Conquering Fear of Failure...a postscript

Teaching my former students last Tuesday night.

Teaching my former students last Tuesday night.

I had intended to move on to another common fear in this blog, but something happened last week that demanded changing that plan. That something was the very event that triggered the fear of failure I described in the last blog, the event for all of my former high school students, Let Me Teach You One More Time. Several weeks before the appointed night, I counted a grand total of 11 who had signed up. My stomach dropped. The room I had rented held 80-100, and an images flashed through my imagination of a tiny turnout with the inevitable shame I would feel. Fear clutched at me, but with the loving encouragement of my family, I pressed on.

When the event rolled around last Tuesday, it was nothing like those images. The room was packed. I first shared the journey of my heart as a teacher and then taught them from the Landmarks book about God's story and our identity. The attentiveness was beautiful. But the real fireworks came when a panel of faculty came up and shared their own story with piercing honesty, mesmerizing the listeners. One of the panel, the former headmaster, was so struck by the time that he told me it felt like a holy moment. Students stayed afterwards, almost as if they didn't want to leave.

And I am still hearing the ripple-out effects. Just today I was approached by a mom of one of those students telling me with tears how powerful the evening had been for her son. I look back now at my previous fears, and I'm startled by the contrast. What does this all mean? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Fear distorts reality. If we listen to our the voice of fear instead of the voice of God, we will always misinterpret life.
  2. Walking with God means faith and obedience. The opposite of that is fear and passivity. Over and over in the Bible He asks men and women to take crazy risks of obedience and trust Him for the result. He is still in that business today.
  3. Taking small risks today trains us to take the bigger ones for God when they come.
  4. Finally, the kingdom of God grows in cycles of desperation and deliverance. We go out on a limb for God, find ourselves in a predicament, and then He comes to the rescue. He gets the glory, and we get the joy. That certainly was my experience here.

So, what risk do you need to take for God today?

Sharing some of their own story, the panel included Daniel Moore, Richard Anderson, and Dan Carpenter.

Sharing some of their own story, the panel included Daniel Moore, Richard Anderson, and Dan Carpenter.

Conquering Fear, Part 1: Fear of Failure

It happened again. That tightening in my stomach with the racing thoughts in my mind.  A number of months ago, at the suggestion and encouragement of many friends, I decided to hold an event for all of my former high school students, some 17 years worth. The title: Let Me Teach You One More Time. The target date: tomorrow, September 23! The idea was simple: tell the story of what has happened to me and teach them about God's amazing work in the heart. 

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So with that simple idea grew nearly 700 email invitations, large-scale event planning, and a million details to handle, all of which was out of my comfort zone. But as the event got closer, my gut began to tie in knots when this question loomed, Would anybody come? And underneath that was the more enduring fear, Would I appear as a failure in public?

The question of failure as haunted me all of my life. It has driven me, perplexed me, routed me, and often overwhelmed me. But so much of the last few weeks has been reflecting on my fear and then deflecting it away. What has changed? Many things. But perhaps the most important is finding myself connected as a man to something much larger than myself, something much more enduring and lasting than any of our accomplishments or successes. I speak of the great theme of the entire Bible. I speak of the kingdom of God.

God's kingdom is simply wherever God's will is loved and obeyed. It is written into the fabric of the Lord's prayer when Jesus taught us to pray for God's will to be done and his kingdom to come. But here is the stunning upshot of this prayer: God's kingdom is the only kingdom that will not fail (Daniel 2:44). Everything else fails, all human organizations and governments, all enterprises and affairs, all of this will one day either be washed away or subsumed under this conquering kingdom.

So to live for his kingdom means that in the end we cannot fail, whatever our present struggles. To realize that I am a tagalong in this grand enterprise causes my fear to dissipate, replaced by a growing wonder and boldness. This is not about me or about anybody else. This is about his kingdom, a kingdom that can never fail.

So as that big event approaches tomorrow, I hope to rest in the truth of God's ultimate success. I hope you can also.

Next week's blog: Tackling the fear of rejection


What happens when secrets are shared

I was walking with a close friend last fall, and the conversation steered from present struggles into the past. He began to recount a difficult event from his early childhood, and the next thing I knew he was choking back tears. I was at first surprised by his honesty and then honored that he would reveal such a defining moment in his life, one he had kept secret from most. I then realized that I understood my friend in a way I had never known, and I loved him now as a brother all the more.

My one experience is repeatedly multiplied in the story groups I have led for a number of years. Here men gather to reveal their story bit by bit and to listen in to the stories of others. The same response occurs. First there is surprise at the honesty and then a sense of feeling honored with such secrets. Finally, there is an growing understanding and love that is transformational. We not only know others; we feel known. Shame is shattered, and love begins to heal.

But take all this one step further. The Bible is the revelation of God’s secrets. It shows us the heart of God in a way we could have never guessed at on our own. David declares that “the Lord confides in those who fear him” (Ps. 25:14).  To those who are willing to listen, God wants to share the secrets of his heart to us in the Scriptures. We should feel surprised at such a revelation—surprise, and then honor, and finally understanding and love. For God wants to be known and loved, and he wants us to feel known and loved also.

Jesus went in the same direction. He said that all that he had received from the Father he made known to his disciples. That’s why he called them friends, not slaves (John 15:15). He also wants us as his followers to feel that special connection to him and to his Father, to listen in and understand his heart, and then to love him with all of our hearts, staying in his love by offering it to those around us. It is in this love that shame is obliterated.

Two questions to leave you with: What secrets in your heart do you need to reveal? And what would change if you read the Bible as the revelation of God’s heart to you?

For more information about story groups beginning this fall, please contact me at landmarkjourney@gmail.com

The Joy Of Death: A Final Look

This weekend I spoke the benediction at the funeral of a dear friend. Two days later I ate lunch with another friend who recently lost his spouse to cancer. Both experiences still taste of death, the stripping finality, the grinding loss, the unappeasable loneliness. How could anyone associate death with joy? Isn’t this something approaching sacrilege?

Nevertheless, surprising clues have surfaced that point me elsewhere. One clue comes from my previous avoidance of funerals. I disliked thinking of death and often found excuses not to attend. But now I am eager to go, to celebrate the life and mourn the loss. I no longer deny the reality of death, and somehow it feels more robust to do live that way.

Another clue surfaced when I went skydiving. To be flung out of a plane at 14,000 feet was fearful enough, yet it was followed by fifteen seconds of raw terror as I accelerated into a void. But when I reached terminal velocity, I opened my eyes and felt as if I was floating on a pillow of air, experiencing the wonder of free fall for one whole minute. It occurred to me later that this may be a helpful parallel to death, when the terror of the unknown yields to something wondrous.

A final clue came with Jesus himself. He was always talking about his death and then asking his followers to join him in it (see Mark 8:34). But the point was never just to die. The whole point of dying was to be able to follow him, and in that following to feel his presence and know his personal counsel.

What would that look like to walk into his death every day? Perhaps it’s letting go of a grudge or giving away money you have clung to. Perhaps it’s fighting a long-held addiction or releasing someone you have been overly dependent on. Perhaps it’s fasting a meal or fasting technology for a day. However we enter Jesus’ death, we will begin to feel a growing freedom to detach from what is truly causing death and reattach to him. And then we make a stunning discovery.

We aren’t dying. We’re coming alive.

And when we face the death of our bodies, it will only be more of the same. Death will be the gateway into more life, more joy. Only Jesus could take something so ugly and turn it into beauty.

So where do you need to start dying today?