Anxious times demand a courageous response

Fear can prevent us from taking much-needed action. Photo: kwest
Fear can prevent us from taking much-needed action. Photo: kwest
Published February 22, 2013

At a luncheon conversation with clergy friends, the question arose, “What is the biggest problem facing the church today?” One person thought it was church budgets, declining income and the constant difficulty in raising enough money for ministry. Another person thought it was an aging membership with few children. Still another thought the great problem was our aging buildings, which seem to siphon off an increasing amount of a church’s income. And yet another person thought the biggest problem was our secular, pluralistic culture, which is not as friendly to organized religion as previous generations.

Finally, someone asked what I thought. My response was one word: fear. There is a pervasive fear that runs throughout the church today, and one sees it in the House of Bishops to the smallest congregations. We are afraid that the world is passing us by, that we are no longer relevant or important, that we no longer matter and that things have gotten out of hand, beyond our ability to manage and control.

Fear is the greatest enemy that we Christians face today. It causes us to retrench, to become defensive and insecure, lose our hope for the future and our confidence about tomorrow. Fear moves us into a mentality of scarcity rather than abundance, causing us to try to build fortresses to protect ourselves, save ourselves from the onslaughts that come our way. Fear stifles creativity, hinders innovation, blunts imagination, and destroys social relationships and joyful living. Fear paralyzes us from taking much-needed action that affirms God’s reign even in a world where the foundations are shaking. Fear is inimical to the spiritual life, because it is the direct opposite of faith.

I submit that in times like these, we Christians have a responsibility to bear witness to the gospel truth that faith is stronger than fear.

A book that I have found helpful is Kent M. Keith’s The Paradoxical Commandments. The book is primarily about ministry-facing new challenges, feelings of despair and unanswered questions in the continual search for meaning in our lives. However, the book helped me to come to terms with what it means to be a faithful person in a fear-filled world.

The key, Keith says, is to embrace the paradoxes of life. “A paradox is an idea that is contrary to popular opinion, something that seems to contradict common sense and yet it is true.”

Fearless living requires a counter-cultural approach; we need to learn to think with uncommon sense, and step aside from doing business as usual based on common sense reflexes toward perplexing issues. We need to think in a paradoxical manner if we wish to rise above our fears.

Keith highlights ten paradoxical commandments that can motivate us to live well in spite of fearful or anxious situations confronting us. Each commandment invites us to shift from our usual common sense reflexes to an uncommon sense approach.


First, says Keith, haven’t you noticed that people are illogical, unreasonable and self-centred? The paradoxical thing to do in such situations he says is to: Love them anyway.

Second, if you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

Third, if you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

Fourth, the good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Fifth, honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.

Sixth, the biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.

Seventh, people favour underdogs, but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

Eighth, what you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.

Ninth, people really need help, but may attack you if you do not help. Help people anyway.

Tenth, give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best anyway.

And I would add an eleventh commandment: give and give and then give some more, even when the world says you are being foolish and tries to frighten you into insecurity. Give anyway, trusting that you can never outgive God.

Here you have it-a paradoxical outlook, an uncommon approach for the practice of ministry, dealing with our fears and overcoming our anxieties in these anxious times.

Finally, I would remind you that Jesus teaches that the only way to receive the gift of life is to share it with others. If we keep it to ourselves, we die. If we share it with others, we live. Abundant living comes to us on the way to someone else.

So go ahead…take that leap of faith. Be a witness to God’s generous, never-ending love for the world. Be an agent of hope that refuses to curse the darkness. Stretch yourself, think abundantly, give joyfully, act courageously and live in the power, passion and presence of our great God.

The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.












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