By Dick Koehneke
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’ ” (Luke 2:8-11)
This is the fourth in a series of four articles on speakers at the August 10-11 Global Leadership Summit organized by the Willow Creek Association of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago. This article is about the message of Gary Haugen, founder and CEO of International Justice Mission, a world-wide agency rescuing victims of violence, exploitation, slavery and oppression. Gary’s work puts him and his staff in some threatening and dangerous situations. Their website is http://www.ijm.org/
Gary’s message to leaders was “Do Not Be Afraid.” As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, I think “Do Not Be Afraid” is a good theme to conclude this series of articles. Think of the angel’s first words to the shepherds on the night that Christ was born. Think of the many times that our Lord tells us, “Don’t be afraid” and how frequently that command is repeated in Scripture. God knows how easily we can become fearful, so He repeats the instruction again and again and again: “Do not be afraid.”
Here are some of Gary Haugen’s main points. [My comments are in brackets.]
- Fear is the silent destroyer of dreams. Fear prevents learning from turning into action. Fear destroys the love that inspires the dream and replaces love with a preoccupation with self. Many dreams are destroyed simply by a leader’s everyday anxieties and insecuritites.
[“What’s going to happen to me? How will this affect me? If I do this, what will people think of me?” These are dream-destroying questions that often replace love with self-absorption. Fear of taking action produces inaction, the safe way to go. It’s the easy way that leads to mediocrity. How much do we learn from not doing anything? How many lives do we touch with Christ’s love and truth when our focus is on self? How many dreams come true without some level of risk?]
- Relentlessly inventory your own fears. We must do this if we want the dream to survive and thrive. We may not be fully aware of what we’re really afraid of. Set aside time for regular self-examination of your real fears. Regularly, routinely ask yourself, “What am I really anxious about?” At International Justice Mission, everyone sits silently for half an hour every morning at 8:30. Gary says, “In silence, worries and insecurities will bubble to the surface. But if you are practiced at it, God brings insight, self-awareness, and steadiness of soul.”
[This is not a pleasant task. It’s much more fun to “think positive” and “be upbeat.” It takes self-discipline to assess our fears and anxieties so that we can deal with them honestly and give God space and time to give us hope and courage. In the physical realm, we shouldn’t ignore the nagging cough, the sore that won’t heal, the pain that won’t go away. Neither should we ignore the fears that affect us and afflict us emotionally and spiritually. We acknowledge our fears and offer them to the Lord so that He can give us the peace that is beyond all understanding. You’re not alone in your fears. Why would God have taken so many opportunities in His Word to say “Don’t be afraid” if you were the only fearful person on earth? We’re all afraid of something(s).]
- Switch from playing defense to playing offense. No great dream has ever been built on fear of what might go wrong. Great dreams are built on the hope of what might go right. Don’t be more impressed with what people are getting wrong in the world than you are with what God is getting right. Leaders play defense when they keep repeating the narrative of fear and victimization. We need to advance into what is broken and bring redemption.
[Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is taking action in the face of our fear. Courage involves going toward the source of the problem, not running from it. That’s what police officers and firefighters do, and that’s what leaders need to do as well. There’s a saying in football, “The best defense is a good offense.” When your team has the football, the other team can’t score. We need to keep the devil on his heels. Let’s be the kind of people who, when we get out of bed and put our feet on the floor, the devil says, “Oh no, not again!”]
- Forge a community of courage around you. Lone rangers do not make great dreams come true, except in the movies. The strength of a loving community protects dreams from fear. Jesus didn’t go it alone, although he could have; he forged a community of men and women around him, thus giving us an example to follow. The bad news is that fear is contagious. The good news is that courage is contagious too. Shortly after he said, “Let not your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27) Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
[A loving community reduces our fear and enlarges our courage. I can’t think of a better way to put it than this: “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:13-19) God loves you with a love that is perfect, unconditional, absolute, and eternal. His love is stronger than our fears. Don’t be afraid!]
God grant us all a courageous Christmas!