It is interesting to note the number of times that the Bible says, “Don’t be afraid.” By my count, that phrase is repeated 77 times in the Scriptures (NIV). We know that all emotions are God-given and morally neutral. It is what we do with our emotions, how we express them and act upon them, that make them good or bad. If that is true, then why does God say many times, “Don’t be afraid?”
My understanding is that the exhortation is not to deny the natural response to threat and become some type of unfeeling, machine-like personality. Rather, a better way to understand this is to say, “Don’t be controlled by the fear that you are now feeling.”
Fear is one of our God-given emotions. It can protect us from threats, initiating a ‘flight or fight’ response that can, in some serious situations, save our lives. But fear can also paralyze us – like a deer caught in the headlights; we freeze, don’t act and are rolled up by the rapidly approaching threat.
Some leaders seek to manage fear by becoming more risk averse. They reason that by not taking any (or minimal) risks, they will be safe and not have to face their fears. But, leadership means we have to take risks, for leaders bring change. The exact outcome of that change is unknown because it is in the future. Fear of unknown future outcomes can paralyze leaders into simply maintaining the status quo instead of initiating risk-taking change for the better.
Another common fear of leaders is a fear of failure or looking incompetent before others. This finds its root in our ego or in finding our identity in our leadership role. Failure is perceived as exposing my incompetence before others and perhaps resulting in my loss of leadership responsibilities. Mature Kingdom leaders recognize that all leadership roles are God-given and we will all transition these roles at sometime. We don’t find our security or identity in being a leader. Rather, we find it in being a servant who has the privilege, for a time, of leading others.
Mature leaders also know that everyone fails sometime. It’s only a matter of when, not if, we fail. Failure is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s how we respond to failure that makes the difference. Winston Churchill said, “Success in never final; failure is seldom fatal; it’s courage that counts!” It is the courage to get up and try again that is key when one fails. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way, “You need to persevere, so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.” (Hebrews 10:36 NIV 1984)
Leadership is a long journey filled with highs and lows, successes and failures, safety and threats. Learning to take appropriate risks will enable us to accomplish our God-given tasks for His glory.
How’s your risk tolerance? Don’t be afraid!