The Apostle Paul had submitted his whole life to Christ and here was what he boldly declared: “I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me” (Acts 20:22).
He expected strife, though maybe some of the details were hazy. Wouldn’t that be terrifying? Paul was certain, based on experience, that — overall — Jerusalem would not welcome him, and by “not welcome” I mean “people would try to kill him.” I’ll bet he was afraid, and rightly so.
Fear of the Expected
I think most people are not really afraid of the unknown but of:
1. The just consequences of their actions. They don’t want to get caught when they make poor choices or cut corners.
2. Expectation based on past experience.
A child gets her first shot and that’s fine; she didn’t know what that would feel like, so she wasn’t concerned. She is very young, but then the nurses and doctors come at her with a second, third, and so on.
By the fourth one, they have to trick her; with the tenth, twentieth, and so on mom and dad take turns holding her in a bear hug while the other holds her arm so the nurse can insert the needle. She is afraid because she knows — this is going to hurt.
You’re dating a really nice guy, but the last boyfriend was an abuser. Your dad abused your mom too. You know the abuse will start and you’re sick with expectation.
Better the devil you know: you break up with a sincerely kind and respectful boyfriend in favor of a predictably abusive individual.
I recently took the position of department manager at our grocery store deli, and the youngest employees are nervous.
An inside source told me they are scared because I’m so calm. “I just get the feeling,” they reported, “that the calm is going to give way; like she’s stuffing her anger down and she’s going to explode one day.”
According to this report, I must have a reason to be angry with them about something. Perhaps I don’t know what it is yet.
Or maybe my young employees are accustomed to people who “control their emotions” until those emotions burst out. If their parents, grandparents, friends, or siblings were prone to sudden, explosive outbursts, why not me?
Perhaps they are also afraid because they are doing something I am bound to confront them about and that if I have to speak to them over and over, one day I’ll sound somewhat frustrated.
It doesn’t help that people in general speak about anger as something to get under control rather than as a perspective to reassess.
Fear of Failure
I won’t have much time to develop trust and demonstrate positive ways of handling conflict with some of the young ladies. They will leave for university or start training for more fulfilling work. There will be very little time to recover their trust if I mess up.
My fear is that frustration will build unchecked and spill out: not explosively but in the form of impatience. I might be terse or snappy.
Why do I fear that? Because I used to blow my top all the time. I get calmer as I age and also find it easier to adjust my perspective so that I have no reason to get mad, but I still remember the old me.
And I see it all over the place at work where co-workers let their lives spill over onto the people around them. I don’t ever want others to suffer because I’m tired and sore, I received bad news, or I’ve lost sight of what’s really important.
When I take my eyes off of Jesus the small things start to bug me; I lose perspective and forget that everyone was made in God’s image. I forget that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). That’s me — I’m a sinner, and God loves me!
Will I discern the direction of the Holy Spirit? Will I give Christ a bad name through my action (or inaction)?
That’s another fear: that I will fail to glorify the name of God in my position because this is not an obvious mission field. I’m not permitted to proselytize, although I can answer if someone asks about God.
And, finally, I’m taking on a job for which I have no direct training. To put it mildly, I’m squirrelly. I think in a zig-zag pattern. My current manager thinks in straight, neat, efficient lines. Did the big boss get it wrong? Am I qualified for this job? I’m sure to fall down hard.
Leaving a Legacy
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
Only one thing mattered to Paul, and you would have known that, even fifteen minutes after meeting the guy for the first time. He was joyously devoted to Jesus.
Paul wasn’t perfect, but he was well-loved by those who recognized the motives behind everything he did and said: obedience to Christ and sharing the promise of redemption for believers. He was predictably devoted to his purpose, and he truly loved the church.
I’m going to leave a legacy in my workplace. I want my co-workers to watch me:
- Own my mistakes when I mess up.
- Confront their mistakes with a calm and redemptive spirit.
- Ensure they feel valued.
I can’t control how the ladies interpret my actions or attitudes. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Even if for several magical moments once in a while I submitted so fully to the Lord that Christ’s Spirit simply took over, there’s no guarantee these women would recognize him. Nor do I pretend to be perfect, there will be times when I handle situations ineptly.
But I can prove by my behavior that I am safe and approachable. “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49).
I want to be approachable the way Christ was on earth, and as he is now. “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).
Establishing the New Known
I’d say interpersonal strife contributes to frequent turnover of employees. I’ve worked for individuals who micromanaged and made staff feel unworthy and stupid. They criticized constantly without ever offering praise.
They were passive-aggressive (sighing loudly; rolling their eyes, muttering under their breath, gossiping) and obviously unhappy in their own lives. Meanwhile, the rest of the staff, feeling worthless, let their feelings spill over onto their co-workers.
They basically did the same things their manager was doing. They had no safe, discrete person to help them adjust their perspective or to mediate between parties where appropriate.
The atmosphere was heavy, and I remember feeling that familiar anxiety: what emotional drama is going to unfold today? Will I be a target for someone’s bad mood today, or will I be consoling someone else? I was sometimes afraid to come to work.
When you do a job, which is so thankless and poorly paid, there has to be a different sort of incentive: a positive environment, which offers the reverse of anxiety — peace. Part of my job is to lay down some rules, sure, but when people feel valued and cared for, they often want to give their best.
I hope to establish peace, safety, and an environment of mutual respect. “The most depraved and despised classes of society formed an inner ring of nearer around our Lord. I gather from this that he was a most approachable person, that he was not of repulsive manners, but that he courted human confidence and was willing that men should commune with him.”
Charles Spurgeon wrote this regarding the approachableness of Jesus. If I do my job right, employees under my direction will feel cared for and safe, not pushed around. They’ll have no reason to be afraid.
A Tough Act to Follow
What do I have to be afraid of? I’m afraid that I won’t achieve my goal. I’ll fall down because we all do, but how badly? Whom will I take down with me? Christ always offered a wise answer; he knew when to challenge and when to leave well enough alone.
The next few months are going to test my spirit; and yes, there is a note of fear in there — not anxiety about the unknown, but more wariness about the predictability of it all.
And, okay, some uncertainty about how I’ll handle myself or whether I’ll be respected as a boss. But I don’t need to be afraid of failure. D. Michael Lindsay wrote that “because of Jesus, and what he did on the cross, we know our failures aren’t the end of the story.”
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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