Summary: If we want to walk on water we need to get out of the boat.

Overcoming the Fear Factor

Series: Get Out of the Boat ! Living a Life of Greater Faith

Brad Bailey – July 24, 2011


In the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie…the evil pirate “The Black Pearl” turns to another character and said: “Arhhh… there be monsters”

It turns out that this line reflects what many saw some time ago.

In the British Museum in London, there is an old mariner’s chart drawn in 1525 outlining the North American coastline. The cartographer who created the map did so from information gleaned from ocean-going crews of the day. There were notations on where reefs might be, and where the best harbors could be found. But there were certain sections that were relatively blank. And in those sections were notations like the following:

* "Here be giants!"

* "Here be fiery scorpions!"

* "Here be dragons."

In other words: “Here be monsters”

Ever since man has gone out on the water in boats, seafarers have always been just a little afraid of the unknown and the uncontrollable. And they felt fear.

The truth we all have maps of the way we see reality… the world that we live in… and we all have areas and aspects marked with monsters… fears that keep our lives from exploring … from getting out of the boat… and that is what God wants us to consider this morning.

This morning we continue in our series focused on the need to get out of the boat if we want to walk on water. We are engaging a dynamic moment between Jesus and his disciples… especially Peter…a story that we are all a part of.

Jesus has been training his first followers… showing them how God is at work… sends them off… then meets them… amidst some stormy waters.

Matthew 14:25-33 (NIV)

25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." 28 "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." 29 "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

Over past couple weeks we looked at…

• The significance of getting out of the boat. The boat can become a picture of what is familiar and comfortable… while stepping out reflects joining God in what He is doing…. stepping out in faith.

• The need for discernment… as we noted that Peter asked ‘Lord, IF it’s you, tell me to come..’ – which reflects that such stepping out is not a matter of presuming that God must provide for our plans and preferences. It’s presumption to expect that God God simply jpin our will. Faith is a matter of us joining God’s will.

• The need to take a first step…something we discover God often calls those he is raising up to do.

Today we focus on what arises with every step... and that is FEAR.

This past week I got an email from an old friend that said…

“I am overwhelmed … anxiety ridden ….I feel like I am in fear most of the time. Fear of numerous things.”

Many share similar feelings.

Anxiety is the most common psychological ailment in America, surpassing even depression. [1]

Basic fear affects us far more than we know…from childhood fear of the dark to teenage fear of peer pressure to young adult fears of making it in the world to adult fears of attached to so many responsibilities to the ultimate fear of the death of these bodies.

We can call is fear… anxiety… feeling stuck… withdrawn… apprehensive.

Hear a guy share how…serving in a parachute regiment. During a nighttime exercise, he was seated next to a young officer. He was looking a bit pale, so he asked, "Scared, lieutenant?"

"No," he replied. "Apprehensive."

"What's the difference?"

"That means I'm scared, but with a university education."

We may not like the word fear… may be afraid of it… but we can’t avoid it.

Fear is at the root of what keeps us from getting out of the boat… and walking on water.

• How many of us may have been moved by some need that we could envision making a difference about… but there was something we feared that held us back. Maybe we’d fail… or be misunderstood.

• Maybe we want to change a relationship that we know isn’t healthy… but we’re afraid of facing the conflict and the consequences.

• Maybe we are a thrill seeker or entrepreneur… who loves the thrill of some types of risks…but we are paralyzed by a fear to connect and commit to the kind of relationships that would ground us.

• Maybe we know God has been calling us to really embrace being his… and following His Son… but we are afraid of what others would think… or of coping without something we think we would have to give up…even though we know it’s probably not helping us find our truest self.

Fear plays a dynamic role in our lives just as we see in this incident with Jesus’ first followers. Two times the work of fear is mentioned.

26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."

He declares his miraculous presence… and from such… that they should not be afraid. That drew Peter to take to take that first step.

Verses 30

… when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink… - Matt. 14:30

What profound words… they describe something so common… the power of fear.

