Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Be not afraid: Transforming Fear into Faith

by Theresita Joseph

For Halloween this year, I found myself carving the words ‘Be not afraid’ on the pumpkin I had originally destined to be some sort of scary face. Whilst I recognised the irony in this, I’d actually chosen the phrase as it had been floating in and out of my head over the past few months whilst several worries and uncertainties had been growing in my heart. Since reflecting more on this phrase, I’ve realised how often fear becomes our biggest barrier with God, yet how faith provides the ability to overcome it.
Dispelling the myth of faith without fear
It has been said ‘Be not afraid’ and associated phrases appear 365 times in the Bible; a reminder for each day of the year. Whether or not this exact number is true, the message is definitely present enough times to show that God understands we are fearful beings; and wants to encourage us.
Indeed, most humans have experienced moments of fear, both big and small, at some point in their lives. Despite our best efforts to appear brave or in control, there are always doubts and insecurities which manage to creep in; whether they are current fears in our relationships/work/personal life, anticipatory fears of what lies ahead, or fearful reminders of the past. If we don’t keep our emotions in check, we can let these fears consume us to the point that they become paralysing, and blind us from hope.
Adding faith into the picture can be a tricky topic for some, and I’ve often had friends ask me if my faith in God is merely a ‘safety-blanket’ to blindly reassure me through struggles. Whilst I would admit that my faith doesn’t mean I walk through life without experiencing fear; it does undeniably give me strength – but not because of an artificial hope, but because of a knowledge rooted both from scripture and belief, that I have the Creator of the very universe by my side with whom nothing is impossible.

“A whole set of forces may be against you – hostile others, troubling and extreme circumstances, even yourself – but if God is on your side, none of these will overcome you; indeed, you will overcome them. No power, nothing in the past, nothing in the future, no biological necessity, no demise of human cells, no amount of pain, and no sense of isolation will separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus" Extract from Be not afraid: Facing fear with faith by Samuel Wells, based on the words of St Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Where does fear come from?

The first account of fear in the Bible is actually revealed as the product of sin which came into the world after Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. Indeed, in Genesis 3:10, it describes Adam’s first response to God when He asks where they are both hiding after they ate from the forbidden tree; 
“I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself”. 

God’s response “who told you that you were naked?” is powerful through its subtle meaning - God never told Adam and Eve that they were naked; they were like that from the start; where there was no shame or fear. God’s question ‘who told you?’ highlights that by placing their trust in anyone other than God; their new knowledge had changed their original peace into fear. 

The actions of Adam and Eve can be compared with what is written in Proverbs 1:7 which says "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction". Through choosing to disobey God and stop fearing Him alone; they were ironically led further away from their very desire. As with our own fears that we face in life, by keeping them separate from God, we allow them to become problems we continue to struggle with on our own. 

Fighting Fear with Faith: St Peter

Knowing that fear is an inevitable product of mankind’s sin; we need to find ways to fight it. The Bible has several stories of individuals who experienced significant fear in their life, yet reveal how their faith provided them with the armour to press forward and overcome them. One of my favourite saints in being an ideal example for doing so is St Peter. Despite being the ‘rock’ upon which Jesus chose to build the church, St Peter had many battles with fear during his journey of discipleship with Jesus.
One of the most striking passages that reminds me of this is in Matthew 14. The disciples had just witnessed the incredible miracle of Jesus feeding the 5000 from a mere 5 loaves and 2 fish, but soon after Jesus instructs them to get into a boat and cross the sea onto the other side, where he would later join them. Whilst the disciples were on the boat, they were hit by a heavy storm, and fear soon entered their hearts. They must have had so many emotions and questions during that time; why were they apart from Jesus, why did he send them out alone; and how would they survive this storm? What brings them the most fear however is when they see a man walking across the sea; “they were troubled saying – it is a spirit; and they cried out of fear”. Yet Jesus is quick to reassure them;
“Take courage; it is I; be not afraid”.
At these words, St Peter does not hesitate to ask Jesus to let him walk on the water, and at Jesus’ beckoning, we soon see him stepping out of the boat in courage, and miraculously walking out across the water too. But as soon as the wind starts again, St Peter’s faith is replaced with fear, and he begins to sink. On calling out “Lord, save me!”, Jesus quickly pulls him up; but asks him an important question:
 “You with little faith, why did you give way to doubt?”
This question is one which I feel Jesus asks me time and time again in my own journey of faith. Like many, I find it easy to believe and trust in God when things are going well, make sense, and fall into place. But in other moments where the situation changes into one where I cannot imagine a positive outcome from, or cannot feel God's presence, how quick is it for me to let fear enter my heart. Like St Peter, I begin to sink spiritually as I look away from God and look only to myself. There’s a verse in Will Reagan’s song ‘Lay it all down’ that gets to the heart of this cyclical destructive nature of fear.

