Overcoming The Fear Factor In Sharing Your Faith
By: Henry Cloud, Ph.D.
Have you ever felt the tug of wanting to share your faith with someone and then didn’t? Have you ever known a friend for some time, prayed for him or her, and yet the time “never seemed right” to share with that person? What about that person in the airplane seat next to you who opens up his or her life to you, and you don’t give them the answer that you have found? And then one of the most difficult of all—that family member that needs God desperately, and yet you just can’t bring yourself to telling him or her how.
If any of the above scenarios sound familiar to you, then you are not alone. I certainly have felt most of them at different times, and I know that many other people who are very serious about their faith have too. For many people, personal evangelism is one of the most difficult things about the walk of faith. People want to share, and don’t. What gets in the way?
Since this is not a communist country where a person would be imprisoned or worse for telling others about Christ, there must be other reasons for falling short. When we think about it, there are very few “external” reasons in our lives today. You won’t be jailed. You probably won’t get fired. If you are sane about how you share, you most likely won’t lose the friendship.
Then what are the reasons for silence? Why does any of us become tongue tied about the greatest thing we could possibly talk about? Why do we hold on to the best gift we could ever give someone? It is not as if something bad is going to happen to them. Think of what you are offering someone when you share:
- Salvation from eternal separation from God
- Complete forgiveness and the answer to all guilt
- A Companion for the rest of their lives
- A Father who will take care of them forever
- A God who will give them purpose, and the gifts, resources and abilities to carry out the purpose He gives
- A never-ending source of love and healing
- Someone Who will make their life come together
- And about a million other good things
How in the world could we possibly neglect to give others the chance to know Christ and the wonderful riches that He offers us?
Certainly there are different reasons for different people. Some are just selfish and too tied up in their own lives to think of anyone but themselves. (Matt. 13:22) Some don’t even have an active enough faith in other areas to be counted among the living. (James 2:17) Some are still in the early stages of faith and trying to get stable. They are infants, not ready yet to take bigger steps of faith. (Heb. 5:12-14) These are serious problems, and if you find yourself in one of these categories, then go see a pastor today and get serious with God. Your life depends on it.
But, for many who are not babies, not self-centered, nor dead in their faith, there is still a lack of sharing. And more often than not, the lack of personal evangelism is a result of some sort of fear. In this article, we will take a look at overcoming some of the most basic fears that can keep you silent about the greatest gift of all, and hopefully help you to take some little steps of faith that will overcome those fears.
Fear # 1: Isolation and Rejection
For many people, doing anything outside of their comfort zone brings up a very deep fear inside of being isolated and alone. Taking risks and stepping out to do something new or scary makes them feel like they are all by themselves in the universe. Maybe you can relate to this fear in other areas of life, like starting your own business, going back to school, or taking some other sort of risk. For a variety of reasons, when doing something new, many people feel very alone and scared.
It is not as if they really will be isolated if they try something new or scary, for most people who would be sharing their faith are grounded in some sort of community. But the truth is that most people have more support than they actually use. They do not take their fears and frightened parts to others for support and encouragement. Instead, they repeat life long patterns of “going it alone.” And when it gets time to take a risk, like sharing their faith, the fear wins out. “Going it alone” did not give them the courage that was needed. The reality is that no matter how much “community” they had available to them, they still do suffer from some significant aloneness that keeps them paralyzed in fear. The same fears that keep them from trying other things in life that are risky keep them from sharing their faith as well. What if they are rejected in the process?
The good news is that God understands your need for support in life, and especially in doing the work of the gospel. In Jesus’ prayer for the disciples and all that would follow, He prayed for their “oneness,” or “unity.” (John 17:20-22) We cannot do the things that God requires out of us without that kind of oneness. And if you have fears of standing alone in sharing your faith, take Solomon’s advice to heart:
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecc. 4:9-12)
Many times people can overcome long-standing fears of stepping out and sharing just by finding a few others who are committed to them in the process. Find a few good people who will stand with you and pray for you as you step out and try something new in personal evangelism. That way, when you fall, or when it does not go well, you can come back to your team and find out that you are not alone. Every warrior needs a camp to return to!