1. Fear is a natural response to what we SEE… or think we SEE.

If you think you see a ghost walking on the water of a stormy sea in the middle of the night … it is natural to be afraid.

If you see wind whipping up the water beneath your feet that you are walking on… it is natural to be afraid.

If you see a tree falling down upon you…or a fire in your house… it’s natural to jump out of the way.

If you see you are headed towards a steep cliff… it is natural to be afraid.

If you see antagonism or aggression coming at you… it is natural to be afraid.

Fear is a natural reaction to what we perceive as danger… a threat to our well being.

Our bodies react faster than we can even consciously assess what is at hand.

The body’s reaction can include heightened heart rate… increased energy… sweaty palms… breathing becoming faster and shorter.

Fear is an internal reaction that comes quicker than any rational process… and it can become generalized as well. We can begin to relate to the whole of life and the world around us as dangerous.

> It’s not simply a response to what we see… but what we perceive… or think we see.

Research has discovered that there are physical traits that effect the level by which we experience fear. It’s been found that some people will have a greeter physiological disposition to fear. It the sla6a4 gene located on chromosome 17q12. People who have the short version of this gene are more prone to worry. And if right now you are feeling anxious and afraid that you have that short version…. You probably do. There are other biological dispositions… which is why some experience with anxiety can be helped by medications that at least normalize our bodily reaction.

But far more pervasive than bodily disposition.. is our cultural conditioning.

We began telling our kids not to play with sticks because they’ll poke someone’s eye out. (Anyone here poked their eye out with a stick?)

Is the bump on the airplane ride really a danger or just a normal part of engaging wind?

Scary movies shape our culture. Think of Jaws. After seeing the movie ‘Jaws’… were there really sharks swimming beneath every area of water we entered…even the pool?

Our culture sells fear. [2, 3]

A mass of our economy is dependent on establishing and maintaining a sense of fear… protecting us from risks.

Life expectancy has more than doubled in the past century… we are able to cure more diseases than ever before…yet no group of human beings has ever been more worried about their health.

> The more we know about, the more we fear… and the more want to control.

And as we learn from Peter…what we see… or think we see… can cause us to sink.

Hope got Peter out of the boat; Trust held him up; Fear sank him. (John Ortberg)

Peter saw the wind and the waves….and he began to sink… not just in water… but in fear itself.

For fear can become consuming. Many of us know that sinking feeling.

2. Fear has a sinking effect.

Fear can consume our energy.

When we engage a challenge… we get energized… when we avoid one… we lose vitality. “When you take on a challenge it builds the core of who you are, even if you don’t perform flawlessly.” (Ortberg, p. 125)

Fear can consume our joy.

When I reflect upon my own life… it is so clear that the times I most clearly sought God… sensed a call to something… and ultimately stepped out… is when I felt the biggest rush of energy… and joy. I remember praying about giving…. God spoke… I didn’t feel overwhelmed and burdened… I felt quickened in my spirit… nervous but also excited. I think we all think of how the times we step out in faith are the times of life we feel the most excitement… and the times we become more settled and safe… we lose it. Fear can steal our joy.

Fear can consume our potential.

Fear stops us from pursuing so much that is possible. In past cultures everyone would sing and dance… but we have created such a performance culture…. Dreamers on the sidelines. So many gifts are sealed up in a box called fear. And an enemy knows he is keeping God’s children from enjoying the freedom to sing and dance and create and care for this world.

Fear can consume our freedom to relate to others.

Fear causes us to hide so we won’t be seen. We might hide behind a constant smile… or a busy schedule… or a tough cynical demeanor… but the fear keeping us safe in the boat is keeping us from life.

Fear can consume our relationship with God.

In fact the Scriptures describe how fear has been with us from the moment we began life independent of God.

Do you recall the first time fear is ever introduced in the Bible?

The opening depiction of human life… begins in Genesis. It describes how we were designed to live in a relationship with God full of love and intimacy. God hung out with us, and we enjoyed being with him. We were meant to love and bless each other as well (Genesis 3:9).

