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Fear, Prayer, Trust, and Action

Fear, Prayer, Trust, and Action

As I write posts and various notes that speak against fear, I want to make sure some things are clear.

There are two quotes that have been going through my mind. The first is: “Prayer is not a substitute for anything, and there is no substitute for prayer.” I know I first heard this from a friend and author who was once my pastor, Bob McKibben, but he attributed it to someone else and I can’t locate it.

The other is from C. S. Lewis:

Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear. But so do several other things – ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity. It is very desirable that we should all advance to that perfection of love in which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, until we have reached that stage, that we should allow any inferior agent to cast out our fear.

C.S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night

I first heard that one from my teacher and undergraduate advisor Alden Thompson, who has it memorized and can trot it out at a moment’s notice.

I’ve gone into detail elsewhere, but I want to restate a few things.

Fear shouldn’t control us, but it should get us moving. The fear one feels at the edge of a cliff, for example, needs to be sufficient to keep you from jumping or coming closer than your manual dexterity permits, but not so great as to paralyze you or make you take unwise, uncertain steps.

Trust is a great thing. It is something that lets us walk with confidence in dangerous times. When our trust is in God, we can have peace, even in very frightening circumstances. But trust, even in God, can be dangerous. In politics I tell people to calm down and trust God. I also ask, even beg them to go vote.

Prayer is great. One of the greatest things prayer does is change our hearts so that we will take more action, and more effective action to help others. Praying for your enemies is also a means of softening your heart. Be prepared for God to use you in response to your prayers.

Right now, the question is carrying out actions in response to the pandemic, such as social distancing. This is a decision to be made rationally. You can make it without fear. I’ll simply note that the numbers are convincing to me, but that isn’t a real argument. I’m not an expert. The experts are nearly unanimous that this is a good thing. Your decision should be based on this information.

Fear of sickness and dying and fear of harming others by carrying infection can get you to the point of taking that action. Prayer and trust in God can help you with your peace as you carry out those actions. Calmness as you trust will make it easier to make each decision. Is this a necessary trip? Is this contact safe and important?

We’re human, and each of these elements plays a role. Live wisely!

Fear Shouldn’t Decide

Fear Shouldn’t Decide

Since this is a time of posts about COVID-19, I want to make it very clear that I am not providing any information or advice specifically related to the virus. I am not an expert in infectious diseases, epidemiology, or any of a bunch of related fields of study. I choose to get my information from medical scientists with traceable institutional connections, excluding “my good friend who is a doctor,” but that’s just me.

I’ve been reminded recently of encountering cats in my driveway. There are a number of feral cats in the neighborhood, along with a fair number of human-associated cats who spend a lot of time outside. When one of them happens to be in the driveway, they will run. They are generally a small hop away from the car to the side, but they will choose to run forward in front of the car.

Fear has given the cats an impetus to run, but their fear tends to make them run in a straight line. In discussing decisions, especially in emergency situations, there’s a saying that a bad decision is often better than no decision.

That’s pretty much bred into us. Around the stone-age campfire, the lion or tiger fundamentalist was likely to win the day, because he killed the beast without wondering whether it might be tamed and put to better uses.

Once fear gets you moving, however, this in-bred trait can mislead and even destroy. If I was not a person who diligently avoids hurting passing animals, the cats in my driveway might be in trouble. But once fear sets in, you can miss the obvious options for escape, or you can rank your threats incorrectly.

On the other hand, a lack of fear can lead to inaction when action is called for. I’d suggest not railing against fear, in its place. There is a time to be afraid. But just as the engine doesn’t guide your car, so your fear should not guide your actions.

Obvious, isn’t it?

But being me, I couldn’t resist writing it down anyhow!

Featured image by Holger Schué from Pixabay

When Fear Drives

When Fear Drives

Recently the topic of risk and danger has come up in several discussions of Christian Ministry. Shauna Hyde, who I interviewed along with Chris Surber, has spent the night in tent town with homeless folks and earned the informal title “vicar of tent town.” People have told her she’s crazy. But she manages to live the gospel and build relationships that wouldn’t happen any other way.

Chris Surber, involved in the same interview, is headed to Haiti with his young children. There are folks who claim he is crazy for doing so. He describes some of the comments in his forthcoming book Rendering unto Caesar.

