“but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” Proverbs 1:33, ESV
Have you ever had a moment in your life where you were paralyzed by fear? I have. I was sitting in front of the post office, trying to will myself to move. In my lap were 50 letters, stamped and ready to go, yet I couldn’t quite make myself place them in the mailbox. My daughter, not accustomed to seeing me respond this way, quickly piped up. “Mom, just place the letters in the mailbox. You won’t get trampled by an elephant!” Her voice shook me back to reality and I quickly prayed a desperate prayer. “Help, Lord.” As I placed the letters where they needed to be, I felt my hands shaking. These were no ordinary letters. No, these were support letters, describing a calling I felt to travel to Africa for an upcoming missions trip. Essentially, sending out those support letters represented my obedience to committing to traveling on a trip I never imagined myself making. I reasoned, in that parking lot, that if I sent out the letters, I would receive some donations. And if I received donations, I would have to go. And if I went, I was going to either be eaten by a lion, trampled by an elephant, or captured by natives.
Those fears, as absurd as they are, were not the ones keeping me up at night. What kept me up at night was the fear that I would get all the way there……… and fail. This fear of failure is really what had paralyzed me. What could I possibly say to children on the other side of the world? How could I communicate with them, when I didn’t even speak their language? I looked different, I acted differently, and at that stage in my life, I had no experience working with children living in poverty. Surely, there was someone better qualified to go on this trip. Yet, God had put in my spirit the knowledge that He wanted me to go. I was used to God telling me to do things. Most of the time, they weren’t things that scared me. They might make me a little nervous or uncomfortable, but up until this point, God had never told me to do something that terrified me. But this time, God kept pushing my heart in such a way that I could think of little else.
As I faced that mailbox, my fear didn’t leave. But, there is a very important piece that started me on a journey to becoming confident as I faced my fear. I was obedient. Despite my fear, I did what God was telling me to do. Since that time in my life, I have learned what it means to be obedient to God, in all things. Regardless of what things look like in the physical, I have learned that God sees in the spiritual.
As we put this in the context of ministry, I think it is so important to consider a few things. We all can have moments in our lives where we are paralyzed with fear. Maybe it’s a new outreach event or ministry that we sense is needed. Maybe it’s disagreeing with someone in our church. Maybe it’s firing a volunteer. Or maybe, its something as simple as trying a new curriculum or object lesson. As I talk to Children’s Pastors across the country, fear of failure seems to loom in the back of too many minds. I often get asked how to deal with this fear, and I believe the answer is found in the book of Proverbs.
Proverbs is a book about wisdom. Initially, you may not think there is a natural connection between fear and wisdom. But stay with me for a minute. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge. Yes, as we acquire knowledge, we do tend to become wiser. But Biblical wisdom is actually about obedience. As we learn who God is, through our obedience, through our relationship, through His faithfulness, we start to gain confidence in Him. As we pursue Him, something radical starts to happen within our hearts. Fear of the Lord starts to replace the fear of the world. In the first chapter of Proverbs, we are introduced to what almost seems like the motto for the book: “The fear of the Lord.” The Hebrew word here for fear can be translated also to mean great wonder or awe. Have you ever stood in awe of anything? For me, on that very missions trip, I stood in awe as I looked out over the Great Rift Valley. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever laid my eyes on, and I couldn’t tear myself away from it. I found myself leaning in, over the peeling white railing, drawn into this miraculous and breathtaking view. That awe is similar to what I think of when I hear the words “fear of the Lord.” Not so much the shrinking back in fear, but more of the leaning in feeling of awe. When you know the Lord, really KNOW him, He draws you in. You can’t look away, you can only stare and lean in because you want to experience more of Him. When you find that place in your relationship with God, the place that comes from knowing and loving Him, the obedience part becomes second nature. You almost don’t even think about it, you just arrive in this place where you wholeheartedly trust Him because you are confident in Him. I have learned over time that there is no safer place to be than right where God wants you. I suspect it may be the same for you once you lean in, in awe of the one who made you.
What is “the fear of failure?” What does that question mean to you? Realize, that your response will determine your reach. What I mean by that is simple. If you allow fear to keep you from doing what God is calling you to do, then your reach will stay within the sphere of influence you currently have. However if your response is one of obedience, using wisdom, confidence in the one that calls, despite your fear, then I believe that God will use you in ways you can’t even imagine.
