(Originally printed in the July/August 1995 MCOI Journal)
Fear not! How many times can that phrase be found in the pages of Scripture? Your guess is as good as mine, but it’s somewhere between bunches and a lot. That is why you and I as Christians, do not fear anything, right? Right.
Craig, one of the members of our support group, told of an experience lie had recently when he met with two JW elders. He said that even though he was as prepared for the meeting as possible, something caused him to become extremely agitated, and his hands to shake almost uncontrollably, and his mouth to become dry. He related quite honestly that he could not wait for the encounter to end, and that afterwards he felt strongly that lie would like never to have such an encounter again, even though Craig cares more for the lost than almost anyone else I know, and has a special love for JWs, since he came very close to becoming one of them. What caused this reaction? I would suggest that it was goood old fashioned FEAR.
I am very grateful to Craig for his honesty in sharing this experience, because I feel that most Christians tend to hide their fears, especially from other Christians. Why?? FEAR, of course. Fear of not appearing spiritual enough, or fear of being accused of having no faith in God.
Not everyone experiences fear in witnessing to the lost, but I believe that such fears are widespread, especially in the area of witnessing to those lost in the cults.
Where do these fears come from, and what can we do to combat them? The source is the big three… the world, the flesh, and the devil. What is it about the world that casts a pall of fear across our path? Well, the world tells us, especially in our day and culture, that our American pluralism demands tolerance and then defines “tolerance” as accepting all religious beliefs as having equal merit and having equal truth. To dialog in disagreement with someone of a different religious persuasion, then, is to put your truth over their truth, which in our multicultural environment is considered to be an act of extreme rudeness. So the Christian who desires to share his or her faith with those of other religious persuasions must be willing to break the first commandment of American Culture, “Thou Shalt Not Disagree About Religion.” What is it that makes it so difficult to buck societal pressure on this issue? That, my friends, is where the FLESH comes in…
It is very hard for us in our humanity to disobey this very Politically Correct societal “law” and “follow God rather than men”, isn’t it? Perhaps we see ourselves as “Christian-Americans”, with the accent on the “American.” The Eagle is our national bird, and openminded tolerance is our national virtue. Of course, this open-mindedness is extremely CLOSEDMINDED against religious proselytization, and our American “tolerance” is INTOLERANT of the bedrock Christian belief that Jesus is the only way to the Father.
I know from experience that it often seems just as “wrong to break one of these “American commandments” as one of Moses’ big ten. We know we have been commanded by Jesus to bear witness of Him and not to be ashamed of Him or His gospel, yet we may feel “guilty” in doing what we know to be right. The Bible states that the gospel will BE offensive to non-Christians, yet so heavily conditioned are we as Americans to be “polite,” affirming of others views, and “broadminded,” that it seems downright un-American to take a stand for what will be seen as offensive to many. Our “flesh,” which is the old nature we are all born with and which stays with us until death, hates the very thought of being labeled as narrow-minded, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t we much rather be seen as broad-minded, tolerant, and ecumenical? (This article is not addressing you LIONS out there: you know who you are!!! I admire those of you who are LIONS, but I must add that it has been my observation that a LION may need to learn as much about sensitivity as a LAMB needs to learn about boldness) HOW else does the flesh get in our way? Well, back to Craig and his trembling hands and quaking heart to get our answer…
Sometimes such a reaction is due to a type of “performance anxiety,” a fear that we won’t have all the answers and that we may look bad to the cultist and to any others present. To those of you afflicted with this, it is not a joke. It is a very real affliction, though it may lack justification and though we know that we are to please God and not men. The fact that we may sense this fear is “of the flesh” may not make it any more palatable to us ..in fact, it will probably be harder to admit to for that reason. Nevertheless, I would venture to say that this anxiety is quite common.
It may be easier to admit to the next fear, and that is the tear of “messing up” and ultimately hurting the very one we wish to reach for Christ. What if, for all our reading and studying about some particular group, we find ourselves not prepared enough, or what if there is some issue raised that we cannot answer and that will send the person away only more convinced in their error? I find this fear to lay particularly upon me just before I am to meet with a cultist. Not because I have not studied and worked very hard to prepare but because their salvation matters to me so much. I do not take my calling lightly because I care very much about those He has called me to be a witness to.
Then there is the fear of being hated, and this one is also a biggie with me. I have a sort of “people pleaser” personality, and I enjoy being LIKED… I definitely do not enjoy being looked upon as “the whore of Babylon” or scorned as an opposer. Contrary to the old familiar schoolyard rhyme, words can hurt and often do. Especially when dealing with people who are wrapped up in cult groups, you will encounter this hatred because it is the reaction they are conditioned to have towards those “opposed” to the group. I’ll never forget Charlotte’s words to me, though these words have been repeated countless times by countless other “Charlottes” that I have sat across the table from, “Why have you taken the trouble to learn ALL ABOUT Jehovah’s Witnesses? It must have taken you years to learn all of this… What makes you HATE us so much?”. And I’ll never forget either the bitter expression on her face as she spat out those words. This type of anger and hostility is not easy for a non-combative person to endure. In fact, it is most difficult to endure…
Then I believe that the evil one takes our natural fears of bucking society’s prohibition against religious disagreement and the fears that are a part of our own nature and capitalizes upon them, blowing them up beyond reality and striking nameless terror into our hearts. It is the very vague “can’t put your finger on it'” quality of this feeling that makes it all the more terrorizing, for it produces in us a fear of fear itself that can be absolutely paralyzing at times. I believe that this fear often goes undiagnosed because we are used to thinking in terms of the natural rather than the supernatural. Again, as Americans steeped in our secular/scientific culture, isn’t it hard for us to admit to a belief in supernatural forces, even to ourselves? “What’s wrong with me?” is more easily asked than. “Who is bothering me?” The Bible teaches us that it is the evil one who is blinding the eyes of the cultist, and it is he who is holding them captive to do his will. How do you suppose that he will feel about your attempts to free them from his grasp? What weapon is the most potent in his arsenal to discourage you from making any rescue attempt? FEAR, of course… He is a skilled adversary, having had thousands of years to perfect his techniques, while we have only been around for a nanosecond by comparison. We’re outgunned, and unless we take this spiritual warfare seriously, we will not be willing to take the trouble to put on the armor of God to make our stand.
