Readings: Acts 7:55–60, 1 Peter 2:11–25 & John 14:1–14
One of my daily spiritual readings for this week, was on the topic of fear. The author suggested that we don’t always admit to our fears; that we act as though we aren’t under their influence. He also went further to claim that our fears can actually hold us back; that it can prevent us from committing fully to a particular course of action. He argued that fear can undermine qualities such as courage, confidence and perseverance; with the result that we lack the boldness to do something unexpected and original.
Fear comes in many different forms. It might be fear of a medical condition that we are diagnosed with; fear of financial insecurity; as parents and grandparents we might fear what the future holds in store for our children and grandchildren; it might be fear of failure associated with trying something new; fear of being judged by others; fear of getting old; and as we live under the cloud of the coronavirus, it might be a fear of what happens next, the uncertainty of what life in the world will be like “post the coronavirus”.
The disciples of Jesus were afraid when Jesus said to them, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’” (John 13:33 NRSV) And Jesus tried to comfort them, telling them not to be afraid, but to trust in God, and trust in him. He told them he was going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house, which might have been a reference to heaven, but which might also have meant to be in God’s presence, and he also told them that he would come again and take them to him, so that they would be with him.
But when Jesus told them that they knew the way to the place where he was going, Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” To which Jesus responded with, what I think, is perhaps the most powerful and moving verse in the Bible, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” With those words, Jesus emboldened the disciples, and he emboldens us, to trust in God; to trust in him.
In the moments before he was stoned to death, on account of his belief in Jesus, the Apostle Stephen saw a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. This enabled him to not only to pray to Jesus, even while he was being stoned, but to also ask Jesus to forgive those who were stoning him. Stephen trusted in God, and trusted in Jesus.
Trusting fully in God and in Jesus, Stephen and the other apostles were able to live freely. They were not constricted, or restricted, in any way by their fears, but continued to publicly live out their faith. The Apostle Peter encouraged the Christians in Northern Asia Minor, who were being persecuted for their faith, that they too should live freely as servants of God.
But in doing so, Peter made it clear that living freely, meant accepting the authority of the various rulers and institutions of the day. It didn’t mean that they were free to do whatever they wished; to pay no attention to the prevailing laws of the time; that wasn’t the sense of freedom that Peter was alluding to. He was encouraging them to confidently, and publicly, live out their faith, even though that might mean they would be persecuted for their faith. In doing so, they would be following in the example that Jesus himself had given them; an example which Stephen also followed. They were to overcome their fear by trusting in God, and trusting in Jesus.
Fear is natural. It’s a perfectly normal human emotion to a perceived danger or threat. But it can be debilitating if we let it control our lives, and it can mean that we miss out on some wonderful experiences in life if we give ourselves over to fear completely. The alternative is to trust in God, and to trust in Jesus.
This doesn’t mean that we will be exempt from the very real, and at times painful, impact of those things that we fear; such as a serious medical condition, or financial insecurity, or what might befall our children and grandchildren in their lives. But putting our trust in God, and in Jesus, can liberate us so that we can live our lives fully, in spite of those ever-present fears, and that we can enjoy the blessings that life gives us.
Jesus himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And we know that nothing is impossible for God.