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You know God has a purpose for you.
You even know what steps you have to take.
But still, you’re afraid to step out.
This is me right now. In September of last year, my position as a software developer at the company I had worked with for 9 years became redundant. It wasn’t a surprise. They had announced the decision at the beginning of the year but had kept me on to do training.
It was a welcomed decision. I had been feeling for a while that my time there was ending. Not because of anything on the company’s part, I simply felt like God was calling me to do something different.
Since then, I haven’t exactly been looking for a job. I know I need to focus on writing, the message God has given me, and getting it out to those who need it.
But it’s scary. It’s scary because it’s been nine months. It’s scary because I’ve used up most of my severance and unemployment benefits. I keep thinking, what if I can’t do this? What if I fail?
Recently I was reading the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. It’s often used to show how we should steward our finances and the creative talents that God has given us. Usually, the focus is on the first and second servants given the five and two talents. You know, the ones that multiply their talents and please their master. Everybody wants to be like them.
But as I read, I realized that there are a few lessons that we can learn from the third servant; the man with the one talent. Lessons on what NOT to do. Lessons about fear of failure.
Let’s recap the parable found in Matthew 25:14-30 (I’m paraphrasing so you can read the actual scripture here).
There was a master who was about to leave on a long journey. He calls his three servants and gave each of them a sum of money. To the first he gave five talents, to the second he gave two talents, and to the third servant, he gave one talent.
The first servant traded his five talents and gained five talents more. The second servant did the same and now had four talents. But the third servant dug a hole and hid his one talent.
After a while, the master returned from his trip and went to each servant to see what they had done with the money. The first one gave his master the ten talents he had earned and the second one presented the master with his four talents. Their actions pleased the master, and he described them as good and faithful servants.
But the third servant described the master as cruel and had done nothing with his talent. He gave the master back just one talent, the same one he was given. The master was furious and took away his one talent and gave it to the one who had ten. Then he ordered the servant to be thrown into the outer darkness.
Where did the third servant go wrong? If we take a closer look we see that the one-talent man is paralyzed by fear. Specifically, fear of failure.
WHAT IS FEAR OF FAILURE?
The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines fear of failure as follows:
“Persistent and irrational anxiety about failing to measure up to the standards and goals set by oneself or others. This may include anxiety over academic standing, losing a job, sexual inadequacy, or loss of face, and self-esteem. Fear of failure may be associated with perfectionism and is implicated in a number of psychological disorders, including eating disorders and some anxiety disorders.”
An article on Psychology Today also lists the characteristics of fear of failure including :
- Failing makes you worry about how smart or capable you are.
- Failing makes you worry about disappointing people whose opinions you value.
The one-talent man exhibits three signs of fear of failure: he didn’t believe in his ability to carry out the assignment given, he was afraid of disappointing his master; he was unwilling to attempt the assignment because he felt that he couldn’t get it right (perfectionism).
1. FEAR OF FAILURE CAUSED THE SERVANT TO DOUBT HIS ABILITY
The one-talent man thought he had done well to give the master back what was his. But this obviously didn’t meet the expectations of the master. What did the master expect? He expected the servants to increase the talents the master had given them.
The master gave the servants talents according to their own ability. He already knew what they were capable of; he knew what they each could handle.
The master gave the third servant one talent because he knew he was capable of stewarding it well. He believed he could multiply that talent. But the third servant didn’t believe it. He could not see what the master was seeing. He didn’t believe that he could multiply what the master had given him.
I know what this feels like. I have 20 year’s of experience in the technology field, 6 year’s experience building WordPress websites and a couple year’s experience in writing and still, I often doubt my ability to use the talents that God has given me to generate income to support my family and promote His Kingdom. That happens when I stop looking at myself through God’s eyes.
Are you doubting your ability to do what God has called you to do? Do you see yourself as the Master sees you? Do you believe what He is seeing?
Or are you seeing and believing something else?
