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What happens when people become big and God becomes small?

For as long as I can remember, I had a lofty goal and knew that I was meant to be an Olympian. However, I didn’t realize until later in life that the greatness God put in my heart was not to be an Olympian, but rather a Christian. The dream of the Olympics propelled me on a 20-year journey that shaped my life, my character, and my experiences. Unfortunately, I never realized the dream of being an Olympian and representing the United States of America on the world’s grandest stage.

Most would think it must be demoralizing to set out on a life long goal only to fall inches shy of seeing that dream come true. In reality, I gained and learned far more from trying and falling short than I would have if I had played it safe and never dared to dream.

[25] If you fear other people, you are walking into a dangerous trap; but if you trust in the Eternal, you will be safe.

Proverbs 29:25 Voice

Pursuing a dream for that long never to achieve it did leave some scars and fears that have shaped how I handle present and future decisions. One of the greatest fears that I’ve seen arise in my life is the fear of disappointing people. From the failed vision of not becoming an Olympian, I’ve had to deal with some internal demons – thoughts of all the people who invested, sacrificed, and believed in me – coaches, mentors, family, and friends – and the feeling that I let them all down. In this way, it’s been easy to become consumed with people.

One of the most crippling things has been how, simultaneously, people can become big and God becomes small. As this happens, it is easy to fall into numerous traps created by fear. The following study on Peter teaches us to identify these traps, how to avoid them, and how to discover true peace.

Fear Makes Us Stuck – “I’m Afraid to Repeat the Past…”

[26] The disciples saw a figure moving toward them and were terrified.
Disciple: It’s a ghost!
Another Disciple: A ghost? What will we do?[27] Jesus: Be still. It is I. You have nothing to fear.[28] Peter: Lord, if it is really You, then command me to meet You on the water.[29] Jesus: Indeed, come. Peter stepped out of the boat onto the water and began walking toward Jesus. [30] But when he remembered how strong the wind was, his courage caught in his throat and he began to sink.
Peter: Master, save me! [31] Immediately Jesus reached for Peter and caught him.
Jesus: O you of little faith. Why did you doubt and dance back and forth between following Me and heeding fear?

Matthew 14:26-31 Voice

In this interaction between Peter and Jesus, it is clear that fear affected Peter. And where did his fear come from? His memories. It wasn’t what was going on in his immediate surroundings that made him afraid, but rather something he remembered. A certain moment in the conversation triggered a memory that caused him to give way to fear. Often it isn’t our current situation that we are afraid of, but instead a memory of a similar situation that triggers us to react in fear.

The trap of fear is a crafty one that persuades us to believe history will repeat itself in our lives. The relationship that is impacted greatest by this is our relationship with God. This passage also shows us that when we give into our fear, we cannot be spiritual. We are either following God or following fear, but we can’t do both.

In what area of your life do you see yourself following fear instead of God right now? What memories plague you and persuade you to give in to fear? How could letting go of those fears and focusing more on what God is doing right now help you be more courageous?

Fear Makes Us Proud – “I’m Afraid of Disappointing Someone…”

[27] Jesus: All of you will desert Me tonight. It was written by Zechariah, I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will scatter. [28] But when I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.[29] Peter (protesting): It doesn’t matter who else turns his back on You. I will never desert You. [30] Jesus: Peter, mark My words. This very night before the cock crows twice, you will have denied Me three times.[31] Peter (insisting): No, Teacher. Even if it means that I have to die with You, I’ll never deny You.
All the other disciples said similar things.

Mark 14:27-31 Voice

When Peter heard from Jesus that he was going to abandon him for fear of protecting his own life, he reacted in pride (“I would never …”). Peter’s fear of disappointing Jesus led to an arrogant estimation of himself.

When we are faced with the fear of letting someone down who is important to us it’s much easier to lie to protect our image rather than admitting who we really are. Often times, we do this without even thinking and end up caught in a lie.

Like Peter, how does your fear of disappointing people cause you to react and hide who you really are? How do you think admitting your weaknesses to God, yourself, and your close friends could help you be free from fear?

