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Erwin McManus: You Need to Tell Death and Fear to Get Behind You

Erwin McManus

While other talks at the 2018 Global Leadership Summit will go on the record for the most practical, the most poignant or the most leadership-y, Erwin McManus’ speech during Session Six has got to be the best sermon of the gathering. Like so many good sermons, McManus mixed personal story, passion, Scripture (and volume!) to deliver his main point: Too many of us live in constant fear of death, thus robbing ourselves of the ability to really live up to our potential.

“We’re all afraid that there is greatness inside us that will never be accessed,” McManus said as he began his stirring speech. In other words, we are all struggling to pull out of the “momentum of mediocrity” that drives us to fit in and avoid things we fear like pain or death.

McManus referred to a somewhat obscure story in 2 Kings about King Jehoash. We don’t get much detail about this king, but we read a story where he went to the prophet Elisha during a time of distress and war in Israel. Seeing victory over the enemy, Elisha instructed Jehoash to strike the ground with an arrow. After striking the ground three times, Jehoash is reprimanded by Elisha: “You should have struck the ground five or six times!” he exclaimed. “Then you would have beaten Aram until it was entirely destroyed. Now you will be victorious only three times.”

What is probably keeping this story out of the sermon topics of many a pastor is its ambiguous meaning. Why didn’t Elisha tell Jehoash from the beginning to strike the ground more? What does this story even mean? McManus relates it to the problem of mediocrity we face in our lives. We all know, especially Christians, that we need to strive to achieve great things and live up to the potential that God has built into us. But we allow some things to just be good enough. We, like Jehoash, strike until it is “enough.” Nothing more. We don’t want to rock the boat.

The Fear of Death

All of us, McManus argues, will live with a fear of death until we confront it. Several years ago McManus was diagnosed with cancer. As he was wrapping his mind around the diagnosis and what it would mean for the future, he realized that many people live as if they are saving their best for the next life. Why do we do this, McManus wonders, if all we have is this life?

He decided that living as if you are dying is not a bad way to live. It causes you to take risks you normally wouldn’t because you don’t know if you’ll have the chance to take those risks again.

Recalling another life lesson from early in his ministry, McManus said he had decided he wanted to minister in the roughest neighborhoods of Los Angeles and drove into one of them one day. He remembers sitting in his car, paralyzed by fear and unable to get out of the car. Recalling the verse “to live is Christ and to die is gain,” he compelled himself to get out of the car.

“I know too many people who say they have faith but are absolutely paralyzed by fear,” McManus laments.

The Fear of Pain

After having surgery to remove cancer in his body, McManus recalls waking up in the hospital after the six-hour procedure around midnight. He had holes in his stomach and was hooked up to a catheter. Still, he wanted to get up and walk around. He woke his wife up and told her his intentions. She urged him not to, and called the nurse who also urged him not to get up.

When he refused both of their suggestions, the nurse told him to at least take some pain medication before he tried it. Again, McManus refused. He was insistent that if he could work through this present pain, which would likely be the worst pain he would experience on his road to recovery, then he would be able to work through all of it.

The point? We can’t allow pain (more importantly—the fear of pain) to keep us from walking. “If Jesus communicates anything to us, it’s that pain is not the end of the story,” McManus reasons. Jesus endured the cross for us, not so that we could escape pain, but to show us how to get through the pain. He modeled what we are to do.

“Your freedom is on the other side of your fears,” McManus says, and “your greatness is on the other side of your pain.” For this reason, McManus argues we must confront our fears and lean into our pain to push through to freedom and greatness.

On the other side of these barriers, we will be living the lives God intended for us. The lives not defined by mediocrity, but defined by the things God built into us when he created us.

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