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For maximum help, Fear: Help & Cure should be read first
Let’s start with the fear of failure.
Edison invented the light bulb not by trial and triumph, but by trial and error (over 1600 errors, I’m told). During his life, he didn’t stop at mere failures. He made some spectacular blunders – like when he was meant to be selling newspapers and ended up setting a train on fire. (I must look into this: Edison and I might be related.)
Mistakes are rarely the black ogre they seem. Failure can be a valuable asset, cleansing us of ugly pride; correcting and directing us; barricading enticing avenues that meander away from heaven’s best, or purging us of reckless independence and pushing us deeper into the heart of God.
Out of control, however, the fire that warms can destroy. When failure piles on top of failure, the hideous shadow of a psychological barrier slithers across our mind. As failures mount ever higher, we all begin to quake. Yet Edison refused to be intimidated, though the dark mountain grew every day. With a mere three months of formal schooling and considered to have had a learning disability, Edison eventually became one of the most prolific inventors of all time. In his struggle to invent a method of storing electricity he is said to have had tens of thousands of failures. Attempt 50,000 – or thereabouts – worked.
We can cower in defeat like the mass of humanity, afraid of shadows, or we can become Edisons.
It’s been said that a certain preacher has been used of God in the miraculous healing of more people than anyone else in human history. Just one humiliating complication – it is also estimated he has prayed for more people who haven’t been healed than anyone else ever has.
Many people call C. H. Gabriel the king of hymn writers. His most famous work, ‘The Glory Song,’ translated into almost every major language, is estimated to have been printed over one hundred million times. He earned a reputation of being better than anyone in the world at putting the finishing touches on a hymn. Yet he claimed he experienced more failure than success.
‘The way to succeed,’ said Thomas J. Watson, ‘is to double your failure rate.’ Watson isn’t your average crack-pot. He founded IBM.
What often distinguishes successful people is the uncommon number of failures they suffer. The rest of us give up before experiencing our full quota.
If failures are rungs on the ladder to success, we reach the top not merely by seeing failures, but by mounting them.
One rejection from a publisher would send me reeling. How many blows could you sustain before forever abandoning the idea of becoming a writer? Ten? Fifteen? Fifty? Would-be novelist John Creasey received an unbroken succession of 743 rejections. I’d be throwing in the towel, the soap, the bath water, my rubber duck, my little red tugboat, everything I could lay my hands on. Few people would ever expose themselves to such devastating failure. That’s why so few enjoy the renown he finally achieved. While unsuccessful, he was forced to write deep into the night. He came late to his paid employment so often that he was fired from twenty-seven different jobs. Undaunted, he continued to perfect his writing, striving to be so good that his skill could no longer be ignored. Shy success crept near, then swept him to fame. Over sixty million of his books have been published.
The chilly winds of rejection can ruffle our feathers or carry us to new heights. Sag in doubt or stretch wings heavenward and soar: the choice is ours.
It is not arid persistence that success finds irresistible, but a dogged resolve to improve. Don’t huddle in self-pity. Harness rejection’s power. Let it spur you to a greater commitment, inspiring you to new levels of excellence.
We often let God down. It is even worse if Satan persuades us that the resulting failure is God’s fault, rather than our own (Proverbs 19:3). But we must not let past fizzlers paralyze us. Acting outside of God’s time will hurt. It is ludicrous, however, to let such traumas darken our expectations of future service. Moving in God’s time and manner will be markedly different.
Experimental psychologists designed a dog enclosure, divided by a low barrier and wired to deliver electrical shocks to half the cage. Dogs quickly learned to cross the barrier and avoid the unpleasant shocks. New dogs, however, were given the shocks no matter what they did. The ‘mad scientists’ then changed the conditions so that these dogs, like the first ones, could easily avoid the shocks. Yet they never learned. Being subjected to a no-win situation had rendered the second group of dogs incapable of succeeding. Even in their home cages they seemed lethargic and dejected.
Psychologists call this phenomenon learned helplessness. The only way they could get the dogs to avoid the shocks was to physically drag them over the barrier.
