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Who’s Afraid of Fear?

Who’s Afraid of Fear?

Three weeks ago, I asked several hundred college students a question:

What is your biggest obstacle today to giving your whole life for God’s global mission?

Before I share the response, let me be clear, as I was that day—I wasn’t asking about dropping out of society, selling everything and moving to Turkmenistan (although that was fair game).

Rather, I explained that giving your whole life for God’s global mission is being fully given over to God’s purposes in the world, whether that meant staying, going, praying, giving, whatever. If you’re following your calling, you can serve God just as well as a businessperson in the U.S. as a church planter in Sri Lanka.

I had people text me their biggest obstacles to fully following Jesus (You can, too—608-352-3263). My phone rattled and buzzed for a couple minutes, as an avalanche came back at me from the audience.

Some were not very surprising: selfishness, busyness, lust, health issues, lack of self-discipline and materialism.

But one kind of answer stood out, named by a quarter of those responding as their biggest obstacle to giving their whole life to global mission. It was fear.

These students—and Christians, no less—were afraid of everything:

  • Being alone
  • Failing
  • Being uncomfortable
  • Not knowing where they’re going or what they’re doing
  • Entering a new culture
  • What their parents would say
  • Not hearing God correctly
  • Not being good enough
  • Being unprepared spiritually
  • Not speaking well
  • Being too broken

I couldn’t believe it. Fear is the biggest obstacle to these followers of Jesus fully joining in his mission, whether here in the U.S. or anywhere in the world. How did this happen?

Most of us know there are people around the world with seriously fearful surroundings—gnawing hunger, no education for their children, violent crime, unjust local officials, unhealthy water and spreading disease.

And most of us know, when we’re logical about it, that a lot of our fears here in the West are wildly spun out of control. We find TV reports like, “The Hidden Dangers of Escalators.” Really?

Media can make big bucks by using fear to snag in an audience. And lawyers can make big bucks by pointing out all the ways things will go wrong in your life and it won’t be fair. Having all those little fears plugged into us all the time adds up.

And then there are big fears. At the end of it all, we are dead. And that scares us. So we run around trying to do whatever we can to preserve our lives—we cling to ourselves and our own safety and sanity. We each try to preserve our own self, whether through work, success, family, relationships, art or health. It makes sense to me that people who don’t know Jesus would be afraid. We hear messages all day saying, “If you’re not afraid of all these things, you’re not normal.”

But I thought that’s exactly what Christians are supposed to be—not normal.

Think about what we read in the Bible:

  • “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).
  • “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28).
  • “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry,’Abba, Father.’” (Romans 8:15).
  • “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
  • And perhaps most pointedly: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).

Admittedly, we are outliers on this one. We got married while we were still students at the University of Wisconsin. A year later, we boarded a plane for Nicaragua with a vague connection to a friend of a friend that we hoped would meet us when we arrived. We lived without power, water or transportation. We took our baby daughter to the most polluted city in the world, Lanzhou, China. We rode motorcycles across southern Africa.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t get scared. We got scared when Adam’s amoebas wouldn’t go away in Nicaragua and then his already weak body picked up malaria. Or when we blew black snot out of our noses in China. Or when we spent hours in public hospitals around the world. Or when our neighborhood had its third break-in within a month in South Africa, and then Chrissy found police dealing with a dead body down the street.

In South Africa, where you’re 20 times more likely to get murdered by gunshot than in the U.S., we went to sleep every night knowing someone could come smashing through our bedroom window and prove just how unsafe our world was.

But do you think God didn’t really mean that stuff about fear in the Bible? When you get scared, you have to do something about it. Naming it helps. Reading and claiming these biblical reminders can helps. Praying light-saber prayers that cut your fears to pieces can help.

As we wrestled with trying to follow Jesus here in the U.S., Chrissy wrote a chapter on fear in This Ordinary Adventure: Settling Down Without Settling. She said fear is like underwear. Everyone’s putting it on every day and keeping it politely covered up.

So, here’s your chance to bring it out into the light.

What are you so afraid of?

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