Fear Keeps the Faithful Faithful? pt. 1

Today’s post is a BONUS CHAPTER from Grace Intervention on Fear. There is a growing supply of free resources for you to do a Grace Intervention with your church, small group, or retreat. Click here.


Chapter 7

Fear

Even the Christian must fear God. But it is another kind of fear. It is a fear rather of what might have been than of what is; it is a fear of what would come were we not in Christ. Without such fear there can be no true love; for love of the Saviour is proportioned to one’s horror of that from which man has been saved. And how strong are the lives that are suffused with such a love! They are lives brave, not because the realities of life have been ignored, but because they have first been faced – lives that are founded upon the solid foundation of God’s grace. May such lives be ours! ~J. Gresham Machen

Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. No one was there. ~Author Unknown

Bill Giovannetti, step forward.

I stood there naked, in plain sight, head hanging down, mortified at the exposure. I faced humiliation as public as any I could imagine.

I am speaking of my fear of Judgment Day.

This fear defined me for decades. It lurked in the shadows of everything I did.

The legalist mantra says, “Fear helps keep the faithful faithful.”

Worked for me. I feared final judgment. I feared loss of salvation. I feared God’s disapproving frown. I feared the loss of status with my spiritual peers. I feared a remarkably unenthusiastic welcome into the heavenly realms. I feared failure. I feared I hadn’t done it right in the first place, and wasn’t really saved.

There was a Bible verse I heard a thousand times as a kid growing up: “What a man does in secret, he will one day shout from the rooftops.” No doubt, this was the Death Star spawning my last-days’ phobia.

It wasn’t till I was much older that I made a startling discovery: there’s no such verse in the Bible. Yes, some come close, but those words simply aren’t biblical, not, at least, when it comes to the believer’s final judgment.

Here’s the closest to it I can find:

Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. (Matthew 10:26,27)

Even if we apply this verse to the last judgment, it’s still debatable whether it applies to believers in Jesus or not. Otherwise, why would Jesus begin this saying with an exhortation not to fear? At any rate, this is certainly a far cry from the frightening prospect that a naked little me would be shouting my secret sins from any rooftops throughout this life or the next. That discovery blew my mind. Like an addict’s intervention, it changed the course of my life.

Here’s how God’s grace intervention took the stinger out of my life’s greatest fears.

The Guilt Trip

God used a book. The setting was my cavernous high school gym. I was a senior at Chicago’s massive Lane Technical High School, student body over 5,000 at the time. My gym coach was absent for the day, so we sat on hard wooden bleachers and used the hour as a study hall.

I’d brought a book with me about Satan.[i] Little did I know that the last quarter of that book shined a spotlight on guilt and the Cross of Christ. Growing up fundamentalist, as I did, I’d heard about the Cross a million times. But this time was different. It was the first time the death of Christ really clicked with me.

I suspect the reason is because the author framed the Cross within the topic of guilt – which happened to be my middle name. He explained how the devil’s favorite tool was guilt. And how the devil screwed guilt into our backs to slam us around every once in a while.

Who told this guy about me?

My little high school heart was pounding. Pick-up basketball games echoed in the background. The smell of old gym shoes, rubber basketballs, and sweat permeated my senses. My world narrowed to a single point – words on a page illuminated by God’s own Spirit. There, the message of the Cross pierced my guilt and shame. I learned how my sins were lifted out of me that they might be transferred to Christ. I discovered how this transfer was comprehensive – encompassing every moral failure, past, present, and future. I read in wonder how the hammer of heaven heaped justice on the head of Christ, punishing him for my sins instead of punishing me.

And then I read about those wonderful words, IT IS FINISHED, the best words ever uttered on planet earth.

What was finished?

Everything that ever had to happen to bring my sorry soul to heaven without the slightest whisper of my secret sin or shame.

Suddenly, the cosmic plasma screen shattered in a million pieces.

Behind it, I saw the smiling face of God, my Father, who approved of me, and delighted in me more than words could tell.

Grace was real.

It was stronger, far more beautiful, and infinitely more effective than I’d ever thought it was before.

That day, God converted a gym into a sanctuary, as he settled a stupendous promise into my dysfunctional soul: “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; / And I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).

What an epiphany!

I didn’t need to fear the face of God for even one more nanosecond. He was eternally satisfied with me, just as I was.