Can I ever identify with those pathetic creatures! It’s as if for my whole life I’ve been victim of a sadistic conspiracy to crush me into a whimpering defeatist. Yet even if your experience has been more harrowing, there is one thing distinguishing us from those dogs. Though racked by failed ministry attempts, we can know when conditions for ministry have changed, because we’re in union with the God who knows. The sovereign Lord enjoys certain advantages in being omnipotent, one of which is the ability to communicate with even the deafest, densest (why are you looking at me?) of his children (compare John 10:4, Romans 8:14). We may still question whether it was God, but after entreating him we will receive enough confirmation to warrant giving it a go.
All we then need is faith to mount the barrier.
Use steps. Start with a minor challenge. Slowly, methodically, climb higher. Even if your situation seems a case of all or nothing, prayer, creativity and persistence will usually carve a series of steps into a towering barrier.
Try spending fifteen or more minutes a day simply imagining yourself totally at ease, doing something you presently find just a little daunting. Over days or weeks, slowly advance – moving in your mind to the next stage only when you can picture the scene in detail without experiencing the slightest tension in your body. Research has convincingly demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach in breaking fear’s fangs. Add to this the prayer of faith and the power of knowing that Jesus is with you, and in a few weeks you will mount that barrier.
You’ll find this method far more dignified than having to be dragged over. I am not too keen about the whole of heaven looking on while I’m madly yelping, claws dug in, being yanked by the scruff of my neck to a place of joy and fulfillment that my foolishness imagines to be a den of terror.
There’s an alternative to volunteering or being forced. And it’s even worse. Geriatric specialist Dr. Peter Rowe reported in a British medical journal the case of a thirty-four-year-old lady who caught influenza. She was examined by a doctor who told her to stay in bed until he saw her again. He never returned. She never got up. Forty years later a doctor examined a plump, seventy-four-year-old, bed-ridden spinster. He found her in perfect health, still refusing to get up. It took seven more months of coaxing before she left the comfort and security of her quilt-covered prison. Then followed three ‘fairly active’ years until she met her Maker.
You may be a pew-warmer for a while, but don’t get too comfortable! I’d prefer the torment of endless striving. Better to chase a God-given dream through a minefield, than be as snug as a slug in the mud.
Though underemployment can be agonizing, the greatest horror is when the pain subsides. We begin to feel safe in our hole and imagine all sorts of horrors are poised to savage us should we step into the security of God’s will. Such fears are largely Satanic bluff, (take comfort from Philippians 4:6-7 and 2 Timothy 1:7) doomed never to materialize.
Nonetheless, heaven’s assignments aren’t always a piece of angel cake. There are times when the only thing more frightening than doing the will of God is not doing his will. We have as Leader and Supreme Example, One who suffered immensely (John 15:20-21; Hebrews 12:2-4; 1 Peter 2:19-21).
When people came to Jesus desiring to serve him, you’d think he would have smothered them with praise. But he knew the human heart. His blunt response shocked would-be followers into a painful realization of the great cost involved (Luke 14:25-33; Matthew 10:21-22). ‘Sell all you have and give it to the poor’ (Luke 18:22). ‘Wild animals will have better shelter than you’ll have if you follow me’ (Luke 9:57-8, loose paraphrase).
‘To serve me,’ he declared, ‘you must take up a cross’ (Luke 9:23). Two thousand years later, it is easy to romanticize that brutal statement. Carrying one’s cross involves nothing less than anguish and devastating humiliation. It is suffering inflicted as a direct result of serving God; torment you could avoid by compromise. Jesus wasn’t looking for adherents; he was looking for martyrs. He wanted not admirers but imitators – volunteers who could shoulder a gibbet of pain (Matthew 20:22-3). The person more concerned about his neck than the exaltation of God, is unworthy of ministry (Luke 9:23-6).
Many are called, but few rise to the challenge. ‘Let me first establish my business.’ ‘Let me first raise my family.’ ‘Let me first . . . ’ Not surprisingly, few are chosen (Matthew 22:14; Luke 9:59-62).
Those who shrink from hardship or danger shrivel up inside; dead, long before their hearts stop. Don’t throw your life away, enslaved by the allure of opulence; lazing while suffering humanity floods past your door. The easy path leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).