2. THE one-talent man WAS AFRAID OF DISAPPOINTING THE MASTER
We can see from the master’s reaction to the other servants that the master expected them to multiply their talents. If we examine the words of the third servant, we also see this. He says, “… reaping where you didn’t sow and gathering where you scattered no seed…”. Basically, the master is expecting more in return that what he gave out.
But the third servant, not being confident in his ability to multiply his talent, buries it to keep it safe. At least, when the master returns, he could give back to him what was his.
It’s true. When the master left, his expectation was that the servant would multiply his one talent, according to his ability. But in verses 26 and 27, he says, “Then you should have brought my money to the brokers, and when I came I would have received it back with interest.
Multiplication would have been ideal, but if the servant had put in some effort he could have at least added to the talent that the master gave him. This is why the master is upset. In his view, the servant is lazy and didn’t even try.
Because the third servant wasn’t seeing himself through the master’s eyes, he wasn’t confident in his ability to multiply his talent. He was afraid of failing and disappointing the master (and himself).
Are you afraid of doing that thing that God has called you to do because you’re afraid of disappointing Him? Here’s a little secret. He’s already accounted for your failures. He just wants you to try.
3. PERFECTIONISM PREVENTed the ONE-TALENT MAN FROM TAKING ACTION
So the third servant thinks the master has got it all wrong. He doesn’t have the ability to multiply his talent. The master is asking too much. He just knows he will fail, anyway. So he doesn’t even try.
This is perfectionism. Perfectionism is “a willingness to try only those things that you know you’ll finish perfectly and successfully.” It says, “If I can’t do it perfectly, I won’t do it at all.”
This happens to me often. Sometimes I’m writing a blog post and I think I have to get it just right. I have to have ALL the info and I have to know EVERYTHING about the topic. Often, I end up not writing that post (or filing it away somewhere) because it wasn’t perfect, and that means that I can’t put it on the internet for everyone to see. Right?
Wrong. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I just need to write it with whatever information I have and put it out there. Someone somewhere might gain something from it… or not. Someone might criticize it. But so what. At least I did it.
Truth is perfection is unachievable. Only God is perfect and He doesn’t expect perfection from us. What He DOES expect from us is excellence. Excellence leaves room for failure. When we fail, there is always a lesson to learn. If we can take that lesson and use it as a stepping stone to grow, then we haven’t failed at all.
“You never lose. You either win or you learn.”Nelson Mandela
Perfectionism prevents you from starting something because you think you won’t be successful. But it also stops you from completing things you’ve started because you believe you can’t do them perfectly.
Is perfectionism stopping you from starting or finishing an assignment that God has given you? Be like Nike, and “Just Do It”. If you attempt to do something and it’s done imperfectly, it leaves room for God to step in and show off. Remember, where we are weak, He is strong.
HOW CAN WE PURSUE OUR PURPOSE WITHOUT FEAR OF FAILURE?
“Feel the fear and do it anyway.” – Susan Jeffers
So how can we pursue our purpose without the fear of failure? We can’t, we have to feel the fear and do it anyway (Susan Jeffers).
We have to feel the fear and see ourselves as He does. He has given us our purpose according to our own ability. We already have everything we need within us to carry it out.
We have to feel the fear and know that we can’t disappoint Him. His perfect love for us is unconditional and unchanging and there is no failure that can change that.
We have to feel the fear and take action, knowing that it won’t be perfect. Perfection is unachievable and when we step out in imperfection, God will step in and do the rest.
When He assigned us our purpose, He did it according to our ability. According to the things He himself placed in us when He created us. He accounted for our failures. You cannot fail at your purpose. In fact, you’ve been set up to win.
I’m challenging myself this week. I will complete and submit a guest post within the next week to build my freelance writer portfolio.
Is there something you’re afraid to start? Is there something you’re afraid to finish? What are you going to do about it this week?
Let me know in the comments (Need a little more help? You can also read this post about finding the boldness to conquer your fears).
If you want me to hold you accountable, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll check in with you in a week.