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Inspiration for Today’s Motivational: “Filli Vanilli”

Fluttershy is normally portrayed as shy, timid, and even cowardly on the show, but out of the various fears she’s displayed over the years this one is probably one of the most sympathetic: performing in public. Surveys about what Americans fear the most frequently find that people find death less scary than speaking in public. In other words, people would rather die than do something before a crowd.

Trying things that are unconventional or new seems to be a natural difficulty for most people. It’s actually kind of fascinating to me. I have a background in drama, and one of the exercises is improv. This is pretty much where you get a basic scenario and just have to “act” and somehow make it a legible plot and entertaining by playing off of one another. It amazes me how naturally difficult it is for people as well as inexperienced and amateur actors. It’s as if people are naturally inclined not to try and act out in any way for others that’s not part of a script or plan.

The part that’s interesting about that is that everyone was once completely comfortable going out and doing whatever just for fun or trying something new. It’s called “childhood”. When we were really little anyone could have come along and told us to pretend to be someone else and we would have jumped right in with full energy. Nowadays if a crowd of people were watching me and someone told me “pretend to be a monkey” I’d sweat a few bullets before giving a very subdued performance. I imagine I’m not alone in that.

Part of growing up means learning how to behave in a way acceptable to society and others that encourages us to belong and fit in. The odd part is that also seems to be a natural deterrent to wanting to try new things. And it’s definitely  a deterrent to witnessing to others.

I’m not very sociable to begin with. I can’t strike up a conversation with other people about the weather or a sports game, let alone tell them about Jesus Christ under normal circumstances. So when I feel the need to witness you can imagine that the result is very odd, very awkward, and involves me standing around a lot trying to think of a way to bring up the topic for conversation. True, given my nature, I’m wondering if I’m not ideally suited to witnessing in public, but even if I’m not I can never rule out that there might come along that one person that God wants me to speak with. (It’s also made me rather aghast and even envious at others who seem to take to witnessing at the drop of a hat.)

But even putting witnessing aside, there’s a lot of other new and public things that detract people. Maybe it’s performing before an audience, singing out loud or getting “physical” in a praise and worship service, putting out writing or something else we’ve made, trying to start or participate in a sports team, attending a social function involving a topic I’ve never been with, or going to a group involving people I’ve never met before. And then of course there’s crazy ideas like trying to organize big and unusual activities or making some sort of political or religious statement in public, either verbally or nonverbally. Some of these might be things the Lord is compelling us to do. Other things might simply be interests that we’d like to try out to see if we have an aptitude for. But in many of those cases, it’s anxiety about being bold enough to do it that scares us.

“What if I’m no good? What if I sound stupid? What if I fail utterly at this?”

I find it interesting that so many churches preach about how God guarantees that we will have strength and victory, when I believe that one of the most valuable traits that a Christian can have is a willingness to fail. I’d go so far to say that this is a valuable trait for anyone to have. Fear of failing, fear of embarrassment, fear of being no good…all of those to me are ultimately the same thing: things that keep us from acting whether it be for God’s Purpose or anything else. It’s not the failure itself, the mocking laughter itself, or the embarrassment itself that stops us…in other words actually suffering a failure…it’s simply the fear of the potential for that.

That might be prudent in situations in which there are hazards to our life, health, property, etc., but in trying something new or stepping out and taking a chance on a new ability or ministry it’s quitting before you even begin. It’s saying, in the most simplistic terms: “Because there’s a chance I could fail, I better guarantee the failure outright.”

Again, that’s not to say that success will be guaranteed even if one goes through with trying something new or unusual or pursuing a new idea. In fact, there might indeed still be a good chance it will fail. Moses, the strong man of God, went before Pharaoh once saying that God had told him to tell him to let the Israelites free. Not only did it not succeed, but the Pharaoh made the Israelites work harder and they wanted to kill Moses for that, and Moses himself prayed to God that he had failed. (Exodus 5) Elijah, after having successfully prayed to God to call down fire on his sacrifice, led the execution of the prophet of Baal, and foretold the end of the Israel drought, saw that his life was still in mortal danger from Jezebel, wife of the King of Israel. He despaired so much that he fled Israel as fast as he could for the wilderness. “And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.'” (1 Kings 19:4). And, of course, there was Simon Peter in the New Testament. He attempted to prove his faith through walking on water only to need Jesus to rescue him from drowning. (Matthew 14:28-31) He attempted to be profound and prophetic during the Transfiguration only to end up babbling the first thing that came to mind. (Mark 9:5-6) He professed that he had been willing to die with Jesus and in the end it was all he could do to muster the courage to follow him to the courtyard of the high priest, and even then he ended up denying Jesus three times before not being able to even be present at the crucifixion. (Luke 22:54-62)

But few things in history, whether they be mass movements for God, changing of nations or society, technological innovations, or anything else that has caused a great change occurred as a result of someone meekly doing what they had comfortably done every other day of their lives. Change, improvement, revival, and new talent only begins, by definition, by doing something that hasn’t been done before. And if it does fail, is it so bad? If I try to witness to someone I haven’t seen before that God is calling me to, is it so terrible if it doesn’t pan out? If I try singing or speaking in front of this crowd and it isn’t the best, doesn’t that just mean I’m with the majority of people who can’t perform that well and I’m with the minority of people who are brave enough to try? If my idea doesn’t work out, doesn’t that at least mean that I can count myself among those who tried something original rather than sat on their idea their entire lives? Maybe most of my ideas will fail, but that leaves the few that were successes. And I couldn’t have gotten those successes without those failures.

This is another one I want to end with non-Biblical quotes, this time by Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Or, as Jim Elliot said: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that you have promised to always be with me wherever I go that you lead me. Help me to always be brave in the face of adversity and bold when stepping out to try something new, especially if it be your will to help me grow in service to you and to improve myself. And grant that even if I fail or fall short, I will not only have the courage to try again but will be encouraged by the countless ones before me who fell short only to get up again time after time. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”