At Work & Theology 101

Defeating Fear & Pursuing Your Calling with Courage

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What on earth am I doing?

That’s the question that rang in my head when I woke up at 5 a.m. on September 5th, 2009, to begin the sixteen hour drive from St. Louis to Washington, D.C.

I was moving to the nation’s capital to take part in a year-long, post-graduate fellowship program run by The Fellows Initiative. I believed God was calling me to take a year after college to live in intentional community with twelve other fellows as we explored what it meant to be people of faithfulness in all areas of our lives, including vocation.

I was afraid. It was a major life change, and I didn’t know if I could follow through. By the grace of God I did.

It could have gone the other way, though – fear could have prevented me from being obedient.

Fear might be the number one obstacle preventing Christians from following the calling God gives them. In his book Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential, Gordon T. Smith writes,

There is a growing chorus coming from diverse sources and contexts that is rightly making the observation that the greatest threat to the fulfillment of our vocations is not external to us but internal.

Smith, president of Ambrose University College and Seminary, is referring to the fear and anxiety that keeps us from pursuing our vocations. He lists some examples:

  • “We don’t speak truth to the boss, saying what we know we need to say because we fear the implications for our future job prospects.”
  • “We don’t speak truth in love to a friend because we fear that he or she will strike back at us in anger or will reject us.”
  • “We don’t venture into a new opportunity because we fear failure and so would rather continue in mediocrity rather than truly strive for excellence.”

Thankfully, Smith offers some answers for finding the courage to face our fears. Here is some of his advice.

‘Fess up to Your Fears

Being honest about our fears is the first step in overcoming them. Smith writes,

Courage begins with honesty about our fears. The wise know that fears haunt us from within and cripple us if we do not face them honestly.

Admitting our fears to God and trusted friends or community members is essential. Why? Such confession is part of honest, heartfelt analysis. Smith explains,

Just because we acknowledge our fears does not somehow make us courageous or justify our actions. But it is a start. When we acknowledge  our fears, we can ask if these are legitimate and whether we are really living in faith, hope, and love…

Talking to God about our fears frees us up to receive that which can help us overcome our anxiety.

The Grace of God Helps Us Overcome Our Fears

Smith writes,

…our confidence is that God goes with us and fills us with his Spirit.

And as Paul explains in II Timothy 1:7,

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

We have hope because in being honest with God about our fears, we can pray for his Spirit to grant us the strength and courage to overcome them.

Give (and Receive) Encouragement

In addition to offering our fears to God, we can share them with trusted friends, family members or mentors who can encourage us in our vocations. As Smith observes,

There is hardly a more powerful ministry that that of encouragement. When we encourage others, we pass on that quality and virtue to them, that intangible inner strength which enables us to rise above the fears that so easily cripple us…

Here Smith mentions virtue, which is another essential element in dealing with fear.

Courage Needs Character

Courage is strengthened by character. In asking whether or not we will have the courage to answer our calling, Smith mentions several virtues:

  • Wisdom: The ability to discern true vision from scheming driven by pride or utopian dreaming.
  • Moral integrity: There is moral continuity between our public and private lives, and our faith permeates all areas of life, from the church to work to family and community.
  • Gratitude: Celebrating the goodness of God and his gift of life.
  • Humility: Seeing ourselves as we really are; steering clear of envy and taking an honest assessment of our abilities.
  • Patience: Letting our callings unfold on God’s timing, and not taking matters into our own hands or forcing God’s hand.

Courage is characterized by all these virtues.

These are just a few things to keep in mind when wrestling with the struggles of fear and vocation. There may be more ways to handle fear, too – if you have some from your experience, we’d love to hear them.

How have you dealt with fear in your vocation? Leave your comments here

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  • Rick Gilbert

    In a video I recently viewed on the subject of “risk”, Tim Keller was speaking to a group of entreprenuers on managing the fear within us and he made a couple of key summary points that I found powerful. First, that, as James tells us in chapter 4, we are not in control, God is. And, that same God loves us so much that he died on a cross to save our souls and enjoy a relationship with Him for eternity. If we really believe this, we have nothing to fear. Perhaps that is the “perfect love” that cast out all fear.

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