Many of us have one phobia or another. A phobia is an irrational fear, a kind of anxiety disorder in which the individual has a relentless dread of a situation, living creature, place, or thing. According to Phobialist.com, there are at least 350 known, documented, verifiable phobias. According to Medicalnewstoday.com, the 5 most common phobias in the United States are…
- Social phobia – fear of being in places with a lot of people
- Agoraphobia – fear of being somewhere with no support, away from home, open spaces
- Claustrophobia – fear of being in constricted, confined spaces
- Aerophobia – fear of flying
- Arachnophobia – fear of spiders
Most phobias are more-or-less individualized. My phobias are different than your phobias. But, I’d argue, that there’s a generalized phobia that seems to affect Israel throughout the Bible; aquaphobia – fear of water.
- In Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” Water pre-existed the Creation story, and represented chaos, darkness, and the absence of God.
- In Genesis 6, God destroyed every living thing on the Earth with a flood.
- When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, they got stuck between the Egyptian armies and the Red Sea. God parted the waters so that they could walk through on dry land. But, Pharaoh and his army were drowned.
- Ancient Israelites believed in sea monsters called leviathan.
- Jonah was swallowed by a whale.
- Historians have noted that ancient Israel never had a navy.
- And, by the way, we forget sometimes that the symbolism of Baptism represents drowning the old person, and raising a new person to new life.
The Israelites feared water.
But, more often than not, God pushes us to confront our fears and to trust him.
Sticking your toes in the water…
Joshua 3 tells the story of when Israel, after centuries of waiting, was about to enter the Promised Land. The problem was, they were on one side of the Jordan river, and the Promised Land was on the other. And, to make matters worse, the river was higher and wider than usual. Joshua 3:15 says, “Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest.”
Joshua gave the following command,
“This is how you will know that the living God is among you... See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you… And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap…” As soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away… So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground. (Joshua 3:9-17)
Notice, the river didn’t stop flowing until AFTER they stepped into the water. As long as they stood on the shore, the river kept flowing.
After everyone had passed through the Jordan on dry ground, Joshua had a monument of stones built in the river, as a reminder for future generations of what God had done. Joshua said, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over… He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4:22-24)
The stones were a visual reminder that God is strong and God fulfills God’s promises. God can be trusted. The stones were a reminder that God is bigger than our fears. The stones were a reminder that God is worthy of our faith.
But, they never would have known that if they hadn’t faced their fears, and stuck their toes in the water. They had to get their feet wet. They had to take the first step.
You and I have to be willing to take that first step, and get our feet wet too.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Faith, Trust, Fear…
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
2 Corinthians 5:7, “For we live by faith, not by sight.”
We trust what we know. We trust evidence and proof. We trust our possessions. We trust what we see.
But, we’re called to faith. Faith is trusting in a God we can’t see. Faith is based in belief more than evidence. Faith requires trust – not in what’s tangible and provable – but, in God. And, faith is only faith if we act on it. You have to take a leap. You have to get your feet wet.
How will you know you can do it? You won’t, until you try.
How do you know for sure what God wants you to do? You won’t. until you try.
How do you know you’ll have enough money, or time, or talent? You won’t, until you try.
You won’t know until you act on faith. That’s why it is called a “Leap of faith.”
Maya Angelou wrote, “It is this belief in a power larger than myself and other than myself which allows me to venture into the unknown and even the unknowable.”
But, faith in the absence of visible evidence is really, really hard.
Another story from the Bible is the time the disciples sailed across the Sea of Galilee, at night, and Jesus came to them walking on water. Matthew 14:26-27 says, When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Notice – their first assumption was that Jesus was a ghost. After all, remember, water is a scary place. But, this is no ghost – it’s Jesus. Jesus speaks to the phobia – “Don’t be afraid.”
Then something surprising happens. Peter said, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
“You of little faith” seems a bit harsh to me. Besides Jesus, Peter’s the only human I know to successfully walk on water – even if only a few steps.
That’s more than I can say. What about you?
Paulo Coehlo writes, “Pitiful is the person who is afraid of taking risks. Perhaps this person will never be disappointed or disillusioned; perhaps she won’t suffer the way people do when they have a dream to follow. But when that person looks back – and at some point everyone looks back – she will hear her heart saying, ‘What have you done with the miracles that God planted in your days? What have you done with the talents God bestowed on you? You buried yourself in a cave because you were fearful of losing those talents. So this is your heritage; the certainty that you wasted your life.’”
All of the focus is on Peter, who took a few successful steps on the water, but sank when he became afraid. All of the attention is on his lack of faith. But, what about the others, who never left the boat in the first place? The others couldn’t let go of the safety and security of the boat – of what seemed solid and reliable. Walking on water never even crossed their minds.
I have friends who love to bungee jump, and to jump out of airplanes. They love the experience of free fall, and they love the adrenaline. I think they’re nuts. The only way I’d jump out of our perfectly good airplane is if it was on fire and going to crash – and even then, I’m not sure! The bottom line is that I don’t trust the bungee cord or the parachute enough to jump. The thrill for me is not worth the risk.
I think that’s a wise choice.
But, spiritually, a lack of trust can be crippling.
Let me ask you a question – what’s your boat? If a boat represents the tangible things that give us security, and if faith is in unseen things – like a man walking on water – what are the securities you cling to? A job? Your health? Your savings or retirement plan? Your spouse? Your connections? Your government?
What’s your boat?
Don’t get wrong. There’s nothing wrong with working hard, or saving for the future, or investing wisely, or growing in your career, or having people you can rely on. But, they do become a problem when we trust them more than Jesus. Listen to me – nothing in this world is more trustworthy than Jesus.
And, Jesus doesn’t call any of us to only live lives of safety and security. Jesus invites us to confront our fears and take leaps of faith, that require faith in him and not in ourselves. Jesus invites us to stick our toes into waters that are scary and may seem dangerous. Jesus challenges not to give into our fears and phobias, and to trust him.
So, if water represents danger, fear and risk – what are you afraid of?
Pope John 23 said, “Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what is still possible for you to do.”
The Partial Credit Club
It seems a little unfair to me that Peter doesn’t get more credit for trying. Just stepping out of the boat was courageous, even if he sank.
My High School Algebra teacher was Hank Pfingstag. I actually ended up becoming his pastor later. I really like Hank, and really liked him as a teacher. He was funny, and kept us interested and entertained. But, he was hard. It wasn’t unusual for most of the class to fail his tests. As he handed out our test scores, he would say, if you had a higher “F” than others, “Congratulations – you got a good F!”
Mr. Pfingstag made us show all of our work. Most of us did “most” of the work right, and “almost” got the right answer. After every test, a group of us would argue for “partial credit” – desperately pleading to get out of the “F” zone. Mr. Pfingstag called us the Partial Credit Club – but he never once changed our grades!
I think Peter deserves to be in the Partial Credit Club. I’d like to believe that I deserve to be in the Partial Credit Club, sometimes, spiritually speaking, for at least trying to live by faith.
What about you?
I want to leave you with two images this morning. Imagine God has a great promise for you – a Promised Land, if you will. But, to have it, you’ll have to cross a river of fear. Are you going to go for it? Or, are you going to stay on the safe side of the river, missing out? Imagine Jesus reaching out his hand to you, but you have to walk on the water to reach him. You can do it, with faith. Are you going to step out on the water, or are just keeping your seat in the boat?
It’s time to get out of the boat!