Questions God Asks

Why Are You Afraid?

Mark 4:35-41

Teaching t12662


We are examining some of the many questions God asks biblical characters. We often ask questions because we are seeking information – but God doesn’t because He already knows all things. Rather, He usually asks questions as a wise counselor – to help us realize what our real needs are, the inadequacy of our attempts to meet those needs, and thus to be willing to receive the help He wants to give us.

The next two weeks we will look at two questions that give insight into two very common human problems – inordinate fear (THIS WEEK) and anger (NEXT WEEK). I find that most people wrestle with one of these more than the other (ME) – but that we all wrestle with both of them throughout our lives.

Jesus’ question about fear comes after He delivers His disciples from drowning. After teaching on the north side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus asked His disciples to take Him to the other side (read 4:35,36; MAP). Since some of them were fishermen, this was no problem for them.

Read 4:37. Sudden, violent night-time storms like this one are known to occur on the Sea of Galilee. Because it is ringed by high hills (PICTURE), it is normally very calm. But cool air sometimes rushes through the ravines (especially at night) and collides with the warm lake air to produce quickly-developing squalls.

Read 4:38,39. The storm did not gradually dissipate; it went from a raging wind and high waves to total calm the instant Jesus rebuked it and uttered the command.”

Read 4:40. We will come back to Jesus’ question soon.

Read 4:41. The disciples’ fear of the storm was replaced a greater awe of Jesus. He had already demonstrated His authority by healing the sick and delivering people from demons. But this miracle demonstrates His deity (Ps.107:25-30).

Re-read 4:40. On the surface, Jesus’ question seems stupid. Who wouldn’t be afraid if he was in danger of drowning? Indeed, fear is a healthy emotion which (like physical pain) alerts us to danger so that we may take protective action. But Jesus uses a stronger word for “fear” (deilos), which means “cowardly” or “overwhelmed with dread.” For Jesus’ followers, this kind of fearfulness is never inevitable, no matter what the danger is. His two questions teach that fear and faith are inversely related – the less our faith in Him, the more our fears will control us; the more our faith in Him, the less our fears will control us. Let’s look at three related lessons this passage teaches...

“Storms” expose & break our self-sufficiency

These men were competent boatmen. After all, they had been on this lake a lot. They also probably thought they had strong faith in Jesus’ power and love. After all, they had seen Him heal sick people and deliver demoniacs. But this storm was life-threatening! This factors exposed the folly of their self-confidence as they freaked out. This storm was not a random event. Like everything else they experienced as Jesus’ disciples, God worked through this event in order to expose and break their self-confidence and ultimately grow their faith in Jesus. At the time they would have been terrified, but afterward they would have been glad that it happened.

This is how God works with us also. We are far more self-sufficient than we realize, and we usually think we trust Him more than we really do. So God allows “storms” to come upon us (EXAMPLES), which ignite great fears. These situations are necessary in order to break our self-sufficiency and expose our faith deficiency – so that deeper faith can develop.

Paul teaches this same lesson in 2Cor.1:8-10 (read). Why did God allow this affliction to go beyond his human strength? So that he would not trust in himself, but in God. As a result, Paul’s hope is now “set” on God in a deeper way.

Peter teaches this same lesson in 1Pet.1:6,7 (read). Our faith is like gold ore – a mixture of real gold and other impurities. Just as the smelter subjected the gold ore to fire to burn of the dross and purify the gold, it is “necessary” that God subject us to “various trials” to burn away our self-sufficiency and motivate us toward deeper trust in Him.

So if a “storm” has exposed your faith deficiency, this is a good thing (Jas.1:2)! And here is some more good news...

The size of our faith is not as important as its object

It is true (like Jesus said) that the disciples allowed fear to overwhelm them. They freaked out, and they accused Him of not caring about them. They could have to Him come sooner, and without the accusation – but at least they came and asked for help instead of jumping overboard or just huddling in despair. And Jesus didn’t respond by saying: “You don’t have as much faith as you should have, so I’m not going to help.” He responded by stilling the storm.

This is a critically important lesson. Many people (including televangelists) emphasize how important it is to have strong faith and no doubts. But God’s Word emphasizes something else: the size of our faith is not as important as its object (quote Mt. 17:20).

This is true in many “non-spiritual” areas of life. You can have very strong faith that some quack therapist can heal you of your appendicitis, and the placebo effect may alleviate your symptoms temporarily – but you will not be healed. On the other hand, you can entrust yourself to a competent surgeon, your hand shaking as you sign the permission papers and feeling panic as they wheel you into the O. R. – but you will be healed just as fully as one who had strong faith. It’s not the strength of your faith that heals you; it is the competence of the surgeon.

This lesson is crucial in becoming a Christian. Everyone knows that in order to become a Christian, you must put your faith in Jesus (quote Jn.3:16). “But,” you may say, “I have so little faith and so many doubts about this – certainly far less faith than these Christians who are urging me to believe in Jesus. I must wait until I have much stronger faith before I could become a Christian.” Don’t you see that you are making the size of your faith more important than its Object? How much faith in Jesus does it take to become a Christian? ReadRev.3:20. He is already initiating with you. All you have to do is grant Him permission to come into your heart. That’s not very much faith at all (MY PRAYER)! He will come in, and His personal presence will begin to resolve your doubts and strengthen your faith.