How would you like the incomparable thrill of being greeted by the strains of native voices singing ‘All hail the power of Jesus’ name’ on the very spot where twenty years before you had been driven off by a frenzy of spears aimed at your heart? Imagine savoring the ecstasy, the satisfaction, the triumph. That was George Grenfell’s reward for putting his life on the line; for boldly defying a hostile government; for suffering bereavement after bereavement until finally his young wife and four of his children were buried; for serving in a place so dangerous that three out of every four missionaries died before completing their first term.
‘Count the cost,’ ordered Jesus, using parable after parable to hammer the point (Luke 14:28-33; Matthew 13:45-6). Will you pay the price and take the risks, or become a laughing stock, melting away when the heat is on?
The cost is exceeded only by the glory. So immense is the glory, in fact, that the cost fades, totally eclipsed by the reward (2 Corinthians 4:17; Revelation 7:16,17).
Why should serving God involve humiliation, hardship, and toil? ‘Writing is the work of a slave!’ lamented C. H. Spurgeon – the man who wrote 135 books, edited 28 others and whose 3,500 sermons were published as 75 additional books. Why must missionaries waste years wrestling with a language that God could miraculously impart to them? Why does uplifting music demand hours of irksome practice? Why do church floors get dirty? Why . . . ? Because it frees us to express the depth of our devotion. Moreover, it’s the cost that produces the exhilaration, the fulfillment, the honor. Look at any field of endeavor: we admire heroic achievements; people who overcome the odds, who endure hardship and succeed where others would have slunk away. That’s the glory of Christ-likeness. There’s no honor in being swept along by a godless throng; no satisfaction in fleeing at the sight of a challenge; no glory in being dominated by fear or frozen by doubt. Limp-willed, lily-livered pretenders turn God’s stomach (Revelation 3:16). We either walk through the curtain of fear or end up a broken shell of the person we could have been. To choose the soft life is to turn our back on our bleeding Savior and lose ourselves in Satanic deception. It’s those who sow in tears who reap in joy; (Psalm 126:6) those who endure who win the crown (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; James 1:12; Revelation 2:10; 3:11). Insipid, half-hearted ‘Christianity’ is sickening to God, the world and the devil.
That’s not for you. You belong in heaven’s hall of fame. You were born with the desire for it; born-again with the power for it. You were made for daring persistence, stunning triumphs, awe-inspiring excellence. While others wallow in the mud of mediocrity, sentenced to eternal obscurity by their half-heartedness, you’re changing the face of the planet, bringing honor to the One who redeemed you.
If you’re crazy, they say you ought to be committed. I reckon if you’re not committed, you’re crazy.
Fired by the love of God, live life to the full.
In a heart-stopping display of skill, Blondin pushed a wheel-barrow along a tight-rope over Niagara Falls. ‘Who believes I could carry someone across the falls?’ he asked. The crowd went wild. Of course he could. So he asked for a volunteer.
Ministry is like that. Anyone can slip into Christ’s embrace and be carried to startling conquests, but when the call comes, knees begin to quake. The weakest saint who dares follow Christ will excel; the strongest who stays behind will be crushed.
There are many different callings, but no one is called to be a spectator. There is a cost and a degree of involvement in being a spectator, but higher things are expected of you.
Spectators pay at the gate. They have read their subject until they’re self-declared experts. They clap and cheer. They view the victory celebrations. But there’s seldom sweat on their brow. They know nothing about bruises and aching muscles. They are foreigners to the thrill of personal achievement, the exhilaration of record-breaking performances, the satisfaction of a job well done. Their greatest accomplishment is to guzzle a drink in the midst of a jostling crowd without spilling it. They are potential champions pouring their lives away; non-achievers who love their bed more than success.
There’s a world of difference between these couch pretenders and players on the bench. Players kept in reserve are red hot in a tepid world. They don’t flinch at pain. They have toughened their minds and hardened their bodies; drilled to spring into action the instant they are needed. They are champions in the making.
The last time I flirted with danger was when I decided against a double knot to tie my shoelace. I have a heart of gold – yellow to the core. Yet Christ died that I might rule. Yield to my old nature and I cower; yield to my Christ-bought nature and I conquer.