The world and all that was in it was designed for good. When God was in charge, we had a wonderful world. But we wanted to be in charge so that all of it - creation and everyone in it - could be used for our own benefit instead of God's intended design and purpose of serving each other. The enemy had brought the fear that we were missing out. So we tried to be like God.

Genesis 3:10 (NIV)

He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

When we forge an existence that is outside of God’s reign… fear emerges… and that fear keeps us hidden… separate.

At the root of the sinking feeling is life without God.

This is what helps us overcome fear. When we consider Jesus challenge to Peter, we can naturally presume that fear is simply the enemy of faith and that we just need to get rid of fear. I want to suggest that we can miss something important in the relationship between fear and faith.

3. Faith is not primarily a matter of dismissing fear but of developing FOCUS.

Peter looked down…and we might say that is the problem. It certainly is part of the problem.

Example of chair lift… or my son in the Jr. Lifeguards program… as I watched the kids get a chance to jump off the Venice Beach pier. They have to tell them “Don’t look down. Look at the horizon.’ We discover that looking down creates not only fear… but irrational fear… while looking ahead keeps us going.

But the issue is not simply ‘don’t look down’ but look at me. It is not about what we should not look at … but what we are not looking at… what we are not seeing.

Jesus doesn’t tell Peter that there really is no wind nor waves. What he is engaging them all to realize is that HE IS PRESENT amidst the wind and waves.

God’s call for us not to fear is always related to the presence of God.

Deuteronomy 20:1 (NIV)

When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you.

Deuteronomy 31:6

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."

Isaiah 43:5

Do not be afraid, for I am with you…

Isaiah 41:10 (NRSV) [4]

Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

God speaks to fear out of the reality of His presence… here stating his position to us in every way. As John Piper describes…

• I am your God—over you.

• I am with you—by your side.

• I will strengthen you—from inside of you.

• I will help you—all around you from wherever the enemy comes.

• I will uphold you—from underneath you.

So we read in verse 27…

“ Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."

He establishes the greater presence.

The issue is not about storms but storms in relationship to God; there is a significant difference.

If we tell someone to just not be anxious… to ignore their fears…it only has limited effect. Jesus is telling us to focus on his restoration of God’s prevailing presence.

His call to have faith is always faith in the greater presence at hand. Faith is taking hold of what else is at hand.

When Jesus asked Peter why he doubted… it wasn’t an issue of blaming… but of training. It was a teaching moment… an opportunity for Peter… and now us to consider what changed.

I think Jesus was basically pulling back the curtain. An enemy was claiming to be sovereign over reality… to control our lives. And like the wizard in the Wizard of Oz, the curtain needs to be pulled back to see the deception. There is just one who is separated from God trying to draw us into the same demise. He pulls back the curtain to show that our enemy may be real… but he is not the true king. He is not God. But more importantly Jesus pulls back the curtain to help us see that God’s kingdom is sovereign over all… that eternity has reclaimed the created realm.

Jesus tells us that it’s focus that keeps us on our feet.

4. The life of greater faith is something Jesus is CONTINUALLY seeking to develop… even NOW.

One of the interesting aspects of this dynamic moment… is that it appears that Jesus set it up. He told them to get in the boat and head off… and that he would follow later. Then he shows up in the midst of the storm…but only after they had been out there for a long time.

What we discover is that Jesus was not so much testing them…. but rather that he was training them. This incident with the disciples is a dynamic moment. Notably is wasn’t their first…nor would it be their last. They never simply failed for good… nor do we.

If we think we have failed the test we just check of the program. That’s not what Jesus is doing. Before he scolds Peter… he saves him. This was a training time…it’s actually preparing Peter to learn because Jesus knows this life isn’t a program you that we can check out of. Every day His Father is at work and we are being given the highest privilege to join Him.

Jesus would continually break down their sense of living as if God wasn’t reigning.

It’s important to really hear Jesus’ heart. He isn’t dismissing Peter or the others. He never had nor will he ever later… as long as they still embrace being his followers… his apprentices…. He will be showing them the reality of the father’s presence… soon to be his own by the Spirit.


