“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
Some people use a fear of failure to drive themselves forward, preferring to shield themselves from the judgment of their peers. Perhaps demanding fathers stand forever just over their shoulders, out of sight, judging. Maybe a series of significant others serve as disapprovers over the years.
Others, like myself, have relatively little use for third party approval, judging themselves harshly enough. They keep silent not because of the critique of others, but due to the amount of shame they cause themselves by admitting their failures.
I’ve known for a long time that a fear of failure inhibits me. I do not possess a lengthy history of laboring and maturing under folks who knew what to do with the mistakes and failures of others, and unsurprisingly my character bears the imprint of those attitudes. I rarely announce my plans or ideas so as to avoid having to voice my failures. Most are ignorant of my long-term dreams and personal goals because they might ask me about them later, and I’d have to confess another round of misfires.
How does this fear play out in terms of kingdom work? Badly, I think.
Jesus taught in Matthew 25 God will evaluate our performance based on what we could have done, failure or success. The third servant had little and his fear of losing that pittance kept him from trying anything at all. Anything would have been better than the nothing he did.
In Joshua 1 we can read of God’s encouragement to the new leader of the people of Israel. Three times in four verses we see the phrase “..be strong and courageous…” The third time, in verse 9, God reminds Joshua of the fact that this is not really a motivational phrase: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.”
In both settings, a potentially overmatched servant had a mandate to accomplish something that is perhaps beyond his abilities. A certain fear, actual or potential, exists for the man of the hour. Fearful reticence remains a forbidden option, though the servant in Matthew 25 took the path anyway.
If God places before us an opportunity, command, or calling we are to be bold and courageous. We must not commit the crime of allowing our fears to trump our obedience. Failing to be bold is one sin; allowing that failure to limit our stepping out in faith is a second.