Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. Matthew 10:32
Does fear still have a hold on you? Are you so busy looking for opportunities you cannot see anything else? In Matthew 10: 27-33, after Jesus gave the disciples their training and their project of being sent out for the first time on their mission, He further encouraged and warned them. Proverbs states that the fear of God is the foundation of learning and growing (Proverbs 3:5), and Jesus confirms and makes clear this precept. Our personal fears of rejection and assumptions sometimes dig in like an anchor, and keep us from experiencing and proclaiming our love for Christ, as we should. So, how else can we combat fear? We can combat fear with fear. Yes, the solution to fear is fear! It is to grow away from our personal fears into the embrace of His wonder. Then, we have a fear that is respectful, one of wonder and awe for God, and there is nothing that can hold us back from proclaiming His Word. Fear of how others may respond will be nullified; the only hold on us will be what we drag with us. When we understand that we are precious in His sight and that His deep love for us is true and real, we will have no need to drag along our anchors of fear. We can let go and allow Him to reign and be Lord over us as our loving Father. We have to learn how much He indeed cares for us so we can trust Him even more to take us beyond what holds us back in life. In this way, we can go deeper with Him, be able to use the gifts He gives, and take advantage of the opportunities that come. This fear of God will so infuse us with love that we will passionately desire to proclaim Him from the roofs and mountaintops as well as the mission field!
When We Fear God, We Need Not Fear Failure
"I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:12b-13
Paul, the quintessential missionary, was very aware of his needs and situation, and if you know anything about the life of Paul, then you know the intense suffering and trials he went through for our Lord that benefited us. Yet, Paul was still content about what he had to work with and go through. Paul was not stupid; he had no masochistic complex. His focus was on the Lord-as ours must be. Paul wanted to impress on us the necessity of a focus on the Christian life. Without the goal of pleasing our Lord as our guide, and gratitude to drive us, we will be too afraid to go beyond our comfort zones to do anything of significance.
To go where no one has gone before or even where we have not been requires our focus to be on Christ, and this is also being willing to take a risk. When we do not have the ability to take a risk, then we need to ask God and ourselves, why? Then, we need to take into our thinking that the results belong to the Lord and to Him alone. We do not need to worry about the results of our missions work, potential or past, because that is in the Lord's hands; it belongs to Him. The great Reformation doctrines of Election and Predestination have to do with the fact that God is in control and we are not. So, we should respond with our hardest effort; we need not fear the fish because we need not fear the results. We only need to fear God, as in have reverence and awe for Him. To combat the procrastination woes, many churches take their cue from business models. Most business plans and philosophies have the focus of result as their primary goal, and for good reason. These ideas sneak their way into the church, and there is some truth to them. However, as Christians, we are not to be performance driven, but rather "Christ driven" and this is relationship-centered on our service and desires to please God. We are to fear Him-not schedules, quotas, goals, or personal plans. Too many churches and missions organizations have their priorities skewed and put unrealistic expectations on its leaders, missionaries, and staff that cannot be met. Then, they put unreasonable expectations on the flock that is being reached, so the flock becomes fleeced and unable to do anything because of being encompassed with unbearable busyness and demands that cannot be met.
We have the natural desire to succeed just as the large missions origination or the small one does, or as do those in the business world. But sometimes, God does not call always the small church to be large, just obedient. He does not call some to reach all; He calls all to reach some. Yes, we need to be focused on reaching the lost, following up with discipleship, and not staying as a "closed" social group. However, this does not mean we can become lazy and unmotivated and use this as an excuse to procrastinate. Of course we are to seek results; but the results are not the focus. If the results are not as you expected, be as joyful as if they were much more than expected, as long as your focus is trust and obedience to Him. We are to always strive to do and be our best for His glory, but His glory is not always success as we interpret success! Christ's version of success is our obedience, yet we tend to ignore that and try to take on His role and be His "bean counter."
"So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known." Matthew 10:26
When we have the idea firmly planted that we are not responsible for the results of the witness or the ministry, but only for obedience to His call, out of that will come the perseverance to press on to serve Him in whatever cultural context we may be in, and the fear of failure will cease. The ability to take the risk will become more vigorous, and the fears we have will go away. We always count everything as joy when we are serving the best we can.
Since we are to keep the focus and attention on our call and obedience, and reaching our neighborhood as paramount, then the planning is centered on how we can do our best and not worry about the what if they do not respond? We are not to concern ourselves on the "what ifs." So, the big missions project or cross-cultural event that took months to plan and thousands of dollars to execute only resulted in a couple of guests or perhaps none. Be joyful! Your work was not in vain. Our mission is never to be focused on the increased numbers of souls reached, but our increased obedience and discipleship and how we glorify God where we are at. Increased numbers are great, and is usually a sign that obedience is happening, but not always. I have seen many mission campaigns that are obedient but do not work well. There are just too many circumstances that affect it, and the foremost one is what God's plan is. The attention should always be the ministry and not the results; this subject of results is purely the work of the Holy Spirit. Since we are not God, we should not worry about His job-only ours. Thus, when we face setbacks and disappointments, we should not consider them failures but rather victories and joy.
"The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases. All a man's ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart." Proverbs 21:1-2
Fear does not take into account the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign even over pagan kings and presidents, our families, our friends, the people for whom we are fishing, and us. God is absolute. His dominion is total and complete, from the macro of creation of galaxies and universes to the micro of the number of hairs on our head. From the macro decisions of claiming Christ, who to marry, and what career to pursue, to the micro of what color of socks to buy, God is there. At the same time, we are free agents of our personal decisions and will. What we do is subject to judgment from our Lord, as God is in control over us; however, the specifics of that free will and control may be debated by we theologians. All we need to know is we are responsible as moral agents of our Lord, entrusted with a call and the abilities to make it work. Since God is sovereign, we should not fear going to our neighbor and witnessing, nor should we fear to do what it takes in our missions responsibility.