A more potent fear than that of looking foolish or messing up is the fear of loss of relationship. This is a very real fear when dealing with family members or friends who have gotten trapped in cult groups. It is hard enough to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil when the person is a stranger…multiply that 1000 times for a loved one. Aunt Sue may not just “get mad” at your attempts to free her from a cult group; Aunt Sue may cut all ties with you forever. Multiply the anxiety exponentially when Aunt Sue is not your aunt but your mother, sister, or brother. The trepidation can be crippling.
I am in the ministry to rescue those who have been taken captive by cult groups, and I have been a Christian myself for many years, so naturally, I am immune to these fears that may plague “regular people.” Not! The truth is, I’m not immune at all!!! I have tasted every fear on the menu, I think, as far as witnessing to people is concerned, and so I do not write this piece as an intellectual exercise about fear but as a plea to those who have suffered like me in these situations: DON’T GIVE UP on reaching out to the lost when you find yourself engulfed in one or more of these fearful feelings. If you feel that God is calling you to reach out to JWs or Mormons, or anyone else for that matter, DON’T allow yourself to become convinced that because your stomach may churn at the thought of any antagonistic encounter, you are just not cut out for this work. Cheer up!!! Your reward will be great! Fear is the most common weapon in the enemy’s arsenal to still the voice of the church. So. when you find your palms are sweaty or your hands are shaking before or even during an encounter, do not just assume that you just aren’t “spiritual enough” to engage in this work. And no, NOT QUIT. PLEASE.
The apostle Paul refers to the Christian life as warfare and tells us that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against evil spiritual forces that we cannot see but with whom we grapple nonetheless. I guess I should not be too surprised that I do not like spiritual warfare any more than I personally would like ANY KIND of warfare. Warfare does not sound like anything I want to have anything to do with! I am no Gideon, believe me. No military leader Joshua either, nor warrior David. I cannot even imagine having the guts to stand firm when bullets, arrows, spears, or even BBs are whirring around my pacifist little head. (Who ME??? Please, Mr. Custer, I don’t wanna go!!!)
But we as Christians must realize that whether we like it or not, we ARE in a war, a war with the highest possible stakes, and our participation in the battle is essential for the sake of the lost all around us. We DARE NOT keep our heads in the sand or turn tail. We are all needed. One missing soldier is a gaping hole in the line, and our capitulation or downright surrender is an unthinkable betrayal of our comrades in arms,
What is needed is COURAGE. Well, what is courage’.’ I’ll tell you first of all what courage is not…courage is not fearlessness. A fearless person need not exercise any courage at all since courage is the act of facing your fears and standing fast when your whole heart and soul are telling you to RUN!!! I would be willing to bet that most of the soldiers who have bravely faced the thought of their own mortality in battle probably wished they were someplace else. Anyplace else… Some encounters with cult members are much the same. So please do not let that stop you.
I actually think, though I could be wrong, that the Lord takes delight in stretching us beyond our comfort zone. I don’t mind hearing about the battle, but I don’t want to be in the range of those guns!!! Much as I’d prefer to stay in the rear, safe and sound, with a kitten on my lap, reading about the adventures of other, braver souls, I find myself propelled to the front by that Almighty hand. (More adventures. Lord?? Aw c’mon.) But I think He wants to keep on showing me what He can do with a coward like me.
I’d like to offer a few words of encouragement to those of you who are struggling with this issue and may even now be on the verge of hanging it up. First of all, it DOES get easier in time. The tenth time is easier than the first and harder than the 50th. Second, as we obey the Lord in the area He has called us into, He will provide the necessary strength, words, and abilities that are needed for the task.
The first time we were to be interviewed on a popular Christian radio program, I was petrified rather than eager. All the way to the station, I was fretting and assuring Don that I was not going to be able to speak a word and that he was going to have to do all the talking. Well…it turned out to be much more difficult even than I had imagined…difficult to shut up and let the man get a word in edgewise. He now refers to me as “radio hog” affectionately, I’m sure… So I’ve learned over time to accept the jitters I still feel sometimes and just trust God for the outcome. I know He has been there for me every time.
Something else. The apostle John says that “perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18). Now I know that the context of that verse has to do with our relationship with God, but I believe that the principle holds true for other fears as well. The more love that we have for the lost, the more we shall be able to conquer our fears for their sake. What force is it that can send a man into a burning building to rescue his family? What can make a parent face an intruder in his or her home? Love, of course. I am of the opinion that the church’s lack of evangelism reflects a lack of love for those outside. If we find ourselves lacking love, what can we do about it? I ask God to increase my love for the lost, and I believe He does answer that prayer.
As I have said, I know that this piece is not germane to all you cowpokes out there. There are some warriors who never experience the type of traumatic, heart-stopping fear that some of us know. I don’t pretend to have the slightest understanding of those fearless ones, and I don’t really like them much, either. Just a little joke…of course, I like fearless people. They are right up there with flawlessly gorgeous models and spotless housekeepers in my book. But to those of you who do know the knee-knocking, heart-pounding terrors, I offer this piece to you in love and empathy. But I do NOT offer you permission to quit. We need you out here. You are much too valuable to get along without. And if I can’t quit, neither can you.Î©
Love to all,
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