Understanding your disciple’s fear is difficult enough but it is even more challenging when he has a fear of people. A fear of people is a powerful and deceptive lens, which transforms the truth to appear as a lie and a lie as the truth.
Jesus exposed the motives of the religious leaders of his day when he observed: “Everything they do is done for men to see.” (Matthew 23:5). Religious systems are based on pleasing and impressing others, which places a fear of people in the heart of its followers. It was a fear of people that (1) blinded the Pharisees, Sadducees, Priests, and Elders from embracing the love of Jesus and accepting his deity, (2) necessitated that they discredit the miracles that were before their eyes (Luke 6:6-11) and, (3) required them to nullify or modify the scriptures (Matthew 15: 21:23-27; Luke 11:37-53; Acts 7:51-53). A fear of people in a religious context is especially disorienting because it is taught that all we are doing is for God, but in reality many things are being done to please people.
A couple of observations:
- A fear of people will cause your disciple to be apprehensive of your relationship with him since you are a “people”.
- Getting to know the religious background in which your disciple was raised will help you understand how he relates to people and any misconceptions he may have of God. (Lutheran, Methodist, Mormon, Muslim, Catholic, Non-denominational, Baptist, etc.) Just recently I visited the home church of one of my disciples which gave me new understanding into his perspective.
- Teach your disciple to love God and the Bible in such a way that he lets it mean what it says and not what he wants it to say or what others have told him it says.
Veterinarians at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium regularly run blood tests on their dolphins to check for disease since a dolphin conceals its illness because in the wild a dolphin that appears sick becomes at target for lunch to its predators. In a similar way people mask their fears to avoid becoming the emotional prey in unsafe schools, homes, jobs, and churches.
A key component of disciple-making is addressing your disciple’s fear. It is not possible for him to follow Jesus and to fear because fear will inhibit him from forming a love relationship with God and others and it will keep him from obeying the Lord. (Jesus leads his followers into the teeth of their fear.) But to come along side of your disciple to help him face his fears is one of the more difficult and challenging aspects of making a disciple for a couple of reasons:
1. People avoid fear.
Your disciple will avoid whomever or whatever he fears to the point that he would rather lie than face his fear even if it means his demise. (As illustrated by the Priests and Elders lying to Jesus when he confronted their fear of people. For them to have followed Jesus would have meant that they would have to face their fear of people, which was the core of their existence. Matthew 21:23-27) Your disciple imagines that irreparable harm will come to him if he faces his fear when in reality calamity will mark his life and the lives of those whom he touches if he does not confront his fear.
2. To untangle fears requires perseverance and patience.
Your disciple has masked his fears for so long that it can be difficult for him to discern reality from a lie. One fear led to a lie, which led to the dread of getting caught, which led to another lie, and so the tangled knot was formed. Although love, grace, and belonging, will provide a new perspective for him, you cannot expect him to be able to untangle years of fear in a short time.
To discover bitterness at God in my own heart or in the life of my disciple should not come as a surprise. There is biblical precedent of the Lord’s children resenting him even while experiencing daily expressions of his love. Throughout the Exodus the Israelites openly grumbled against the Lord saying things like:
The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. (Deuteronomy 1:26)
Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? (Numbers 14:3)
What makes Israel’s statements astounding is that they come from the lips of those who were eyewitnesses to the great miracles of the Egyptian plagues, the parting of the Red Sea (my favorite Bible miracle), water from rocks, manna each morning, quail each evening, sandals that did not wear out, not to mention the constant presence of the pillars of smoke and fire.
The apostle Paul tells us that the reason that the Exodus stories have been written down is to serve as a warning for our own attitude and behavior today. We are in danger of harboring contempt for the Lord just as the Israelites did thousands of years ago. He writes:
Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. (1 Corinthians 10:6)
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11)
I remember as a teenager thinking “If only I could see the Lord do one miracle then I could believe him for anything.” I am now convinced that even if I (or any anyone else) were to see a miracle it would not alter my basic attitude towards the Lord because the witnessing of a miracle alone is not enough to change a heart as seen in Pharaoh and the Israelites. The Bible records for us God’s amazement at Israel’s defiant attitude even after all the miracles he preformed before them:
The LORD said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? (Numbers 14:11)
- Your disciple’s bitterness towards the Lord will not necessarily make sense. A good home, a good church, and a blest life do not insulate your disciple from bitterness.
- A discontented attitude from your disciple is an indicator of bitterness towards the Lord.
- A relational distance between your disciple and the Lord (difficulty with prayer and reading the word) is evidence of bitterness in his heart towards the Lord.
Digging up the roots of any tree is a labor-intensive task. (It is difficult enough pulling on the root of a stubborn weed.) As tedious as it may be to pick up the fruit from the ground day after day it is a seemingly better alternative than the daunting prospect of rooting up the tree. For many they would rather pick the fruit of their sinful behavior year after year than face the dread of getting at its root. Even for the discipler it is much easier and less intimidating to continue dealing with the fruit of his disciple’s life rather than having to struggle with the cause.