“Filled with all those anxious thoughts, and your doubts became your god – lay it all down at the feet of Jesus”
Truly, how often do we let our own fears and doubts become bigger or more powerful than God? Perhaps the real reason why we let them is because deep down; we want to conquer them through our own strength, rather than through God’s. Indeed, in spite of Jesus’ presence, St Peter needed to feel secure that he could still support his own weight and resist the wind himself. The moment he realised his weakness and lost faith in his own capabilities, his hope and confidence began to evaporate, despite the fact that Jesus was already letting him achieve the impossible. To add another pope into the commentary, Pope Benedict XVI expands on this flaw of St Peter during his walk with Jesus:  
 “His desire to rush in – his heroism – leads to his denial. In order to keep abreast of every development in Jesus’ destiny as it happens, he claims not to know him. His heroism falls to pieces in a small-minded tactic. He must learn how to wait, how to persevere”.
The analysis about how St Peter’s desire to keep up with Jesus actually leads him to deny him appears paradoxical. But the meaning behind it is that St Peter’s biggest struggle was fearing and caring too much for his own life, than to deny it all and give it up for Jesus. Yet despite this, Jesus still chose Peter to become the first Pope of the church, as he knew the goodness within his heart. As Pope Benedict XVI describes, all St Peter needed was time and perseverance to humble himself, and make his faith greater than his fears. Indeed, this same disciple that doubted and feared to the point of denying Jesus 3 times, was later the same person who died on the cross upside down to profess his unbreakable trust in Jesus. Through his lifetime of maturing to build his faith into a living rock; so would he become the foundation from which the church itself was built upon.
Take courage: we are called to be saints

Finally, it cannot be forgotten that one of the strongest promoters of the very phrase ‘Be not afraid’ was Saint Pope John Paul II, whose feast day we celebrated last Monday. Indeed, JPII began his papacy in St Peter’s square with this exhortation, and reminded people of it time and time again. In a later memorable speech at World Youth Day 2000 in Rome, he proclaimed:
“Young people of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium!”
As we prepare to celebrate All Saints Day tomorrow, we should let that same message and calling echo in our hearts. Like the saints before us, Jesus wants to transform our fears into complete trust in Him, and take us on a journey of faith. In my own life, I know for many years I have felt my faith in God wasn’t strong or bold enough to be able to proclaim it out to others. To be frank, I was comfortable letting Jesus sit in a box; where I could feel at peace attending mass every Sunday and share my faith to others that believed; but I shied away from letting my faith form the main part of my identity. The truth behind it all was that I was afraid: for fear of judgement, rejection from those that I cared about, and perhaps the need to change. Yet recently, as my faith in God has grown in ways I never imagined happening, I can no longer let God simply remain a part of my life that I try and hide, but want Him to become the only part that matters.

As young millennials, we live in a world where it’s not ‘cool’ to talk about faith, where belief in God is ridiculed as being childish, unscientific, or blind, and where despite having a freedom of speech, choosing to stand up for controversial matters of the Christian faith prompts a quick outcry to be silenced. But that’s okay – and that’s where true courage; the antidote to fear, comes in. As JPII also reminded us:
“The way Jesus shows you is not easy. Rather it is like a path winding up a mountain. But do not lose heart! The steeper the road, the faster it rises towards ever wider horizons”
It is for this wider horizon that we have faith in Jesus; that through faith in Him our eyes are opened to greater things than the world itself can show us. This faith in God is not something that we should keep to ourselves, hide away, or cause us to fear – it is something that should be shared, empowers others, and ultimately brings freedom. It is this goal that we will share at the Youth 2000 Vision Weekend in Sheffield this weekend, where we come together to reflect on the vision that God wants us to grow Youth 2000 through; to create new disciples; to spread God’s love to others; and to start building this new generation of saints. So through prayer, courage, and confidence of God's presence with us, let us 'be not afraid' - let's go.

“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” – Saint Pope JPII 


Monday, 29 October 2018

Worship Song of the Month (Oct): Lion and the Lamb

by Jade Broadley

What has been the worship song on your heart this month? (October)

Lion and the Lamb - Leeland


Verse 1
He's coming on the clouds, kings and kingdoms will bow down
And every chain will break, as broken hearts declare His praise
Who can stop the Lord Almighty?


Our God is the Lion, the Lion of Judah
He's roaring with power and fighting our battles
And every knee will bow before You
Our God is the Lamb, the Lamb that was slain
For the sin of the world, His blood breaks the chains
And every knee will bow before the Lion and the Lamb
Oh every knee will bow before the Lion and the Lamb

Verse 2

So open up the gates, make way before the King of kings
Our God who calls the saved is here to set the captives free
Who can stop the Lord Almighty?

Why is this song meaningful to you?

I first heard this song in a huge arena in Nashville (maybe that’s partly why I love it so much!) A worship leader shared about how he had played this song when he was really struggling after his brother was involved in a serious accident, and it was uncertain if he would recover. During those moments, he admitted that he didn’t know if he still believed in God, and certainly didn’t feel like singing about God’s goodness amidst the tragedy. But instead of relying on His own thoughts and feelings, he chose to trust in what God had said through scripture.

