26, and 14:27 Jesus’ admonitions not to fear under difficult circumstances. Then we read, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Next, we are to run to Christ. We should not approach with a doubting spirit, wondering, “Can the Lord deal with the situation?” as the possessed young man’s father did in Mark 9:22. He said to Jesus, “. . . but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.” We are not to be like the disciples in the boat. Jesus did not rebuke them for coming to Him. He rebuked them for not having faith. If we lack faith, then like the possessed young man’s father may we cry out, “. . . Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Our Lord is so merciful and understanding that He will help even our unbelief if we will ask.
I don’t know of anyone who enjoys difficulties. However, there is a big difference between enjoying them and being at peace in them. God has a purpose in those pressures. Problems are going to come, and they will be used by the Lord in our lives. Jesus used the situations to teach the disciples. We need to look at the problems and challenges we face as opportunities to deepen our faith in the Lord. It is easy to trust Him when things are great, but when a child is ill, business is slow, or there is great pressure, our faith is being refined.
“Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer” (Proverbs 25:4). It takes intense heat, much greater than just the heat to melt silver, to burn the dross away. The problems we face can be extremely uncomfortable for us, so much so that we cry out to the Lord to “turn down the heat.” Even though we don’t see Christ or we think He may be sleeping, we must believe that He hears our prayers and is at work in our life. “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
The disciples could have sat down and said, “Jesus is with us, if we die we die.” But that wasn’t the answer. They were to go to Him, not in fear, but in faith. Isn’t that what He was teaching them when He fed the four and five thousand people?
We must encourage ourselves that the trials and refining of our faith will result in greater challenges as we grow in the Lord. First the disciples had Jesus in the boat when they were in the storm. The next storm they encountered was with Jesus not in the boat with them. They were doing exactly what Jesus told them to, and yet they were encountering severe difficulties. When it was time, the Lord came to them. Maybe their fear was the reason they did not recognize Christ. I would like to know if they were crying out to Him. My guess is that they probably weren’t; otherwise, they would not have been so surprised to see Him.
Fear is a terrible master. It robs our joy and prevents us from properly responding to situations. It is likely we will never react to a situation correctly when fear is the stimulus. However, may we welcome—yes, welcome—our difficulties as opportunities for the Lord to refine our faith. It is with pressure that He conforms us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).
May we be men of God and leaders of our families. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10).