Thursday, March 22, 2012

following the fearful apostle

I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. (1 Cor 2:3 NIV)

These words startle and comfort me. They remind me that the apostle Paul felt like I do. He was weak. He feared. He trembled.1 This is exactly how I feel:

  • before I read the Bible with friends. What will they think of Jesus? What will they think of his outrageous claims? What will they think of me?

  • before I lead a Bible study. Who will turn up? How will the discussion go? Will they want to come back next week?

  • before I visit women from other cultures or religions. Will I be able to enter their world? Will I trangress some unspoken cultural law? How can I share the love of Jesus with them?

  • before I go out for coffee with a friend. Will I get any opportunities to talk about my faith? Will I have the boldness to take them? Will I know what to say?
I love doing these things, and I love the people I do them with. I bring my fears to God (Phil 4:4-7, 1 Pet 5:6-7), and my worry lessens as my trust and confidence grow.2 But I still feel anxious. I’ve come to accept this – the apprehension that builds over several days, the wakeful hours in the night, the butterflies’ wings tickling my stomach – as part of the cost of living for Jesus (Rom 12:1). Feeling a little nervous is a small price to pay for helping people get to know him.

In all this, Paul is my example. For while he trembled and feared, he never let it stop him talking about Jesus. Instead, he boasted in his weakness because it highlighted Christ’s strength (2 Cor 12:9-10). He became all things to all people, so that by all means he might save some (1 Cor 9:22). He asked people to pray that he wouldn’t give way to fear (Eph 6:18-20). He set his mind on the goodness of God and the love of Christ that would never leave him (Rom 8:18-39). He revelled in the chance to share in Jesus’ suffering (Col 1:24). Why? Because he was compelled by the love of Christ to live not for himself, but for the one who died for him (2 Cor 5:14-15 NIV).

I’ll probably never have as much reason as Paul to fear. I don’t expect to be thrown into prison, shipwrecked, flogged, beaten with rods or pelted with stones (2 Cor 11:23-33). If his troubles were ‘light and momentary’, mine are a speck on the face of eternity. Still, I’m tempted to choose an easier path. So I say to myself, with Paul:

…we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:16-18)
With God’s help, I’ll follow Paul’s example, fears and all.

1. See also 2 Cor 2:4, 7:5, 11:28-29; Gal 4:11; 1 Thess 3:5.
2. This is not the place to develop a theology of anxiety, but if you’re interested, see Ed Welch’s excellent Running Scared: Fear, Worry and the God of Rest.

This post first appeared in The Briefing today.

image is by Rakesh Rocky at flickr

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