Staring Down Our Fears Through Perfect Love

While visiting with our WMPL workers in Kenya in May, Vincent, husband of Julia, told my wife Lois and me an intriguing story. As a Samburu youth, Vincent was taught what to do when he came upon lions or elephants in the wild: if he encountered one of them and turned and ran, he would be dead. Instead, he would have to stand still and face them – spear in hand – and make eye contact. In time, the lion or elephant would feel uncomfortable with his constant stare, get up and walk away. From what I remember of his story, that happened to him with a wild elephant and it did indeed walk away!

The Bible contains many stories of people who faced danger and persevered. Moses feared his inadequacies, yet overcame them by letting God do his work to lead his people out of Egypt. Gideon questioned his ability but trusted and watched God’s power manifest itself. Daniel faced lions yet acted in faith. Paul was beaten, jailed and shipwrecked, among other things, bur continued onward. We also find stories of those who didn’t handle worry and danger well, such as when Peter in faith stepped into the water to join Jesus only to be overcome with fear and start sinking.

We are familiar with God’s appeal to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.” (Joshua 1:9 ESV) That’s encouraging, but we might think, “Well, that was for Joshua, and I’m no Joshua.” True, perhaps, but it’s the nature of God to deliver us from evil as well as from the fear of evil, and instead of running, we have an opportunity to see God do the delivering. He’s waiting for us to trust him in the direst of situations.

Recently, someone lovingly confronted me about an aspect of fear that was within both my ability and my responsibility to control. I realized we, as believers, can easily be guilty of inspiring fear and motivating people through fear, even without realizing what we are doing. While serving in Bangladesh, it was common to hear parents tell their children not to climb a tree because a ghost was in it. At their young age, the children didn’t know that this warning was to keep them safe and protect their future, and they would grow up fearing ghosts, to a point anyway. We’ve likely all been warned about doing something, or not doing something, in a way that motivates us out of fear, although the warnings may have been made with arguably good intentions.

Sometimes, fear is the correct motivational factor that keeps us out of danger. It can help keep us from going into places where there are “lions.” However, it’s sad how easily we, as parents and leaders in whatever capacity, can unintentionally manipulate and motivate people out of fear. While performance and desired behavior may increase in the near term, this manipulation is short-sighted and will likely lead to stressed-out staff who will then lack the ability to take risks and creatively find solutions and new ways of doing ministry. It takes our eyes off Jesus, where they need to be fixed, and onto the threat. We can put “lions” in people’s path instead of the Lord Jesus.

The Word clearly states, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18 ESV) I pray that we focus on and demonstrate God’s love to the extent that people see hope in us and ask why we have such hope.

A non-Christian State Department colleague once asked me why I didn’t become fearful when we were together in a complex attack in Afghanistan. I responded, “Because I know where I’m going if I die.”

Our blessed hope in Jesus and our lack of fear can motivate a lost world to seek Jesus to overcome their hopelessness and fear. Let’s encourage people to find the hope they need through love, gentleness, and respect. If they are going to have their eyes fixed on a lion, may it be the Lion of Judah.

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