“Paul lived there for two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” – Acts 28: 30-31
We concluded the opening worship this year at Super Saturday by collecting an offering. Rather than an ordinary offering where we lay down resources for our shared mission, in this offering we invited people to lay down all that hinders them from following Christ’s call to live, minister, preach, teach, and lead boldly.
Once the baskets were passed throughout the auditorium and brought forward, we had collected 563 cards. Cards from ministers and lay people alike, from churches big and small and in between, vital and struggling, from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.
That afternoon, in preparation for closing worship I read everyone of them.
The worship team wanted to craft closing worship to respond to the particular things that hindered our people from boldness. We desired to speak straight to the heart of whatever was holding us back.
The confessions on these cards were intimate, and holy. They were vulnerable. They were raw.
And they were consistent.
So much so that the first words we spoke at closing worship were these: “you are not alone.”
61 people had offered to God their self-doubt and uncertainty
64 offered resistance to change or nostalgia about the past
72 offered a desire to avoid conflict
94 offered their sense of scarce resources: time, money, and energy.
101 offered the concern that boldness would cost them relationships with family and friends.
Others offered their lack of faith, their ego, life’s distractions, and laziness. We offered our visions that were too narrow, and our isolation and loneliness.
But there is one hinderance that stood out dramatically.
The word ‘fear’ appeared on 213 cards. 12 cards contained nothing but this one word.
Once again, we are not alone. As long as we are counting totals, here is one more.
The phrase “Do not be afraid” or “Fear not” appears 103 times in the Bible.
These words are spoken by God to Abraham, Hagar, and Isaac. God says them to Moses and Isaiah proclaims them to “those who have an anxious heart.”
Do not be afraid.
The call comes to Daniel and to all of Israel. An angel says it to Mary. Jesus says it to his disciples.
Do not be afraid.
It’s not that what God is leading us toward is not scary. It is. It is that God yearns for our courage to make God’s love undeniable in the world, to make justice roll down, to make love swell like an ever-flowing stream.
So if you are afraid. You are not alone.
In fact you stand alongside faithful people in all times and all places, who stood right on the cusp of following God with all boldness. And as they looked back at all they would leave behind, and ahead at all that awaited them, the Spirit whispered in their ears, “do not be afraid.”
She’s whispering that to us too.