When faced off against an army many times the size of his own in 1 Samuel 13, King Saul showed off his many fears, belying his tough-guy reputation. He was supposed to wait for the priest Samuel to arrive to offer a sacrifice before the battle, but was in a hurry to get started (and was worried that his own army might run away if he waited much longer!). Rather than wait for Samuel, Saul gave the offering himself, trying to fill God’s role in bringing about the promised victory. This showed a fear of falling short in front of his men, a fear of losing control as the authority as king, and a fear of being hurt by his enemies. This pattern of fear and Saul’s impulsive responses to make himself look strong and protect himself poisoned Saul’s relationships over his life and ultimately led to his downfall.
This week’s sermon at Skyline asked some tough questions--what are your fears, how do they affect you, and why do you have them in the first place? Thinking over these three fears—falling short, losing control, and being hurt—the fear of falling short hits home the most for me. I’ve always judged myself by my accomplishments and had a hard time letting anyone see me fail or allow myself to not be counted as among the best. I was never a very good athlete, so rather than risk losing at something I just avoided sports whenever possible. When I was young I saw grades as the measure of a person’s ability, so it was very important to me that I get straight A’s and I would get bitter whenever something else showed up on my report card. Sixteen year-old David was similarly infuriated to fail his driving test twice in a row. To me, it wasn’t worth doing something if I wasn’t going to be the best at it, and I held myself and others to harsh standards. While these are funny stories now, they made me an unpleasant person and clearly represented a problem that I needed to fix.
Two events in my early adult life had to humble me and wake me up to show me that something was wrong. First, I picked a good college to attend and decided with almost no prior experience that I wanted to be a computer science major. The subject did not come naturally, I did not enjoy it, and I was terrible at it. I only managed to scrape through my first classes with C’s because another student kindly dragged me through long study sessions. Rather than being the big fish in the pond, every fish was big and I was in line to get eaten. Like many second-semester students I left the sciences for the humanities—I enjoyed my new studies much more and was successful, but my initial failure made me more withdrawn and left me with a chip on my shoulder. Second, since I attended a good school and lined up good internships I never expected to have difficulty finding a good job after college, but ended up underemployed and disappointed with myself.
At this point I prayerfully began to consider other options that I hadn’t planned for myself. I had spent several weeks in D.C. while in college, and the idea grew in my mind as I prayed and talked to trusted friends and family that I should go to grad school there. There were lots of uncertainties—I didn’t know anyone in the area, I was afraid of the debt I would rack up, and I was worried that I would be in the same situation without a good job when I finished. This situation had far too many risks for younger David to take, but my humbling experiences led me to trust God and to trust others more.
I took the leap of faith and sent out my grad school applications, and immediately a series of unexpected blessings began rolling in. When I told one of my good friends that I decided to move to the East Coast, he asked if he could move out with me—solving my problem of not knowing anyone in the area. One of the schools I applied to unexpectedly offered me a fantastic financial aid package and part-time job, taking off some financial pressure. Best of all, I met a nice girl that summer who would become my wife three years later! When I look back on that year now I just see a turning point in my life where I learned to trust God more, worry less, and take risks, and I am so glad that my earlier failures brought me there.
I am certainly not over my fear of falling short, but I am a much kinder and more understanding person now, and have learned to take more risks and trust God for the next step when I fail. Taking stock of your fears and setting them down before God can help you to get around these barriers that hold you back, and God will bless you for your efforts. And, as Saul and I can say from experience, if you don’t bring your shortcomings to God yourself then He will help you find them!
If you missed out on this week's sermon, check it out here.