Surrounded by Fear

One voice of fear says you can’t possibly achieve what you are called to do. Stay small.

The other voice of fear says you are not doing enough to realize your calling. Stay busy.

One is the voice of preemptive failure and the other is the voice of franticness.

The walk of faith is somehow the walk amidst these states of fear. “Somehow”—because it is God, not our own roadmap, who creates this path and reveals the way.

When God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, he reminded Moses what kind of god the people had seen him to be. This Lord delivers people “out of the house of bondage,” he said in Exodus 20:2. Moses’ people set out without knowing how this deliverance would proceed. Chased to the very shore of the Red Sea, they found the way to keep going when God pushed one torrent of water to one side and another torrent to the other side, creating their temporary passage.

To walk in the way of your calling—your art—involves more than just overcoming a fear and setting off. Instead, to walk this way is to be surrounded by fears, with different torrents looming out of different emotional directions. You proceed by faith, continuing to trust the improbable path that has been revealed between these held-back threats.


Here is what art looks like: A small child, a little girl, was inspired to create wings. All by herself, she gathered together construction paper, scissors, and scotch tape. The child is mine. I learned about her project and her vision only after she finished the work and came upstairs to show me, paper straps affixing paper flaps to both of her arms.

Whether these wings will fly is not the point. (They will not.) Whether they resemble your own mental picture of “wings” is not the point. (They almost certainly don’t.) Instead, the point is this: She was given a gift—a particular possibility just for her, delivered into her head and onto her heart from out of the treasure trove from which inspiration comes. In response to the gift, she...

Marshaled her limited abilities.

Took hold of the resources she had available.

Did the very best she could to make her vision real.

Displayed the finished work, lifting it up for her father to see.

If you have been given a similar gift, can you think of a way to proceed that makes more sense than this? For the vision that your heart and head have been carrying, can you think of any other set of responses that stand a better chance of ensuring that this gift lives as a joy instead of being carried as a weight?

How Do We Know What We Think We Know About the Ten Commandments?

The picture of a white-bearded Moses holding two inscribed stone tablets is such a clear and iconic image, it fails to convey just how slowly the Bible reveals its details about the Ten Commandments. When I was developing my book, I deliberately ignored all I thought I knew about the commandments, so I could freshly read the Bible’s account to see what I would learn from this alone. It took a lot of reading to assemble a picture as comprehensive as the iconic image. Here is the sequence by which the details of the Ten Commandments emerge:

Exodus 20:2-17
God speaks a set of commands to Moses that is divisible into ten topical areas. The chapter heading in your Bible probably says, “The Ten Commandments,” but scripture does not yet use this phrase.

Exodus 31:18
God gives Moses two stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. What is written on the tablets is not yet specified. There is no basis yet for assuming that the Exodus 20 content is written there, because God has been speaking for 11 more chapters since giving these words. (See also 32:16.)

Exodus 32:15
The tablets were inscribed on front and back. Most representations of the two tablets are inaccurate in this detail.

Exodus 32:19
The tablets are smashed in Moses’ reaction to his people’s idolatry. This loss of the tablets was not the punishment for idolatry—the punishment was 32:27.

Exodus 34:1
The Lord promises to write on the new tablets what was written on the previous ones.

Exodus 34:27
God commands Moses to write on the tablets. Is this God fulfilling the promise above through the hands of Moses?

Exodus 34:28
Here is the first time scripture uses the phrase, “The Ten Commandments.” However, Exodus 34:10 through 34:26 contain commands different from Exodus 20, and these commands could also be grouped into a set of ten. Thus, it is unclear at this point what “The Ten Commandments” consist of!

Deuteronomy 5:22
Here is the first clear statement that the Ten Commandments written on the tablets were the commands from Exodus 20.

Deuteronomy 5:30-31
The Israelites heard only the Ten Commandments, not the rest of God’s commands to Moses. (See also 9:10.)

Deuteronomy 6:10-12
Consider this description of the sort of blessed people who ought to follow the Ten Commandments. Does this description sound like any people you know?

Deuteronomy 10:2
The second set of tablets was the same as the first set (as promised in Exodus 34:1), but these new tablets were placed in an ark. To be held there for safekeeping until people were ready to live them?