Nothing shuts down our hearts and keeps us from stepping into a supernatural lifestyle more than fear. If we were created to do divine exploits, then fear is obviously the opposite of what we were made for, because it destroys our hopes, infects our thoughts, robs our potential and kills us off little by little. Fear is dehumanizing.
Some years ago I had an experience that will forever remind me of the nature of fear. I used to work with Iris Ministries in Maputo, Mozambique. My visa would expire every month, so I had to make regular trips to South Africa to renew it. The highway between Maputo and Johannesburg runs along the border of Kruger Park, one of the largest and most beautiful animal parks in the world. My desire to visit the park grew with each monthly journey, but for six years I never had the time or money to go. Finally, a friend kidnapped me on my birthday and surprised me with a one-day safari through Kruger.
Once I realized where we were heading, I started to put in my order with God for the animals I wanted to see. "I want to see the zebra, the elephant, the cheetah, the water buffalo, the leopard..." Kruger park is the size of Switzerland, and it is possible to be there all day without seeing much of anything. I wanted to give God plenty of time to round up all of the animals for me. Wonderfully, the day turned out perfectly - I saw everything on my list... except the leopard.
That night my friend and I stayed at a hotel just outside the park. I woke up early the next morning and discovered that our hotel had bicycles to rent. It was winter and pretty chilly out, but a bike ride sounded like the perfect way to warm up. I pedaled out onto the main road running parallel to a park fence. As I rode and gazed out over the landscape, I thanked God for all I had seen the day before, marveling at His wild creativity and handiwork. "But I really did want to see a leopard," I told Him with just the tiniest bit of disappointment."
As I was discussing this with the Lord, I heard rustling and growling coming from some brush along the fence up ahead. I slowed down to look. As I passed the spot, to my astonishment I saw a leopard with its head caught under the fence wire. The crouching animal jumped back a bit, apparently startled by me. Then it lunged right under the fence and took after me like a shot. In terror, I pumped the bike pedals for dear life. Thankfully I was on a steep downhill and was already riding quickly, but in my heart I knew it was no use - leopards are the fastest land creatures on earth. A split-second backward glance confirmed that it was already gaining on me, though strangely, instead of the usual sleek shape of a big cat, this leopard was somewhat fat.
Great! I thought. It's a monster leopard! I pressed forward with everything in me, my heart pounding in my throat and my legs aching. Looking forward, I could see another hazard lying at the bottom of the hill just a few hundred yards ahead of us - a busy intersection on the highway. My mind quickly raced for an answer. Should I risk riding through the traffic in hopes that the leopard would get smashed and not me? Or should I stop and face my pursuer? At the last minute I decided. I reached the bottom of the hill just before the intersection, I slammed on my brakes, jumped off the bike, whipped out my pepper spray and prepared for the worst.
To my surprise, I had a bit of distance between myself and the pursuing beast. In fact, I registered with disbelief that the creature was slowing down, and most shocking of all, it was not a leopard! The fearsome monster I had been ready to rip through a busy intersection to escape was nothing more than a big Boxer dog wearing a winter leopard-print dog sweater. By the time it trotted up to me, it was as tired as I was. I collapsed to the ground in exhaustion, relief and embarrassment. I felt so foolish.
It struck me that what had just happened to me was exactly what happens to all of us. Our enemies and problems come chasing after us like roaring lions, but they are just pretenders. They try to get us to react - to fight, flee or freeze. Each of these reactions can impair our thinking and perception. Sometimes these pretenders only make us look foolish, but sometimes they really get us to do stupid things - that will sabotage our lives and destinies.
I would rather die boldly than live as a coward. I would rather take a step, even in presumption, than stay frozen in uncertainty and insecurity. Too many times I have stalled out in mediocrity, thinking I was waiting for God, when actually I was just hiding in fear. As someone once said, you cannot steer a car unless it's moving. I have come to trust that God will guide me, but unless I am in motion, He will not do what He does best! I learned that God has a marvelous sense of humor - a leopard dog... really?
EXCERPT from Outrageous Courage
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