I have a fear of public speaking

This Sunday, Joe Barone will be hosting a new community group on overcoming fear, using the Bible and Max Lucado’s book Fearless. You can contact Joe or sign up on the church app or website if you are interested in attending or learning more. In honor of that group, here is something I wrote on fear for the August 31st, 2021 Pulse.
“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1)

I have a fear of public speaking. But it’s not what you think.

It has been well-established that public speaking is the number one fear of most Americans – surpassing even their fear of death. That incredible fact led to the great Jerry Seinfeld joke, “This means that to the average person, if you had to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.” I would imagine that most people are afraid to speak in public because they are afraid that their mind will go blank, or that they will say something foolish, and experience the disapproving judgment or ridicule of the crowd.

But that is not why I have a fear of public speaking.

In my years in ministry, I would estimate that I have delivered almost 1000 sermons, not to mention the various teachings, seminars, and community groups I have had to lead or speak in front of. By this time, I am able to get up in front of people feeling confident that I will find the right words and be able to communicate clearly what I have prepared. I no longer fear what the crowd, or congregation, will think. No, my fear comes from a different place entirely. Let me explain.

Sermon preparation for me begins with reading a passage of the Bible, writing out my thoughts, consulting various commentaries and books, sometimes listening to a sermon or two, and then organizing all of my notes into an outline. At some point during my preparation, I am inevitably struck by two realities: my overwhelming desire to communicate in such a way that I would display the beauty and majesty of my God for all to see and worship, and a painful awareness of my dreadful inadequacy to ever fully achieve that task. If all I was trying to do was to deliver a lecture, to convey information about the meaning of a Biblical passage, then I would not find myself gripped by such fear. But my goal is not just to educate, but to help people to see Jesus clearly, to experience the wonder of the gospel, to be captivated by the love of God, and to respond to God in worship and discipleship.

And so, inevitably, at some point during my sermon preparation, I find myself in tears. My body is gripped by some sort of unnamable agony, and I fall prostrate on the ground. I plead with God to do through me what I am incapable of doing in my own strength. I beg Him to help me to communicate His heart to His people. I ask Him to prepare the hearts of those who will listen, so that they might see Him and love Him. I pray above all that He would receive the honor that He deserves. I take comfort in Paul’s words in Romans 8:26, that when I don’t know how to pray, the Spirit Himself intercedes for me with groans that words cannot express. I rest in Isaiah 55:11, God’s promise that His word will accomplish what He desires and the purpose for which it has been sent. And then I get back up off the ground and continue my preparation.

I have a fear of public speaking. It is not a fear borne of judgment or condemnation, whether by those who listen or even by God. My fear of public speaking is a holy fear that comes from having been given an impossible task, a calling to which I can never fully measure up: to proclaim a beautiful God who deserves to be worshiped and honored with everything we have, and to preach the glorious gospel of Jesus’ death, which saves us from our sins and restores us to a right relationship with God.

I love my God, and I want Him to be honored. Please pray for me, that God would help me to do that whenever I open my mouth.
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