Did you ever notice that the words “Don’t be afraid” are spoken when you are most afraid? In Mark 4, a storm arises while Jesus and his disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. His disciples are terrified, but Jesus had been taking a nap and has continued to sleep despite the storm. They awaken him, he calms the storm and asks them, “Why were you so afraid? Have you no faith?”
Centuries earlier, another man prayed in fear. An enemy army had besieged, then destroyed his city. He has lost all and has witnessed atrocities that often accompany war. He writes and prays,
“Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD! Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven: ‘We have transgressed and rebelled, and you have not forgiven. You have wrapped yourself with anger and pursued us, killing without pity; you have wrapped yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can pass through. You have made us like scum and garbage among the peoples” (Lamentations 3:40-45)
He (The writer may be the prophet Jeremiah) laments his people’s situation and confesses sin. His vividly worded prayer conveys his despair: God has turned from protector into pitiless pursuer. God has ignored their prayers. “No prayer can pass through” – Those words drip with dread. God, our refuge, has barred his gates and denied entry.
He cries in his anguish, “Do not close your ear to my cry for help!” The tone changes as he prays, “you came near when I called on you; you said, ‘Do not fear!’” (Lamentations 3:55-57) Foreshadowing the incident on the Sea of Galilee, God replies, “Don’t be afraid.”
The prayer continues with relief-laced rejoicing:
“You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life. You have seen all the wrong done to me; judge my cause.” (Lamentations 3:58-59)
God has stilled the storm, although the scars of fear remain.
I have suffered unexpected loss several times during my life: deaths of loved ones, loss of employment, and more. I know the feeling expressed by the prophet when he prayed “no prayer can pass through.” It seemed as if God refused to hear. Even now, when things don’t go as expected, shadows of dread return. I hear, when I pause to listen, Jesus saying to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you no faith?’ I hear God saying to the prophet, “Do not fear!” I hear in my mind those words being spoken to me. Sometimes it’s hard to listen. Background noise threatens to drown out the calming words of assurance. I also hear the words of another prophet to his rightfully fearful son, “The Lord will provide.” When I hear those words, my faith rebounds. Although my storm may not yet be over, I can go forward because the Lord has taken up my cause.