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~ Don't Overlook Courage ~

The leaders will follow where the people go, especially if the people are courageous. We are a people set apart by our baptism in the Holy Spirit of Christ. We exchange our weakness for God’s strength; our sins for His grace; our ultimate destiny of death for eternal union that is no less than a marriage to our God.

We hear a lot of preaching about our “testimony,” about virtue and moral practices. Strikingly absent is the mention of courage. Yet courage is profiled in the thousands of martyrs, prophets, preachers, and ministers of the Gospel in word and deed. Courage is inseparable from the Christian experience.

“Be strong and courageous” is a frequent call of God in the Old Testament. Among those called to strength and courage were Joshua, Solomon, Hezekiah’s officers and the entire people of Israel. The call to courage is a response to the presence of fear. No one can deny the courage of the apostle Paul, but yet he wrote this: “For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn – conflicts on the outside, fears within” (2 Corinthians 7:5, NIV).

There are many sources of fear. Knowing them, however, doesn’t make the fear go away. Courage is easier to muster up than fear because there is just one source of courage. “David also said to Solomon his son, ‘Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you...’” (1 Chronicles 28:20). Moses proclaimed to the nation of Israel, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). Courage and strength are coupled with the presence of God.

This source of courage is most striking in the imagery of Jesus walking on water one windy night toward His disciples struggling in their boat. His call to them was familiar: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (Mark 6:50). Again, courage and the Divine Presence are summoned together.

The word “courage” Moses and Jesus used is the same, “chazaq,” meaning to “fasten upon and seize.” Fasten upon what or who? That Divine Presence, of course, the Source of courage in the throes of fear.

Note how the call to take courage is followed by a reminder of God’s presence. Courage requires a consciousness of His presence and commitment to us. Thus courage is intimately connected to prayer and contemplation. In prayerful quietness and contemplative stillness we can feel the loving and protective presence of our God. Neglecting to frequently enter the prayerful silence and communion in the Holy Spirit results in courage draining from our souls, giving reign to our fears.

God will also make us conscious of His presence through that of other people. Immediately after mentioning “conflicts on the outside, fears within,” Paul wrote, “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever” (2 Corinthians 7:6-7).

Paul was confronted by Christ in the flesh and very dramatically so, and knew Him intimately. He was taken into the third heaven to witness things about which he couldn't speak. It would seem of all people, Paul would not need to rely much on another human for consolation. Yet his “joy was greater than ever” upon hearing of the church’s longing and concern for him and at having his spiritual brother physically present. Christ is indeed present in individuals and in the church assembly. Our walking with another through challenge and tribulation as ambassadors of Christ provides courage and strength. In this way we are “faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). To be administers of the grace of God is a sacred calling indeed.

Our prayers are a calling to God and thus an invocation of courage. God exhorted through the prophet Jeremiah, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). The calling back of God and His provision of wondrous wisdom and knowledge is the well-spring of courage and strength. Echoing this, Jesus declared, “...you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name...But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict” (Luke 21:12b, 14-15). These are en-courage-ing words.

While suffering on the cross, Jesus quoted the first line of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The sin, despair, disunity from God, and pain of all humanity of all ages surged through Christ’s body and spirit. The opening question of Psalm 22 has been cried millions of times by millions of despairing people, exclaiming the greatest conscious or unconscious fear of humankind...to be abandoned by our Creator, our Father. Becoming sin for us, Christ felt what people feel and gave that fear and pain a voice that permeated the cosmos. In that state of feeling forsaken, all courage is lost. It is the pain of all pain, the pain of hopelessness, the pain of hell.

But that anguished question is a prayer, a calling to God. “Call to me and I will answer you...” The answer is in the first line of the following psalm, 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.” The first line of Psalm 121 is a question too: “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?” The last line of that psalm is, “The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

The “have courage” of which God speaks is not some personal force or power to be mustered up or pep-talked into action. Rather, it is the cultivation of the continuous consciousness in all events at all times that God is present with us and in us. Matthew ended his record of the Gospel with these words of Christ: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b). And surely, we can take courage in that.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
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