Fear will come. I can’t avoid it, but through Christ I need not bow to it. Victor or victim: it’s my decision.
The tragedy is that we are often enslaved by forces that are meant to be our slaves. Rather than being tyrannized by fear, we should rise up and let it serve us. Fear’s duty is to impel us to prayer. Deprived of this faithful servant we might foolishly expose ourselves to danger without activating God’s wall of safety.
Ensure your plans are in the will of God. Then list every fearful possibility. Pray through each point for as long as it takes to muster the faith that God has taken control. Now you have divine protection, the highest conceivable security. Fear has done its work. Bid it farewell. Like a naughty puppy, fear may still tag along, but ignore it. Reciting the fear-crushing promises of Scripture, fix your eyes on the goal and stride toward it.
Waiting for fear to fade before advancing is like Peter waiting for the lake to evaporate before stepping out of the boat. Faith is the defeat of fear – not usually by fear’s removal, but by moving us to proceed despite fear’s yelps.
Where acceptable, take small steps. If the torment is intense, the support of experienced counselors can be valuable. Be prayerful about your choice of help, however. Unwise counselors can wound.
When the pressure is on, there are just two types of people: those who cling to Christ and those who run away. Heaven’s heroes are natural weaklings who are willing to let Christ make them supernaturally strong.
All of heaven is on red alert when you follow Father’s orders. Help is a prayer away. Heaven’s resources – infinitely more than you will ever require – are available the instant you need them (Matthew 21:12-19; Luke 10:19; 21:12-19). As you march forward in obedience success is certain.
To snuggle into the will of God is to be enveloped in the fiercely protective love and infallible wisdom of the Omnipotent One. Outside that warm cocoon lurk genuine reasons for fear, but inside the Almighty’s perfect will, fear – no matter how intense – is ultimately an illusion. The pain is transitory; the fulfillment, eternal.
The crucified Lord has made your fears groundless. Push on and watch mountains crumble.
OUT ON A LIMB FOR GOD
For much of my life I have tended to be an underachiever; held back by a fear of failure and a fear of rejection, which in turn darkened my life with defeatism and depression. Late is unquestionably better than never but it was regrettably late in life that a parable I have often pondered suddenly hit me in a new way. It came as a liberating revelation that life – and even death – is all about risk taking. It is pointless trying to avoid risk because whatever anyone does involves risk and what seems like risk avoidance is often the riskiest of all.
In Jesus powerful parable, a servant entrusted with a huge sum of money decided to play super-safe. Determined not to lose a cent to thieves or bad investments, he hid the money. Being so cautious, however, made it certain he could never make any money for his master and this was sure to incur the master’s hot displeasure.
By taking what I perceive as a risk I am at least giving myself a chance and even if I were to fail, I might be praised for trying. I feel empowered by the realization that if everything – even doing nothing – involves risk, then by taking what feels like a risk I have less to lose (and so less to fear) than I had thought.
Writes Christine, a dear friend I will refer to later:
If Jesus suffered for us when we didn’t deserve his love, how can we refuse to suffer for him when he does deserve it?
We must resist the urge to play safe and bury our talent (Matthew 25:25). Why let fear of failure immobilize us? Look not at the impossibility of the situation; look at the impossibility of God ever failing. Like Peter walking the waves, if we begin to sink, Jesus is there, ready to grasp our hand.
Work hard. Like an athlete training for Olympic gold, make financial, social and recreational sacrifices. Invest time and effort. That’s faith in action. That’s following the path of the good and faithful servant. In submission to God, ears tuned to heaven’s frequency, such risks are honoring to God. You’re investing in eternal glory.
Worm, you’re gonna fly.
Dunce, astound the school.
Slave, prepare to rule.
Cleaner, address the throng.
Welder, inspire with song.
Plumber, rebuke that cancer.
Mother, kings you’ll counsel.
Stone, you’re gonna sparkle;
Rock, you’re solid opal.
SWAP INDIGNITY FOR INDIGNATION
Let’s rise to the challenge first mentioned in Fear: Help & Cure:
Fear is an opponent; an enemy wanting to stop us from enjoying what is rightfully ours.
