Fear is normal. Many times I have asked people being trained to counsel people who make a public response in our evangelistic meetings how many of them are scared. That usually draws a nervous chuckle. Then I tell them, “If you weren’t a bit afraid, I don’t think you would be qualified to be a counselor.” It’s easy enough to talk about the weather, sports, and casual things that don’t matter much, but the more deeply we feel something and the more personal and sensitive it is, the more reluctant we may be to talk about it.
Nothing is more important than one’s eternal relationship with God. If we have no hesitation in discussing this, then perhaps we don’t understand how important and sensitive the issue is. It’s only when we realize we are not sufficient to do the communication that we can really be useful to the Lord.
Fear does not disqualify us from sharing our faith. If it did, the apostle Peter would never have made it. He was the man who was so afraid even to admit that he knew Jesus Christ that he denied it three times in one night. But he was also the man who preached the greatest evangelistic message on the day of Pentecost, when 3,000 people were converted.
Paul revealed to the Christian brothers and sisters in Corinth a side of himself that perhaps none of them had realized: “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling” – 1 Cor. 2:3. But that fear led him to put his confidence even more in God and His word. “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words. But with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” – 1 Cor. 2:4-5.
Scottish Christian and scholar James Denney once said, “No man at one and the same time can show that he himself is clever and that Jesus Christ is might to save.” Fear can be a good thing when it leads us to have a strong confidence in God, not in ourselves.
Sharing our faith, especially in situations where we don’t have full control, can be risky and scary. Exposing ourselves to the unknown, risking failure, making ourselves vulnerable to the criticism or ridicule of others can be intimidating. And yet, I have found that some of my most exciting times as a Christian have been in these uncontrolled situations. Often I have walked into a session where I know
it’s “open season” on evangelists – and I’ve been scared. But I’ve prayed for the Lord to give me wisdom, and once we get going, the spiritual adrenaline seems to flow, and I find tremendous confidence and exhilaration, realizing that the gospel message is sound; it rings true. A faith that isn’t risky, that is not worth betting our life, just doesn’t have the ring of reality.
What makes people hesitate to share their faith? Here are some of the fears that have been mentioned to me: “I am afraid I might do more harm than good… I don’t know what to say… I may not be able to give snappy answers to tricky questions… I may seem bigoted… I may invade someone’s privacy… I am afraid I might fail… I am afraid I might be a hypocrite.”
Perhaps the most common fear, however, is that of being rejected. A survey was given to those attending training sessions for the Billy Graham crusade in southeastern Michigan. One question asked, “What is your greatest hindrance in witnessing?”
- 9% said they were too busy to remember to do it;
- 28% felt the lack of real information to share;
- 12% said their own lives were not speaking as they should;
- NONE said they didn’t really care;
- by far the largest group were the 51% whose biggest problem was the fear of how the other person would react!
None of us likes to be rejected, ridiculed, or regarded as an odd ball. So how do we handle this fear?
It may help if we see that this fear has both a real and an imaginary basis.
Rejection by others is a real possibility when we share our faith. In fact, this possibility is implied in the word, “witness,” which in the Greek is “marturia” the root of our word for “martyr.” An authentic witness always carries the seed of the martyr. Those of us who live in the west don’t face much possibility of imprisonment or actual physical torture, though that may come some day. If we stand up for Jesus Christ, however, we still may be thrown to the lions of social pressure, intellectual jibes (scoffing), and possibly even the loss of job opportunities.
Jesus made it rather clear that if we are going to follow Him, we ought to expect some rejection. After all, He was “despised and rejected of men” – Isa. 53:3. “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him” – Jn. 1:11. And He said that the servant couldn’t expect to be better than his master. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” – Jn. 15:18. He said we are soldiers involved in a life and death struggle with evil, and we have to expect some hardship. The question is: Am I committed enough to Jesus Christ to be willing to let people know that I am a Christian,even if I have to lose some friends or social standing?
