Meditation on "Overcoming "Mega Fear"

(for all previous editions of "Word for the Week" see list, end below).

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!" (Mark 4:35-41)

This week, a plane took off from a New York airport and within minutes flew into a flock of birds. It suffered what is called a multiple "bird strike". As a consequence, the 80 ton jet lost all power at 3000 feet. Suddenly, a commercial jet was falling out of the sky towards the skyscrapers of Manhattan, a nightmarish repetition of 9/11, which wrought unutterable devastation in such a densely populated place. Believers in the plane, seeing their apparently hopeless situation and knowing that their plane could kill thousands in Manhattan, immediately prayed in their seats. The captain seeing this too, decided to "ditch" the plane in the freezing Hudson River, rather than kill people in Manhattan offices, knowing that some passengers might survive a crash on water.

This experienced pilot happened to be a leading safety expert and a leading glider instructor, but without an empty stretch of smooth river into which to ditch his plane, these skills would not have mattered. CCTV footage shows the plane coming down on the water, as gently and beautifully, as a paper dart landing. Conveniently, the two heavy engines fell off, on impact, which stopped the plane being dragged to the bottom. There was enough time, before the plane gently sank, to get everyone including the children onto the wings, in sub-zero temperatures. If this had been any other stretch of water, would ferry boats have been standing by to rescue people in the 10 minutes before they froze, at -5? Those who prayed in that plane, can really say today, "Our prayers were fully and dramatically answered. God was "with us" in that plane".

In desperate and fearful situations in life, for example in illness, in unemployment and in crises, this passage in the Gospel of Mark is important to believers. First, it teaches the overall command of Jesus over life and death situations. Rationally speaking, if He is the Lord of the winds, He is also the Lord of the skies, of all material things and all rescue routes: if He had to, He could "break the laws of nature". Certainly, we do not look to Him to do that for us, today. But it is worth bearing in mind that He can, if He wants to. If we are in danger, He is in our frail boat with us and He can raise it from the bottom, or stop it sinking in the first place. He can calm the waves lapping over it, by removing the cause, at a stroke, if He desires. Do we believe this? Do we believe God is omnipotent? It is a lesson we must always take to heart and say, "Yes, I fully believe you are able to do anything".

So where did the disciples go wrong in their crisis? Well, they panicked too soon. They did not, as the passengers in the plane, fall instantly to prayer. They too had reason to feel, as the Greek puts it, "mega fear". Squalls on the Lake of Galilee today, are still sudden and can be life threatening. All their experience as fishermen told them that.

But first, they should first have reasoned that the boat was unlikely to go down with Messiah in the stern. It never appeared in Scripture that Messiah, the facilitator of God's key purposes, would die in a shipwreck on Lake Galilee. Instead, it was written that Messiah would die in Jerusalem. Second, they should have prayed. They seem simply to have forgotten acts of faith, in a crisis. Only as a last resort, do they remember Jesus' miraculous powers, rudely waking him with the wrong words: "Don't you care......?"

Never address Him with the words "Don't you care....?" even if He seems to be doing nothing for you. It is unwise to say to One who will be the Judge of every loving carer who ever lived, that He lacks any care for those who trust in Him. Even if Jesus is currently "asleep" in our life, in his infinite wisdom, He is still "with us" in our boat, just as much as when He is clearly active in our lives. To trust by faith, rather than by sight is the key lesson at the heart of all Scripture. We must demonstrate this kind of faith, not any other sort.

Jesus reprimanded his disciples for their "lack of faith", with good reason. Today, we must see every crisis as "a test of faith". Falling out of the sky over Manhattan was a test of faith for those praying to Jesus, in that airplane. We are to exhibit trust in Him by faith, not by sight. This is basic to our maturity as Christians. We must, by the grace of God, become "lion-hearted" and resourceful, not "mouse-hearted" and self-pitying, as these disciples were, at this point. We must finally be able to strengthen our weaker brethren, as they came to learn to do.

Jesus calms the storm. The "storm" is like any storm or chaos, made through our own disobedience, running ahead of God's will, by a "credit crunch" made by sinful, greedy and foolish people, or through the direct attack of the Adversary on our very survival. All that matters is that we fully believe that Jesus can save us from that storm, that He can move mountains.

Jesus expects us to mature, to grow beyond children who wake their father or mother in the night, to those who stand firm, knowing that "Emmanuel" is with us. We must assume the love and care of Jesus, even when He is silent. We must assume that though our crisis seems chaotic, it is in the hand of One who will, one day, calm every storm. In English there is an expression "We are all in the same boat together ", meaning that we are all facing the same situation. We must learn to apply it to Jesus.

Jesus walks beside us today, He is with us in every fearful situation and calls us to master our many fears. We have Infinite resources with us to counter our "mega fears" - if we will simply learn to trust Him - completely.

(Alison Bailey Castellina, January 18, 2009)