The lesson taught by President Roosevelt, Starbuck, and numerous people in Scripture is an important concept for people today. People are almost instinctively afraid of the unknown and situations they don’t understand or believe impossible to achieve. Thus, the challenge we face to effectively transform this natural fear into an effective means to find success is significant. Fear can be the catalyst that forces us to prepare more diligently and fully for future events, especially new adventures or ones that have been found challenging or difficult in the past. Fear can be the catalyst to help us go forward to accomplish something we did not think possible. Fear can be the life buoy that does not allow us to drown in the pool of despair, but rather to courageously swim to safety.
Far too often we allow fear to paralyze us, becoming a straitjacket that binds us, not allowing us to act. This, however, is self-imposed. When raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus proclaims, “Untie him and let him go.” (John 11:44c) Jesus realized that the bandages that bound Lazarus were far more than ceremonial for death; they were illustrative of how many of us bind ourselves, shutting God out and not allowing the Lord to work through us. Paralyzed by fear, we fail to act. We are too often defeated before we have even begun. Rather than defeating us before we have even started, Jesus is telling us that our fear can and must be used as a vehicle to continue the journey. Think about this: those accomplishments for which we are most proud are those that initially were considered impossible to achieve. It may have been an academic exercise, athletic challenge or business hurdle that initially prompted fear. We may have said to ourselves, “I can’t do it.” Our ability to overcome this fear, utilizing it as a catalyst, was the fuel to success. We have all heard the expression, “He who does not try cannot succeed.” We must remove the chains that bind us, take the chance, and be confident that with the Lord’s help all is possible.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt inspired the American people in the midst of the nation’s greatest financial crisis to use fear in order to find triumph. While historians may differ on the efficacy of FDR’s policies as a solution to the Great Depression, it is clear that the attitude the President presented was sound. Let us be so inspired to use fear productively, finding our way to achieve great things as we build the kingdom of God in our world.
In his first inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the longest-serving president in United States history, famously proclaimed, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Roosevelt spoke these words to encourage a downcast nation that was at its economic ebb from the Great Depression. His words, while proclaimed to address a specific crisis, can be applied more generally as a catalyst to success. If we realize and admit our fears, we can find ways to overcome them and find triumph and success on the other side of apparent trials.
Fear, in other words, can be a healthy emotion that can be effectively harnessed to make success a possibility. This reality is illustrated in literature in Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby Dick. Starbuck, one of Captain Ahab’s able sailors, who commands one of the whaling boats in their battle with the great white whale states, “If any man is not afraid of the whale, I don’t want him in the boat.” Starbuck realized that a healthy fear of whales will make his boat crew sharp and better able to achieve its goal.
Scripture presents several examples of how fear can be effectively utilized to be a catalyst for success. In the Hebrew Bible, we recall the famous story of the Israelites’ passage through the Red Sea (Exodus 14:15-31). Moses had led the people from captivity in Egypt, but when they encountered the Red Sea and simultaneously realized Pharaoh and his Army were in hot pursuit, the people panicked; they were filled with fear. But God and Moses used their fear and apprehension as a tool to move them forward, to “push” them into doing something they did not believe possible. When God acted and parted the sea, they had the courage to go forward; without this initial fear, there would have been no reason to continue. Fear
led to success. Similarly, the healthy fear that David had for Goliath allowed him to find an innovative way to conquer the great Philistine champion (I Samuel 17:31-51). This fear helped him to conquer the odds. Elijah was one prophet who was challenged by the 400 prophets of Baal. His healthy fear of God gave him total confidence that if and when he called upon the Lord, God would respond. When God accepts Elijah’s sacrifice, the prophets of Baal are thrown into total confusion and despair, allowing the prophet to be triumphant (one Kings 18:19-40).
The New Testament also provides several examples of how fear can be a catalyst to success. St. Paul, the Pharisaic Jew and great persecutor of Christians, who was transformed into the first great Christian evangelist to the Gentiles, gained a healthy fear of God during his conversion. Jesus called out, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4b) Paul’s initial fear was used by the Lord to send him to the Eastern Mediterranean world in order to found many Christian communities, and through his famous letters provide the first base for Christian theology. Paul often found himself in difficult predicaments, but Jesus once said to him, “Do not be afraid…for I am with you, ‘’’ for there are many in this city who are my people.” (Acts 18: 9a, 10 a and c) Paul’s initial apprehension was used by God to further his mission of evangelization. Jesus Himself used fear as a catalyst for success. The famous farewell discourse in John chapter 17 was used by Jesus to prepare His disciples for their future mission to assist in completing their Master’s work in the world. The Lord realized that He would die, rise, and return to the Father. In telling His apostles of the future reality, they were filled with fear. How would they carry on Jesus’ message without His leadership? Wisely Jesus used this healthy fear to help His chosen inner circle of friends to see their responsibility in His mission. Jesus uses their fear as a catalyst to further His objectives through the work of others.