From boyhood one of my favorite stories has been the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste. These 40 soldiers, all Christians, were members of the famed 12th Legion on Rome’s Imperial Army. One day their captain told them Emperor Licinius had sent out an edict that all soldiers were to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods. These Christians replied, “You can have our armor and even our bodies, but our hearts’ allegiance belongs to Jesus Christ.”
It was mid-winter of A.D. 320 and the captain had them marched onto a nearby frozen lake. He stripped them of their clothes and said they would either die or renounce Christ. Throughout the night these men huddled together singing their song, “Forty Martyrs for Christ.” The temperature took its toll; and one by one they fell to the ice.
At last only one man was left. He lost courage and stumbled to the shore where he renounced Christ. The officer of the guards had been watching all this. Unknown to the others, he had secretly come to believe in Christ. When he saw this last man break rank, he walked out onto the ice. Threw off his clothes, and confessed he also was a Christian.
When the sun rose the next morning, there were 40 bodies on the ice.
Those men were not ashamed of Jesus Christ. But what about you and me? Paul said, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted” – 2 Tim. 3:12. We are not told to invite it, or to provoke it, or to enjoy it, but we are told to expect it. What we have to understand is that this is not a personal rejection; it comes from being identified with Jesus Christ. He went through it and so did the apostles; and so have thousands of Christians through the centuries. If we face some ridicule and rejection, it’s nothing compared to what they went through. As the writer of Hebrews said, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” – Heb. 12:4.
So when I face the possibility of real opposition, the question is: Will I obey Jesus Christ? If we acknowledge Christ, He will acknowledge us. He said that if we are ashamed of Him, He’ll be ashamed of us.
When we face real opposition, all of us will sense fear. But are we going to let fear (and pride) rule our lives? Or are we going to let Jesus Christ rule? The opposite of courage is not fear, but cowardice. Recently I heard of a graduated student who was a Christian but was afraid of what his intellectual friends might think of his faith. When some of them came for a get-together at his parents’ home, he hid all the Christian magazines and Bibles and replaced them with secular magazines. What is that but sheer cowardice, not being honest enough to admit what he really is? Courage is just fear that has said its prayers – it’s faith that has taken up its cross.
On the other hand, some of our fear of people’s reactions is based on false assumptions. We are afraid that people will reject us because they are not interested. This is a particular problem for those who have been brought up (as I was) in a strong, church-related Christian environment. Often we have had minimum contact with non-Christians. Then when we get to know people and talk to them about Christ, we see that many of them are interested.
Most people are turned off by the person who buttonholes them with the, “Brother, are you saved?” approach (although God can use that sometimes too!). But I find that almost everyone I have ever talked with has been willing and often eager to talk about spiritual things if he can do it in a relaxed, non-threatening situation.
Some people are hardened to the gospel, and others express no sense of need whatever. They are like the hard ground in the parable of the soils, unplowed soil that the seed just bounces off. In these cases, our job isn’t to sell something they see no need for. We have to take another approach, or just wait patiently and prayerfully until God uses His plow to open their lives to the gospel.
Our task is not so much to create a sense of need in people’s lives as to uncover the need where God has already made it known. A lot of our fear will disappear when we realize there are people around us who are just waiting for someone to connect with them, to share a faith that makes sense. God is often already at work in the lives of those with whom we speak.
The fact is that most people, if approached in a natural and sensitive way will react with politeness and interest. Surprisingly, many have been waiting for someone to come. Much of our fear will be gone if we realize that God will often lead us to those whose hearts He is ready to open.
The best antidote to fear is LOVE – a love that leads us to forget our own fears and focus on the needs of others. Perhaps that’s why Paul wrote to Timothy apparently a sometimes hesitant type, to remind him that, “That God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a Spirit of power, and love, and of self-discipline” – 2 Tim. 1:7.
GOD’S LOVE WILL NOT ONLY CAST OUT FEAR; IT WILL TRANSFORM OUR WITNESSING FROM COMPULSION TO COMPASSION.
Leighton Ford, Decision Magazine