“This song is about our Savior, Jesus, who overcame the grave. It's about submitting all of ourselves to Him and His goodness and allowing His blood to cover us and run through our veins. That's how we can "overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony."- Leeland Mooring

Although I haven't struggled with such extreme doubts, there have certainly been moments where I have wondered about the goodness of God. Trying to make sense of my past, and especially those moments where I wandered far from God and really caused harm to myself and others. It has caused me not to ask the question was He there? but rather, is He good? When I'm questioning, and my thoughts and emotions can be all over the place, songs like this one lead me back to scripture where I am reminded of God's goodness and all of His promises. That yes He is good, yes He is faithful, and yes I am His.

"That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." - Philippians 2:10-11

Are there any particular lines of the song which strike you?

The title of the song itself ‘Lion and the Lamb’, already strikes me in revealing the wondrous and amazing nature of God; that He is both gentle and mighty, and always on our side. The idea of God being both a Lion and a Lamb is actually incredible when you think about it - that He has the power to create with one word, or change any situation with one command. Yet, at the same time, He desires to be with us so badly that He laid down His life for us and became the lamb that was slain. He is both the mighty roaring lion, and the gentle, approachable lamb. He is absolutely everything that we need.

“It's an amazing picture of how we tremble at His power and might and glory, and at the same time He is tender like a Lamb. It is amazing that He is both to us, for us and with us.” – Leeland Mooring  

Another particular line in the song that really stands out to me is: “He’s roaring with power and fighting our battles.” Woah - what a reminder (that I continually need) - that our God isn’t a passive God. He is alive and actively fighting for us every day. Even when our culture seems so dark and against us, we have the King of Heaven on our side, so there is nothing to fear! When I look back on my own faith journey the only conclusion that I can draw from where God has brought me from and led me to is that He has always been fighting for me. His ferocious love was the very thing that brought me into existence, came down into the pit of my life, and showed me another way of living. Truly, who can stop the Lord Almighty?.

"They will follow the LORD; He will roar like a lion. When He roars, His children will come trembling from the west." - Hosea 11:10

Are there any scriptural passages that you think of when listening to this song?

One of my all-time favourite passages in scripture that Im reminded of through this song is about the woman with a haemorrhage, who was instantly healed after simply touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak (Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5: 25-34, Luke: 43-48). The part that always gets to me though is how she had been desperately seeking healing for 12 years. 12 whole years. I wonder how often during those years she wondered about God, and why He wasn’t fighting for her healing, as many of us do during our own personal struggles. Then boom - one day, one touch, and she was healed. All of that fighting, all of the struggle, all of the pain and shame, redeemed in one single encounter with Jesus Christ in her small, relatively unknown village.

At the Walsingham festival this summer, this passage was read during the healing service. Whilst I've been to many of these services before, each one is always so beautiful and unique; because Jesus is alive and moving in our midst. Something that stood out to me this year was the incredible faith that this woman must have had to have kept going for all of those years, and keep trusting in Gods goodness and mercy for her, despite not knowing if her circumstance would change. Jesus was her only hope, and when she had the courage to reach out and touch His cloak, 

"Jesus turned, and seeing her said - Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well." 

It was HER faith in Him that healed her. Jesus longed to heal her, but waited for HER to reach out and touch Him that simple act of her faith was the biggest miracle needed to cure her.

When the road seems ridiculously long without answers or a solution and it seems like things will never change, or perhaps takes you to places you never could have imagined, we just have to keep reaching out for the hem of Jesus' cloak, one moment at a time. We have to keep trusting that in God's timing, He will reveal a plan for us that will be the most fulfilling journey we can ever make.

Who would you recommend this song to?

I would really recommend this song to anyone who’s been waiting for God to speak into an area of their life for a while. Maybe into a relationship that feels hopeless, or into a habit or way of thinking that’s really difficult to change. God wants to share His heart with you, and to let you know that He is fighting for you. He is on your side. Don’t lose hope!

Are there any similar songs on this theme that you would recommend?

On this theme, another current favourite worship song is ‘Confident’ by Steffany Gretzinger. There’s a brilliant line in it that declares; “I won’t win this battle with the strength of my own hands.” How often do I need this reminder!!

Prayer to end on:

Dear Lord,
Let us never forget your infinite strength coupled with your unfailing tenderness and love. 
The Lion and the Lamb; You powerfully overcome and comfort us through every battle we face; and we surrender all our current doubts, struggles and fears to you. 
You alone are worthy of all praise and glory – and we will never stop trusting in Your goodness and plans for us.
elp us to stay close to You in the darkest of days, and shine your light onto us to give us strength. 
Nurture our trust and hope in you, and let us love you more with each passing day.
© Youth 2000 Blog | All rights reserved.
Blogger Template Crafted by pipdig