Fear. Nervousness. Anxiety. We can get ourselves so worked up. God’s word speaks directly to this fear. In Proverbs 1:33, it says
but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster. ESV
The word dwell, in the original text, is yiskon, meaning “settle down.” The original word for secure is betach, meaning confidence. The literal translation of dwell secure is that we will settle down in confidence. How do we settle down in confidence? Look at the beginning of that verse.
Whoever listens to me
There is a connection between what we do and how we feel. If we are obedient to whatever it is that God is calling us to do, we will settle down into the confidence that can only come from our relationship with him.
Your response determines your reach.
On that trip that I mentioned, God did some incredible things. I walked with families living in a garbage dump, teaching them about the hope we have in Jesus. I prayed with a deaf and mute man and watched, almost dumbfounded as God healed him right in front of my eyes. I helped lead the son of a local witch doctor to faith in Christ. I saw a young boy, who had been injured severely by an ax to the head, left in a remote area to die, respond as I prayed for him. Within two days his body was restored. We were able to purchase freedom for so many innocent children and mothers from prison, sent for fines of a few dollars. I had the amazing privilege of leading several thousand children to Christ. We were able to rescue women off the street, from the human trafficking circles that are too common in impoverished nations. Miracle after miracle, I witnessed the desperate need for the gospel in the area of the world that God sent me to. If I had not gone, if I had allowed my fear of failure to keep me where I was, God could not have used me to do what he did on that trip. Could God have done it without me? Of course, he could. More than that, He couldn’t have done in me what needed to be done.
Before I left, I specifically went to several people and asked them to pray for God to show me how my ministry in Africa could impact my ministry in the States. However, when I was deep in the trenches with hurting people, I was not thinking of home. We were in a section of the country that had children who spoke several different tribal languages, most of which I did not understand. There was a little girl, named Sonya, who started following me early in the day. She was a believer, and she spoke all the languages the children were speaking. Naturally, she became my interpreter for the day. As we were nearing the heat of the afternoon, I hiked back to our bus to reapply sunscreen and get some water. We had been told earlier in the day not to allow the children to see us drinking water, or to give any out. However, when I got back off the bus, I realized Sonya had been standing close enough to see through the dark tinted windows. “Mam. Might I trouble you for a bit of your wata?” My heart sank. I was exhausted and thirsty, and I knew she had to be as well. I took her to the rear of the bus, and let her finish the rest of my half-empty bottle of water. I hid her behind me so no one would see. As she savored every last drop, I could see a physical change in her demeanor. “It has been four days since I have had any wata.” Again, my heart sank. As I looked around at, quite literally, the hundreds of children we were surrounded with, I realized that they also had not had any water. They were living in an area that was in a deep draught. As this realization sunk into my mind, the Holy Spirit whispered something into my heart that I will never forget.
And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
Matthew 10:42 NIV
As the tears welled up in my eyes, for the first time in my life I truly understood what those words meant. Then the answer to my prayer back in America came.
This. This is what I want you to do in the states. Love them. Meet their needs. Teach them about me, the living water.
That moment impacted my ministry here in the US in a foundational way. It became the bedrock on which I built our ministry to the lost and broken children, outside the four walls of our church. In the moments that I feel this pressure to succeed, and the fear of failure starts to creep in, I think about what would have happened if I had let that fear keep me from going on that missions trip. That trip birthed in me something that God continues to use to meet the needs of kids not only in my community but in countless communities across the nation.
In the past seven years, I have seen countless times where God has used me, despite my fear, because of my obedience. As we struggle against our own insecurities, I would challenge you to replace your fears with confidence.
It is my prayer is that you develop the kind of relationship with God that allows you to dwell secure.
Things to Consider:
- What times in your life have you been paralyzed with fear? If you haven’t been paralyzed, have there been things in your life that you have not done because you were afraid? How would your life, your ministry, be different if you started listening to God, no matter what?
- What is an area of your life that you are not currently being obedient in? How can you start, today, moving towards obedience in that area?
- Take some time to pray through these areas of obedience and fear. Ask God to help you to “dwell secure.”