Several months ago, I attended a convention where the speaker talked about his feelings when asked to fill the shoes of a leader he greatly respected and admired. His initial thought was simply this: “Lord, help me not to mess this up.” He then recounted how the Holy Spirit rebuked that spirit of fear within him.
I know how he felt. Having just been handed the reigns of a model church outside of our nation’s capital, I too have fears about “messing it up.” God, however, is not pleased by such a negative mission statement. God is not looking for managers who will return what they have been given in the same condition. God is looking for investors who will take what they have been given and return it in better condition (Matthew 25:14–30).
Faithfulness Is Not Merely Consistency
So often in church work, faithfulness (defined merely as consistency) is considered a valuable trait. When I moved to the outskirts of Philadelphia many years ago, I was made aware of a nursery worker that was slapping children. When I made our church board aware of the allegation, one deacon responded by saying, “Well, at least she is faithful.” Yes, but if you are faithful at slapping kids, this is not praiseworthy. When the Bible praises faithfulness, it is praising people who are “full of faith,” people who are stepping out to do those things that God has called them to do.
Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. It is evaluated practice that makes perfect, and God is calling us to take what we have been given and make it better through evaluation and risk. Faithfulness should never be defined as a consistent state of timidity.
Fearfulness Is Not Humility
Part of the reason that we do not invest our lives in faith is because we are afraid. But fear of our circumstances or other people is never commended by God. When Moses voiced his fears about entering the court of Pharaoh because he had a stammering tongue, God did not praise him for humility. God rebuked him for having a lack of faith (Exodus 4:14).
“I can do all things,” is cockiness. “I can’t do anything,” is a lack of faith. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” is confidence, and this is where God wants us to live (Philippians 4:13). Distrust in self is good, but only if it leads to trust in God. Distrust in self that doesn’t lead to trust in God only results in spiritual paralysis.
Fear often drives us to do erroneous things. It was when Saul feared his own people and the Philistines that he “forced himself” to offer an erroneous offering (1 Samuel 13:11–12). How often I have been driven to make fallacious choices because of internal fears!
Fearfulness Boxes Our Ministries
The Bible is clear that the fear of man causes a snare (Proverbs 29:25). So often as a minister I have lived in fear of people. It may have been influential people in the church, aggressive deacons, or even influential leaders within my circles. I lived with the nagging fear of disappointing people.
Several years ago, however, I came to the startling realization that no matter what I do, I will make someone upset. It is impossible to please one hundred percent of the people one hundred percent of the time. And if I am going to be hung, how much better to be hung for my own decisions rather than decisions that have been made for me!
This is not to say that I never seek advice. It is to say that God has placed me in the chair of authority to be a decision-maker. And the failure to make a decision is itself a decision—a bad decision! Indecisiveness historically angers more people than decisiveness. Ironically, my wife would rather eat at a less-than-favorite restaurant that I picked than a better restaurant that I backed out of picking. People migrate to confident leadership, and they tend to pick apart timid, introverted scaredy-cats.
Fear of God Motivates Action
The wicked servant who failed to invest out of fear was reprimanded (Matthew 25:26–27). And the reprimand is clear. If you really believed the master to be severe, you would have responded to that austerity appropriately by investing what you have. Though the fear of man brings a snare, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). And wisdom in the Bible is always an application of acquired knowledge (James 3:13). If we really believe in the austerity of God, such fear will motivate action, not diminish it.
When you and I stand before God, He will not praise our timidity as “faithfulness” but rebuke it as cowardice. Passiveness is not to be confused with humility, but rather should be seen as the ministry limitation that it is. Healthy fear of God always motivates action. Unhealthy fear, however, creates paralysis. And this is the spirit that God seeks to eradicate in His ministers (2 Timothy 1:7).