Courage is a virtue present in our daily experiences but often overlooked. People make decisions everyday that depend on them having to draw from this resource — business ventures, making the marriage vows, moving into a new city, a new job, a new school. All these take some guts. What is rare, perhaps, is that act of bravery exhibited in life-threatening situations. The high level of the nature of the risk associated with the act distinguishes the act and the actors as extraordinary. This is what ordinarily separates the brave from the cowardly; how we respond when the stakes are high.
Courage is not a denial of the presence of fear. Rather it is defiance of fear. In Christian theology fear is acknowledged as a phenomenon that is a consequence of human imperfection. The violation of God’s boundaries opened human beings up to fear and shame. Remember the words of Adam as he responded to God’s calling out in the garden, “Adam, where are you?” He answered and said: “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10). From then on fear became a primary emotion in human relationships.
The presence of God in us however makes a difference. God is love and perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Therefore boldness is not a refutation of the fear phenomenon. It is defiance of the very nature of fear and contempt of its very source, be it of satanic or human derivation. This boldness does not hinge on self. It leans on God who is greater than fear itself or the sources of it. That is why the author Dorothy Bernard said “courage is fear that has said its prayers.” Courage is dependent on God.
Courage is a decision to believe God. It is a conviction that we continue to build, a confidence in His person, a steadfast faith in what He has said, and a certainty that He will perform of His plan concerning us, our families, communities and nations. “For I know the plans I have for you”, says the Lord “plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 28:11).
Courage is what moves us to participate in God’s plans for us and our children, saying “thy will be done, Lord.” Courage is what impels us to compel ourselves in the resolve to step out of the fear detention in order to possess the God dream for ourselves and to apprehend the future for posterity. Corra Harris once said, “The bravest thing you can do when you are not brave is to profess courage and act accordingly.” Courage believes.
For the Christian, courage is commanded. In numerous places God commands various ones to be courageous, and assures them of His abiding presence. Likewise, His servants instruct His people at critical times to be steadfast in their stance in Him, unmoved by fear of people or circumstances. I will cite one such occasion.
The setting is the highlands of Kadesh-Barnea. The land of promise lies not far beyond. The occasion is leadership transition. Yes, leadership transition. As is normal practice for any leader as they exit office, Moses addresses the nation. He tells them that his time is up, and his task is done. He is handing over to one that God has chosen, one whom he has had an opportunity to mentor as well. This one, Joshua by name, would take over and complete the assignment. Oh, what a leader!
Moses does not go into convulsions about handing over the baton. So what does he say to the people of critical importance? He commands them saying, “Be strong and be of good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them (enemies)” (Deuteronomy 31:6). Why is he commanding courage? The land of promise had inhabitants. The possibility of the nation being intimidated from entry into the land of promise by these nations was very real. So they needed to be encouraged not to be timid. Moses, like his God, commanded courage.
Moses turns to Joshua, the successor he has groomed. With the cool of a mature and Godly leader, he instructs him also, “Be strong and take heart: for you are to go with this people into the land which the Lord, by his oath to their fathers, has given them; by your help they will take it for their heritage” (Deut 31:7). He is courteous to admonish him to be wary of the pitfall of fear. The downside of fear is the shift in confidence. Fear is indicative of the fall-back to trusting in human abilities than in God.
Fear puts to doubt the integrity of God, His capability to deliver on promise. Essentially Moses emphasizes to Joshua to maintain his trust in God.
It is notable that setting in motion this transition was in itself an act of great courage on the part of Moses. In this context courage can also be understood as the ability to envision a future of hope and prosperity for others without you in the picture. I like the way that Mignon McLaughlin captures this idea: “The only courage that matters is the kind that gets you from one moment to the next.” In this case, Moses was able to usher Joshua and the whole nation into their next moment or season without pain. What a courageous leader! It remains to be seen how many such leaders will emerge in our time.
Courage is a choice made to step out of an enforced fear coral-reef with the full knowledge that the coastguard is watching. At best you swim to liberty. At worst you drown or the bullet ensures your exit from the earth. Such courage defies logic. It is a step of faith that says “I know that my Savior is watching over me and shall carry me under His wings. Should He not, my body may perish. However, the idea of liberty is indestructible.”
What is the incentive for bravery? We are motivated by the knowledge that outside of the cage of fear awaits a world unexplored, pregnant with every conceivable possibility and more. I speak not here of heaven which will be our reality when we exit the earth. I speak here of that which is our inheritance and that of our children and their children in the here and now, if the Lord tarries. I speak of that privilege which the devil through willing henchmen is intent on keeping every child of God everywhere in the world from accessing and enjoying.
Outside the confines of fear awaits one who Paul extols in a doxology, a song of praise: “Now to God, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we think or imagine, through His mighty power at work in us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20, 21). God waits to fulfill every promise He has made. All we need to do is step up by faith, not by might, and take a stance with the knowledge that “life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage” (Anais Nin in The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol 3, 1939-1933).
Finally, when we do take a courageous stance, others will be encouraged to follow suit. Billy Graham once said that “courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” You can dare stand and hold back the tide of fear. Courage is honourable.