In the spiritual life of a Jesus follower, fear, whether real or imagined, is one emotion we all face. When engaged in personal evangelism, our fear may become so debilitating that it may cause us to quit or never engage the process.
In my book, Serving in His Court: Biblical Principles for Personal Evangelism from the Heart of a Coach, I penned an entire chapter entitled ‘Facing Fear.’ So yes, it’s important to face fear associated with the personal evangelistic process.
Fear takes many forms. There is fear of rejection, fear of not knowing what to say or do, fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, fear of not being in control, fear of the unknown, fear of __________—you fill in the blank.
Jesus knows our fears. In fact, He knows them perfectly and fully. He is God and knows all things. Perhaps that’s why He repeats these two words more often than any other phrase in the gospels: “Fear not.”
Let us acknowledge that fear is a reality in the personal evangelistic endeavor—and for good reason. First of all, we’re in a spiritual war with spiritual forces working against us. Next, the gospel message is polarizing and will create a strong reaction when clearly communicated, both positive and negative. Finally, not only is rejection a possibility, it is a probability.
Aside from that, we’ve got nothing to fear.
So, let’s be upfront and say that dealing with fear may not make fear subside. The goal needs to be the willingness to go where He leads and do what He wants in spite of what we feel. Courage is doing what God calls us to do in spite of our fear. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is conquest of fear.
Even the Apostle Paul proclaimed the gospel in spite of fear. Now if anyone demonstrated boldness and courage, it was Paul. Yet he wrote in 2 Corinthians 7:5, “For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears.”
Here’s a powerful question that will frame the issue and help us grapple at the crossroads of faith and fear: “Do I believe their salvation is more important than my safety?”
The answer to that question will shape our evangelistic efforts. Because the personal evangelistic process is risky business. Let’s not fool ourselves. At the same time, we have all the resources we need to engage the battle, to overcome fear (not eradicate it), and to be victorious in our witness.
Soon after I became a believer, I called a good friend of mine, Greg, who was a powerful witness in my journey to faith. I told him I’d become a Christian, and he said, “Great. You’ve got to tell your family.”
He said, “You must tell your family.”
I confess I was a “closet Christian” for eighteen months. It took that long for me to “come out.” Over those eighteen agonizing months, I went from one family member to another, sharing my new found faith in Jesus. Being Jewish and the first believer in my family, I had no idea what the response would be. One’s imagination can paralyze a person.
But you know what? Despite the various responses of acceptance, peaceful resignation, confusion, misunderstandings, and threats to not tell other family members, it turned out okay.
I have learned in my Christian life, like many things in life, that thinking about doing certain things can create much more angst than the reality of doing it—like going to the doctor, or dentist. Similarly, I believe the thought of doing personal evangelism produces much more anxiety than actually doing it.
I’ve experienced fear in sharing my faith with my family, sharing the gospel on the street and over the phone, and even during personal visits in cafés, apartments, and homes. I’ve even experienced fear in asking an unbeliever to hang out and get a cup of coffee with the purpose of simply getting to know them.
Fear is a feeling, an emotion. Sometimes fear is real; other times it is a creation of the mind. I don’t know about you, but sometimes my imagination runs wild.
The issue isn’t whether I will experience the emotion of fear. Rather, will I allow fear to paralyze me, keeping me from doing what God calls, or will fear simply be an obstacle to overcome?
May I suggest a few ways to overcome fear and walk by faith:
Prayer is one mechanism by which we can cope with whatever comes our way. Philippians 4:6–7 states, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God and the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
We need our faith strengthened through God’s Word, for “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). A powerful way cope with fear is to memorize God’s Word. For example, commit 2 Timothy 1:7 to memory – “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” And there are others, like Isaiah 26:3.
Fellowship with other like-minded believers is another source of strength. Lastly, confidence will come by simply engaging the process…and even ‘failing.’ We learn and gain confidence by doing, even if the ‘doing’ isn’t necessarily effective in our estimation.
Let us pray for boldness and courage in spite of fear and in spite of whatever feelings or circumstances, either real or imagined, oppose our witness. I’m confident He will meet us at our point of need. Fear not, forge ahead, and walk boldly and courageously, telling of His wondrous works—for people need the Lord.