I wanted to shout Hallelujah, but it felt weird in that setting.

Legalism’s germs proliferate in the dank cellars of fear. They thrive in the moisture of an implacable deity – a God who simply can’t be satisfied with a worm like me.

And yet, that day, God’s sun shined down into the cellars of my heart, and my fear and shame withered away.

I do not count that day as the day of my salvation; I was saved before that, and I’m convinced it “took” and it “stuck” with me forever. God is that faithful.

I do, however, count that day as the day of my assurance. A major healing of much of my Grace Deficit Disorder. I have never seriously doubted my salvation since then, and I have never again stooped beneath the burdensome anticipation of a humiliating entrance to God’s everlasting kingdom.

My guilt was gone, and with it the fear of judgment that fueled so much dysfunction in my life.


 

[i] Hal Lindsey. Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1972).

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Part 2 tomorrow.

 

How to Handle Stage Fright

I speak in public; I am a preacher. Most weekends I speak 4 times to a total audience of a couple thousand people.  Public speaking is the normal person’s greatest fear — so say the statistics. I have stage fright, yet I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. It’s been said that Johnny Carson had stage fright before every show. He kept paper clips on his desk so he could fiddle with them during the program.

For my first two years as a pastor, I was sick to my stomach before I preached (not barfing, but the other end… sorry… ). So while everyone was preparing to start our church services, I was in the bathroom… Ugh.

I have not fully conquered stage fright; but I’m able to manage my fears and get the job done. Here are some hard-won tips:

  1. PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE. You can reduce a whole lot of fear through thorough preparation. Know your topic, know your main points. I am a manuscript preacher and like to write out my whole sermon. That doesn’t work for everybody — you have to find what works for you. There is no excuse, however, for a preacher, or any public speaker, who wings it. Lazy prep is our unpardonable sin. Prepare well, especially…
  2. FOCUS ON YOUR OPENING. If you don’t want to write out your whole talk, at least try writing the opening. The hardest part is getting started. Once you’re going, you’ll do great. Spend extra time figuring out your exact opening words and sentences. This may include a thank you to whoever introduced/invited you. It may include a Scripture verse (easy, because it gives you permission to read, thus getting your voice properly modulated). Whatever gets the ball rolling, prepare it well.
  3. USE HUMOR. If it suits your topic, use humor. Make sure your funny story contributes to your overall theme — a random joke will come across as just that. But if you have a funny illustration, story, or opening that is RELEVANT to the group, use it.
  4. ARRIVE EARLY TO NAIL DOWN LOGISTICS. Come long before the crowd arrives. Stand behind the podium. Look across the empty chairs. Figure out how to arrange your notes. Do your sound check. Find the clock. Know your stop time (don’t look at your watch unless you want the whole audience to follow suit). Find out how you will be introduced. Find out where you will stand/sit before you speak. That last thing you want is to have to pick your way around instruments, or to discover you have no podium for your notes, right when you’re beginning to speak. No surprises. Do not come late; do not make yourself feel rushed. Yikes! Getting comfortable with your surroundings well before speech-time relieves a lot of anxiety, thus freeing up mental and emotional harddrive space for your talk.
  5. DON’T TALK ABOUT YOUR STAGE FRIGHT. Unless you’re giving a talk about having stage fright, do not mention it to your audience. It’s manipulative. All they can do is feel sorry for you (or disgusted). You are the speaker… you are there to bless your audience, not to unburden yourself. “S..s..sorry, b-but I’m nervous…” only undercuts your speaking credibility.
  6. DRESS COMFORTABLY. I wear a button shirt and nice jeans most of the time. Anything else feels like a costume to me. The real me wears jeans. However, it’s not your call. Honor your host by honoring the dress code for the event. Find out, and then dress as comfortably as you can within those parameters. Wear comfortable shoes. I read an old preacher who said that your attire should not be an issue… Your audience should focus on the content of your talk, not on something you wore or didn’t wear.
  7. PRAY. Before I walk to my pulpit, I pray two prayers: “Casting all your cares upon him, for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7), and “Lord, fill me with your Spirit, because I can’t deliver what these people need without your help and power.”

You can’t erase your fears, but you can rise above them and bless people with your words.

What other tips can you add to help people overcome stage fright? What has worked for you?