Fear #2: Fear Of Assertiveness
Some people are too adaptive to other people. They just go along with what others want and do not assert themselves. This is not natural, though, for part of being created in God’s image is to be a truth bearer, and to speak out. God asserts His opinions and tells others what He thinks and wants. He pushes others into points of decisions.
But for adaptive people, this is very difficult to do. They have learned that conflict is dangerous. They fear that if they rock the boat, assert themselves against others, or confront others in some way that something bad is going to happen. They might suffer a deep conflict or hurt, or someone may get angry with them. So, they develop a lifestyle of being peacekeepers and people who do not upset the apple cart.
And here is where the problem is in sharing their faith. The gospel by its very nature creates a conflict. It asks people to deal with the way that they have been seeing God and life, and to make a decision. For adaptive peacekeepers, putting others in this sort of situation is very uncomfortable. They want everyone to be happy and comfortable.
If you fear “pushing against” others, then you might have this fear of assertiveness. Learn where you got it. Did you grow up with people who would punish you for speaking your mind, or confronting them? Have you suffered a lot from conflict with others? Do you feel the responsibility to keep other people happy? Where did you learn that to confront others with the truth would mean something dangerous? It is important that you make sure that you do not generalize from experiences from the past. God wants to take you past those early learning experiences and make you stronger.
Another aspect of learning to be assertive is similar to overcoming fears of isolation: you need other supportive people. You probably learned to fear being direct and honest in the context of relationships with others. So, you are going to learn to have confidence in the same arena, but this time with safe people. Find a few others who will support your assertiveness and honesty, like God does. Find the kind of encouragement that “strengthens the arms that are weak and the knees that are feeble.” (Heb. 12:12) God made you to be strong, and encouragement and support from others can help to heal you where you fear.
Remember, God commands us to learn to “speak the truth in love.” (Eph. 4:15) If we back down, we are out of His will. But at the same time, He understands your fear. Find out where it comes from and let Him heal you where you hurt. Let Him and His people strengthen you and encourage you to learn how to assert what you believe and not fear other people’s reactions. Learn to lean on His Holy Spirit to empower you to do what you fear and then leave the results up to Him.
Fear # 3: Failing Someone’s Ideal
The third fear that people suffer from is that they might appear less than “ideal” to the ones that they are sharing with. Let’s face it, believing in Jesus is not what most people consider cool. If you are trying to have others look up to you and think you are their picture of the “ideal person,” then telling them that you are a Christian may take you out of the running! They might think that you are weird. They might think that you are a religious nut. In fact, they might think that you are downright strange.
But, as Jesus told us, if we are embarrassed by Him, He will be embarrassed by us. (Mk. 8:38) It may not look cool to some people to be a Christian, but in the end it will look even worse to have not come out of the closet! He is very clear about our needing to overcome the fear of disapproval by others and having the need to please them instead of Him.
Most times, people who have a need for others to think that they live up to some sort of ideal standard have not had a lot of experience of being accepted and loved for who they really are. If we have really been loved, we are real and transparent with others. We let them see who we really are, instead of who we think they want us to be.
If you have this fear of being real with others, the Bible says that you have not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18) What this means is that you have not experienced enough love from God and other people to know that you are loved, just as you are. You need to be able to take the fig leaf off, and begin to be real. When you will begin to do this with God and with the people who really love you, you won’t fear the disapproval of the ones with whom you are sharing your faith. You will be “rooted and grounded” in the love of God through Him and His people. Let God and others see you as you truly are, and you will be healed. (Ps. 139:3,4; James 5:16)
Learning to be loved as you are is one of the most important things that you can do to become a risk taker. If you have learned to be yourself and know that you are OK and loved as you are, then you won’t fear failure or looking dumb in the eyes of others. You will get off the performance basis in life and begin to be yourself. And if you are not afraid to be yourself, you will be honest with others about who you really are: you are someone who believes in Jesus and wants that person to know Him too! So there…. you said it! Now he or she knows you, as you are: a believer who that person to believe too.
