Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Dancing Between Trust and Fear

I've been meaning to write this post for awhile now, but as my life usually goes, my intentions of doing things are often stronger than the actual doing of said things.  But I'm learning that God has a time for everything and can even use my procrastination to accomplish His will.  I've also come to realize that delays aren't Him ignoring us or withholding some blessing from us.  Many times I've found that the delay is the result of Him working out some detail or working on our hearts to get us to the place where we can fully receive His blessing.  It's all in our perspective and in our choice to freak out and worry (which is my usual route) or to trust Him completely even when we can't see the road ahead.

Since moving to the coast, I have encountered a lot of foggy mornings.  Some days it can be annoying and a little scary to drive in when you can't see 5 feet in front of you.  But some days I actually enjoy driving in it.  I've always viewed fog as a kind of representation of God's presence in our lives.  Just as the fog surrounds us on all sides, so does God.  His love presses in, covers us, overwhelms us.  And just as I have different reactions to driving in the fog depending on my mood that day, I have the same two reactions to life...especially when I can't see the next step.

One morning a few weeks ago, as I was driving along the coastline, the fog was thick.  But not so thick that I couldn't see a little ways out into the water.  And it made me think of Peter.  I think Peter and I could have been BFFs back in the day.  Or either bitter enemies...depending on how our similarities played out.  Like Peter, I can overreact to situations.  I can be all gung-ho about something one minute and then too paralyzed by fear to take a leap of faith the next.  I am opinionated.  And I long to be close to Jesus.  And that is where we find Peter in the story of Matthew 14.  The disciples had just experienced the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand and were now in their boat, out on the sea, being tossed about by a storm.  Jesus had gone off to pray by himself.  After He finishes His prayer time, He decides to join the disciples on the boat.  Of course, being God in human form, He takes the quickest route and walks right out on the water.  The disciples think He is a ghost at first, but He identifies Himself and tells them to be still and that they have nothing to fear.  Here's the part where I completely identify with Peter...

Now, Peter and the others had just witnessed an amazing miracle!  Who feeds 5,000 people out of a few fish and some bread?!  So Peter had just experienced the impossible.  And just like Peter, I have also seen God do the impossible in my life and my situations.  But just like Peter, I also go from the mountaintop of trust to the pit of doubt in about five seconds flat.  Peter tells Jesus that if it is really Him to command him to walk on the water towards Him. So Jesus does, and Peter steps out in faith, trusting he won't sink.  However, at some point he feels the wind of the storm, takes his eyes of Jesus and begins to sink.  He cries out to Jesus to help him, and, as He always does, Jesus grabs him, pulls him up and they climb in the boat together.  The VOICE translation tells this story in such a beautiful way:

Matthew 14:  28-33 (VOICE)
"Peter:  Lord, if it is really You, then command me to meet You on the water.  Jesus:  Indeed, come.  Peter stepped out of the boat onto the water and began walking toward Jesus.  But when he remembered how strong the wind was, his courage caught in his throat and he began to sink.  Peter:  Master, save me!  Immediately Jesus reached for Peter and caught him.  Jesus:  O you of little faith.  Why did you doubt and dance back and forth between following Me and heeding fear?  Then Jesus and Peter climbed in the boat together, and the wind became still.  And the disciples worshipped Him."  

Wow.  It's in verses like these that I find one of the main reasons God left His word for us (aside from leading us to Christ) is as a reminder that we are not alone and that we aren't the first to fail.  Like I said, Peter and I have a lot in common...

As I've written about several times, this past year in my life has been unlike any other.  It has been exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time.  It has tested my faith unlike anything before.  And it has caused me to grow spiritually in ways I never knew I could.  And it has HURT.  Growth is a painful process.  But it is necessary.  We have to face the pain in order to grow and move forward.  But we can't do it alone.  During this year, I have had so many moments where I have doubted and "dance(d) back and forth between following (Jesus) and heeding fear."  I've been so excited to see what God is doing and have stepped out in faith only to take my eyes off Him, focus on the seemingly impossible situation and started to sink in the stormy sea.  It has been a constant struggle...but one that I feel I'm making progress in...until the devil places doubt in my mind again...and the cycle starts again.