Back in the days when I had a newspaper route (annoying work, but it happened at night, which was convenient), I would regularly stop to help people in the “bad” neighborhood in which I worked. I recall one Sunday morning when I stopped and just kept my headlights on a man who was changing his tire. He was very grateful. When I mentioned this in my Sunday School class it derailed the discussion as people informed me how I shouldn’t risk my life in this way.

Such, I think, would have been the Sunday morning conversation had the Good Samaritan been a Sunday School teacher and reported on his stop on the road to Jericho. His stop, I think, was much more dangerous than my sitting in my car with the headlights on.

In an interview regarding hospitality, the subject of danger came up again. Chris Freet has written a book titled A New Look at Hospitality as a Key to Missions. As soon as we began to discuss hospitality, we had to discuss danger. Strangers actually invited into our home? Perhaps we need to rethink this and use some central location with proper regard for security. After all, in the 21st century we have sexual predators and various violent types among the broad category of people classified as “strangers.”

I have to ask myself whether the 20th or the 21st century is more packed with dangerous people than any previous period in history. I really doubt it. As Christians we claim to be followers of Jesus. It was not entirely safe to do these things when Jesus commanded them. We can’t claim that additional dangers in the 21st century have rendered these commands null and void.

My parents were always hospitable. Many, many times we had guests at the dinner table. You could not visit my parents’ church without receiving an invitation to lunch afterward. My parents would never have considered allowing you to leave unfed. They just never did it. We did this when we were overseas as well. We took people into our home. It was something I felt was normal. How likely are you to get invited out to lunch in a 21st century American church?

And it was not without risk. Once when my parents sheltered a woman and her child in our home the result was that we had to flee as angry people approached intending to kill us. This was eventually settled and we returned to our homes, but there was certainly risk.

We have story after story of missionaries risking their lives and the lives of their children. I was allowed to go on mission trips into the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico when I was eight and nine years old. We’d travel through the mountains, accept the hospitality of the villagers, and conduct clinics. (My father was an MD and my mother an RN.) My task was to carry out the garbage, get supplies and deliver them where needed and to carry messages. Was there risk? Of course there was! What would happen if one of us was injured in these isolated areas? After all, the reason we were there was because medical help was not readily available.

1893729222My mother tells a story about me. It embarrasses me a bit. Don’t think that I was some sort of extraordinarily spiritual child. What I’m interested in here is her actions. This is extracted from her book Directed Paths, pp. 51-52.

Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.

Proverbs 20:11

While we were in the Chiapas mountains, a measles epidemic broke out in the nearby village of Rincon. Many were dying. They sent to our clinic for help. Although nurses and helpers were in short supply, we sent as many as we could to give penicillin and help with treatments. Our older children, Betty Rae and Robert had returned to the states for school. Patty, who was twelve at the time, went to Rincon every day to help.   She wanted to be a nurse and this was a great experience for her. The need was so great, the nurses taught her to give shots and helped her to learn how to do treatments. At the time, Henry was only eight but he begged for permission to go help. I knew he could be useful in helping to carry food, water and run errands, but he had never had the measles.

He kept saying, “Mama, please let me go. Patty is helping and I want to help, too.”

“But, Henry, Patty has had the measles. You haven’t. I don’t want my little boy to die.” I told him.

His answer stunned me, “Jesus gave His life for me, and why shouldn’t I give my life for the Chamulas?”

I had no answer to that. The next day, Henry went with the group. He was a great help. He also got the measles which made him extremely ill. We thought he truly was going to give his life for the Chamulas. We provided nursing care, treatments and penicillin, but Jesus did the healing. Henry made it and the glory goes to God.

I believe that many 21st century folks would be horrified by her actions, because I see them react with horror at so much less risky actions. It’s possible some would consider this child abuse. We admire the courage of missionaries at a distance, but are otherwise somewhere between concerned and horrified. I’ve heard the same responses to the idea of people going to help with the Ebola outbreak. Close everything off. Don’t let there be any risk.

Can followers of Jesus say that? I think not! I think the same force of the love of God that had Jesus reaching out, touching, and healing the lepers should drive Christians. The fact of risk is not a reason to quit carrying out the gospel commission nor is it a reason to quit actively loving and helping our neighbors. And it is no reason to allow ourselves to be shut down.

What is right remains just as right under threat of death as it ever is when we’re in complete safety. I know it’s a great deal easier to say that than it is to put it into practice. I don’t proclaim myself a paragon of virtue. I can name so many people who have done or are doing bolder things than I have even considered.

