Fear + Faith in the Face of COVID-19
Text: Mark 4:35-41 | Listen to Message
If you’re like most of us, you’re dealing with heightened levels of anxiety, stress, and fear because a deadly, invisible Coronavirus has reached pandemic levels around the world. Some of us remain hopeful that this goes away as quickly as it came on – through some combination of social distancing, herd immunity, a vaccine, etc. But as I write these words, it’s 100% guaranteed to get worse – probably far worse – before it gets better. And it’s 100% guaranteed to leave many layers of devastation and death in its wake.
So anxiety, stress, and fear are not unreasonable, foolish, or even unbelieving responses to the reality we find ourselves in. And the solution is not to offer you some platitude or panacea and tell you to “just suck it up and have more faith.”
That said, it can only help to consider what the Bible says about fear and faith.
One of the most helpful texts I’ve found on this subject is the story of Jesus calming a storm. On this particular day, Jesus was teaching a crowd in parables (short stories) next to the Sea of Galilee. After many hours of teaching, he decides to retire with his disciples for some rest.
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?” (Mark 4:35–41)
Let me suggest four simple lessons about fear and faith from this short story:
1. At some point in your life, God will lead you into a storm.
There’s a popular religious myth out there that goes something like this: If you’re in a storm, if you’re suffering, that’s God judgment on your disobedience. Anxious? Afraid? You should be! God’s mad at you and your suffering is his punishment!
Nonsense. Look, maybe you’re in God’s will; maybe you’re out of God’s will. But the mere presence of a storm doesn’t mean anything. The disciples had just obeyed Jesus . . . and obedience led them directly into a storm.
So walk with God. Journey with Jesus. And when you encounter storms – terrifying, life-threatening storms – you can be absolutely certain God led you there for some ultimate purpose.
2. But God is with you in the storm.
It’s human nature to respond to storms with the question, “God, where are you?”
Don’t miss the simple fact that when the disciples went into the storm, Jesus was right there in the boat with them. He didn’t stand aloof at a safe distance. Whatever fate they faced, Jesus would face it with them.
Isaiah 43:2 is true for all who love Christ. When – not if, when – you pass through various storms, he will be with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you.
3. God is Lord over the storm.
When Jesus is suddenly roused from a deep sleep, he doesn’t share the disciples’ panic. He doesn’t recite an incantation or call upon a Higher Power. Jesus is the Higher Power. So he just speaks to a hurricane the way you’d talk to a yappy, little dog. “HUSH! BE QUIET!” And it was. Instantaneous calm replaced the raging of storm, and the disciples were terrified by Jesus’ omnipotence: “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”
See, whatever the storm is in your life, God is sovereign over it. There isn’t a single molecule in the universe outside of his power and his plan. He actually controls all the things you and I think we control, but don’t. That means nothing can ever happen to you that’s not a part of God’s purpose to make you more like Jesus and give you ultimate joy forever.
4. And God is your Savior from the storm.
Jesus wasn’t in the boat merely as a friend to comfort or as an expert to give advice; he was in the boat as the Savior who would rescue his disciples.
Wrap your mind around that. The eternal Son of God became man . . . and got in a boat. He associated with his followers in their pain and peril. He put his own life at risk to rescue his disciples from a storm of wind and waves.
Soon enough in the Gospels, we’ll come to another story where Jesus doesn’t just risk his life to save his friends; he actually gives his life. On that Good Friday night, Jesus is going to leave his disciples sleeping and weeping in the Garden of Gethsemane, and he’s going to turn the bow of his life and head right into The Great Storm – the only storm that can really sink us – the storm of God’s just wrath on our sin (i.e., our lack of love and obedience).
On that night, Jesus is going to pray something like this: “Father, I’ll go into The Great Storm so that those who love you don’t ever have to go in. I’ll drink the cup of judgment that your children deserve. I’ll go to a cross and bear their sins. Punish me, Father, that you might forgive and accept them forever.”
We’ll continue to encounter plenty of storms (with a lowercase “s”) in this life. That’s the nature of our broken world. We face storms in our health, finances, vocation, relationships, emotions, and so on. If you’re like 100% of the people who’ve gone before you, some storm will eventually take your mortal life. But none of those storms can ultimately destroy you. Only The Great Storm of God’s justice could do that. And Jesus already bore that storm for you to save you from its destruction.
So what, practically, do you do with your fear? Today, right now, and again tomorrow?
1. Acknowledge your situation and your state of mind.
It is not unspiritual to pray something like, “God, here’s what’s going on and here’s how I feel about it.” In fact, the Psalms are full of stuff like this! Feel free to use them as your guide.
God already knows your circumstances. And he already knows what those are doing to your heart, mind, and soul. Whether you’re anxious, angry, or in despair, he already knows how you feel. But confessing these things to God is a simple way of inviting him into your brokenness and asking him to work for your good.
2. Challenge your assumptions and your anchors.
First, challenge your assumptions.
When we encounter storms – and the loss of things we value – we inevitably think things like, “God must not care about me; he must not be so good after all; he must not have authority or control over this situation, or this wouldn’t be happening to me.” In other words, we tend to base our assumptions on our feelings rather than on God’s Word.
Learn to diagnose the assumptions that lie beneath your self-talk. Then challenge those assumptions. Do they stand up to the truths revealed in Mark 4? Do they stand up to the bigger Gospel story of Jesus dying for your sin to rescue you from The Great Storm?
If your assumptions don’t stand up to the Truth, then don’t let them be your truth!
Second, challenge your anchors.
What are your hopes and dreams tied to? What is your sense of peace and safety tied to? What is your satisfaction tied to? What is your identity tied to?
- Physical health
- Job security + success
- Financial peace
- Connection + community
- Knowledge of the future
In good times, these might seem like useful anchors. Your job’s going well, you’ve got money in the bank, and you can come and go as you please . . . so you feel at peace. You’re satisfied.
But what happens when a storm like COVID-19 comes along and threatens literally every single one of your anchors? If your peace and wellbeing are tied to something you stand to lose, no wonder you’re anxious and irritable! God is using your fear to teach you a very important truth: If your anchor can’t hold up in the storms of this life, it certainly won’t hold up in The Great Storm of God’s justice. You need a new anchor, now! Don’t wait another moment!
3. Shift your hope to Jesus.
Jesus is the Anchor that can’t be moved by any storm. Illness and even death can’t separate you from his love. The loss of that business you spent years of sacrifice to build can’t separate you from his love. The sudden loss of income and savings can’t separate you from his love. Social isolation can’t separate you from his love. Your newfound awareness that you don’t really control a whole lot about your own life can’t separate you from his love. Uncertainty about the future can’t separate you from his love.
See, in Jesus, you have an Anchor that went into The Great Storm of sin, judgment, death, and the grave, and came out victorious! No power of nature, nor even hell itself, can sink him. Every word of every promise he ever made is secure. What then would you fear if you anchored your hope to him?
It turns out your anxiety and fear aren’t the problem. They are merely the dashboard warning lights telling you to check the engine of your life. Is it possible you’re afraid because your hopes and dreams, and even your peace, are tied to something that’s going under? Then don’t wait another moment: shift your hope and security to something you can never lose – to the one who says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”