After 30 years of making disciples I have observed that if there is one consistent sin in the lives of people it would be bitterness. Most people have at least one person or organization that has deeply hurt or disappointed them. It could be a coach, parent, teacher, friend, pastor, youth pastor, girlfriend, boyfriend, boss, school, company, and even a church. In Hebrews 12:15 the author describes bitterness as a root:
See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
In 2010 I was diagnosed with cancer. My surgeon said to me that the best way to deal with cancer is to get it out of there. I was willing to go through major surgery in order to rid myself of the cancer knowing that if I did not it would eventually kill me. The reason a discipler must relentlessly pursue the root cause in your disciple is because bitterness is a spiritual cancer and it will slowly eat away at him until it destroys him.
- Self-destructive behavior is the fruit of a deeper cause, which is usually bitterness.
- The door leading to the root of bitterness in your disciple will be found in the stories of hurt and disappointment from his life.
There are some things that are not explainable in the life of your disciple apart from a satanic influence. Not only can you become frustrated or confused with your disciple’s behavior if you do not consider the possibility of Satan’s involvement but imagine the disillusionment of the disciple who has never been taught about Satan’s activity in his life. Peter and Paul both warned the disciples not to be caught off guard by Satan. (1 Peter 5:8-9; Ephesians 6:10-11)
There comes a time in a disciple’s life when Satan tests him to destroy his faith. For some the test was short but intense, as was Peter’s, for others it was over an extended period of time. Some were young, some older. In all cases, their faith was severely strained. It is a frightening experience for him, his family, his friends, and you (!), wondering if he is going to pull through.
One clue to satanic involvement is contradictory behavior. We have two examples of this paradox from the life of Peter. The first is in Matthew 16 where Peter proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah because the Heavenly Father had revealed it to him, and then a short time later Satan speaks to Jesus through Peter trying to dissuade from his mission. (Matthew 16:15-23)
The second was on the night of Jesus’ crucifixion. Peter passionately declares a loyalty to Jesus to the death, but hours later he publically betrays Jesus. Both times Peter was unaware of Satan’s involvement in his thinking and actions, and in the second case he had even been specifically forewarned how Satan would test him.
A couple of closing thoughts:
- Pray for your disciple’s faith, as Jesus did for Peter. (Luke 22:32)
- Your disciple is probably unaware of Satan’s activity in his life.
- Ask yourself the question: “Could this present behavior and attitude in my disciple be due to satanic influence?”
- Frustration is an indicator of satanic involvement. Your disciple’s frustration with his own behavior, as well as your own frustration with your disciple, is a sign that Satan may be at work.
My fear obstructs the making of disciples. A discipler is to love his disciples, but if I am insecure it is difficult to love others. I have experienced the pain of rejection which has caused me to become fearful and leery of relationships, I even fear those who love me the most. The voices of insecurity and shame boom in my head something like this:
- “I can’t even get my own act together, how can I help someone else?”
- “I have disqualified myself from ministry.”
- “If this person finds out what I am really like, they will not want to continue in this friendship.”
- “I can’t afford to go through another relational disappointment, so I had better play it safe right now.”
- “Why would they want to spend time with me?”
Christianity has tried to accommodate this fear by creating ministry systems and programs which require a minimal amount of relational investment. The problem with these approaches is that the kingdom of God was founded upon and still advances on sacrificial love. There is no place for fear in my life, because fear disrupts my relationship with others so that I can no longer love.
The obvious question is, “how do I remove fear from my heart?” First, I need to understand that wrong thinking is the cause of my fear. My view of God and my perception of how he views me are incorrect which has resulted in me having a fearful outlook on life.
So then, the antidote for my fear is a right understanding about the Lord’s love for me. Jesus takes the initiative to love me first, which in turn removes the fear from my heart, (because love drives out fear, 1 John 4:18) so that now I am able to love others as Jesus has demonstrated through his own death on the cross.
The fears that your disciple is being forced to face is an indicator of where the Lord is at work in his life. One cannot follow Jesus and fear. Jesus confronted the fear in the hearts of his own men by leading them directly into their fears. One day a lake storm came up while he was asleep in the boat; he was frantically awakened by his disciples who were afraid for their lives. He was amazed at their lack of faith, for all fear is the consequence of a void of faith (Matthew 8:24). Even today, as a man seeks to follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit will lead him into his deepest fears in order for him to face and root out those fears.
When your disciple faces his fear it can have an adverse affect on his attitude and behavior. People respond to fear differently, some lash out (possibly at you!), some withdraw, and others self-medicate. During these times of fear it is not only an opportunity for you to teach your disciple the power and love of God, it is also an important time for you to affirm your own love for him.
Here are a couple of suggestions as you walk your disciple through his fears:
- Pray for the faith of your disciple, that it will remain strong.
Do not project you own fears on your disciple, nor minimize the object of their fear. We do not all fear the same things.
Love and fear are incompatible. Clearly communicate both God’s love for your disciple, as well as your own.
- Luke 22:31-32 “Jesus said, ‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.'”
- 1 Thess 3:10 “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.”
- 1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.