For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But...
Over the past few months, I've been doing an inductive study of the book of Acts. Just for personal growth, for a growing understanding of God and his gospel. I'm just got into Acts 14 which is smack dab in the middle of Paul's first missionary journey along with Barnabas. Reading how the gospel progressed as Jesus said it would (Acts 1:8) has taught me much about the nature of our role in kingdom expansion.
I've seen over and over how God has sovereignly worked in Acts to move the gospel and his kingdom forward. The apostles found themselves in a variety of situations that looked incredibly dire and hopeless, but the Lord worked, people came to faith, and the gospel spread. Even when the persecution resulted in death (see Stephen in Acts 7 or James in Acts 12), it still served to move the kingdom forward.
As Paul and Barnabas moved throughout Cyprus and into Asia and Galatia, both salvation and persecution followed. It's just how it was. They would enter a synagogue, preach the gospel, and things would happen. Persecution would arise, they'd go elsewhere and do the same thing (Acts 14:7).
What struck me today as I was thinking through Paul and Barnabas' time in Iconium was that the fear that arises in our evangelistic endeavors is a good thing. And it's a necessary thing.
Fear is good because it forces us to actively place our hope and our trust in the Lord. And, it's necessary because we are in a position where we exercise faith and trust as we call others to exercise faith and trust for the first time. Removing fear of persecution and relational strife from the equation 1) is never going to happen, and 2) should never happen because the moment we do not fear anything or anyone is the moment we do not need to trust our God.
It hit me that this is so ironic and insane. I often pray for courage and boldness in my outreach to the lost (to be clear, it's good to be bold and we should pray for that, see Acts 14:3 and Ephesians 6:19-20), but often I am expecting that in the actual moment where I'm starting to turn the conversation toward the gospel that all my fear would melt away.
I guess that could happen, and it does happen, but at the same time I should not wait for all of my fear and trepidation to be gone before going into deeper levels of conversation. In other words, my expectations for a fear-free gospel presentation are ridiculous. It's ironic in that I then am free from exercising faith that the Lord will use me and protect me, and at worse allow me to be a martyr, while I'm calling others to exercise faith.
And it's insane because I keep expecting for my fear to go away and then I can move the conversation deeper.
Instead, my fear should contribute to the discussion going deeper, into the truths of the gospel. What I mean by that is this: my fear in the moment of relational strife or persecution should cause me to trust that God will care for me and protect me as I relate the Good News to others.
In our context, and in our time, it's unlikely that sharing the gospel will result in martyrdom. Even if it did, what an honor to die for the sake of the Lord and not because our hearts gave out from a lifetime of junk food, or because we were texting and driving. Much of our fear in evangelism arises from a perceived persecution that would arise should we take a conversation deeper. We worry about a future that may or may not take place. A future without a close relationship with a family member. A future without the job we loved. A future with the burden of awkward, post-evangelism interactions. This perceived, potential, possible persecution keeps us from asking people what they think about Jesus.
And my point is this perceived, potential, possible persecution should be taken into account and even cause us to trust the Lord even in the event that we lose a relationship or we lose a job or we lose our lives.
We cannot take fear out of the equation, but rather let it point us back to the sovereign hand of the Lord who continues to expand the boundaries of his kingdom one heart at a time. Fear is essential to our witness as it forces us to exercise faith while calling others to do the same.
I believe the gospel while I preach the gospel.
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. - 2 Corinthians 1:8-11