Dave Pullin serves as the Director of Technical Production at The Church of the Resurrection. The Technical Production ministry handles all audio/visual/technical support for the church including worship services and events.
“The guards were so afraid that they shook and became like dead men.”
It’s hard to imagine what this scene must have been like. But the amount of fear the guards experienced must have been quite significant—it paralyzed them!
This reminds me of when I was in college. I worked as a rock-climbing guide for an outdoor adventure company. A significant part of that role was guiding people through activities that naturally trigger higher levels of fear, especially for people who have limited exposure to rock climbing or heights in general.
Through that experience, I found that fear is a very interesting thing. A little bit of fear is good, as it prevents us from being over-confident and cocky. A beginning climber needs to make certain that the hand and footholds are extra secure. But too much fear can be crippling, prevent us from functioning, and create very dangerous situations.
One day a group of four of us had finished a double-pitch climb (2 full rope lengths) in the Oklahoma Wichita Wildlife Refuge and it was time to descend. Now it’s one thing to keep climbing up and up and up, but the moment you look down from the top of a 400 ft. rock slab, that change in perspective has quite an impact. It did that day on one of our team members (call him Tom). Tom had been on many of our climbing trips, was a very skilled climber and was quite comfortable with heights. Yet this was his very first multi-pitch climb, and fear can creep in on anyone completely unannounced, as it did to Tom.
Once Tom was hooked into the rope and was 10-12 feet into his decent (just beyond my reach), he froze. Fear overwhelmed him, and due to the nature of the rock, there was very little anyone could do to assist. Two of our team were already at the bottom of the first part of our decent, clipped into an anchor on the side of the cliff, waiting for us to descend so they could continue down the remaining 200ft. I was at the very top and could not lower down to Tom, and the climbers below could not climb up. The situation was becoming sever. Something had to be done.
As I evaluated the situation and began assessing ways to assist Tom, I quickly realized that the only useable resource I had with me were my words. I could not treat this problem like a physical injury. I couldn’t take time to convene a committee meeting, even if the team below could actually hear me. I had to somehow use my words to try to alleviate Tom’s fear.
I think maybe that’s why the words, “Do not be afraid” continue to be a theme in these verses. In our moments of fear, doubt and struggle, what we may want is someone to “fix it,” someone to rescue us from our plight, someone to magically make the pain go away. Yet we are often met with words like “Do not be afraid,” or “Fear not,” or “I am with you,” or “Be still and know that I am God.”
We all know personal growth does not happen when someone constantly rescues us from our fears, because that means we did not have to face those fears. We did not have to search the depths of our soul for whatever courage we might be able to muster. We did not have to act even in the presence of our fear. Show me someone who has faced their fears, and I will show you a person who embodies strength.
Tom is one of those people. Frozen by fear on that cliff, he was fighting an internal battle, one only he could fight. I could not fix it for him. All I could do was encourage him, and be present with him. He told me later that logically he knew he was safe because the equipment was secure, but emotionally the fear was seizing his entire body, mind and spirit. When he was able to recognize that he had a choice and could act in spite of that fear, he was able to control his breathing and focus on the small steps he had to take to get down the cliff. In the end, he did not let his fear take control, and he was able to slowly descend the entire route without incident.
Fear can be crippling, no matter what form it takes. Yet here we have this repetitive phrase instructing us not to be afraid. Jesus’ words are not so much him telling us not to have fear, but to be able to recognize that fear does not have to control us. We can still operate in spite of our fear, and that, I feel, is the definition of courage.
I learned a great deal from Tom that day. He showed me that fear can control us only if we allow it to. Courage is not the same as being fearless. Courage means taking back the control our fears stole from us. In what way has your fear taken control in your life? Do you feel like Tom, paralyzed on the side of a cliff somewhere? If so, the good news is that God is present with you. God is encouraging you, “Do not be afraid; don’t let your fear take control. You are strong and powerful, you’ve totally got this!”
Return to the GPS Guide to read today’s scripture and reflection questions.