Fear Makes Us Liars – “I’m Afraid of What Someone Will Do to Me…”

[69] As all this was going on in Caiaphas’s chamber, Peter was sitting in the courtyard with some servants. One of the servant girls came up to him.
Servant Girl: You were with Jesus the Galilean, weren’t you?[70] And just as Jesus had predicted, Peter denied it before everyone. Peter: Not me! I don’t know what you’re talking about.[71] He went out to stand by the gate. And as he walked past, another servant girl recognized him.
Another Servant Girl (speaking to those standing around): That man over there-he was here with Jesus the Nazarene![72] Again, just as Jesus had predicted, Peter denied it, swearing an oath.
Peter: I don’t know Him![73] Peter then went to chat with a few of the servants. A little while later, some other servants approached him:
Other Servants: Look, we know that you must be one of Jesus’ followers. You speak like you are from the same area as His followers. You’ve got that tell-tale Galilean accent.[74] Cursing and swearing, Peter denied Him again. Peter: I do not know Him! As the exclamation left his mouth, a cock crowed.

Matthew 26:69-74 Voice

During the trial of Jesus, Peter wanted to be supportive, but his cowardice was greater than his courage. He went to the courtyard, close to where Jesus was, but couldn’t find the courage to stand up for his friend. Perhaps afraid of being found out and being put on trial himself, Peter he lied about who he was. When our self-esteem is greatly affected by what others think of us, it creates an unhealthy dependence on making others feel good about us. We can begin to think our fate rests in the hands of others and become more inclined to lie as a way to protect ourselves from potential danger or failure.

How has your fear of what someone may to do to you caused you to lie about who you truly are?

Fear Makes Us Fake – “I’m Afraid of What Someone Will Think of Me…”

[12] Here’s what was going on: before certain people from James arrived, Cephas used to share meals with the Gentile outsiders. And then, after they showed up, Cephas suddenly became aloof and distanced himself from the outsiders because he was afraid of those believers who thought circumcision was necessary.

Galatians 2:12 Voice

Peter (also called Cephas) was afraid of what his Jewish peers would think of him if he associated with a different group of people. This fear caused him to be fake and pretend that he didn’t care for the Gentile outsiders.

When we’re afraid of what people think of us we can pretend to like or not like something just to fit in or be accepted. Another way of saying this is we begin to develop a double life – acting one way at school or work and another way at home and perhaps another way at church. You want to fit in everywhere so you don’t end up standing up for what you really believe. Unfortunately, if we live this way we can never help anyone because we are so busy trying to convince people we’re someone we’re not.

How does your fear of what someone may think of you cause you to want to be fake in order to fit in?

Faith, Not Failure

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Luke 22:31-32 NIV

6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

1 Peter 1:6-7 NIV

Later in his life, Peter shared in the book of 1 Peter one of the greatest lessons he had learned. From personal experience he shared how giving into fear was not failure. Each time we give into fear it is a wake-up call to remind us how much we need God. Because of Peter’s fear of what people thought of him or might do to him, he did some regrettable things. But he learned from those experiences, growing in his relationship with God and his confidence.

In 1 Peter 5, he gives us four tips to prevent being consumed by people:

…“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:5-11 NIV

  1. Be Humble (1 Pet 5:6) – Willing to admit & accept God’s help (further study: James 4:6-10)
  2. Be Honest (1 Pet 5:7) – Emotionally honest about your anxiety/fear (further study: Psalm 34:4-7)
  3. Be Alert (1 Pet 5:8) – Aware of what is happening (further study: 1 Peter 4:7)
  4. Be Firm (1Pet 5:9) – Grounded by obedience to scriptures (further study: Matthew 7:24-27)

As we learn from the life of Peter, his fear triggered memories of the past and caused Peter to be proud, to lie, and to be fake. In all these instances what caused Peter to give into fear was people – the fear of disappointing his friend, the fear of what people would to do to him, and the fear of what people would think of him. However, the resilience of Peter’s life teaches us that we can overcome our fears of living for people if we are willing to learn from the four areas above. When we do this, we will experience the kind of peace and confidence that comes from having a genuine relationship with God. This kind of peace isn’t determined by your circumstances, achievements, failures, or the past. It is an internal peace that keeps you focused on where you are going rather than worrying about the past repeating itself.

I have told you these things so that you will be whole and at peace. In this world, you will be plagued with times of trouble, but you need not fear; I have triumphed over this corrupt world order.

John 16:33 Voice

My peace is the legacy I leave to you. I don’t give gifts like those of this world. Do not let your heart be troubled or fearful.

John 14:27 Voice

Written by

Brian Nitta

Before Brian was a minister for the Bay Area Christian Church, he was a world class judo competitor from San Jose State University. His experiences as a fighter and as a counselor have given him a unique perspective that he brings to his contributions to Inspire.