I was laying in the middle of the floor. Facedown. Scared to death. I was praying for God to take away my fear.
He said no.
And I’m glad.
I’ve got this thing about crowds. I’m not real comfortable in large crowds. Being a pastor, that’s sort of a problem. Well, unless you happen to be the pastor of Crazy Eddie and the Apostle Will’s Full Deliverance Fellowship and Snake Handling Emporium. In that case, you’ve got things other than crowds to worry about.
I get really nervous before I get up to preach on Sundays. And by before, I mean sometime around Monday afternoon. By Saturday, the worry gets pretty thick. On Sunday mornings it’s almost unbearable. So I’ve spent a lot of Sunday mornings, hours before anyone arrives, praying in our sanctuary. Facedown. Scared to death. Begging God to take away my fear.
It wasn’t an audible voice that told me no. It was the written word. God’s written word.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (ESV)
The fear that I was experiencing was a grace. It was a grace that was pointing me to the power of Christ.
I’m a pastor that’s not real comfortable in a crowd. It’s sort of like the tightrope walker who is afraid of heights. At first glance, it may seem like a mistake was made somewhere along the line. A deeper look reveals that God often puts his people in uncomfortable situations. Situations where we are forced to come face to face with our weaknesses. Situations where making it out alive on the other side can leave us with nothing to acknowledge but the all-sufficient grace of Jesus.
I know a lot of godly men and women. Most of them have one thing in common. Pressure. They aren’t the types who would say that their most stressful day was the time that they had to decide which major university to accept a full scholarship from. They are the types that had to see their mother laid out on a cold metal table because she had just tried to kill herself. They are the types who had to walk through cancer with their daughter. They are the types who are all too familiar with their weaknesses. And even more familiar with God’s grace and power.
Men and women of God grow out of the soil of discomfort.
A while back I overheard two guys talking. They were talking about fear. One of them finally reached a conclusion that, for some reason, changed their conversation to a whisper. Maybe they knew that I was listening. The man said something along these lines.
“I know that the Bible says that we shouldn’t fear. But I’ve got a job to do. A hard job. And fear just seems natural. It’s something that I can’t get rid of.”
I could relate. But I wanted to interrupt this man and tell him that God has done something better for me than taking away my fear. He is using it to remind me of this grace. A grace that is much stronger than the source of my fear.
“Fear not.” God says that a lot in the Bible. For a long time, I thought that he just meant that we needed to try harder to not fear. But that’s sort of like trying harder to not try so hard. It seems counterproductive.
It’s interesting what usually follows God’s command to fear not.
“I am with you.” Not, “I will take it away immediately.” Not, “I wouldn’t let anything difficult happen to you.”
Just, “I am with you.”
And that’s enough.
Fear can lead us to two things. It can cause us to dwell on what might happen and therefore control us, leaving us curled up in some corner afraid to take the next step. Or it can remind us of our shortcomings and the all-sufficient power of the God who is with us, leading us to a greater reliance upon him.
On Sunday mornings, I still show up several hours before anyone else so that I can pray. I still lay in the middle of the floor. Facedown. But I’ve stopped asking God to take away my fear. Instead I ask him to use that fear to point me to his strength and to remind me that he is with me.
And through the promises of his word, he always says yes.