There’s a growing crisis in workplaces and universities. Many competent and successful people suffer from IMPOSTER SYNDROME. It’s a secret fear that their lack of ability will be exposed. That they’re not as capable as everyone believes, that their success was due to luck, and they don’t deserve the achievements they’ve received.
IMPOSTER SYNDROME stops people from stretching themselves and trying new things. It stops them going for promotions, or risking anything on a big project. Imposter syndrome stunts teamwork and collaboration, because people are too scared to ask for help, and they don’t want anyone to suspect they’re not competent to do their job.
People can HIDE imposter syndrome in all sorts of ways. They CRITICISE and put other people down to make themselves feel bigger. Or they’re WORKAHOLICS, because they make the amount of work they do a source of validation, and a cover-up for their insecurities.
Others are PERFECTIONISTS. They set incredibly high standards for their work because if they achieve less than perfection, they take it personally and doubt themselves. They micromanage others, or they won’t delegate to others, or they won’t start something for fear of failing.
FEAR governs the behaviour of many people at work.
And, of course, it’s not just at work. Anxiety is the new epidemic. An Australian government health report says that 1 in 7 Australians had experienced anxiety disorders in the previous 12 months!
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Compared to Australia in our parent’s generation, there’s fear about job security, housing prices, the cost of living, economic uncertainty, climate change, environmental destruction, and terrorism.
Max Lucado, in his book Fearless, writes, “We fear being sued, finishing last, going broke; we fear the mole on the back, the new kid on the block, the sound of the clock as it ticks us closer to the grave. We implement sophisticated investment plans, create elaborate security systems, and stronger military; yet we depend on mood-altering drugs more than any generation in history. Moreover, “the average child today … has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950s.”
In the Bible passage we just read, Jesus asks his disciples a great question, “Why are you so afraid?” Yes, there are SCARY THINGS IN THE WORLD. But Jesus is WITH them. And he’s got the POWER and the WISDOM and the LOVE to deal with them ALL.
And while much has changed in our world since Jesus’ time, in other ways not much has really changed. There are the same fears, the same dangers, the same things we have no control over. And so it’s a great question for us, as well.
Perhaps you’ve got phobias you can’t conquer. Heights, or enclosed spaces, or flying, or public speaking, or spiders. Or maybe it’s a fear of not being in control. Or of being exposed – being seen for what you really are. Or a fear of not being accepted, or of being ridiculed. Or maybe there’s a fear of what might happen TOMORROW. That’s anxiety, or worry. We’ve ALL got fears. In different combinations, and different amounts. But we ALL FEAR.
But here’s the problem. Our fears impact the choices we make. They LIMIT life. We MISS OUT on things because of fear. We SETTLE for SECOND BEST. We miss out on new experiences. We miss out on the character development that comes from being taken out of our comfort zones. And we miss out on opportunities to help other people.
Jesus cares that we’re scared. And he wants us NOT to fear. In fact, it’s his MOST COMMON COMMAND. Someone’s counted 125 commands of Jesus recorded in the gospels. TWENTY-ONE urge us to not FEAR, or to have COURAGE. The SECOND most common command appears only EIGHT times. Less than HALF as many. If we simply go on the numbers, it’s important to Jesus that we DON’T FEAR.
Over the next five weeks we’re going to examine FEAR. And learn what God wants to say to us about our fears. And about how we can learn to FEAR LESS.
Fear the storm
Have a look at Mark 4 from v35. It’s night-time, and Jesus is in the boat with his disciples. He’s spent the day teaching, and he’s exhausted. They’re travelling across the lake. But part way across, v37, a furious storm blows in. And the wind and the waves are so big, the boat’s in danger of being swamped. And everyone’s BUSY, madly trying to keep themselves alive. Tying down sails, and wrestling with the tiller, and bailing water. Plenty of reason to fear. But Jesus is ASLEEP. At some point, in their busyness, they NOTICE Jesus sleeping. And it BOTHERS them. V38, they wake him up and accuse him, “Don’t you CARE if we drown?”
