“I shared the gospel _____ times this week.”
Each Sunday at church, we pass down the pews sign-in sheets containing this line. It’s an opportunity for us as a church to celebrate and encourage each other as we learn to proclaim Christ to our world. You probably wouldn’t be surprised, though, to know that some of us (no names) occasionally leave this line blank and pass the sign-in folder along. I’ll offer myself as an example. We could spend hours examining the reasons I don’t share the gospel as frequently as I could, but one I’m wrestling with lately is fear.
What if I do it wrong? What if I turn someone away even more? What if I accidentally evangelize someone who’s already a believer? Is this an appropriate situation to talk about faith? Why can’t God just speak to this person in a dream? What if I don’t talk about sin enough? What if I talk about sin too much?
For a while, I agonized over my own fear and then compounded it by imagining how God must be frustrated with me and tired of listening to this ridiculous monologue. He must be up in heaven tapping his foot, waiting for me to just get over it already. Time’s a-wasting. God’s got work to do, and I’m holding it up with my pointless anxiety. Which, by the way, is sinful and demonstrative of my lack of trust in the power of the gospel. I should hurry up and get over that, too.
It felt like I had a lot of work to do. I also got the idea somehow that I shouldn’t be asking God for help with this. He has already provided everything I need for life and godliness, so shouldn’t I be able to get over fear? Jesus already did all the hard work of dying for me.
Shouldn’t be I able to handle telling people about it?
The Irony of Fear
After more than a few cycles of this, the irony hit me: I was trying, on my own, to defeat the sin that kept me from sharing the gospel, which is partly about telling people they can’t defeat sin on their own. I had forgotten that growth in the Christian faith is not measured by my degree of independence or self-sufficiency, but by an increasing dependence on and submission to God’s power.
Throughout Scripture, God reminds his people over and over that the reason they can be free from fear is his own presence. His presence and provision grant freedom from fear:
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
Clearly, God knows that to “get over” fear, we need him. He says over and over that the solution is not for me to buck up or muster courage from the depths of my own heart, but to lean into him and into the peace and strength he provides. Even Paul asks for prayer that God would provide him courage to speak:
…[pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel. (Ephesians 6:19)
Pray about Your Fear
So I began praying that God would take away my fear. I prayed that he would give me a greater love for those around me and that I would submit to the comfort of his Spirit rather than to my fear. I prayed God would open my mouth in situations where I would be tempted to be quiet. Amazingly, it began to work. I don’t have enough data yet to build a complete case, but very quickly God gave me opportunities to joyfully talk about Christ, unhindered by fear, with complete strangers and with some close to me.
In those times, God has given me a calmness in sharing what he has accomplished. My understanding of my dependence on him has even continued to grow as I realize that I’m powerless to generate belief and repentance in someone else, regardless of how well I convey the message.
If you have fear around evangelism, pray. Don’t accept the lie that God will refuse to help you until you build your own strength. Ask God to replace your fear with his love and give you his peace. God hasn’t left us alone with the message of the gospel, to fend for ourselves.
His message in Scripture is clear: He is with us, and he is the one who takes away our fear.