Jesse Butterworth is a pastor, musician, and AGCI adoptive parent who lives in Kirkland, Washington. Our prayer is that Jesse’s words sink deeply into your heart as he shares about a topic on all our minds from time to time: fear.
Have you ever been on an airplane when you hit turbulence? You think to yourself, “Hey, I’ve been through this before, it’s no big deal.” But then there’s more, stronger turbulence and you think, “Hmm, that’s a little concerning.” What if then the plane begins to shake in a way that you’ve never felt before on a plane—the kind of turbulence where you’re looking at the flight attendants and see them make the sign of the cross across their chest and then you think, “Oh, this is real. This is a problem.” Now imagine if in the middle of all that uncertainty as the plane is moving all over the place and perhaps even taking a nosedive toward the earth, somebody turns to you and says, “Hey! Choose faith over fear!”
“Choose faith over fear!”
You’re thinking, “That’s not helpful right now!”
That’s how I think it’s taken by most people. While I totally agree with the sentiment that I think people are trying to get across when they say, “Choose faith over fear,” unfortunately it sounds like what people are saying is, you shouldn’t feel afraid. You should be ashamed of yourself for feeling afraid. But the truth is, fear is a perfectly normal thing to feel. Every person feels that feeling.
We need to stop for a moment and recognize what fear is, a feeling that everyone feels that cannot be turned off like a light switch. We must stop telling people to not be afraid because that’s unfair and unrealistic, and we must stop telling ourselves to stop being afraid because that’s not how it works. The question we need to be asking is, what are you going to do with that fear? How are you going to process that fear? Because there’s a big difference between feeling afraid and acting out of fear. I really want to discourage everyone from acting out of fear, but I would encourage everyone to recognize that it’s okay to feel afraid.
When King David was in a place of feeling all-time anxiety and isolation, he wrote in Psalm 56, “But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.” There is a point when everyone will feel afraid. But what do you do with that fear?
There’s a great quote from Nelson Mandela’s book, Long Walk to Freedom, where he says, “Time and again, I have seen men and women risk and give their lives for an idea. I have seen men stand up to attacks and torture without breaking, showing a strength and resiliency that defies the imagination. I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
The three most common responses to fear are: number one, people freeze; number two, they panic; and number three, they hoard. We can see all of these in our world today. We see people freeze—they get stuck feeling like there’s nothing that they can do, or that all they can do is hide and hope that it all goes away. And then there’s panic—we feel like we have total loss of control and it makes us feel helpless and anxious, when the reality is that we’re uncovering that we really didn’t have much control to begin with. I mean, the only thing you can really control is yourself. You can control your responses to things. That’s pretty much the only thing in life that you have direct control over. And then there are people that are going out and they’re hoarding all the things because they believe that they must survive. They think of themselves first, their family first. That’s it. Everyone else doesn’t matter today, only they matter.
Today, I want to challenge you to go against those three responses to fear. It’s okay to feel those things. It’s okay to recognize those things. It’s okay even to recognize that that may be our knee-jerk response, the human response to fear. But today I want to encourage you to respond in a different way. Firstly, I encourage you to prioritize community. Thankfully, we have great technology and you can video chat people or go back to the good old-fashioned phone call and phone somebody up. Get voice to voice or face to face with somebody and talk. See how they’re doing and prioritize community again.
Secondly, you’ve got to prioritize generosity. Now is not the time to only think of yourselves. Now is not the time to hoard. Now is not the time to say, “me first,” and “family first,” or hide behind the excuse of family first to justify selfishness. Now is the time for us to shine, especially if you are a believer. Now is the time to not stop giving, to build God’s kingdom. I mean that would be the same as saying, “Hey, the world is on fire. Everybody, hoard the water. If you’ve got water, make sure you hoard it!” This is our time. This is what we were made to be. As God says, He sends us out to be His hands and feet, to be His people, to build His kingdom. Now is our time to continue to make a difference, not shy away from it because now we’re thinking, “Well, is it wise to do that?” Yes, it’s wise to do that. Yes, it’s wise to be God’s people and to build God’s kingdom. It’s always the right time to do that.
Finally, I would say prioritize trusting God. That’s where the faith piece comes in. And I would say instead of faith over fear, faith despite fear. Because you can’t have faith without fear. There’s got to be some element of fear there for you to make the decision then to have faith, recognizing that God truly is in control and that nothing is a surprise to Him. We know who is in control, and we know that His name is Love, and we know that He is a good Father who looks out for His children. We know that over the course of all of mankind through history, there is always a bend back toward good. We have a good God who is and continues to be in control. The problem is that fear orients you away from God. But this is a time to reorient yourself toward God despite fear.
Several years ago, when my boys were much younger, like two and five years old, we were at Cannon Beach in Oregon, making sandcastles. We were a good distance away from the ocean so we would go and get buckets full of water and bring them back and build the sandcastles. So, my oldest son, Liam, was taking small amounts of water out of the bucket to make the sand a little bit wet so that he could put together the sandcastle. And then Finn, who was two at the time, took the whole bucket and poured it out completely so that he could have a whole bunch of wet sand right in front of him. Liam lost his mind. They were both looking at me with their backs to the ocean. Liam was so upset at Finn, and he said, “Why did you do that? Now we have no more water!” And I said, “Buddy, hey, it’s okay. Turn around. There is an entire ocean behind you. You could spend an entire lifetime bringing buckets in and you would never run out.”
This is what fear does to us. Fear reorients us away from God, that we would turn our back to the source of everything that is good, and we would say, “Don’t! You got to keep it all to yourself! There’s only a little bit. There’s not enough for everybody to go around. You’ve got to keep it all to yourself.” And God is saying, “Wait. Stop. Just turn back around and recognize there’s an entire ocean of blessings if you only keep me in front of you.”
In Psalm 77, they’re recounting the incredible miracle that God did when he made a way through the Red Sea, and I think that it’s appropriate. Anyone that’s feeling like, “I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I feel like there’s an ocean in front of me, that there’s something blocking me from being able to get through this and into the next place.” God who has done this through all the history of mankind will continue to make a way for us. Psalm 77 says, “Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters—a pathway no one knew was there!” Today I hope that you trust that God is going to continue to light pathways you didn’t know were there.