Fear is a thief; a disgusting con man cheating us out of our rights and duping us into letting him steal from us.
Fear is a weakling acting like a bully, humiliating us. It is low life asking us to strip ourselves of our Christ-bought freedom and dignity. It holds a toy gun to our head and for no rational reason we let it order us around.
Fear is a malicious prankster hoping we will be terrorized by a cardboard cutout.
Fear is a dirty, pesky fly getting in our face, annoying us. It is a filthy liar falsely accusing us, and we not only meekly sit there listening to the slanderous putdowns, we stupidly accept the garbage as truth.
The appropriate response is to rise up in anger and refuse to let fear rob, cheat and bluff us any longer.
As she was growing up, her father used to so emphasize the dangers of driving – calling cars deadly weapons and so on – that she ended up terrified of driving. On top of that, she was so shattered by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other pressures that she would suffer memory lapses and often end up lost. So how did she respond? She took up truck driving as a living.
Christine was scared of swimming, so she took swimming lessons and became a competent swimmer.
She was extremely shy and hated speaking to strangers, so she went out of her way to speak to strangers.
She was highly nervous about reading in public, so she volunteered as a public reader of Scripture in her church and has kept it up for years.
She was scared of public speaking and so has volunteered to give countless speeches without notes to many different audiences, including radio and television.
She was petrified of spiders, so she kept studying spiders until she liked them so much that she kept pet spiders. She beat her fear despite sleeping in a basement where highly poisonous spiders would enter; on several occasions biting her in bed and coming close to killing her.
Christine is a winner, and you can be too.
I heard a Christian song. The words were fine except for part of one line that said something like, take away my fears. I don’t recall anything like that in the Bible. Instead of God repeatedly promising to stop us from feeling afraid, I read over and over and over of God promising to remove all reason for us being afraid. Then he puts the onus on us by telling us not to cave in to fear. I read such things as:
Isaiah 41:13 For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
Isaiah 51:7 Hear me, you who know what is right, you people who have my law in your hearts: Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults.
Jeremiah 42:11 Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you now fear. Do not be afraid of him, declares the LORD, for I am with you and will save you and deliver you from his hands.
1 Peter 3:6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
1 Peter 3:14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.”
Genesis 15:1 After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”
Exodus 14:13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.”
Deuteronomy 20:3 He shall say: “Hear, O Israel, today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before them.”
Ezekiel 2:6 And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house.
Luke 12:4 I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.
John 14:27 . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Revelation 2:10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.
If I were willing to risk boring you by getting excessive, I could cite over seventy more such Scriptures.
There is no point trying to pass the buck, saying, “Lord, do it – you take my fear away. He simply replies, “No, you do it – refuse to let fear hold you back.”
The God of truth declares you have no reason for being afraid. So don’t be bullied by irrational feelings. Your feelings are not your God, so refuse to act as if they were. Don’t let them dictate your beliefs or actions.
My wife used to be dominated by fear, and if you knew a fraction of what life has thrown at her, you might expect this domination to continue. But she refuses to let it. Whenever fear knocks, she asks it, “Are you bigger than God?” Then, while it is still helplessly hemming and hawing, wondering how it could ever respond, she shuts the door in its face and walks away.
“I made a deal with my Lord,” she says. “I hand all fears over to him, and he’s agreed that if any of them frighten him, he’ll let me know. If demons try telling me anything, I inform them of my policy: all messages to me go through God. They must leave a message with him and if he considers it worth me worrying about it, he’ll pass it on. So far, nothing seems to have been that important.”
To God You Are Special There is nothing you cannot achieve
Handling Rejection Laughs and inspiration from the lives of famous people
I’ve Gotta be Me! For those devastating times when you feel useless
Why Bad Things Keep Happening To Some People Learned helplessness
Help When Doubt Knocks How to Triumph in the Face of Doubt
Reclaiming Lost Opportunities Breaking Restrictions in Your Life
Fear: Help & Cure Fear, Phobias, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
The above is adapted from the web book Waiting for Your Ministry
Not to be sold. © Copyright, Grantley Morris, 1985-1996, 2014. For much more by the same author, see www.net-burst.net No part may be sold. No part of these writings may be copied without citing this entire paragraph.