By Adam and Christine Jeske

Jesus Doesn't Want You to Be Afraid

Three weeks ago, I asked several hundred college students a question:

What is your biggest obstacle today to giving your whole life for God’s global mission?

Let me be clear, as I was that day—I wasn’t asking about dropping out of society, selling everything, and moving to Turkmenistan (although that was fair game).

Rather, I explained that giving your whole life for God’s global mission is being fully given over to God’s purposes in the world. If you’re following Jesus' calling, you can serve God just as well as a businessperson in the U.S. as a church planter in Sri Lanka.

I had people text me their biggest obstacles to fully following Jesus (you can, too: 608-352-3263). Some answers were not very surprising: selfishness, busyness, lust, health issues, lack of self-discipline, and materialism.

And the Number One Obstacle Is . . .

But one answer stood out, named by a quarter of those responding as their biggest obstacle to giving their whole life to global mission: fear.

These students—and Christians, no less—were afraid of everything:

  • Being alone
  • Failing
  • Being uncomfortable
  • Not knowing where they’re going or what they’re doing
  • Entering a new culture
  • What their parents would say
  • Not hearing God correctly
  • Not being good enough
  • Being unprepared spiritually
  • Not speaking well
  • Being too broken

I couldn’t believe it. Fear is the biggest obstacle to these followers of Jesus fully joining in his mission, whether here in the U.S. or anywhere in the world. How did this happen?

Real Reasons for Fear (Escalators Not Included)

We know there are people around the world with seriously fearful surroundings—gnawing hunger, no education for their children, violent crime, unjust local officials, unhealthy water, and spreading disease.

And most of us know, when we’re logical about it, that a lot of our fears here in the West are wildly spun out of control. We find TV reports like, “The Hidden Dangers of Escalators.” Really?

And then there are big fears. At the end of it all, we are dead. And that scares us. So we run around trying to do whatever we can to preserve our lives, whether through work, success, family, relationships, art, or health. It makes sense to me that people who don’t know Jesus would be afraid. We hear messages all day saying, “If you’re not afraid of all these things, you’re not normal.”

A Call to Abnormality (Yes, This Includes You)

But I thought that’s exactly what Christians are supposed to be—not normal.

Think about what we read in the Bible:

  • “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).
  • “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
  • “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry,’Abba, Father’” (Romans 8:15).
  • “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
  • And perhaps most pointedly: “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” (1 John 4:18).

Admittedly, we are outliers on this one. We got married while we were still college students. A year later, we boarded a plane for Nicaragua with a vague connection to a friend of a friend that we hoped would meet us when we arrived. We lived without power, water or transportation. We took our baby daughter to the most polluted city in the world, Lanzhou, China. We rode motorcycles across southern Africa.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t get scared. We got scared when Adam’s amoebas wouldn’t go away in Nicaragua and then his already weak body picked up malaria. Or when we blew black snot out of our noses in China. Or when our neighborhood had its third break-in within a month in South Africa (where you’re 20 times more likely to get murdered by gunshot than in the U.S.), and then Chrissy found police dealing with a dead body down the street.

But do you think God didn’t really mean that stuff about fear in the Bible? When you get scared, you have to do something about it. Naming it helps. Reading and claiming these biblical reminders can helps. Praying light-saber prayers that cut your fears to pieces can help.

As we wrestled with trying to follow Jesus here in the U.S., Chrissy wrote a chapter on fear in This Ordinary Adventure: Settling Down Without Settling. She said fear is like underwear. Everyone’s putting it on every day and keeping it politely covered up.

Here’s your chance to bring your fear out into the light.

A Step Through Our Fear

The hundreds of Christians I spoke to named fear as the greatest obstacle to joining in God's global mission. And, truth be told, there is good reason to be afraid. I work for Urbana. Each year, we hear about Urbana alumni who have suffered and even been martyred for their faithful proclamation of Jesus Christ, even while serving obvious needs in hard places around the world. Jesus' call to give up everything we have (Luke 14:33)—the call to follow the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the call to take up your cross and step into God's global mission—is not to be taken lightly. But a life of playing it safe rarely results in God being glorified or our neighbors being loved.

So. What are you afraid of? Name it as a first step in facing your fear. And then ask God—the stronghold of your life—if you should go to Urbana as a next step in facing your fear and being open to his mission for your life, whatever it might be.

Then text me (or leave a comment below), and let me know what he said.

After years of living and working in Nicaragua, China, and South Africa, Adam and Christine Jeske have come back to the U.S. to follow Jesus in a kind of normal, middle-class place. Their latest book, This Ordinary Adventure: Settling Down Without Settling, is about the first year and a half of that process. She is getting a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, and he leads social media for InterVarsity and the Urbana Missions Conference. Connect at their blog or at Into the Mud or follow @christinejeske and @adamjeske.

(This post originally appeared at on Oct. 31, 2012)

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