This lesson is also important in following Jesus after you receive Him. All Christians know that faith in Jesus is important in the Christian life. But they often think: “I must be faithless since I still have fears and doubts.” You will never get to the point where you have perfect faith – you will almost always have some fears and doubts – especially when “storms” hit you. Don’t beat yourself up for this, or listen to Satan’s accusation that this disqualifies you from Jesus’ help. Like the man in Mk.9:24 (read), you can go to Jesus with the faith you have and ask Him to help your unbelief. He won’t reject you because of your little faith; He will help you. Sometimes He will instantly deliver you from your “storm,” as in this passage. More often, He will provide you with strength to get through the “storm” – and then send it away later. Sometimes He will not take the “storm” away until you die – but He will give you the strength to flourish in it (EXAMPLE). Leave to Him the way and timing of His deliverance; come to Him with the faith you have.

Our faith in Jesus can grow, & our fearfulness can shrink

There is one more lesson in this passage. It may sound contradictory to the previous lesson, but it is actually complementary. Jesus graciously responded to their “little faith” – but afterward He asked them that question: “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” In other words, He was challenging them to grow in their faith in Him. Our faith in Jesus can grow, and as it grows our fearfulness can shrink. How can we grow in our faith so we become less fearful? The answer is multi-faceted and goes beyond this passage, but here are three key biblical “A” answers that have helped me a lot.

Admit your fears to God and others. John Stott said, “Fear is like fungus; it grows in the darkness but shrinks in the light.” Many Christians are crippled by their fears become they don’t admit them (MACHO; DENIAL; “LACK OF FAITH”). But repressed fears don’t go away; they collect in your soul and come out sideways in chronic anxiety, depression, etc. Besides, admitting your fears isn’t a lack of faith; it is the beginning of faith (helplessness). This is what the Bible calls “supplication,” and this is why there are so many supplication Psalms which model admitting their fears to God and to other believers (Ps.3:1,2). Are you out of touch with your fears? Ask God to sensitize you to them. Are you currently gripped by some fear? Tell God and a Christian friend! Sometimes this step alone cuts the power of your fear.

Affirm God’s sovereign faithfulness. In addition to admitting our fears, we also need to affirm what we know to be true about God – that He is with us, that He is bigger than our situation, and that He keeps His promises. Because of this, what matters is not how big the “storm” is – but Who is in your boat! This is why God tells us hundreds of times that we do not need to be afraid because He is with us. When we affirm this to God despite our circumstances and contrary feelings, this has a stabilizing effect. Two things will help you do this:

Focus on relevant biblical promises or descriptions of God’s character. After admitting your fears to God, say: “But You say/are...” (MEMORIZE!)

It also helps to remember God’s past faithfulness. Sometimes you can remember when He did this in the same area of your current fear (EXAMPLE). If you can’t remember such a time, ask a Christian friend who has gone through a similar “storm.” Sometimes it was in a different area, but it still demonstrates God’s faithfulness (“SPIRITUAL GEOMETRY”).

This is what David did in Ps.3. After admitting his fears (3:1,2), he affirms that God is a 360-shield (3:3). Then he recalls God’s past faithfulness (3:4,5). Therefore, he knows he need not be fearful in his present situation (3:6).

Act on God’s will in spite of your fear. This is what God urged the Israelites as they were about to enter an enemy-filled land (read Josh.1:5b,7b). They were terrified, but God reminded them that He was with them, and called on them to choose against their fears to follow His instructions. This is the way to victory!

Don’t wait until you feel freed from fear to act; act and you will experience (sometimes immediate; sometimes later) more freedom from fear. Conversely, fear is like a BOA-CONSTRICTOR – the more you submit to it, the more it controls you.

Sometimes, this means letting go of something you know is outside God’s will (e.g., breaking up a sexually immoral relationship). Sometimes, it means choosing to not act self-protectively (e.g., lying to cover your failure; avoiding confronting someone). Sometimes, it means continuing to do what you feel afraid to keep doing (e.g., Daniel’s prayer times; resisting others’ pressure to back off a ministry lifestyle). If you don’t know what you should act on, ask God and He will show you.

Ajith Fernando summarizes these steps: “Fear is the normal reaction of humans to danger... It becomes sin when it paralyzes us and prevents us from launching out in obedience to God. The Christian response to fear is to address it with our belief in the sovereignty of God... We (then) find out what God’s will is concerning the fear-causing situation, and we concentrate on doing that will, believing that God will see us through.”


The disciples’ reaction in 4:41 makes no sense otherwise. If the storm subsided later and gradually, they would not have connected this to Jesus’ command. This is why the NLT translates: “Suddenly the wind stopped.”

This may sound like Jesus is saying they are totally devoid of faith, but that’s not what He means. In Matthew’s account (Matt.8:26), He says: “You men of little faith” (literally: “You little faiths”). In Luke’s account, He asks: “Where is your faith?” So the issue is not that they have no faith at all, but that their faith was deficient.

Ajith Fernando, Deuteronomy (Crossway Books), p. 64.