Notice the focus of their question. His CONCERN. They mistake his INACTIVITY for DISINTEREST. They don’t question his POWER. (They know he CAN do something). And they don’t question his KNOWLEDGE. (He KNOWS they’re in trouble). They question his CHARACTER. His CARE for them.
What does fear do?
And that’s what FEAR does. Fear corrodes our confidence in God’s goodness. We doubt his INTEREST in us. We doubt his LOVE. The thing we fear casts a huge shadow that blocks out all the light. It stands in the way of us seeing God. Fear makes THE THING WE FEAR into an IDOL.
And, secondly, fear SHORTENS OUR MEMORY. We forget God’s goodness and answered prayer and how far we’ve COME. All we can see is the present crisis. That’s FEAR.
Look at how it worked for the disciples. Chapter 4 describes Jesus teaching. But before that, they’ve seen Jesus heal many and cast out many demons. The crowd SO great, 3:9 tells us he needed to hop into a small boat to keep the crowd from pushing him into the lake. Perhaps even THE SAME BOAT THEY WERE IN AT THE MOMENT!
They’d witnessed all that, but in the heat of the moment, fear caused them to FORGET it.
They’d mistaken Jesus’ lack of ACTION as a lack of power, or knowledge or concern. And we often do the same thing. We’re in a difficult situation. And fear is hovering. We’ve prayed and prayed. And nothing happens. And fear and doubt grow. And we begin to question what God’s doing. Or NOT doing.
But God’s answer might be, “Not YET. Keep praying. Learn to TRUST me. Learn to not be fearful. THEN I’ll calm the storm.” His answer might be, “You want the storm to STOP. But I’ve got a DIFFERENT plan. My will is that storm CONTINUES. The storm is MY INSTRUMENT. I’m USING it to work on YOU.”
We shouldn’t be surprised that the Christian life has STORMS in it. Jesus PROMISED it. Shortly before his death, he said to the disciples (Jn 16:33), “In this world you WILL have trouble.”
But then he adds, “But TAKE HEART!” (Have CONFIDENCE, or COURAGE). I have overcome the world! Fear makes the storm bigger than Jesus. But he commands us, “Have COURAGE!” And then he comforts us, and CORRECTS our fears, “I’m not just bigger than the storm. I’m bigger than the WORLD. I’ve BEATEN it.”
So, v39, Jesus stands up, rebukes the wind, and says to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” And they OBEY him. Just as SICKNESS does, and SATANIC FORCES. Because he’s overcome the world. They go completely quiet. In complete submission. Recognising his power over them, even as the disciples doubt it. And then, v40, he turns to the disciples, “Why are you so AFRAID?” You should know better! You should remember.
Fear is the opposite of faith
And then he adds, “Do you still have NO FAITH?” He connects fear with a lack of faith. FEAR IS THE OPPOSITE OF FAITH.
Let’s be CLEAR. There are times when a certain TYPE of fear is WISE. It’s appropriate and right to have a healthy CAUTION and WARINESS in certain situations. It will stop you putting yourself in danger. Fear of lung cancer will stop you smoking. It’s right to be careful as you approach a clifftop lookout. You won’t get too close to the edge. And it’s right to be cautious when you drive on a slippery road. You won’t drive too fast for the conditions. And a healthy respect for electricity makes you call an electrician rather than re-wire your house yourself.
THAT sort of caution isn’t a lack of faith. It’s using the wisdom God’s GIVEN us. And it OPENS UP the world to opportunities. You’re STILL ALIVE to serve God and enjoy his world!
But FEAR is MORE than that. Fear PARALYSES. Fear LIMITS your world. Fear makes you MISS OUT. It stops you climbing the hill, so you miss out on seeing the incredible view. Fear stops you driving on a wet road at all, so you cancel dinner with friends. Fear stops you catching the plane, so you miss the incredible experiences of the overseas mission trip. It robs you of JOY.
