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Click here to keep up with Tom in Zambia! The Fear of Success
by Tom Goodman
July 8, 2009

I’ve read of perfectionists driven by a fear of failure, but I’ve seen more people crippled by the fear of success.

Fear of success?  Who could possibly be afraid of success?  Could the answer be… you?

Eugene Peterson recalls a time when he was five years old, standing at a barbed-wire fence, watching an adult neighbor and fellow church member, 'Brother Storm.'  The man rumbled up and down the field in his enormous tractor and the daily wish of little Peterson was to ride on that John Deere.

One day while the little preschooler stood by the fence with that mixture of awe and longing, Brother Storm stopped.  He stood up from the seat, and made strong waving motions to Peterson with his arm.  'He looked mean and angry,' said Peterson.  'I knew I was probably where I shouldn't be; five-year-old boys often are.  I turned and left.  Sadly, I hadn't felt I was doing anything wrong -- I was only watching from what I thought was a safe distance and wishing that someday, somehow I could get to ride that tractor.  I went home feeling rejected, rebuked.'

The next Sunday at church, Brother Storm approached young Peterson.  'Why didn’t you accept my invitation the other day?  I was hoping you’d ride with me a while.'  In his preschool eyes, Peterson thought the man was shooing him away when instead he was beckoning him into an experience the little boy had long desired.*

I wonder how many times God calls us into what we most want to do, but we think he's shooing us away.

We fear success.  We fear the work success requires, we fear the ridicule our dreams might bring from others, and we desperately fear that we might not have what it takes.  After all, if there was no possibility of failure, they’d call it 'sure-thing-taking,' not 'risk-taking!'

Every venture is a test of our mettle, and some of us would rather stay within the safe confines of our private dreams instead of face the risks.

Those of us most crippled by the fear of success are most surprised by Psalm 20.  'May he give you the desire of you heart,' the poet prays for the king, 'and make all your plans succeed.'  Imagine that:  God put that prayer in his Book so we would have permission to talk to him about our desires!

I’m in my fourth week of mission service in Zambia.  For this Sunday and the next, I’ve asked Jim Siegel to preach in my absence.  Jim is in his seventh year of service as our Minister to Students at Hillcrest.  You’ll like what he has to say.  Join your Hillcrest Family this Sunday @ 10am!


Eugene Peterson told this story in an article that appeared in Leadership Journal, Winter 1993, pp. 127-28.

Weblog:  Check out my blog, "Get Anchored."  Some things to look for...

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