"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." Luke 21:31-32
The secret to remaining joyful in the face of missions or adversity is our faith-our confidence and assurance that He is there in the boat of life with us, just as he was in the storm with the Disciples (Matthew 8:23-27). Jesus will not let the boat capsize. But, even if it did, He is still there. We need to focus on our relationship to God as His child and our service to Him. We need not seek our own needs and expectations, but trust in Christ; our efforts will please Him. Our Lord knows our situation and us better than we could ever know. From this knowledge comes the promise of a future that is in our best interest as well as His, so we should trust and obey with a joyful attitude. By keeping alert to where our focus must lie, and keeping it from where it does not belong, our ministry will flourish, and our fear of witnessing will be eradicated.
The Call of Commitment
"'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." Mark 12:29b-31
Another prime aspect of keeping our faith attractive to the ones we seek out is our commitment and consistency. As we cement our commitment to Him, and as we put the net of faith to work, we will slowly be better able and willing to use it and be the fishers of men our Lord called us to be. We must be willing to practice and practice; as we practice, we gain confidence, maturity, and hone our skills as fishermen for Christ.
Take a look at Mark 12:28-31. Notice each word and how each of these words of our Lord can have a dramatic affect on every part of our lives, especially our witness. See what happens when you commit yourself to a relationship with Christ with trust and obedience through prayer and His word, and how it will dramatically improve your actions and relationships. This is an aspect of honor and reverence, which we have already covered. But, think this through; how does your honor of our Lord affect your life, morals, and values? Do this before we venture out in the missions field. How are your values a neon sign to a society that rejects them while at the same time needs to see them modeled consistently? When they see your consistent faith through your words and deeds, your witness in your mission will become real and practical to people who may have rejected your or others prior efforts.
Being rejected is perhaps one of the hardest obstacles and emotions to overcome. It hurts us at our core and paralyzes us. When I was single, and a girl rejected my efforts to ask her out, it would be months and sometimes years before I would have the courage to ask someone else out again. The same goes with witnessing; when we are rejected (and I have been-countless times), we cower away and do not try again. We need to realize that we are not the ones being rejected; God is. If they reject Him as the people directly rejected Jesus in His day, they will do so with us, too. We need to learn not to take this personally. Even Paul was afraid and did his work in fear. It is OK to feel fear as long as it does not control us (Mark tells us how important love and encouragement are. This includes our relationship to God, other Christians, people outside of the Church, and ourselves.)
What Is Stopping You?
On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." John 7:37-38
Ask yourself, what I am seeking in and from missions? Is it a show or is it the veracity of His Word, His transforming work that dissolves our pride, creates our character, and builds our and others faith and maturity? Fear will stop us like an old railroad snake. A railroad snake was the biggest problem with early rail travel in the nineteenth century and caused the most rail accidents and took the most lives. The railroad tracks then were made of a type of "pig iron" and after too many trains ran on it, the rails would unexpectedly curl up like a paper ribbon. Then a train will come up and be unable to stop in time and the curled-up rail, the rail snake, would cut off the wheels of the locomotive, then cut into the fragile wooden coaches turning them over the coal stoves, burning the passengers to death as they were pinned inside. One, seemingly small piece of iron weighing a couple hundred pounds stopped a 40-ton locomotive with devastating results. Will you let fear, a small insignificant aspect of your will as compared the all-encompassing omniscience and omnipotence love of our Lord, stop you? In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the "pig iron" rails were exchanged for steel rails and the rail snakes ceased. Our faith must be steel, as was the faith of Abraham; then nothing earthly can derail us. We will be a contagious Christian displaying the real wonder of being communicable to others for Christ. A show or pretence, in faith or with words, will do nothing to create real, authentic faith. This is why we must be authentic and real with the Fruit of the Spirit pouring into and out of us.
Is this just too hard to do? No, but we will fail; I still do. I still struggle with my fears. But remember, we have Grace! Praise God when we do fail, as long as we are obedient to the best of our ability and willing to grow and improve. But, we must not allow ourselves to become prideful, lazy, or conceited in our outlook toward others. This thinking is straight from another source other than the Bible and God's call. Satan does not want us to discover our gifts; he wants us to ignore our responsibility and nurture of one another. He does not want us to witness; he wants us to be controlled by our fears!
Praise the LORD. Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who finds great delight in his commands. Psalm 112:1
The goal of missions as well as the Christian life is our wondrous fear of and friendship with Christ! We start with Him and we end well with Him. We are to receive His election, to know and pursue Him. He is the One we are to follow, not the ways of distraction and destruction. This is the wonder of simplicity that is to fulfill and sustain us. Our value and worth are real and depend only on who we are in Christ. You are wonderfully made, and made to proclaim Him. You are to embrace His love and let it flow to others from your "rooftop." This is whom we are, our identity that will keep us firm in Him. We will be able to grow in times of suffering, waiting, and confusion. It is when we experience darkness and confusion in our lives that it is time to listen to our Lord, and to learn and to grow from the darkness. Then, when the Light comes and takes us out of the darkness, we can proclaim what we have learned.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
Some passages to consider: Proverbs 3:5-6; 21:1-2; Matthew 10: 27-33; 22:36-38; Philippians 4:12b-13; Colossians 2:2-3
© 2006 R. J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org/