And it robs GOD of your service in his kingdom. Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy. And he says, Ch 1 v6, FAN INTO FLAME the gift of God. Work at it. Don’t settle for what you naturally want to do. Step out of your comfort zone. Train, develop, work at your gifts.
And then he says, v7, For God did NOT give us a spirit of TIMIDITY, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
God’s Spirit causes and influences us to POWER, and LOVE and SELF-DISCIPLINE. The characteristics you need to REPLACE fear. To use in scary situations.
And those characteristics have a PURPOSE. V8 continues. “Don’t be ashamed to TESTIFY about our Lord. And join with me in SUFFERING.” Fear RUNS from conflict and suffering. But POWER stands firm in the face of opposition. And LOVE for your enemies MOTIVATES you to SPEAK when it’s easier to be SILENT. And SELF-DISCIPLINE enables your WILL to win the battle over what your FLESH wants.
And, ultimately, it’s FAITH that’s the beginning of all that. A trust that God’s way is RIGHT. And that his promises are sure. And his plans succeed. And that Jesus HAS overcome the world. THAT FAITH fuels the power and love and self-discipline that SPEAKS the GOSPEL and ENDURES PERSECUTION. And the gospel goes out. And God’s kingdom GROWS.
But if TIMIDITY and FEAR rule you, then none of that happens. Max Lucado writes, “When fear shapes our lives, SAFETY becomes our god. When safety becomes our god, we worship the RISK-FREE LIFE. Can the safety-lover do anything great? Can the risk-averse accomplish noble deeds? For God? For others? No. The fear-filled cannot love deeply; love is risky. They cannot give to the poor. Benevolence has no guarantee of return. The fear-filled cannot dream wildly. What if their dreams sputter and fall from the sky? The worship of safety emasculates greatness. No wonder Jesus wages such a war against fear.”
You see, fear makes the DANGER greater than God. It lines the two up, and gives the danger more credit and more power than it deserves. Fear looks at the DANGER through a microscope – makes it BIG. And God through a TELESCOPE – and makes him small.
And when God is SMALL, we don’t TURN to him in our fear. To turn away from him. And turn to OURSELVES. Instead, we respond with anger, or silence, or binges of eating or drinking, vice-like control, or mind-numbing TV or computer games. Fear allows anxiety to dominate and define us.
But FAITH recognises that God is GREATER than the danger. Jesus says, “Take COURAGE. I have overcome the world.” Faith expresses itself in COURAGE. Courage is the strength to act DESPITE the fear. Courage says, “I trust that God will look after me on the wet road, or the plane flight.” Courage says, “Even if something happens, God will be WITH me through it. And strengthen and lead me.”
And courage says, “Even if the WORST happens, and I DIE. He’s with me in THAT, TOO”. Courage allows you to speak Romans 5:9-11 to yourself.
9 Since you have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall you be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when you were God’s enemy, you were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall you be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but you also REJOICE in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom you have now received reconciliation.
Who is this?
So how can we DO that? How can we move from FEAR to FAITH? How can we fan into flame the spirit of courage? Look at how the story finishes. V41.
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “WHO IS THIS? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Their attention turns from the calm sea and still air. And they look at Jesus. And their fear of DROWNING changes to fear of the one who’s SAVED them from drowning. The One who is GREATER than the storm and the sea. Greater than Satan. Greater than their problems. Greater than their doubts.
Who is this? That’s the question to ask. And that’s where the solution to your fear begins.
We need to see MORE OF JESUS. More of his LOVE and his POWER. More of his WISDOM. More of his understanding of our temptations. More of his high priestly representing of our weaknesses before God. We need to see more of God’s purposes to bring all things in heaven and earth together underneath KING JESUS.
We need to see THIS Jesus. The Jesus of Revelation 19!
11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
That’s the One to lead you when you fear the storm.