But the call remains the same as it was when Christians faced the lions. Will the American church be driven by fear or by the gospel commission?

The Fear of Being Wrong

The Fear of Being Wrong

If you do anything at all you’re going to be wrong at one time or another. You can be as careful as you want, and still sometime, somewhere, you’ll be wrong. Doubtless I’ll be wrong somewhere in this blog post. It could be a misspelling, a missed word, a badly chose word, or it might even be something more important. If I knew, I could avoid it. Maybe I shouldn’t even write it! Now there’s a thought!

[Update 11/23/07–note in the preceding paragraph the phrase “badly chose word” for “badly chosen word.” I noticed that one while I was checking through comments. I knew it! Failure!]

I’ve encountered this recently in questions of who should preach or teach in church. Someone might teach something wrong, and then what will we do? We will have been responsible for misinforming people. Not only that, but when we do this in church, their eternal souls might be in jeopardy! Eek! We’d better be very, very careful. Let’s use only curriculum approved by our denomination, and teachers certified for their theological correctness–whatever our version of that happens to be. Then we’ll surely be safe.

Well, no, not really! Human beings are imperfect. I’m imperfect. You’re imperfect. Somebody’s going to make a mistake. Somebody’s going to misunderstand. It doesn’t matter just how, but folks will inevitably get misinformed. I have personally been amazed at reports of things I’ve said in various classes. Without a tape recorder, I can’t be sure whether I’ve misspoken, or whether what I said has just been twisted hopelessly out of shape through repetition.

Over the last few days there has been a similar drama (albeit a minor one) unfolding in the blogosphere. Peter Kirk has been reporting on it. Adrian Warnock has now cut off comments on his blog. I’ll admit that I didn’t follow Peter’s request not to read Adrian’s blog, at least long enough to read Adrian’s rationale. He’s been spending time agonizing over blog comments. That’s fear of being wrong, even a fear of letting someone else be wrong in your corner of the blogosphere!

That sort of fear can be paralyzing and mind-closing. In the church we have used the accusation of heresy to increase the fear of being wrong, or more precisely to increase the fear of going against the community. Recently, when we held a panel discussion on reasons people do not study the Bible for themselves, one of our speakers mentioned the fear of getting it wrong. The audience response was 100% positive. A number commented that they had just that fear. Why take the risk of being wrong? Just go to the experts!

The problem with that, of course, is that the experts don’t agree, and so you still have the strong possibility of being wrong. In science, researchers have to learn to overcome a fear of being wrong, because they will doubtless be wrong many times. They can hope that they catch their own errors, but they’re going to have to be willing to play with hypotheses and test them, finding out that your hunch is wrong is often as valuable as finding out it’s right. In religion, it’s a bit harder, because the bounds of right and wrong are not so well established.

The answer, I believe, is to simply realize that we’ll all be wrong. We don’t have to be horribly embarrassed by it. We can simply acknowledge that we were wrong and make the correction. The only thing to truly be ashamed of is if we refuse to acknowledge and correct errors. That’s the further problem with the fear of being wrong–the fear of being known to be wrong. But if you think you’re perfect, I’m willing to bet you’re the only one who thinks you are. Everyone else already knows you can make mistakes. Go ahead and admit it.

One recent error that has really stuck with me is the position I took initially on the Duke rape case involving Lacrosse players. I immediately jumped to the “spoiled rich kids beat up on poor innocent woman” stereotype. I was glad that the prosecutor was going after them. Imagine my chagrin when I found that things were not nearly so clear, and then that the evidence against the young men was nearly non-existent. Embarrassing? Yes, but it’s part of learning. Hopefully if you’re a person who jumps to conclusions, you’ll be willing to learn a lesson from my experience–it doesn’t hurt to reserve judgment. I should note, however, that I’m more commonly accused of the opposite fault, of refusing to take a stand until the evidence is stacked high on all sides.

But don’t be afraid of speaking, of engaging in dialogue, and of questioning just because you might be wrong. In blogging, don’t be afraid to post, just because someone might catch your errors. And other than comments that are illegal, in what way do questionable comments do you harm? Having been wrong pretty frequently in half a century of life, I am still doing OK, still enjoying life, and there are still people who listen to me teach and read what I write.

Being wrong isn’t all that bad, unless you’re afraid of it.