Barriers to Encouragement (5)
For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. Romans 8.24, 25
For we walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5.7
Faith and life
The Christian life is a life of faith; we believe in Jesus, His work on the cross, His resurrection, ascension, session and rule at the Father’s right hand, and His imminent return. We believe these things, not because we can see them, but because they have been revealed to us by God, through the inward work of His Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2.7-10). So strong and sure is that belief – the gift of God – that, while we do not now see Jesus, we love Him supremely, and we “rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Pet 1.6-8).
We see Jesus with the eye of faith – what Paul refers to as the eyes of the heart (Eph. 1.15-23). We see Him enthroned in glory. We see Him upholding the cosmos and everything in it. We see Him speaking life and coherence to the creation, dispatching angels to do His bidding, putting His enemies under His feet, gathering lost sheep, building His Church, and advancing His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
We see none of this with our physical eyes. We can see the outward evidence of faith at work, however. We can see ourselves increasing in knowledge of, love for, and service for the Lord Jesus. We know this to be the work of God’s Spirit within our soul. We can see the effects of that work, sometimes more vivid and consistent, at other times, here a little and there a little. We can see the fruit of our faith in Jesus, but we cannot see Jesus, except by faith and hope, as Paul and Peter explain.
This is what the writer of Hebrews intended us to understand when he wrote that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11.1, my translation). The Christian life begins in faith, grows in faith, acts in faith, bears fruit in faith, and increases in faith as we set our minds on Christ and bend our hearts to love Him above all else.
Seeking Jesus and the things that are above – through the Word and works of God – increases faith; and increasing in faith ought to be the constant prayer of every believer. For as faith increases, the vision of Jesus grows, our soul is revived and transformed, and we increase in the likeness of Christ. The Encourager within us, Who accomplishes this great work (Phil. 2.13), gives us courage to step beyond things familiar, easy, known, and safe into those works of ministry that lead to helping others grow in grace, bringing lost people to salvation, building the Church in unity and maturity, and furthering the rule of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit on earth as it is in heaven.
As long as we live by faith – fully assured of what we earnestly hope for, and cultivating the evidence of that hope in good works of love – we will have the courage we need for whatever Jesus calls us to do.
It’s when we fail to trust His promises, take our eyes off Him, and look to the conditions around us for assurance and safety that our courage fails and we begin to sink into the things we fear. And basically, what we fear is that which is unknown, that which may or may not happen if we step out of the boat onto the waves of life in this secular age.
Five paralyzing fears
One of the consistent messages of Scripture to the people of God is “Don’t be afraid.” Peter feared the boisterous waves around him; he took his eyes off Jesus, doubting the Lord could fulfill what He had called him to undertake, and thus Peter began to be overwhelmed by the thing he feared.
Five fears can cause us to take our eyes off Jesus and to become discouraged in our walk with and work for Him. We can summarize these briefly.
The first is the fear of loss. Like the rich young ruler, we fear that following Jesus boldly into our daily calling to His Kingdom and glory will mean the loss of something precious. Whether that is time, wealth, comfort, or any other created thing, if we fear to lose such things, we erect a barrier to the Encourager’s work of giving us courage to follow wherever Jesus leads.
Next is the fear of failure – the fear that if we undertake something in courage and faith, we may not be able to see it through, and thus we will sink into our fears. We lose sight of the fact that God, Who has called us to His Kingdom and glory, is faithful, and He will do in and through us whatever He calls us to do (1 Thess. 5.24). He will do in us what He intends, but we must go forward to Him in courage and faith.
Fear of opposition can also paralyze some believers. If they share the Gospel, someone may challenge them, and they may not know how to respond. If they volunteer for some work at the church, they may be opposed by those already engaged in the work. Their gesture of kindness, word or encouragement, or offer of a helping hand may be rebuffed.
The prospect of opposition to our steps of courageous faith may bring with it the fear of harm or the fear of rejection. Either of these can deflate our courage and cause us to slink back into our comfort zone.
These fears are real, because each of the things we fear are possible, and we know this. But faith can keep us from sinking into our fears if we keep looking to Jesus, clinging to His promises and Presence, and believe that He will bring us through whatever fears may be seeking to divert us so that we can know more of the power and joy which are ours through faith in Him.
Overcome your fears
When Jim Kennedy first began doing the work of evangelism, he was faced by fear – all the fears we mentioned above. But he knew God had called him to this work, and he believed that, whatever may happen, God would not let go of Him nor allow him to sink under his fears. Jim would say to himself, each time he began a conversation about the Gospel, “Do the thing you fear.” Thus, embracing the words often spoken by our Lord to His followers, and looking to Jesus for courage, Jim would proceed on into the conversation, following the Spirit’s lead at every moment.
Jim’s ability to overcome the fear of being a witness for Christ transferred to millions of believers in more than 100 countries, who learned from his experience how they, too, could overcome their fears and fulfill their calling from the Lord.
Paul says that the way to overcome evil in our lives is to do good (Rom. 12.21). Fear that becomes a barrier to courage is definitely evil, because it keeps us from realizing the transforming power of God’s Spirit, reaching out with the grace and truth of the Lord, and increasing in the likeness of Jesus and the joy and pleasure of His salvation.
The way to overcome the fear of evil is by recognizing your fear, resisting its power, renewing your vision of the Lord, and going forward in faith and obedience. As you do, the Spirit will give you the courage and power to follow in whatever the Lord is leading you to do, one step at a time.
1. Which of the fears mentioned here have you experienced in your walk with and work for the Lord? How have you overcome these fears?
2. It’s not wrong or sinful to fear. What is wrong and sinful?
3. How can believers help each other overcome their fears and know more of the courage and power of the Lord?
Next steps – Conversation: Ask the Lord to allow you to initiate a conversation about the Gospel today, and to give you the courage to overcome whatever fear might keep you from doing so.
T. M. Moore
Resources for the Journey
If you missed our ReVision series, “We Would See Jesus,” you can download all four installments by clicking here. Our newest book, What in Heaven Is Jesus Doing on Earth?, can help you to “see Jesus” as He continues His work at the right hand of God. Order your copy by clicking here. For a sweeping study of the unseen realm and the world to come, order our workbook, The Landscape of Unseen Things, by clicking here. And you can learn how our Celtic Christian forebears saw Jesus through the 28 days of meditations in Be Thou My Vision (click here).
Thanks to our Lord!
Will you join us to give thanks to God for His faithful support of our ministry, and to ask Him whether you should participate in this opportunity? If the Lord moves you to give, you can use the Contribute button at the website to give with a credit card or through PayPal, or you can send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.