On the other side of your fears

Mk 4:35-41

We are at the beginning of a new year. We have no idea what this year holds for any of us. But we do know Who holds our year in His hand.

We all have dreams and desires for our year and future. But God has plans. Often his plans don’t match our dreams. Sometimes His plans surprise us, sometimes take us through terrifying experiences, sometimes put smiles and joy in our hearts. Regardless, I’ve found that almost 100% of times God’s plans are taking us toward our fears just to show us something on the other side of our fears.

The passage that God used recently in my life to teach me about my own fears and my own journey is Mk 4:35-41.

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”

And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him.

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.

But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Unusual command at an unusual time

First, we notice that there is an unusual command Jesus gives at an unusual time.

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”

And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him.

What is so unusual about that command?

  1. He gives this command at evening, an unusual time. Jesus after a busy day, working with thousands of people in the crowd, healing, teaching he is not giving his disciples a bed, but a boat. Bad timing. You don’t stress your followers even more after they’ve worked all day hard. They needed rest, they needed regrouping, they needed regaining their strength. Yet, when they are the most tired, they will find themselves even more stressed out and in more difficulties. I have found that true in my own life: many times God’s command came when I was not ready for it, I was already exhausted, already too buys and tired. God’s demand never comes at our timing and at our capacity.
  2. He gives a command to get away from something we all would want to run to. Jesus is leaving the crowd. Every single minister, preacher I know – including myself – wants more crowd, more influence, more impact, more opportunities, more fame, more name. And Jesus walks away from the crowd. Walks away from the needs of the crowd. Walks away from the more. He walks away and takes his disciples away from the broad impact, because he wants to do something on the depth of impact. The depth of what he is going to teach them is way more important than the broad impact they could have.

Let me reflect back here for a moment on my own journey now. When we have announced in Hungary that we are turning over the leadership of Cru to another leader and we move from Hungary for this period of time to America, people were shocked. There were pastors who called me and said angry things. People said that you have great success, some that very few had, you are respected, known, you have great influence – why are you waisting your life going to America where nobody knows you? Why are you leaving 50 years of all you’ve built, all the name and fame, all the needs? You had been so effective, so useful, so needed, so great, so, so, so.

But, this is exactly the temptation Jesus had. His second temptation was when the Devil took him up to the temple’s parapet and told him to jump. Do something spectacular. Every leader’s, every pastor’s, every minister’s temptation is to be spectacular. We all want to prove ourselves. And when you have proven yourselves many times, there is even more temptation: be even more spectacular. Jesus walked away from being spectacular. He didn’t want to win people’s applause.

Jesus clearly told us, that we need to get into the boat to go to the other side, to walk away from being spectacular. There is something on the journey he wants to teach, to show us and to form us through that. There is something on the other side he wants to do.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor-martyr who had been killed by the Nazis said this:

“The disciple simply burns his boat and goes ahead. He is called out and has to forsake his old life in order that he may “exist” in the strictest sense of the word. The old life is left behind and completely surrendered. The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into the absolute insecurity, from a life which is observable and calculable into a life where everything is unobservable and fortuitous, out of the realm of finite into the realm of infinite possibilities… No other significance is possible, since Jesus is the only significance. Beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters.“

Unexpected result of faithful obedience

As we continue in the text we see an unexpected result of faithful obedience.

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.

The disciples did nothing wrong, they just followed Jesus’s command. Their obedience were life-threatening for them. Their obedience took them to situations they didn’t want to be. When they got into the boat out of obedience they had no clue, no idea what is going to happen. They just followed Jesus. They had only positive expectations. So far, they saw him doing unbelievable things: healing people, feeding people, teaching people. Great success, great results, great impact. Then suddenly, they have to walk away from that. Of course they are ready to obey.

And out of the blue, a storm hits. And they find themselves loosing everything: every control, every stability, every security. Their known realities turn into a nightmare.

Have you ever experienced that you did everything right, you followed faithfully the command of God and suddenly all your life is turning into a nightmare? You walk in obedience and suddenly a storm hits and turns everything upside-down.

I’ve experienced that more then I wanted. The unexpected reality is that when we obey to Jesus, many times, first, things get worse, not better. Think about Moses, who after debating with God finally gives in and obeys. He enters into the presence of the Pharaoh and suddenly everything gets worse. The people didn’t get released, but their life got more difficult. Moses is upset and he says this to God: “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”

“I’ve obeyed and you betrayed me. I’ve obeyed and you’ve left me alone. I’ve obeyed and my friends, relatives are upset with me. I’ve obeyed and I can’t find a mate. I’ve obeyed and I have less money. I’ve obeyed and my life became harder and harder.”

They didn’t expect a storm from Jesus. They only expected healing, feeding, teaching, understanding, grace, forgiveness, love, kindness, gifts. But storm? Problems? Pain? Difficulties? Struggles? Losses? Fears? Exposures to our own ugliness? Who wants that?

If we are in a boat with Jesus, storms will hit for sure.

Hurtful realities: fear, loneliness, shame

With the storms comes hurtful realities.

But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

And when you think things can’t get worse, they got worse. The disciples are desperate. Their obedience to follow Jesus led them to a place where they questioning Jesus: “don’t you care that we are perishing? Don’t you care that we are dying? We followed you Jesus, obeyed to you Jesus, did all what you’ve asked us to do and yet you don’t even care!

