As a public speaker and pastor, one of the most common questions I get after delivering a message is, “How do you do that?” It’s usually followed by another statement such as, “I could never get up in front of people and give a speech.” Generally, my response points to the facts that I didn’t start out being able to, I still experience nerves, and several opportunities to practice over the years have allowed me to hone my skill – all of which are true. However, I realize life has a way of being unpredictable, and we can never completely eliminate the possibility of something happening that wasn’t planned. This uncertainty is what people are really afraid of: knowing that sometimes you can prepare for a moment, but that moment has other ideas. In other words, the worst case scenario may become a reality.
I’m using speaking in large groups as an example, but this line of thinking surfaces in nearly every aspect of our life in which we are required to go through with something we don’t think we can do. The fear is steeped in one of two areas: a personal experience of failure in the past, or a perceived negative outcome. I’m primarily going to focus on the latter, but if you’ve experienced the first, I have one simple question – did you learn from that experience? Because I already know the answer is yes, and so we can very quickly put to rest that bad experiences are enough to keep us from trying again. A simple five-minute reflection on our past will show us how persevering through difficult times or picking ourselves up after falling down have contributed to building character and shaping us into who we are today.
That same reflection will also reveal that many of those experiences that shaped us were actually defining moments: concentrated periods of time that challenged us deeply, yet we made it through to the other side. Even if you’ve had a negative experience in the past, there are many more defining moments in your future that need to be navigated through, instead of paralyzed by. It may sound funny to state the obvious, but what lies ahead hasn’t taken place yet. Therefore, most of what we actually fear are things that may not even happen – the what if’s. I’ve gone through so many of these times that I’m confident in saying that what we believe may happen, rarely does. Because of this, I feel compelled to share ways to overcome fear and grab hold of defining moments instead of run from them.
First let me share a very recent experience to give you an example of what I’m talking about. As some of you may already know, a cousin of mine passed suddenly a few weeks ago. This event has shaken our family, but God’s hand throughout this time has been extremely evident. There are many testimonies that have already surfaced surrounding this event that I’m sure I will share in the future. During the time my cousin’s immediate family began to make memorial preparations, I had made up in my mind that I would be willing to do whatever they needed. As the details were being discussed, they felt I would be the right person to give the eulogy, and I immediately agreed. I knew it would be difficult, but I also knew it was an incredible way to be able to honor my cousin and the man of God that he was. The date and moment were set, but now it was a matter of preparing and walking through it. Perhaps you’ve never been through this exact scenario, but I’m certain everyone’s life is full of equally important moments that must be faced.
Before I continue with sharing how my moment unfolded, I’d like to examine the story of Esther in the Bible that will begin to explain what we need to do in preparation when we fear something in our future. Esther found herself thrust into the midst of a twisted plot to eradicate the Jewish people from the land of King Xerxes. Not knowing she was a Jew herself, the king had chosen Ester as a replacement after he became upset with his own queen. This process took many months, but he found favor with Esther above all the other candidates that had been presented to him.
The reason the edict was given to destroy the Jewish people in the first place was all the result of one man, Haman. Haman was a selfish man, and set this whole thing in motion simply because he was upset that Esther’s cousin, a known Jew named Mordecai, would not bow down to him. Upon reading the edict, Mordecai knew the only way the king would reverse the command was to have Queen Esther approach the king to ask him personally. There were two problems: the king didn’t know she was a Jew, and the law stated that if anyone, including the queen, approached the king without being summoned first, they would be put to death. The only exception was if the king extended his golden scepter toward them in order to spare their life. Queen Esther feared this proposition, but her cousin had convinced her that not even she was safe. At this point, Esther found herself facing a defining moment. Here is what she ordered done in preparation:
“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16
If you continue reading the account of Esther you’ll find that she boldly went before the king and his scepter was extended to her, granting her mercy. Once her life was spared, she went on with her plan to honor the king at two separate banquets. At the second, she not only revealed her nationality, but requested that Xerxes spare her people, which he did. The story includes many more twists and turns, and the fortune and favor that Esther received as a result of standing firm in her defining moment were unprecedented.
