In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched a spacecraft called Sputnik 1, which became the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth. Sputnik 1 was a small satellite by modern standards. It was approximately the size of a beach ball but weighed 183.9 pounds. Additionally, Sputnik 1 was a simple satellite. Its only function was to transmit radio signals. And Sputnik 1’s mission was short. It transmitted radio signals for only 21 days until its batteries ran out. It orbited the Earth for only three months before it burned up while reentering Earth’s atmosphere on January 4, 1958.
Even though Sputnik 1 was a small, simple satellite with a short lifespan, it had a massive impact on the world, particularly the United States of America. NASA’s website describes it this way…
The Sputnik launch changed everything…the public feared that the Soviets’ ability to launch satellites also translated into the capability to launch ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons from Europe to the U.S…The Sputnik launch also led directly to the creation of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
In other words, the launch of Sputnik 1 was a significant event in the Cold War because it seemed to indicate that the Soviet Union had eclipsed the United States as the more technologically and scientifically advanced superpower. As a result, fear gripped citizens of the United States because the kingdom which posed the greatest threat to our own now appeared to be large and in charge.
Although the collapse of the Soviet Union as a socialist state in 1991 temporarily eliminated our fear of their superpower status, it did not eliminate fear as a driving force in our lives. It’s sixty years later, and we still find ourselves battling fear. We fear a virus that has claimed over 700,000 lives in the United States since February 2019. We simultaneously fear a vaccine that was created to combat it. We fear our government, particularly when the president is not a member of the political party we support. We fear the economy as prices for everyday items continue to soar. We fear people whose skin color is different than our own as we watch racial tensions in our country continue to escalate. And the list could go on and on.
Sometimes fear can be beneficial to us. It can keep us from getting into trouble, prevent us from endangering ourselves, or cause us to possess a deep appreciation for something truly remarkable. But other times, fear can be detrimental to us. It can keep us from fulfilling our responsibilities, hinder our spiritual growth, or render us idle and therefore useless in God’s kingdom.
Do you remember how the apostles reacted when Jesus approached their boat on the Sea of Galilee by walking on water? Matthew 14:26-27 says that “they were terrified” and “they cried out in fear” because they thought He was a ghost. After learning that the “ghost” was actually Jesus, Peter grew momentarily courageous. He requested to walk out to Jesus on the water, and Jesus granted his request. When Peter began his bold excursion outside of the boat, he initially succeeded, but something happened. He began to sink. And he began to sink because “when he saw the wind, he was afraid” (Matthew 14:30). In other words, Peter sank because he took his focus off of Jesus and put it on his circumstances. Fear overcame faith at this moment, and the result was debilitating.
That’s why fear is such a useful tool for Satan. He can use it to stymy our faith. Satan used fear to make Abraham lie (Genesis 12:11-13). Satan used fear to fill Moses with excuses (Exodus 2:14; 3:6, 11-12). Satan used fear to cause the Israelites to give up (Numbers 14:1-4). Satan used fear to intimidate Elijah into hiding (1 Kings 19:9-10). Satan used fear to make Peter deny Jesus (Mark 14:66-71). Satan used fear to cause the one talent man to do nothing (Matthew 25:24-25). In all of these instances, fear was debilitating because it altered their focus, removing it from their Lord and putting it on their circumstances.
I believe our tendency to focus on our our circumstances is the reason that the most repeated command in the Bible is “do not fear” (Deuteronomy 31:6; cf. Exodus 20:20; Deuteronomy 1:21; 20:3; 31:8; Joshua 1:9; 1 Chronicles 28:20; Matthew 14:27; 17:7; 28:10; Luke 5:10; 8:50; 1 Peter 3:14; Revelation 1:17). In these passages, “do not fear” is not suggested. “Do not fear” is not encouraged. “Do not fear” is commanded. The fact that “do not fear” is commanded indicates that God expects His followers to be fearless. And the reason He expects His followers to be fearless is because He is faithful. Scripture repeatedly follows its “do not fear” command with an explanation as to why fear should elude us, and it’s because “the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6; cf. Deuteronomy 31:8; Joshua 1:5; 1 Chronicles 28:2; Hebrews 13:5). And God’s faithfulness was beautifully exemplified at Peter’s sinking when “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him” (Matthew 14:31).
The lesson for us is that even though the world is a scary place because it “lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), we have no reason to be afraid since “the Lord is faithful [and] He will…guard you against the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3). Thus, we should consistently choose to live fearlessly. I like the way one 20th century missionary said it, “I am inwardly fashioned for faith, not fear. Fear is not my native land; faith is.”