Fear #4: God Won’t Show Up
This has been one of the most difficult ones for me over the years. As a people-helper by profession, I am used to being in the process with people who are working through difficult things in life. I have come to learn to trust the work that we do together, and that the process of healing works. But, what if I am not there? What if I never see this person again? Can I really just send them on their way and into the hands of God?
The resounding answer that I have found is “yes!” God can be trusted to take that person to the next step even if you are not going to be there to help. He will put other people in their path to nurture them in the faith, the same way that He did for you. It is not all your responsibility and you can share and trust God to show up and take up where you have left off.
This may sound so grandiose, this feeling of being so responsible for people. But, the truth is that the early days of faith can be very difficult sometimes. What about all the unanswered questions and attacks of doubt or spiritual warfare? When those things come to someone who is searching or a new believer, most of us would feel enough compassion to want to be there to help. And it is painful when we can’t.
But there are times that the truth is you just can’t. You might not ever see that person again. Or, you might not be in the kind of relationship that you can be the one to do the follow up. But remember, God has always had a plan for each believer that included a lot of people, not just you. As Paul said, “
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe–as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. (1 Cor. 3:5-10)
Let God be God. Your role may be just to share and to let someone else do the watering. If God has placed you there to begin the process, then do your role and let God worry about the rest. If He has put you there for more, then do that too, but sometimes your role will be limited. And as Paul said, you have your own labor that is often only part of the picture.
I had this reinforced recently. I presented the gospel at a talk that I gave and a month later a young man called me. He said that he had prayed that night to receive Christ, and then began to tell me all the people and help that God placed in his path in the following weeks. God is faithful. Do your part, and He will give that person the other pieces that he or she needs.
Fear #5: I Don’t Know Enough
There are people who fear that they are not Bible scholars enough to share their faith with others. They think that they have to know all the answers to the questions that people ask and be able to defend everything in the Bible from all sorts of attack. In their thinking, anyone without a Ph.D. in theology or apologetics would not be able to witness to others.
Certainly people need answers to questions. But, as we just saw, there are people who can do that if you can’t. You just start the process and remember that you do know enough. You know John 3:16, that God loves that person so much that He gave His Son to die for him or her. That is the essence of the gospel. When it all comes down to the wire, you know what is essential. Christianity is a relationship, a relationship with God. And you know Him. You are introducing one person that you know to Another Person that you know. That is enough if that is all you can do. If the person has further questions, then you can refer him or her to a local scholar. You do the introduction.
Another fact that will help you on this point is to remember that there never was a person who did not come to God out of intellectual reasons. The reasons are always moral. Humans do not want to submit their wills to Someone higher and have to take orders from anyone. Humans want to be God, not surrender to Him. And that is the reason that people reject Christ, not because they cannot buy the intellectual argument. They want to continue in their own ways. (John 3:19)
So, don’t be afraid that you cannot answer someone’s questions. If they are sincere, God will answer all the questions that that person has. You just introduce Him to that person, and share what He has done for you. No one can argue with your experience. It is not an intellectual theory. It is a true piece of history. You lived it. Share it, and share Him. Leave the rest up to the archeologists.
There is no time like the present. Most of us have had to learn how to share our faith, and that had to being at some point. Today might be that point for you. And if you feel afraid, remember what we have discussed and begin working through your fear. God the Holy Spirit is there to help you moment by moment. Step out and trust Him. In summary:
• Get the support that you need, so you won’t be isolated.
• Learn how to be assertive and straightforward so that you won’t fear conflict.
• Get loved enough so that you won’t be afraid to be yourself.
• And trust God to do His part.
If all of those things happen, then do what you do with the other people who are important to you: Introduce them to each other and let them have their own relationship. That is the final fruit of sharing your faith, and there is none better!
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