Obedience leads to the crises of faith.

Henry Blackaby writes this: God’s invitation for you to work with Him always leads you to a crises of belief that requires faith and action.

Have you ever felt the way the disciples felt here? You obey and suddenly you find yourself very alone in a storm. Even Jesus doesn’t care. Did you ever feel that? I did. Even recently. In my past 2-3 years I felt that many times. “I’m just obeying you, I’m just trying to follow you, I’m just taking a leap of faith, I’m just serving others, I’m just risking everything I have. And you don’t even care. You don’t even care Jesus that I’m loosing everything. You don’t even care what will happen with our kids. You don’t even care what will happen with our parents.”

Obedience forces you to face your inner reality: the disciples’ disbelief and fear were exposed. They couldn’t hide it anymore. They couldn’t play the “spectacular” role anymore. They were exposed to their own brokenness, to their own limits, to their own fears, to their own disbeliefs, to their own weaknesses.

True obedience leads to humbleness. You will be humbled. You will be exposed. You will be vulnerable. You will be naked. You won’t be able to pose in the spectacular role anymore. And nobody likes that. Everybody wants to feel secure, feel strong, feel covered. Vulnerability, weakness is something we run from.

Jesus left the crowd and all that the crowd offers so he could expose the disciples. He wanted to work on their own reality. He was more interested in who they are then what they can do for him. Jesus is more interested in who you become than what you will do for him. Jesus can’t shape you until he exposes you to your own realities, sins, problems, fears and forces you own your knees.

The healing reality.

The final scene in this story brings healing.

And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

The disciples had a journey from fear to fear. They were afraid of dying, loosing everything. They were afraid of loosing total control. Now, they’ve traded that fear to another kind of fear: to the fear of Jesus. They’ve realized that there is someone greater here to fear then their object of their own fears. They taught that their greatest fear is loosing control, loosing everything, loosing life. Now they’ve realized that there is Someone Greater then the object of their own fears.

What is the object of your fear? Cancer? Money? Loneliness? There is only One you should fear: God. God is bigger then money, bigger then loneliness, bigger then health, bigger then death. Be always more afraid of disobeying Him then you fear of what could happen if you obey. It’s never a good reason to turn your back to obedience because it’s too hard, it’s too risky, it’s too fearful, it’s too costly. One day, we all have a little private conversation with Jesus and he will ask us: how were you obedient to me? And you can’t tell to him that “I was afraid to have that difficult conversation I should have had” or “I was afraid to break up that relationship” or “I was afraid to make that change”. You don’t want to hear from him that “You were more afraid of loosing money, loosing friends, loosing fame and impact, than you were afraid of me? You were more interested to please others, then me?”

And here comes the healing reality of true obedience: you’ll start seeing Jesus in such a way you’ve never saw him before. The disciples wondered: who is this that even the wind and the sea obeys to him? The most rewarding and healing reality of obedience is that moment when you bow down in fearful worship and say: “Who Are You Jesus? I’ve never dreamed that you can do that! I’ve never ever dreamed that you have such power?” You stand there naked, humbled in awe of Jesus! That’s the whole purpose of our journey: He wants to show himself to us in ways we have never seen him before. So we would bow down in worship and would say: you can even do that?

If you truly obey, you’ll see Jesus in a way you have never saw him before. But if you are not willing to get into the boat with him and go through the storms, you don’t have any chance to see him for who he really is.

My own journey in the boat

Let me close with a personal note. Every time I’ve obeyed, there was a storm. And I saw Jesus in ways I’ve never dreamed of.

When the doctors told us that we have to abort our first baby because as they’ve said she will be born with serious mental handicap, then we’ve obeyed to Jesus and said no to abortion. That baby is now graduating from a very highly ranked university. We obeyed when professionals installed fears in us and now we stand in awe worshiping Jesus!

When we’ve started Youth at the Threshold of Life and everybody around us said that it’s crazy and we shouldn’t do it, and installed fear that we are not qualified to train educators, we decided to obey. And now we stand in awe to see that God used this program to spread the gospel to millions of people.

When I took over the leadership of a ministry with significant financial debt and staff were leaving, almost everybody around us installed fear and said that this is crazy, you shouldn’t do that. But God said, do it. And almost 13 years later we saw new leadership raised up, no debt and the number of staff grew significantly. We stand in awe of how God did that.

Jesus has one very important question for you. The same question he had for Peter. Jesus is about to leave this Earth, he died and resurrected from the death. He has a huge plan for the world. Everybody should know that he is the Savior. But he is not talking about those grandiose things. He decides to have a final, personal conversation with Peter and asks him 3 simple questions: “Do you love me?” Everything, your future and the future of the church will stand on you answer: “Do you love me?” Do you love me more then these? Do you love me more then you fear your fears?

“If you do, then be ready for something Peter. When you were young, you made decisions for yourself. But if you follow me, you will become like an old person: you won’t make decisions for yourself. I’ll make decisions for you. I’ll take you to place you don’t want to go. I’ll take you through experiences you don’t want to experience. I’ll stretch you in ways you don’t want to be stretched.

“So, do you love me? Do you really love me?”

Are you ready to love him through the storms of this year?

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