Overcoming Our Fears

fear-into-action 2To read this sermon from The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr. click on “Continue reading” below.

Sermon based on 1 Samuel 17:24, 38-40, 48-50 & Mark 4:35-41

There are many dangers in the world and we fear these dangers. Fear is a natural reaction. Fear is a God given reaction to those things that threaten us. According to the Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, fear is an innate, involuntary response to danger or threat. This perception of danger causes the individual toward either a “fight” or “flight” response. In the face of extreme danger someone may rise to the challenge or they may panic or freeze. Fear while natural can lead to paralysis. Fear can prevent us from dealing with what threatens us, and it can in the end permit the thing we fear to destroy us physically, emotionally and even spiritually.

Our Scripture passages from Old Testament deals with the subject of fear. When the Philistines came to make war on Israel during the reign of King Saul they came with a champion Goliath. Goliath was over nine feet tall, well armed and well armored. He challenged the Israelites to send a person against him. Each day for forty days he issued this challenge and each day the Israelites fled at the sight of him. Everyone was afraid and no one would fight Goliath. One day the youngest child in a family, who had been relegated to tending his father’s sheep while his older and bigger brothers served in the army of King Saul, volunteered to fight Goliath. His name was David. On this particular day while carrying provisions to his brothers in the army of King Saul, David sees Goliath, hears his challenge and is shocked by the fact that no one will oppose him. He volunteers to fight him. David has a hard time convincing Saul. Saul is sure that the boy is too small and too inexperienced. David tells him that he has killed lions and bears that have threatened his father’s sheep. He convinces Saul that he can with God’s help defeat Goliath. David defeats Goliath; not with the weapons of war that Saul sought to provide him with but with the instrument that he used as a shepherd, which was a slingshot.

The story of David and Goliath teaches us when we place our trust in God that we can overcome our fear. Yet sometimes our fears paralyze us. As we think of being paralyzed by fear, one of the most majestic of all creatures is the tiger. For many years tigers have puzzled researchers. When tigers hunt they have a remarkable capacity for causing their prey to paralyze with fear. As the tiger charges toward its prey it lets out a chilling roar. While we might think this would cause the prey to turn and run for its life, instead it often freezes them. Years ago at the Fauna Communication Research Institute here in North Carolina they discovered why animals would freeze on the spot rather than run when the tiger charges. When the tiger roars the sound waves they created are very audible. Yet at the same time the tiger also lets out sound at a frequency so low you can’t hear it, but you can feel the sound. As the tiger slowly sneaks up upon its prey it will often emerge from the undergrowth with a sound of its roar. The effect is that animals are momentarily paralyzed so even though there may be time to avoid the tiger, they stand still long enough for the tiger to catch them.

Our fears often operate in the same way. They paralyze us into inactivity, even when the real threat is not immediately upon us. Part of overcoming the challenges before us is to recognize our fear and how we deal with those challenges. As our Scripture passages from Samuel share, the key to overcoming fear is to gain a perspective of what we fear and to understand that God will help us. God has power over the wind and the waves; God can still the storm and calm the troubled waters. We have to look towards the solution instead of only looking at the problem. If we are to overcome our fears, we must confront them knowing that God can help us. In Alcoholics Anonymous and in all the dependency groups based on the AA Model, there is a slogan that says, “Let Go and Let God.”

Through our gospel lesson in Mark, we learn that we can confront our fears knowing we have the power and presence of Jesus with us. In this fourth chapter we can see that the disciples are traveling on a boat in which Jesus is resting. Even though they have Jesus with them on the boat, a storm on the sea comes up. Awakened by the fear of his disciples, Jesus shouts, “Peace, Be Still!” and the storm stops. This story is important to our Christian faith because despite the fact of Jesus’ presence in our lives, this does not mean we will not experience difficult times or storms in our lives. There is a saying that says, “God doesn’t put too much on our plate that we can’t handle.” However there are times when we probably feel like saying, “Okay, God, we have enough to handle right now!” In battling those giants in our lives whatever they might be, we have the power to do these following things:

  1. We have the power to confess our fears to God.
  2. We have the power to humble ourselves and ask God and others to help us in overcoming our fears.
  3. We have the power to confront our fears.

The late Harry Emerson Fosdick, an author and minister of Riverside Church in New York City for several years once wrote concerning fear and faith: “Fear imprisons, faith liberates; fear paralyzes, faith empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages; fear sickens, faith heals; fear makes useless, faith makes serviceable—and, most of all, fear puts hopelessness at the heart of life, while faith rejoices in its God.”

The Israelites when they saw Goliath like those disciples when they saw the wind and the waves felt powerless. They were unable to help themselves, unable to overcome the danger around them. However they witnessed how we can place our faith in God, and God will offer assistance. In our lives, we cannot control what will happen from one minute to the next. Rather than fighting this truth we should embrace this because that truth leads us back to God. David knew from where his strength came, he knew who was in charge, he knew who could help him as the familiar words of the 23rd Psalm remind us:

Yea thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…

To overcome our fears we may simply need to look at fear from a different perspective. A child was once walking home a friend’s house in their neighborhood. The weather had been cloudy all day long and suddenly the weather suddenly turned as it often can at a moment’s notice. The winds started to swirl then along came thunder and lightning. The child’s mother was concerned and got into her car to go get their child. She saw her child walking along the sidewalk, and noticed that at each flash of lightning several miles away, the child would stop, look up and smile. Just as she drove up to her child another bolt of lightning from a distance struck, and again her child looked up and smiled. As they got into the car the mother asked, “What are you doing looking up at that lightning?” The child answered smiling, “God is just taking pictures of me.”

Likewise, God has a picture of our lives. Sometimes the Lord calms the storm. Other times the Lord lets the storm rage and calms us. In either situation we can find comfort in the fact that God will be with us, and God willing, we can overcome the Goliath’s in our lives.

The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.

October 29, 2017