One of the most incredible and inspiring passages in Scripture for believers is the story of when the Apostle Peter walked on the surface of the sea toward Jesus during a storm in Matthew 14. In some ways, it is the “scary story” of the gospels because (at least in my mind) it seems like it could have started with the classic introduction, “It was a dark and stormy night.” The writer records the events like this:
And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:25–27, ESV).
This story is, of course, primarily about the deity of Jesus Christ. And as easy as it is to criticize Peter for his lapse in faith at the end of the story, this amazing passage gives us a glimpse into what is possible when we also have faith in the face of fear.
What Is Fear?
We have all heard the phrase “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.” However, I think we all know what it is like to legitimately fear something or someone. Fear is our mind’s reaction to a perceived threat, and it comes in all shapes and sizes and affects people in different ways.
It might just cause stress in our bodies, or it might leave us breathless in panic. Because it causes reactions, fear even sells! That’s why there are haunted houses, scary movies, and why kids tell scary bedtime stories.
In general, though, fear is a God-given feeling that motivates us to either advance and fight, turn and run away, or shrink down and hide. Different situations may elicit one or more of those responses from us.
There are times that a healthy response of fear can help us and keep us safe or alive, but other times fear can paralyze us and put us in a worse or even more dangerous position than we were already in.
According to one study, some of the most common fears are of spiders and snakes, of heights and flying, of dogs, of being humiliated in front of others, of germs or dirt, and of storms.
You could probably sum up all of these fears into a couple of general categories like fear of the unknown or fear of harm. Whether we like to admit it or not, everyone fears something.
The irony of many kinds of fears (including the ones we just mentioned), is that they are normally not based on reality.
For example, while the bite from certain kinds of spiders or snakes could be dangerous, the chances of it being fatal is extremely low; even though many people are afraid of flying, it is much more common to get in a car crash; and although many people obsessively wash their hands, staying away from all germs would actually be bad for our health, not good.
Nevertheless, some situations (such as the one that Peter found himself in as his boat was tossed around on the waves) are absolutely dangerous, and responding in fear is understandable.
How Can Our Faith Overcome Our Fear?
As I explained in another article, the faith and trust we have in God is based on what is “unseen and untouched” and is a “conviction of several layers of beliefs.”
That means that while we might fear something that we can see or sense in front of us, our faith is in something that we cannot see or sense in a physical way.
This is what the author of Hebrews meant when he wrote, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV).
Notice back in Matthew 14 that Jesus did not chastise Peter or the other disciples for being fearful of the tumultuous storm or the darkness (or thinking that Jesus was a ghost!); he chastised them for not having enough faith to overcome their fear.
So having faith in God’s provision or protection does not mean that it eliminates our fear. Nor is it blind acceptance of something you have not thought about or know nothing about — that is blissful ignorance.
It is not saying you believe something that you’re not actually acting on — that is hypocrisy. And faith over fear is not making decisions without any doubts or concerns of the outcomes — that is carelessness or foolishness.
Instead, having faith over fear involves considering the situation, weighing the options, and understanding the danger but then making the choice to fight through the fear and trust God anyway. It means pushing our fear to the side and replacing it with faith.
Often this involves an action (such as when Peter literally and physically takes a few steps on top of the water), but other times it is as simple as a mental state or inward decision to replace our anxiety with peace by “prayer and supplication with thanksgiving [letting] your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:5-7).
Faith over fear means that we are still participating in the things we value even if there is potential danger because we believe it is worth the risk. For example, those that highly value corporate worship still gather with fellow believers in the midst of fear of persecution, discomfort, or even sickness (such as the Covid pandemic).
that was recently in the news).
Faith over fear is continuing to take your children to church services, even though you know you will be verbally abused by an unbelieving spouse. It is believing the Bible’s account of Creation and the Fall while being berated by atheistic classmates in college.
There are many more models in Scripture of this concept of having faith that overcomes our fear that we can learn from. In fact, the encouragement from God to “fear not” is one of the most common statements from the mouth of God!
For example, Moses still went to confront the Pharaoh despite his great fear and excuses. Joshua and the Israelites still marched around Jericho and faced other nations in battle despite their fear of larger and more equipped armies. Esther still approached her king even though she knew she could lose her life for it.
What Does This Mean?
Today, one of the most wonderful opportunities that we have to exercise our faith over fear as Christians is to “draw near [to God] with a true heart in full assurance of faith” even though God is the fearful, holy judge who will not even look on our sin because “our hearts [are] sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22, ESV). Because of Jesus Christ, we can have our fear be moved aside by our faith.
So let us not be people who “shrink back and are destroyed;” let us be “those who have faith and preserve [our] souls” (Hebrews 10:39, ESV).
For further reading:
How Is God Not the Author of Fear?
Why We Truly Don’t Need to Fear This World
What Does it Mean ‘Fear Not for I Am with You’?
Why Can it Be Hard to Hear ‘Just Have Faith’?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Koldunova_Anna
Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, church planter, and now Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Cheraw First Baptist Church in South Carolina. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.