“The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted” (Prov. 29:25, NASB).1
ear. It’s a trait that is common to us all, regardless of color, class, creed, or commonwealth. For some it might be as simple as being in close proximity to certain insects or rodents, such as spiders or mice. For others it might be the fear of a dog bite, heights, or cramped spaces such as a closet or a small elevator. Regardless of what it is that makes you afraid, the effects are often similar: rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and possibly sweat. To these symptoms you could even add the feeling of being frozen in time.
In the Bible the word “fear” has at least two types of meaning. In one sense, fear can be a good thing in that it speaks of reverence or respect, such as with the oft-used phrase “the fear of the Lord.” In another sense, fear carries with it negative qualities, such as prolonged hesitation, tentativeness, or reservation. If left unchecked, these qualities can lead to emotional and functional paralysis, making one feel as if he or she is virtually unable to act.
When the Bible prophet Jeremiah received his call from God to be “a prophet unto the nations” (Jer. 1:5),2 he met it with trepidation: “Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child” (verse 6). God met his fear with a firm counterresponse: “Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord” (verse 8). “Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them” (verse 17). God’s directive was meant to save Jeremiah from the “paralysis of analysis.”
Proverbs 29:25 says that fear can be a “snare”; it can trap you in a straitjacket of inactivity. Fear can and will prevent you from fulfilling your life’s purpose. All too often this is the case with many people who have a sense of God’s calling or purpose in life. They know precisely what God would have them to do—they just aren’t doing it!
Then there are those who don’t know what their purpose is in life, neither are they interested in discovering it. Somehow, they are convinced that their lives have little or no real meaning. Perhaps they have faced so much rejection in life that they don’t want to risk any further emotional pain. Although the reasons for both these cases can be varied, there is a common denominator between the two: both types of people are frozen in fear.
Does this reflect where you are? If so, here are three steps you can take to deal with the fear factor:
1. Acknowledge the fear. As simple as this may sound, for many people it is still the number one barrier to achieving success. People don’t like to feel or appear afraid, for “fear” that it might make them look vulnerable or weak. Rather than acknowledging that fear is the culprit for their inaction, they attribute it to some other reason, such as timing, lack of funding or other necessary resources, a job, health, or family constraints. As strange as this may sound, it makes some people feel better to think that someone or something else is responsible for their lack of achievement or success.
When you acknowledge your fear, you now have labeled an identifiable barrier to your (and God’s) success. No longer can you pass the buck to some other supposed barrier. The villain has now been unmasked. Face your fear!
2. Act on your acknowledgment. Perhaps you are the person who has some idea of what it is that God would have you do with your life, but you just are not doing it. There may be some good reasons why you are holding back, but just remember this: God sometimes gives you just enough light for the step that you are on. Only as you move forward will you discover more pieces to the puzzle of God’s plan for you.
Or perhaps you are the person who is convinced that your life has little or no real meaning or value. Research has shown that the foundation of one’s self-esteem is laid during early childhood, most notably by family influences.3
Myles Munroe, noted author and motivational speaker, once said that family members are often our biggest dream busters. Remember how Joseph’s older brothers sarcastically referred to him as a “dreamer” (Gen. 37:19)? Are you going to allow negative influences to control your thinking patterns, which in turn control your decision-making? “As [one] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7).
Decisions determine destiny. Through deep, fervent prayer and meditation on select passages of Scripture that affirm your worth and purpose, develop a plan to break beyond your emotional barriers, regardless of their causes. Act on your purpose impulses. It could be as simple as your contacting a local governmental agency and applying for a business license. Perhaps you have a friend who is creative enough to draft business cards and other stationery for your business or ministry (although your business should always be a ministry). Perhaps you need to form a nonprofit corporation (501[c]), a sole proprietorship, or a limited liability company (LLC). With just a small investment of your time on the Internet, you can find several affordable options for forming one of these corporations. Maybe God is calling you into some form of humanitarian service, or prompting you to get more education or a trade skill for a specific purpose. Whatever His call on your life may be, remember this: People don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan—and act.
3. Anticipate setbacks. Thomas Alva Edison, who in 1880 received a U.S. patent for the incandescent lightbulb, once wrote: “Genius is 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.” When asked by a reporter if he had, in fact, failed more than 1,000 times in trying to create the lightbulb, he reportedly responded, “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to not make a lightbulb.”
In his book Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones for Success, best-selling author and leadership expert John C. Maxwell sheds light on the unrealistic views many hold on the definition of success and failure. He quotes from an article written by J. Wallace Hamilton for Leadership Magazine: “The increase of suicides, alcoholics, and even some forms of nervous breakdowns is evidence that many people are training for success when they should be training for failure. Failure is far more common than success; poverty is more prevalent than wealth; and disappointment more normal than arrival.”4
Training for failure? That’s right! This does not mean that you have succumbed to the idea that you won’t succeed, but rather that you understand that setbacks are part of the pavement on the road to success. Rather than trying to ignore or even avoid them, you need to plan for them—and learn from them.
When I formed Purpose-Full Ministries, Inc., several years ago, I made several attempts to secure money for start-up expenses, primarily through grant writing. Each proposal was denied. Then I had another idea. Rather than trying to do it alone, I contacted a friend who is quite proficient in grant writing to ask if she could help. She asked me how much we needed. I responded with a five-figure number. As it turned out, she didn’t help me write a grant at all. She gave our organization the entire amount! Needless to say, I’m glad that we didn’t give up. As businessman Harvey Mackay is fond of saying, “Failure is an attitude, not an outcome.”
Fear is a snare that the devil uses to trap your (and God’s) plans in a perpetual state of inactivity and thus uselessness. The world is in dire need of your fulfilling your life’s purpose. Untold stories of wonderful developments with eternal results are awaiting your decision to move forward. If you trust God, His purposes will come to pass, and He will exalt you in due time. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). Live with purpose.
1Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
2Unless otherwise noted, Bible texts in this article are taken from the King James Version.
4John C. Maxwell, Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones for Success (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2000), pp. 4, 5. (Italics supplied.)
Marlon T. Perkins, Sr., is pastor of the Philadelphia Seventh-day Adventist Church in Des Moines, Iowa. He is also founder and president of Purpose-Full Ministries, Inc., a nonprofit ministry dedicated to encouraging and equippping individuals to discover and pursue their God-given purpose in life. This article was published March 11, 2010.