Paralyzed by Success


22 All of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead of us to explore the land for us and bring back a report to us regarding the route by which we should go up and the cities we will come to.” 23 The plan seemed good to me, and I selected twelve of you, one from each tribe. 24 They set out and went up into the hill country, and when they reached the Valley of Eshcol they spied it out 25 and gathered some of the land’s produce, which they brought down to us. They brought back a report to us, and said, “It is a good land that the LORD our God is giving us.” 26 But you were unwilling to go up. You rebelled against the command of the LORD your God; 27 you grumbled in your tents and said, “It is because the LORD hates us that he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to hand us over to the Amorites to destroy us. 28 Where are we headed? Our kindred have made our hearts melt by reporting, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified up to heaven! We actually saw there the offspring of the Anakim!’ ” 29 I said to you, “Have no dread or fear of them. 30 The LORD your God, who goes before you, is the one who will fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your very eyes, 31 and in the wilderness, where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as one carries a child, all the way that you traveled until you reached this place. 32 But in spite of this, you have no trust in the LORD your God, 33 who goes before you on the way to seek out a place for you to camp, in fire by night, and in the cloud by day, to show you the route you should take.” (Deuteronomy 1:22-33, NRSV)

Life is filled with various emotional actions and reactions to the circumstances we are placed in. Many times our emotional action or reaction to the things that surround us are positive and sometimes negative. I know that many times we are told that reactions themselves are neither negative or positive. We are told that the context for those emotions determine whether something is positive or negative. I would submit however that within virtually any context, one of the strongest negative emotions is fear.

Fear in its purest form is based on misperceptions and misconceptions about the reality around us. Fear is often irrational and illogical. Our fears are rooted in experiences, thoughts or memories that are either contrived (totally a figment of our imagination), misunderstood (interpretation and perception is wrong), or some variation of the previous two (misunderstood experience that is overanalyzed for a meaning that isn’t there!). The real danger about fear is its tendency to feed on itself in the heart of the fearful. With little effort, a person can work themselves into a frenzy of hatred or isolation based on fears that are left unchecked.

One of the unhealthy results of fear is its eventuation into paralysis. Fear, if left unexamined, can lead to paralysis in a situation. My fear of spiders always paralyzes me when the time comes to get rid of the pesky insect. Other fears will stop people in their tracks. Fears, and any manner of phobia, lead their sufferers to seize up and keeps them from experiencing the fullness of life. It isn’t just fears of creatures or events that keep us paralyzed. In the human experience there is this peculiar condition that many of us go through from time to time. It is a fear of success. There are those of us who spend our lives moving from situation to situation and living of life of equilibrium and mediocrity because we believe it is safe. Our warped sense of safety in the status quo (no matter how dysfunctional) comes from a strong fear of risk. More than that, some of us take the risks to be better and yet when we experience success, we frantically return to what we know. It happens when people who have lived in failing and bad situations finally experience real opportunities. They experience growth and health in their relationships and their lives and things begin to look up. After a few months of success, they sabotage good relationships, healthy living and good jobs. They return back to what they know and then wonder why they would sabotage what they knew to be a good thing?

The opening speech of Moses from the book of Deuteronomy offers insight into a people who are fearful of success. Moses recounts a story from their experience in the wilderness in which spies are sent into the promised land of Canaan to check out its suitability for their coming. The report comes back of a land “flowing with milk and honey” but filled with giants. The people then gripe and complain and then decide that they will not go in spite of the fact that God has (according to the text) “given it to them.”

In recounting the past, Moses is really teaching the people about their future. This will not be the only time when they have difficult moments. This will not be the only time that it LOOKS like the promises of God are at hand but just out of reach. This will not be the only time that all has gone according to plan and people get caught up on their fears. Moses is showing the people the foolishness of their fears and the paralysis it causes. They are willing to forget everything God has brought them through and stay on the outside of the promise of God, because of the fear that has consumed them. This is in spite of the fact that everything they have done has met with success.

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The same holds true for us. Moses is trying to teach us to be careful about how we appropriate and manifest our fears. We have a tendency to believe that when everything is going according to plan, Murphy’s Law will come into play. Instead of focusing on Murphy and his law, why not focus on the successes God has already allowed for you to experience? Why not focus on the ways God has already brought you through circumstances and situations that you could not control? Why not acknowledge that you are in a place you have never been before and God didn’t bring you this far simply to leave you?

Just because things are going well doesn’t mean that disaster is around the corner. Just because the Lord has been faithful in his promises toward you doesn’t mean that you have to be something you are not to ‘make it.’ Sometimes we use ‘promised land moments’ to focus on the ‘what ifs’ of our success. And instead of moving toward success in faith, we get stuck and paralyzed by our proximity to the possible. Moses’ instruction here is always a clear vision of truth in all of life’s situations, “The LORD your God, who goes before you, is the one who will fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your very eyes, and in the wilderness, where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as one carries a child, all the way that you traveled until you reached this place.”

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