As I walked off the stage at my cousin’s memorial, I understood that what I had done was good. That’s the funny thing about defining moments; no two responses to them are the same. The end result can be a series of emotions, all of which are normal depending on what you’ve done. Esther may have been grateful, or perhaps she even broke down as a result of extreme relief. We simply don’t know because the Bible doesn’t record her reaction. All we catch is a glimpse of her determination to see her people set free.
In my case, the grief I was feeling because of the loss of my cousin didn’t dissipate. In fact, my breaking point was after I returned to my seat and realized I could now let my emotions have their way. I wasn’t happy or proud of myself; I just knew I had done my part to prepare for the moment, and now that moment had passed, leaving me to reflect on how it had changed me. Queen Esther was never promised a happy and joyous ending, and neither are we. That’s why she very poignantly stated, “And if I perish, I perish.”
So what are some ways to prepare for a moment you know will be difficult? The following are six practical lessons, I’ve not only learned from God’s word, but also from personal experience. As I go through them, see which one’s you can pick out from the story of Esther.
First, if what you are doing or preparing to say is done from the heart, you can’t go wrong and people will respond positively. People can smell fake a mile away. They appreciate and have extra grace for something that may not have been done perfectly, but was genuine. How many times have you seen a crowd of people give a standing ovation for a rough performance done against all odds with courage? Those are the videos that go viral!
Next, be sure to incorporate your own experience or skill set. I’ve found it extremely helpful to start with doing or saying something you are familiar with. This tactic can elicit a “muscle memory” response leading to becoming more relaxed and at ease. If you do happen to be giving a presentation or speaking in front of people, begin with a personal story that relates to your topic. This also allows more of your personality to shine through, which makes people easily overlook any minor mishaps that may take place.
Invite others to help. It should be plainly obvious, but it’s often difficult for people to ask for help. This is one area that pride can certainly go before the fall (Proverbs 16:18), and it is extremely beneficial to draw from someone else’s expertise when you can. It is a wise approach to seek out a mentor and begin to learn from and build upon other people’s success. The majority of them are very willing and able to give advice and even walk beside you during your moment.
Visualize success. Whether it’s training for a race or preparing for my next talk, I can’t tell you how many times I picture myself in the final moment, finishing exactly like I want to. I will run through every second within the moments, only entertaining the ones that show me succeeding. Anything else gives way to fear, which brings a crippling effect. Let’s also not mistake butterflies and nerves for fear. I still experience these nearly every time I visualize what I’m about to do, and during the time leading up to my moment. I’m convinced this is a normal response for many people and is not an indicator that you’re not prepared.
Although I believe there is a Biblical premise behind each of the first four tips, the next two are obviously spiritual in nature. The next one is to saturate the upcoming moment in prayer. From the time you find out about what you will be facing, begin to pray. Don’t stop there either; tell others and get them praying too. As you move forward and tackle big life issues that God is drawing you into, especially those that will have a positive influence on your character, Satan will do what he can to keep you repressed. God is more than willing to release heavenly hosts or even intervene Himself, to encourage you and give you strength in your moment. If you happen to be near me right before any speaking engagement, you’ll most certainly hear a string of prayers under my breath as I make my way to the stage.
Finally, because all the preparation in the world will never account for things beyond our control, rest in the fact that God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). This means that no matter the outcome, there is always a way to move forward because we are promised that we are more than conquerors through Christ (Romans 8:37). The fact that I’m still sitting here today, and you are too, is proof that the difficult moments we’ve endured have not defeated us.
I know that most things we face are not a matter of life or death, but for some they are. There are people right now who are approaching a moment that may literally take their life. My lessons for preparation are exactly the same, and this is actually where a life lived for Christ shines the brightest, because even if your moment takes your last breath here on earth, your next will be in the presence of our Savior. In my opinion, nothing can be more defining about who you are than that.