By Merv Budd
What does fear have to do with the Missio Dei? This was the question I was asked when I pitched the idea of doing a series of blogs on fear. The truth is that fear is very influential in our engagement with God’s mission. What we fear, how we steward our fear, and our manner of processing fear all get played out, to some degree, in how we love God and our neighbour.
Scott Bader-Saye’s book, Following Jesus in a culture of Fear, argues that we live in a culture that feeds fear. That there are people that profit from fear. And he urges those who want to be faithful to Jesus to resist because the mission of God requires courage. This need for courage was driven home practically when I heard about what is being considered in Canada with regard to Bill C-51.
According to the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Canadian government is looking at revisions to Bill C-51. In particular, they are thinking of removing clause 14 which makes it an offense to disturb religious worship meetings. At present, it is an offense to willfully disturb or interrupt a group of people who have assembled for religious worship. The changes to the bill to remove this clause would reduce protection for worshipers in places of worship. What would we do if our protections were gone?
Would fear stop us from gathering? Or would we value our gathering more? Would we decide not to do that which might upset others, to avoid ruffling feathers and taking risks or would we find ourselves caring less about who became upset and focused more upon discerning clearly what God has called us to do? In other words, would fear or courage win out?
Faith requires courage because faith is the assurance of things unseen. Bader-Saye makes this clear as he considers how courage is required to show hospitality to others, but fear will keep us from trying. Similarly, courage is required to practice generosity and trust that God will supply all our needs. Courage is needed to engage those formative spiritual disciplines that nurture us in ways that make our lives attractive; disciplines like Sabbath keeping. As Brueggemann reminds us, “…the Sabbath of the fourth commandment is an act of trust in the subversive, exodus causing God of the first commandment, an act of submission to the restful God of commandments one, tow, and three. Sabbath is a practical divestment so that neighbourly engagement, rather than production and consumption, defines our lives.” And don’t underestimate the importance of courage required to be vulnerable for the sake of authentic community.
Fear seeks to guide our hearts, it is the opposite of desires. Desires try to pull us towards that which promises empty satisfaction that will ultimately destroy us. Fear attempts to push us away from that which will build us up, strengthen our faith or promotes God’s glory. It is a tactic used by Satan to foil the missionary enterprise of the church from it’s very beginning.
In Romans 16:30 – 31 Paul writes, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there…”
Paul, is aware that going to Jerusalem might be dangerous. That foreboding only grows as he gets closer to the city. On his way he stops to encourage the church at Ephesus and as he is about to leave he says this, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.” His sense of danger has grown, in fact he now identifies it as a warning that comes from the Holy Spirit.
As he draws closer, and is staying at Caesarea, we read this, “After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” If the nudging of the Spirit hadn’t been loud enough before now it is even clearer as God has a prophet come to tell Paul of the danger awaiting him in Jerusalem.
Paul’s concerns, we find out, were well justified. Why would he go when he knew there was danger? Wasn’t he afraid? Isn’t fear God’s gift to steer us towards self-preservation? It was such thinking that led Jesus to tell Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” When Peter said Jesus would not suffer and die. Self-sacrifice, not self-preservation is the way of discipleship.
Hardships, even warnings of persecution from God, does not mean that we should abandon the mission of God that He has called us to. Too often we come up against the prospect of hardship, or persecution or trouble and because of fear, we quit. Somehow, we have this mistaken notion that if we are doing God’s will, in God’s way that we will find everything falling into place. That it will be easy, opposition free. And we assume that fear is God’s voice steering us away.
What’s fear got to do with the mission of God? Lots! We want to explore a theology of fear in the next few blogs.