While we all may admire people who demonstrate courage, we may find that we fall pretty far short ourselves, but are some people just made to be more courageous than others?
Jo Saxton and Steph O’Brien talked on the Lead Stories Podcast about situations that require courage, likening them to standing outside someone’s door, knowing that you have to go in and tackle a hard or painful topic with them.
“Fear is like you’re standing outside the door, holding a 10-pound weight and turning in circles. So if you were wearing a Fitbit, it would be like, ‘You’re taking steps!’
“You’re not going anywhere. You’re just getting dizzy.
“Then when you step into the room — if you do, because you found the doorknob through your stupor — you’re going to be dizzy; you’re going to be disoriented because fear disorients you. It’s so tough because our brains feel like we’re moving, but we’re not getting anywhere.
“There are so many times that I can think of that there has been frenetic activity. Real talk — some of our business is this…. We are caught up in these things because it’s easier to do that than to face the vacuum, to enter the room.
“It’s easier to busy yourself with ‘Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!’ than to do the courageous thing.”
How do we so easily get sucked into the vortex of anxiety about something at work or a relationship gone afoul or a confrontation we need to have? How often do we not quite say what we wanted to or rehearsed beforehand? How many times have we backed out completely? Beating ourselves up afterward is even easier, but how do we make the changes necessary to be truly courageous?
Making the Courageous Choice
Perhaps we have shied away from confrontation or avoided people who have different beliefs than our own. Does it matter? Does God really care that much?
Pastor Carter Conlon, World Challenge board member and second senior pastor of Times Square Church, answered this question in a powerful sermon about facing hardship. “Paul said to Timothy, ‘You have to learn to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. You can’t back away just because things are tough.
“You can’t back away from trying to win your family because they curse you across the table. You can’t back away from trying to win people in your apartment building because they play loud and ungodly music day and night. I had a neighbor like that; I know exactly what that is about. Matter of fact, I spent a little too much time trying to pray him out of the building than to pray him into the kingdom of God, to my shame. Met him at the elevator one day only to find out he was really hungry for the things of God.
“You can’t back away from your neighborhood because you look out your window and there’s kids on every corner dealing drugs and violence seems to become the order of the day. You can’t back away because you have the words and the keys to everlasting life.
“You’ve been given strength to lay a path of hope before this generation. You can’t back away.”
Paul Coughlin, president of an anti-bullying organization for children called The Protectors, would’ve whole hearted agreed, particularly as he wrote, “Courage is the capacity that allows us to take risks, make sacrifices and to be, as Martin Luther King Jr. said regarding Christian faith, ‘dangerously unselfish.’ Courage helps us to withstand and grow through ongoing pain, suffering, isolation and related difficulty. Righteousness requires it, and the Bible commands us to be bold and courageous more than 25 times.
“God takes courage and its lack very seriously. This foundational virtue is so important that according to Jesus, some people actually walk away from faith because they don’t possess enough of courage.”
We must grow away from cowardice that preserves ourselves and hold God’s love closer that cares for others passionately and fearlessly. Perhaps the first steps of courage will seem very, very small. Take them anyway. Perhaps nothing important will seem to come out of that step, even when you struggle and succeed in taking it. Go forward anyway.
Perhaps you will fail and feel as if you’re starting over. Take that step anyway.
Setting Ourselves Up for Success
Most people turn to Joshua in God’s Word when they’re wanting to run from a tough situation. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9, NIV).
What unfortunately gets left out is the little fact that God had Joshua follow Moses for 40 years before he gave him this command.
Joshua was able to watch and mimic a man who possessed great humility, strength and courage that were the result of a unique relationship with God. He was trained, step by step, for decades in what courageous leadership, conflict resolution and endurance looked like before he stepped up to this plate.
When we look for examples of courage in the Bible, we have an unfortunate tendency to jump straight to Joshua as a mature leader rather than starting with Joshua as a young man being mentored by Moses.
Courage in the big moments almost always must be built up in dozens or even hundreds of small steps beforehand.
God knows this about us, which is why he had Moses take Joshua under his wing for so many years. It’s the same reason why Paul wrote to the churches, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27, ESV).
Training is uneven and is not necessarily the same as achieving. It involves setbacks and sometimes can feel like you’re not getting anywhere.
Even more importantly, training requires a trainer. Paul took time before he was executed to write compassionately to Timothy, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1-2).
He points Timothy to find his strength in Christ first, then instructs him to remember Paul’s example to him and finally orders him to surround himself with faithful men. This is how we begin our journey toward courageous living.
Taking the Slow Walk Uphill
Plans make for success. What does the next step to grow in courage look like? Is that you’ve been trusting God, but you’ve been trying to walk this way alone? Do you have a fantastic mentor, but you’re focused just on them and not on how God is going to form courage in you that may look different from how he’s done it in them?
What would the step after that look like? What are examples of others accomplishing those steps? How can you model your approach after theirs? How can you tailor it to yourself?
God did not make all people the same, so it’s unlikely that he’s made our path of growth the same as others’ routes.
Still, we can’t give up. God takes this seriously, and so should we.
David Wilkerson said, “Scripture commands us to stand up, be strong, and do battle: ‘Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong’ (1 Corinthians 16:13, NAS). Jesus has promised us, ‘I am with you always’ (Matthew 28:20).
“God is looking for believers today who will fight their own battles with faith and courage. He says to you, ‘Why do you fear? You can trust me to bring victory to your life. You are stronger than you think and, remember, I’m always with you.’”