But like Peter, when I sense the doubt creeping in, I cry out to Jesus for help.  In this passage Jesus helped Peter immediately.  Does He always help immediately?  To our human minds, no.  There have been times I've prayed for resolution to a situation or for clarity or for some other need and God has answered almost immediately.  There have been other times when it has taken months or even years to see an answer.  But one thing that has been consistent...even if I don't see an answer right away, I have a peace that passes human understanding that He is with me.  Just as Jesus climbed in the boat with Peter, He climbs into my situation with me and calms me until the answer comes.  Sometimes I still take my eyes off Him and start to sink.  But every single time He is there.  Every.  Single.  Time.  He never condemns me for my doubt or fear.  He never chastises me for questioning Him.  He just provides a deep abiding peace until the storm passes.  This doesn't mean every day is easy or that trusting Him makes all your problems go away.  Quite the contrary...If you look at Peter's life, he still had many trials and tribulations to face after this moment on the water with Jesus.  In fact, he ended up giving his life for the cause of Christ.  

I've come to find that as soon as I make the choice to trust God in spite of what I see around me the devil is right there with another barrage of doubt and fear.  And he always will be until I reach heaven.  But I'm learning that I have a choice.  I can either give in to those lies and sink.  Or I can trust that God is working out His best for me and that He will provide...on time.  

Another person I identify with from the group of disciples is Thomas...as in "Doubting Thomas."  He refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead unless he touched the nail prints in His hands.  I can't blame him...I know myself well enough to admit that I would be the same way.  So many times I've heard people ridicule or blame Thomas for doubting.  But I choose to believe that God can use even our doubts to draw us closer to him.  A friend posted this article today on Facebook, and I completely identified with it.  One part of it that really spoke to me was this:  "The beauty of this is Thomas had an encounter with Jesus none of the other disciples did. He is the only one who touched the wounds of Jesus, because he had the faith to doubt. Nowhere does Jesus condemn doubt; rather he meets people right where they are in it."  God works through our doubt and fear and worry, meets us where we are and chooses to love and redeem us and restore to us what the enemy has stolen.  (Job 42:10)

A major weapon that I have recently found that works wonders against the attacks of doubt and worry and fear is worship and praise.  I've always heard this, but I never put it into practice until recently.  Now, when I feel those doubts and fears rising up in me, I will read Bible verses that I have highlighted that deal with this very thing.  I will listen to some worship songs that focus on God and His love for me.  I will take a few moments to just spend some time alone with God.  I have found in the past few months that when I do these things, my focus returns to Him.  And I can't worry or fear or doubt when I'm standing face to face with the One who has it all under control.  See, when we take time to truly worship Him, we realize that He is greater than any problem or issue we face.  No, it doesn't resolve the situation at hand, and there still may be difficult work we have to do or things we have to face to see a resolution.  But when we see Him for who He truly is we find the courage to forge ahead and keep walking in faith.  We learn to hear His voice above all the noise and chaos of the world.  And I'm finally learning to trust that still, small voice that speaks to my heart.  Because I've seen those things He has spoken to my heart come to fruition...not in my time or my way, but in His time and His way.  

I still don't have all the answers.  And I still anticipate I'll face more difficult days.  But I do know the "One whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that day."  (2 Timothy 1:12)  

So the next time the "fog" of life obstructs your view or the next time you take  a step of faith only to find yourself sinking in the waves or the next time you request proof of His faithfulness, look up to Him.  Turn your eyes and your heart to the One who holds you in His hands.  And stop dancing back and forth between trusting Him and giving in to fear.  He is faithful.  He will provide.  He will always love you.  He is always there.  And He will always catch you.  

And as always, I have to include a couple of songs that speak to my heart and turn my focus back to God.

Beautiful Redemption (Joy Williams)

Hallelujah (Bethany Dillon)

Walk by Faith (Jeremy Camp)