Fear of failure is a universal human experience. Even biblical heroes grappled with doubts, insecurities, and uncertainty as God called them to challenging tasks. Looking at their stories helps us see we’re not alone in our struggles with fear.
In this post, let’s examine biblical accounts where fear of failure shows up. We’ll see how God motivated famous characters to move past their fears and step out in faith. These stories remind us that while fear itself isn’t a sin, giving in to fear can limit what God wants to do through us.
When we feel anxious and incapable, we can draw courage from those who chose faith over fear. God worked mightily through their lives – not because they were perfect, but because they trusted in His power. He wants to do the same through you.
Old Testament Stories of Fear
Moses at the Burning Bush
God first appeared to Moses through the burning bush and called him to confront Pharaoh, demanding freedom for the Israelites (Exodus 3). Moses immediately raised several fearful objections:
- “Who am I that I should go?” (Exodus 3:11)
- “What if they won’t believe me or listen?” (Exodus 4:1)
- “I am slow of speech and tongue.” (Exodus 4:10)
Moses felt completely unqualified and afraid of failing. But God assured him of divine power and presence to accomplish the task. When Moses continued objecting, “the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses” (Exodus 4:14). His fear was limiting God’s plans.
Israel at the Edge of Canaan
Under Moses, the Israelites traveled through the wilderness to the border of Canaan, the Promised Land. When Moses sent 12 spies to scout the land, they saw incredible abundance but also strong, fortified cities (Numbers 13).
Ten of the spies feared they stood no chance conquering the land and spread dissent among the Israelites (Numbers 13:31-33). Only Joshua and Caleb boldly proclaimed, “The Lord is with us; do not fear them” (Numbers 14:9). Sadly, Israel’s fear kept them from entering Canaan.
When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and told him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12), Gideon felt anything but mighty. In fact, he was full of fear and hiding from Israel’s enemies. Gideon felt his family was the weakest in Manasseh and he the least significant in his family (Judges 6:15).
Yet God saw past Gideon’s fears and chose him to rescue Israel from the Midianites. Gideon had to overcome serious doubts to eventually lead his army to victory. His story reminds us that God often calls the fearful and under-qualified.
When Queen Esther learned of Haman’s genocidal plot against the Jews, she feared approaching the king unsummoned to expose the scheme (Esther 4:11). In those days, an unbid visit could mean death. But her cousin Mordecai pressed her, saying, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
Esther courageously told Mordecai, “I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16). She risked her life to save her people, overcoming natural fear through faith in God’s providence.
As we see, fear of failure was a common struggle, even for major biblical heroes. Yet time and again, God reassured them of His power and presence with them. When they stepped out in faith, God did the supernatural through their obedience.
New Testament Stories of Fear
Peter’s Fear of Death
Peter fervently declared he would never abandon Jesus, even if it meant dying with him (Luke 22:33). Yet on the night Jesus was betrayed, Peter denied even knowing Him three times. He crumbled under the fearful threat of guilt by association.
Jesus later restored and recommissioned Peter (John 21). At Pentecost, Peter was filled with the Spirit and preached boldly (Acts 2). Tradition holds he later died a martyr’s death for his faith in Christ. With God’s power, Peter overcame his earlier failure.
The Disciples’ Fear During the Storm
In Matthew 14, Jesus’ disciples were together in a boat when a severe storm arose. As the wind and waves tossed their vessel, the disciples feared for their lives, while Jesus slept. Finally, they woke Him yelling, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” (Matthew 14:30)
Jesus simply spoke – and the winds ceased. He then turned to His disciples and asked, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 14:31). This frightened band of followers still had much spiritual growth ahead.
Ananias’ Fear of Saul
When Jesus called Ananias to go lay hands on Saul (later Paul) to restore his sight, Ananias was afraid since Saul had been persecuting believers (Acts 9:13-14). But Jesus insisted that Saul was His “chosen instrument” (Acts 9:15).
Ananias overcame his very legitimate fears and approached Saul in faith. In doing so, he played a pivotal role in the Apostle Paul’s conversion and ministry. His brave obedience made an eternal difference.
The Apostles’ Fears Persecution
After Jesus’ ascension, opposition to the early church quickly mounted. The apostles were flogged and threatened repeatedly by the Jewish authorities (Acts 4-5). We’re told, “they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41).
Still, fear and uncertainty dogged the church. James was martyred (Acts 12) and persecution scattered believers. Until the Holy Spirit’s power at Pentecost, the apostles often hid in fear (John 20:19). Persecution remains a very real fear facing many Christians today.
While the apostles’ fears may be more intense than ours, we all know the feeling of anxiety when facing trials and discomfort. The early church’s journey reminds us fear is normal but conquerable through the Spirit at work within us.
As we reflect on these stories of biblical heroes struggling with fear of failure, what key lessons emerge about this common battle?
1. Fear of failure has always plagued God’s people. Whether prominent leaders like Moses and Esther or Jesus’ own disciples, fear factors into many biblical narratives. Even the faithful struggle with doubt, anxiety and low self-esteem at times.
2. God does not scold believers for feeling afraid, only for giving in to fear. Jesus corrected His followers for having “little faith”, not for being afraid during the storm. Fear itself is not a sin, but it can lead us to make unfaithful choices if we let it rule us.
3. Powerful things happen when people step out in faith despite their fears. Imagine if Moses declined freeing the Israelites or Esther didn’t risk her life before the king. Many times, God uses those who courageously trust in Him, not those who feel fully qualified or confident.
4. God often reassures and encourages those who feel afraid and inadequate. From Gideon to Ananias, we see God reminding His followers of His power and presence with them. God knows our tendency to fear and seeks to renew our trust.
5. The Holy Spirit gives believers power to do things that seem impossible in our own strength. From Peter’s preaching at Pentecost to the apostles’ persevering through persecution, the Spirit empowered courage well beyond natural capabilities.
May these stories inspire us, knowing that the same God who strengthened bumbling apostles and timid Moses still understands our fears and wants to work mightily through us. The next time you feel overwhelmed or unprepared, recall His proven power and faithfulness. Then step forward in faith, trusting His Spirit to equip you.
God isn’t limited by human fears or failures. Our mistakes and doubts don’t disqualify us from being used by Him. As we see from Scripture, imperfect but willing people can accomplish the miraculous when yielded to God. All He requires is a soft heart, listening ear and faithful obedience – one small step after another.
Will you trust Him to lead you beyond your fears? He promises to complete the good work He’s begun in you (Philippians 1:6). You can boldly obey, knowing that His Spirit will empower you each step of the way.