I don’t presume to know everyone’s life well enough to grasp what is going on.

But I do know this… in every one of our lives… there is the presence of what we fear… and the prevailing presence of God. You see God… you want to get out and join Him…. BUT… there between that destiny and your boat is something… or someone… that wants to be your focus.

I want to invite you to consider one area of your life that God wants to show you His presence.

At the beginning of this sermon I told you about an ancient map that is on display at the British Museum in London. Before the map made its way to the British Museum however, it was the prized possession of a British explorer by the name of Sir John Franklin in the 1800’s.

But in spite of its value, Sir John Franklin was offended by the fear that the ancient mariners had. And so he scratched out the inscriptions. And in place of the phrases that had once read:

"Here be giants!...Here be fiery scorpions!...Here be dragons."

He wrote these words across the map: "HERE IS GOD."

Consider the map of your own life… areas that you have deemed to not be safe… to have monsters? What monsters can you write those words ‘HERE IS GOD’ over?

Faith puts the big world back into God’s hands. In the garden… we tried to put the big world in our hands and… found ourselves alone and anxious. We still try that. But what we need is to put the big world which is beyond us… back into God’s control. Of course we never put it there… it already is. And when we enter that mystery … we begin to breath.

Dr. E. Stanley Jones, the great missionary to India, has a beautiful passage in his book Transformed by Thorns. He writes:

“I am inwardly fashioned for faith, not for fear. Fear is not my native land; faith is. I am so made that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life; faith is the oil. I live better by faith and confidence than by fear, doubt and anxiety. In anxiety and worry, my being is gasping for breath--these are not my native air. But in faith and confidence, I breathe freely--these are my native air…We are inwardly constructed in nerve and tissue, brain cell and soul, for faith and not for fear. God made us that way.”

Resources: John Ortberg, Jeff Strite (including Pirates of the Caribbean illustration), Max Lucado,


1. National Institute of Mental Health. Based on 7/1/98 U.S. Census resident population estimate of 143.3 million, age 18-54.

Learned Helplessness


In early 1965, Martin E. P. Seligman and his collegues, while studying the relationship between fear and learning, accidentally discovered an unexpected phenomenon while doing experiments on dogs using Pavlovian (classical conditioning). As you may observe in yourselves or a dog, when you are presented with food, you have a tendency to salivate. Pavlov discovered that if a ringing bell or tone is repeatedly paired with this presentation of food, the dog salivates. Later, all you have to do is ring the bell and the dog salivates. However, in Seligman's experiment, instead of pairing the tone with food, he paired it with a harmless shock, restraining the dog in a hammock during the learning phase. The idea, then, was that after the dog learned this, the dog would feel fear on the presentation of a tone, and would then run away or do some other behavior.

Next, they put the conditioned dog into a shuttlebox, which consists of a low fence dividing the box into two compartments. The dog can easily see over the fence, and jump over if it wishes. So they rang the bell. Surprisingly, nothing happened! (They were expecting the dog to jump over the fence.) Then, they decided to shock the conditioned dog, and again nothing happened! The dog just pathetically laid there! Hey, what's going! When they put a normal dog into the shuttlebox, who never experienced inescapable shock, the dog, as expected, immediately jumped over the fence to the other side. Apparently, what the conditioned dog learned in the hammock, was that trying to escape from the shocks is futile. This dog learned to be helpless!

3. From –

David Ropeik - Director of Risk Communication at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis

Our modern world is a risky place and evokes many well-founded fears. But

these fears themselves create a new risk for our health and well-being that

needs to be addressed.

“Public businesses, legally beholden to maximize profits, try to gain attention for their news and information outlets to increase readership and viewing figures. A common approach is to make risks sound as dramatic, threatening and urgent as possible. The result is a 24/7 drumbeat of drama and danger, contributing to what George Gerbner called 'the mean world

syndrome'—the sense we have, based on a steady supply of frightening and threatening news, that the world is a riskier place than it actually is (Gerbner & Gross, 1976).”

4. John Piper has a special message on Isaiah 41 because of the role it played in his own life.