Swim Scared

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Overcoming Fear and Embracing Your Gifts

This year I decided to learn how to swim. Yup, I said it. At twenty-five years old I don’t know how to swim. Personally, I find it kind of embarrassing because I’m from the sunshine state of Florida. In fact, I grew up 15 minutes away from the beach. And get this, I had a pool in my backyard. In other words, my environment growing up had everything I needed to learn how to swim.

There was just one thing holding me back, fear. One of the main reasons why I was afraid to swim was because I almost drowned on multiple occasions. And honestly, those incidents filled me with a fear that’s still difficult to shake. But if I wanted to learn to swim I’d have to face my fear and put it behind me. In fact, when I began taking lessons my swim instructor told me that as long as I let fear fill my mind and control my actions I would never learn to swim.

Now some of you may not relate to this because you’ve been swimming laps since you came out of the womb. But fear is an equal opportunity offender. It gets its claws in all of us someway somehow keeping us from fully becoming who we were created to be. This is because according to an article in Psychology Today by Dr. Matthew B. James, “Fear constricts rather than expands who we are.”

And I think that’s what Paul wanted to communicate to his young protege Timothy.

Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:6-7)

These verses are a part of a letter of counsel Paul writes to Timothy because he knows that he’s going to die soon. Paul shares this wisdom on fear because he wants to prepare Timothy to take up the mantle and continue his ministry in Ephesus. What is important to note in these verses is that Paul tells Timothy that he has a spiritual gift that he has to “fan into flames” (NIV). In other words, God gave him the spiritual gift, but he is responsible for stewarding and growing it.

This gift is what will aid him in fulfilling God’s purpose and plan for his life. But Paul knows that there’s one thing that has the potential to kill the fire in Timothy, and that’s fear. Paul knows that if Timothy is going to stir up the gift inside of him, it’s going to take boldness.

It’s not clear if Timothy was a fearful or easily intimidated person. But Paul writes Timothy several letters and in them tells him more than twenty-five times to be bold. This is because Paul understands that fear and timidity keep us from using the gifts that God gives us. So Paul is trying to really get Timothy to understand that if he’s going to accept this call that boldness matters. Without it, we can’t fulfill God’s purpose for our lives.

I believe there are three ways we can live a bold life fueled by freedom instead of fear:

1. Identify Your Fears

The first thing we’ve got to do is identify our fears by being self-aware. Sun Tzu in his classic text The Art of War writes, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Sun Tzu is trying to say that our greatest victories come by knowing our enemies, but most importantly by knowing ourselves. And conversely, our greatest defeats come in our ignorance to our weaknesses and fears.

There are plenty of articles and assessments that help you identify and know your spiritual gifts. But when was the last time you really took note of your fears? When was the last time you looked fear in the face instead of maneuvering and trying to avoid it? The spirit of fear can show up in different ways for everyone. How does it show up in your life? Do you fear Criticism? Disapproval? Rejection from people? Failure? Success? Whatever your fear may be, before you can overcome it you have to identify it and understand it. And then you have to confront it head-on.

I find it helpful to write out my fears and the stories behind them. You may find it helpful to sit down with a licensed counselor or therapist to get to the root cause of your fear. This process isn’t fun at all, but it’s necessary if you’re going to push past fear and experience freedom.

2. Boldly Grow Your Gift

If you’re truly going to push past fear and walk boldly in the freedom of your God-given purpose, then you’ve got to boldly, and unapologetically grow the gift God has given you. This is the process Timothy talks about called “fan into flames.” As a way to avoid fear oftentimes we engage in procrastination, laziness & self sabotaging behaviors. Your gift may be small now, but it has the potential to impact the world if you intentionally cultivate it. So boldly grow your gift. Invest in your gift. Seek out mentors that can share wisdom with you. Take that class. Read that book. Do whatever it takes to fan that flame until it’s a roaring fire.

3. Fearlessly Use Your Gift

And lastly, if you’re going to push past fear and walk boldly in the freedom of your God-given purpose, then you’ve got to fearlessly use your gift. Fear often keeps us on the shores of life away from the oceans of purpose and possibility. And instead of using our gifts boldly, fear has us diminishing and devaluing our gift to others. Oftentimes, we rationalize this behavior by telling ourselves that we’re being humble. But really we’re just insecure.

If you’d just fearlessly jump off the shore and into the ocean by faith then you’d see God give you opportunities to use your gift.

My advice, when those opportunities come confidently accept them knowing that using your spiritual gift not only helps other people, but gives God glory.

Fear will rear its ugly head and try to tell you why you’re not good enough, why you should stop, why you should leave this task for someone else. But you’ve got to remember that fear is not an emotion that comes from God. Fear comes from the enemy of our souls and you don’t have to buy what he’s selling. According to verse 7 of 2 Timothy 1, God wants us to take His power, His love, and His calm thinking and overcome fear, so that He can use us and the gifts he’s placed in us. It’s time we accept His love and His power and let it quench all of the fear in our hearts.

In fact, instead of thinking of fear as a “Do Not Enter Sign,” what if we begin to see fear as a sign that we’re heading in the right direction? What if we begin to see fear as a sign that we’re getting closer and closer to the life God has called us to? I believe if we begin to see fear like this then we won’t be able to keep ourselves from living the bold and free lives that God desires for us.

More from Vladimir Jean-Pierre

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