I've heard before that people's greatest fear is public speaking. As a preacher I've either overcome that or have learned to fake it pretty well, eh? Personally, I think my greatest fears (if I allow myself to think about it) have to do with my children. I won't go into specifics (to write of them would bring them to the mental forefront), but even a common human fear…that of death…for me is mainly a fear of how it will affect my children.
How about you? What is your greatest fear? Was it public speaking or death? Flying on airplane? Spiders? The dark? Clowns? 🙂
We all have fears, and often irrational ones. They really aren't a problem unless they prevent us from living a normal life. We can avoid speaking in public, steer clear of dangerous activities, take a bus across country, stay away from creepy-crawly things, plug in night lights, and never enter a circus tent.
But sometimes fears can overwhelm us, and we've heard of individuals who (for instance) have agoraphobia and refuse to leave their homes. If we had a friend like that we likely would encourage them to visit a psychiatrist.
However, perhaps the worst types of fears are those that keep us from doing the right thing at the right time. Maybe at school you saw a kid get picked on and you should have spoken up, but you kept your mouth shut for fear that the bullying bullseye would move to you. Or maybe at work you made a mistake but you didn't tell anyone because you were worried about getting in trouble (and possibly even lose your job).
In both those examples the fears may have been completely reasonable, but the reactions were wrong. We should stand up for the downtrodden and we should fess up to our mistakes.
The Bible shares quite a few stories of people who let their fear get the better of them. Even a "friend of God" like Abraham (see James 2:23) lied about his wife (saying she was his sister) because he was worried for his life (see Genesis 12:11-20 and 20:1-13). Additionally, the disciples spent three years with Jesus, yet when He was arrested we discover, "Then all the disciples left him and fled" (Matthew 26:56b, English Standard Version). I can't imagine it was much consolation to them afterward to remember it was exactly what their Lord had predicted (see Matthew 26:30—35).
Of course, once a coward does not mean always a coward…a fact that came to mind because of something I read in Mark chapter 15. At this point in Mark's narrative the disciples abandoned their Savior and Jesus was tried, judged, sentenced, crucified, and killed. Scripture does not record any of the Jewish leaders speaking up for our Lord…and considering the vehemence of His persecutors, it's easy to imagine that none publicly did. However, after His death:
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus (Mark 15:42-43).
Joseph of Arimathea…took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.
My guess is that, like the disciples, Joseph didn't show a whole bunch of courage during the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus (although we know from Luke 23:51 he "had not consented to their decision and action"). However, led by the Holy Spirit, Mark notes that a previously spineless member of the Sanhedrin got up the courage to do the right thing…
Even though it was exposing him in front of his friends, his coworkers, his church, and his government. He may not have "consented to their decision or action"…but they did…and here he is showing kindness to the body of the man they so fervently damned to a tortuous death.
And just like the Bible includes multiple people who let their fears get the better of them, it records multiple cases where cowards turn into heroes (like Joseph of Arimathea). For instance, not that far into the future the same disciples who fled when evil arrived for their teacher didn't hesitate to stand up for Him when faced by the same persecutors:
So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:18-20).
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:27-29).
I don't know about you, but I find biblical stories of cowards turning into heroes very comforting…because, as a Christian, I want to be a hero but I am, all too often, a coward. Yes, we should have our act together and do it right the first time, but our God is a God of second chances and we should be thankful He is far more long-suffering and forgiving than His followers are.
Where have you been a Christian coward? Where will you be a Christian hero going forward?