The other day my cardiologist, who is a born-again Christian and a sincere servant of the Lord, asked me a question. It was obvious that it was a very personal thing with him, and no doubt many other Christians are concerned about the same thing. He said, “We are to lay down our lives for the Lord if necessary, so how do we reconcile that with fear of the dangers that face us today?” He was referring to the fact that Americans in general and Christians in particular are targets for terrorism. Whereas before, danger to missionaries was random or at least tied to local events, Americans are now in danger just by being present. ISIS has said they are now going to target “average” Americans. A second part of his question was, “What do we do about taking our families into obvious peril. How do we know when to go ahead anyway and when to avoid the danger in some situations? How do we reconcile our fear with our faith in God?
Fear and faith are not mutually exclusive. The Psalmist said, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.” (Psalm 56:3) The person who says he has no fear is either deluded or in a state of denial. Christians, and ministers in particular, have somehow come to believe that they cannot show or admit to any weakness of any kind. That is a subject for another time, but suffice it to say it is not a biblical perspective. Certainly, the family of a missionary will experience fear. Perhaps the life of Paul, the quintessential missionary, can help us. He never let danger prevent him from going where God directed him, but there were times he averted or escaped it. The newly saved evangelist was doing such powerful preaching in Damascus, the Jews sought to kill him, watching the gates day and night. The disciples let him down over the wall in a basket at night and he escaped. When Paul was under arrest in Jerusalem, forty Jews bound themselves under a curse to kill him. Paul’s nephew heard about it and went to Paul, who sent him to the Chief Captain. The Captain sent him to Caesarea under heavy guard. Many times though, Paul walked into the mouth of the Lion, and other times when he could have escaped, he did not; such as the time he was in jail in Philippi. After the earthquake shook the jail and opened the doors, Paul and Silas remained where they were. Obviously, there was a ministry to be performed. In that case they committed themselves to the care of the Lord.
Paul was determined to go to Jerusalem, and when he was assured that bonds and afflictions awaited him there he said, “None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself.” (Acts 20:24) Danger did not deter him from his purpose, because he had settled the fact that his life was not his own, but belonged to God.
It seems then that we ought to prayerfully consider the circumstances and protect ourselves and our families unless God specifically directs us to be in a certain place no matter what. Then, we obey the Lord and trust Him to protect us. If there is a time we are to give our lives, we must be willing to do that. We need to know, however, that we are under God’s direct leadership. We have concurred with some of our missionary families when they decided to get out of harm’s way for a time, because of imminent danger. Others have chosen to stay in the eye of the storm, despite the danger, because they felt the ministry required it.
Someone has said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but, rather, going on in spite of it.” We should not feel defeated because we experience some fear, but we should not allow that fear to keep us from doing the will of God. I had a surgeon who said he would consider going with us to Africa except that “I play with sharp things and might catch something through the blood I come into contact with.” This is a reasonable concern, and the doctor has no obligation to go unless it is the will of the Lord that he do so. But, if God commands him to go, he should go and trust the results to the Lord. One of our missionary families labors in a totally Islamic culture. There were riots an killings and Americans were in particular danger. They refused to leave because they would lose all the trust they had built up. They came through it without any harm.
I believe the scriptural conclusion to the matter is to prayerfully use your common sense unless the Lord specifically directs otherwise. Then, do His will no matter what. David was the newly crowned king of Israel, and the Philistines came out to do battle with him. He inquired of the Lord whether he should go out to fight, and the Lord told him to go. David and Israel experienced a great victory. The Philistines came out a second time and again David asked the Lord should he go out against them. This time God told him not to go. He was to go around behind them and wait for a sound in the mulberry trees. That was the signal that the Lord would go before him to smite the Philistines. It is essential to know the will of the Lord when we face dangers.
Esther was petrified of going before the King of Persia without being summoned, because that could mean instant death. But when she was assured that it was God’s will and her duty she went saying, “If I perish, I perish.” Consider a few things if you are faced with such a dilemma.
- Fear is common to all people.
- To experience fear does not mean that you do not have faith.
- Embrace your fear; do not deny it.
- Ask God specifically what you are to do.
- If God directs you to go into a dangerous situation; go willingly, trusting the results to him.