Making Progress in the Life of Faith (3)
“If you should say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I; how can I dispossess them?’— you shall not be afraid of them, but you shall remember well what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt…” Deuteronomy 7.17, 18
For many Christians what keeps them from making progress in the life of faith is fear. Fear of losing what they really enjoy. Fear of the uncertainty involved in obedience. Fear of man.
God anticipated that His people would experience a certain amount of fear as they went into battle against seven nations stronger than they to gain the land God had promised to them. His command to them was simple: “You shall not be afraid.” These words were the consistent counsel of Pope John Paul II to the Christians in Poland and Eastern Europe as they stood up to Marxist oppressors in the last decades of the 20thcentury. The Pope understood that, unless we’re willing to risk everything to make progress in the faith, we will always be slaves to our fears. For if we risk everything and lose it, we gain the eternal blessing and glory of Jesus Christ. As Paul put it, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1.21).
God’s command to Israel is valid for us as well, as we daily engage the challenge of making progress in the life of faith. The obstacles to personal revival, renewal in our churches, and awakening and restoration in the culture around us are considerable. We must not minimize these obstacles, but work to identify, understand, and consider the best ways of overcoming them all.
And we must not be afraid.
The fear of loss
Fear takes many different guises when it comes to impeding progress in the life of faith. As a powerful affection, fear makes us wary, causes us to cower, and discourages us from advancing our interests against whatever may be the object of our fear.
Three fears in particular can keep us from tackling the obstacles and making progress in the life of faith. The first is the fear of loss.
Simply put, we are afraid that, if we really get serious about following Jesus, we might have to give up things that have become dear to us. Chief among these is our time. Following Jesus is a full-time calling, and, if we’re completely honest, most of us can probably identify a number of things currently occupying our time which have little to do with being a disciple. Yet we have grown accustomed to them – those evenings lazing in front of the television or surfing the web, that extra 30 minutes of sleep, those Sundays devoted to our own interests rather than God’s.
We fear that giving up such things for a more serious involvement in following Jesus won’t be worth it.
But this is a function of not seeing clearly what the Lord has in store for us in His precious and very great promises. “He is no fool,” Jim Elliott wrote, “who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” If we are clear about the promise of revival, renewal, and awakening, we will not foolishly let these slip away when there is something we might do to attain them.
The fear of uncertainty
The second fear is related to this: the fear of uncertainty.
None of us can know the future; however, as long as we continue in our settled ways, we can be pretty sure that the future will be a lot like the past, and we’re OK with that. When we contemplate seeking the Lord earnestly for revival, devoting more time and effort to renewing our church, and seeking to bring awakening and restoration to our neighbors and our culture, there are just a lot of unknowns out there.
These unknowns can freeze us with fear, the fear of exchanging our settled ways for, well, who knows what?
The fear of man
Finally, the fear of man can keep us right where we are, complacent in our status quo and not seeking the Kingdom as we should.
We have a sense that becoming more serious about following the Lord is not something one can do in a closet. We’re going to have to “go public” with our beliefs, convictions, and changed lives. We’re going to be talking with others about our faith and calling them to consider Jesus as well. We’re going to be standing up for truth at home, at work, in church, and at every opportunity. We’ll be saying and doing things that are guaranteed to offend or disturb those who do not share our faith, and what might happen then?
Wouldn’t it be easier just to maintain our present level of discipleship and let the world go its own way?
Easier, yes, but not in line with Christ’s calling to follow Him. The fear of loss, uncertainty, and man are real fears, but we do not have to give in to them.
Through prayer, a clear and compelling vision, and like-minded friends to help us stay the course, we can overcome our fears and begin to make real and continual progress in following Jesus Christ.
1. How does fear operate to keep us from following Jesus? What’s the best way to overcome fear?
2. Can you see examples in Scripture of how God helped His people overcome their fears? What can you learn from these?
3. How can believers help one another to overcome their fears and continue making progress in the life of faith?
Next steps – Transformation: Are any of these fears – loss, uncertainty, what others might think or do – present in you at this time? Which? How might you begin to overcome them? Talk with some Christian friends about these questions.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.