Rising Leader Series: Week 51 - Fear
Updated: Feb 25
Does your life-light shine bright into the darkness?
Or is it blocked by the sum of all your fears?
Never let doubts be traitors to goodness
You were born to give your all for these short years
Though arrows dart by day all around you,
Though flames of fear come flying ‘round the bend,
God Himself stands resolute beside you
Turn. Take His hand. Embrace the Great Amen
He’s the One. Go seek His exhortation
A world consumed in need awaits your lead
Go chase with courage heavenly ambition
Submit, let God, let love become your creed
Surrender renders deeper piety
So hand fears to God; He’ll carve your legacy
What are we to do with fear?
God chose a simple teenage girl from the countryside to be the mother of Jesus. While still betrothed to be married, the angel Gabriel came to her in a dream: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.”
What confusion and vulnerability Mary must have felt at those words. Overwhelmed, she asked, “How can this be, for I am still a virgin?” The angel’s response could only have perplexed her further: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. For nothing is impossible with God.” Mary set aside her fears. She responded with the most important thing we can ever say when God calls and asks us to trust Him. She said “yes”:
“I am the Lord’s servant. Let this thing you have said happen to me!”
And so she became pregnant. As proof of unwed motherhood grew obvious to all, she surely felt the sting of censure from neighbors. To have lived a faultless life, yet to be perceived as a fallen woman, must have humiliated and exasperated her. But to her cousin Elizabeth she said, “I praise the Lord with all my heart. I am very happy because God is my Savior. I am not important, but He has shown His care for me, his lowly servant. From now until the end of time, people will remember how much God blessed me.”
Mary was human. Can we even imagine her rising fear as she approached her delivery? In those days, women often died in childbirth. On a road far from home, attempting to stay astride a donkey as Joseph walked by her side, she felt the first pangs of labor. As they finally entered into a town, they were distressed to find it was overrun with travelers. As Joseph searched fruitlessly for a room, she must have felt herself in mortal danger. But she trusted God (and Joseph, who did what he could). In time, a stable was secured for the night. There, she gave birth to the Christ child that lives on in all of us.
And so began the greatest drama in history. On came the day that Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the temple. In the courtyard, the prophet Simeon shared with Mary a prophecy that must have shaken her to the core: “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”
For Mary, it must have felt like a sword to her soul when word came: King Herod was out to kill her baby. She and Joseph fled to Egypt with infant Jesus, where they lived until Herod died. She and Joseph taught their child His first steps and words all alone, as aliens in a foreign land.
Oh, the fears of a parent. Years later, on a caravan journey with other travelers on the road back to Nazareth, twelve-year old Jesus slipped away– and Mary and Joseph couldn’t find Him for three days. What dread she must have felt. They finally tracked Him down in Jerusalem, in the temple, teaching the scholars. Surely Mary wondered: who is this child?
Even in Jesus’ adult life, Mary wrestled with fears. As she witnessed His first miracle, it must have crossed her mind that such power would bring enemies. It was at the Wedding at Cana. Remember the story? A miracle was called for, and when Jesus expressed hesitations about beginning His ministry (“my time has not yet come”), she dismissed His doubts. Despite her fear, she turned to the servants who had run out of wine and said, “Do what He tells you.”
We don’t often think of it this way, but this was an act of great leadership. A good leader knows when the time has come to let go, empower and get out of the way. Despite the risks. Mary knew, and Mary did.
As a servant leader, Mary supported Jesus’ ministry at every step– despite her fears. She knew His divinity; she knew her own calling. But still, those fears could only have grown as the crowds began to grow– especially as the authorities reacted to His rising popularity with rising suspicion and alarm. Nothing could have prepared her for what happened upon Jesus’ return to Jerusalem. To see Him welcomed by huge crowds as He entered the city. To see Him speaking truth to power. To see the rage of those in power. To see one of his closest disciples betray Him.
Mary was human. This was her Son, who she loved beyond measure. What fear she must have felt as He was dragged before the religious authorities, and later, Pontius Pilate. She saw Him scourged by whips, until His flesh began to shred. She saw Him paraded through the crowds, and taken to the Cross. Mother Mary witnessed all of it. Did a sword not pierce her soul at every whiplash, at every bloodied step towards Cavalry, at every hammered nail, at every cry of pain? Yet somehow she found a courage that surpassed her fear.
Mother Mary attended her Son’s crucifixion. We don’t talk about it much, but its effects have echoed across time. Just a few of Jesus’ followers remained by her side. As the Cross was raised with Jesus on it, they must have eyed her closely. In that moment, Mary was utterly weak; utterly powerless. But God teaches that in weakness there is strength; that power comes from powerlessness. And so it is recorded in John 19:25:
“Jesus’ mother stood near His cross.”
Take note. Mary stood. She did not fall to the ground in hysterics. She did not run away. She did not rush the guards. Powerless, cut to the heart, anguished, defiant, she stood in silent witness to the terrible act. What an exhibition of leadership.
As the sun fell and her slight frame cast a vigilant shadow at the foot of the Cross, what went through the minds of Jesus’ disciples? Surely Mary’s courage gave courage to them. At their weakest moment, their faiths shaken to the core, their commitment to Jesus wavering, her silent defiance spoke:
“See what He has done for you. See how much He loves you. He believes in you; He has given His life for you. Now serve Him; follow Him.”
As Jesus took His last breath, Mary could never have imagined that three days later He would rise. She could not have known that her Son’s followers, down to a handful, would mobilize a movement that would someday grow into billions. Despite all she didn’t know in the seminal moments of her life, Mary knew God. When fear lurked at the edge of her heart, Mary knew where to go.
Mary’s witness transformed those gathered around her. And it does the same for us. Through story and reverence, her exemplary leadership continues to transform today. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a great leader– a leader of goodness. And the world is forever changed.
"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."-- Isaiah 41:10
Yours in radical surrender,
Previous Weeks' Letters: