Faith over Fear. That is what we have heard a lot about these last several weeks. We’ve encouraged it as a church, you’ve probably seen it in a social media post from another Christian outlet, or maybe you have even encouraged someone else with that same truth. And for good reason, it is a good reminder during times like these. It is a good reminder that faith is what should be produced in us as we seek the Lord in this season. Pressing into the Lord during this time is important for us all to do. Seeking refuge in the Lord is right. (Psalm 16:1)
But what if the Lord is asking more of us? What if it is not just a simple equation of replacing fear with faith. Or having faith, instead of fear. What if the Lord wants to use this season for something much more?, What if He wants to remove that which stands in our way of faith most often, something that is actually at the root of the fear we often have? What if before the Lord can increase our faith He has to do a much deeper work; a much more inconvenient work in our life?
What am I talking about? Well let me lead you there by way of describing first how the Lord showed me this work just this week.
I was reading Exodus 14. Now this isn’t so much about what I was reading. It is more about how, deep down in my heart, I was reading it.
It is a familiar story. Moses has led his people out of Egypt into the wilderness. The people have watched over time how God has shown up through plaques and miracles, signs and wonders, and now as a pillar of dust and fire. To say that these people have seen some amazing acts of God would be an understatement. He is literally leading them day and night in a pillar of dust and a pillar of fire by night.
But now they have come to the Red Sea, a geographical dead-end. And here comes Pharaoh, hard-hearted and ready to destroy the Israelites. Imagine you are an Israelite, you’ve seen God literally send an angel of death to fight for you. You have seen God overthrow and bring to his knees the super-power political leader of your day. You have spent the last several days watching as God manifest himself in your midst through dust and fire. And at the first sign of trouble you want to run back to Egypt. I mean, I can get you being afraid. I can get there being some trepidation in your voice and heart at this moment. I can even expect the question: “Lord this looks like a pretty tough situation. Not sure how you are going to get us out of this one.” I can understand all that, but No! The Israelites sarcastically mock Moses, basically saying, “Oh so you brought us out here to die. We told you so. We had it better in Egypt.” (Exodus 14:11-12)
And if I am honest as I have told that story to kids, as I have read about it over and over, there are times that, I may not have shaken my head, but deep down in me, I was shaking my heart at least. I was scoffing at the Israelites. “Oh yea of little faith! You’ve just witnessed God fighting for you. And now you doubt him?”, my heart would say.
But this time, during this season, reading that story in the midst of COVID-19 exposed my pride, arrogance, and vanity. I didn’t shake my heart at the Israelites, I sadly identified with them. I asked myself, “How many of your prayers sound like those Israelites?” I may not be staring at the Red Sea, but take a second and look at your calendar for April. Think about the prospect of employment if this season continues. Look into the abyss of what is now our unknown situation and see if you don’t feel a little bit of what the Israelites felt that day.
Which leads me to the inconvenient work the Lord is up to in my own life, maybe your life, and maybe the church as a whole. We have talked a lot these last few weeks about having faith and believing in the goodness of the Lord. But what I have forgotten and maybe you have too, is that belief and faith is a two-step process. Faith’s biggest obstacle is not fear, it is what lies as the source of that fear, sin and idolatry.
John the Baptist comes on the scene and his ministry can be summed up in three words, “Repent and Believe.” Jesus comes on the scene and begins his ministry in Mark 1:14 and his first recorded words in that gospel are this, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus first “sermon” in Mark is to call people to repentance and then belief. “Root out the sin, recognize where you have believed in opposition to my good news, and then believe in the gospel,” Jesus says. Repentance is always the first step in the process of deepening faith. Moving towards God is always accompanied by moving away from and acknowledging false beliefs, false gods, and insufficient idols.
I don’t say this from an ivory tower or some emotionally distant vantage point. I realize our current situation has already seen people lose their jobs. Families are making or will begin to have to make tough choices. Much of what lies ahead of us is unknown. That is why I called what the Lord is wanting to do, such an inconvenient work. Not an insensitive work, but an inconvenient one. In the midst of all this unknown, in the midst of this Red Sea of questions and worry, in midst of this diseases and hurt, the fact that the Lord may want us to repent so that our faith could be made stronger is inconvenient, from our human perspective at best.
But if we want more of God. If what we really seek is to be transformed into the likeness of His Son in the midst of this trial, then it would be foolish for us as a church not to recognize that the greater work of deepening faith may have to come through the road of repentance. We want to be comforted by God, but realizing areas where we have first made God small is often the first step in His comforting work.
Think back 6 months ago. Would you ever have believed, in the midst of your work and toil, your leisure and spare time, your business and money-making endeavors, that out there in the world somewhere there was lurking a little tiny virus, no bigger then 1/1000th of an eye lash that could bring the world to its knees? Our biggest weapons, all our money, and all our power have yet to stop this thing. At best right now all we hope to do is contain it. Oh but how powerful, whether we realize it or not, did we feel at that time. How little thought did we give of the millions of ways God’s good grace was maintaining our world and keeping us going. How much of our days did we think that we, in our own power and might, happened because of our ability to make it so?
And yet a tiny virus has shown us that we aren’t as in control as we thought we were. One tiny virus has shown up and once again reminded us how fragile, how needy, and how vulnerable we are. And we would be worse off if we simply hunkered down during this time, thought nothing of the different ways, known and unknown, that we have forgotten God in the midst of our everyday lives.
God brought his people to the Red Sea because he loved them. It was easy for God to get them out of Egypt, but it took a much longer time to get Egypt out of them. The same is true for us. We are living a similar exodus story. The Israelites were brought to the Red Sea so that they would feel their need of God. And God has brought us to this point because we need the same. And neediness’ companion on this wilderness journey is often repentance. God may not part every figurative “Red Sea” for us. What God did for the Israelites in the wilderness that day, is not prescriptive for what God will do for you in your family, with your health, or with your job in this season. Not because God doesn’t care about those things, but because God has already parted this sea. He did it when His Son came to this virus infected earth and died on the cross for our redemption. He did it when he raised His Son from the dead because death had no claim on his sinless and perfect life, and he does it today because he is still ruling and reigning in the midst of the pandemic. God has not been dethroned by COVID-19. And as you look to an unknown future, acknowledge the ways in which you are stilled pulled to want to go back to Egypt. Acknowledge where you heart is prone to despair. Stare at the Red Sea of your future and be reminded of Moses words to the people at that day, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord.”