As I serve in the Ministry department at Moore College, I regularly pause to think about and pray for the growth in character of our students and want to help develop this in our ministers. One character trait that keeps recurring is courage. Sure, our graduates must be exceptional Bible scholars and theologians to serve our congregations by navigating the uncharted waters that lie before us, but this must be matched with courage to act. For without courage, theological and biblical knowledge will be of no value. So, I pray for courage for both our leaders and their congregations.
Courage is not a common or desired attribute in our age. We are besotted by the call to authenticity and individualism. “Being truly you”, “Finding your own way” and “Finding my path to personal fulfilment” are seen as the undisputed characteristics to admire. Concepts like courage and perseverance don’t generate much excitement or respect in this type of world. However, the Bible thinks they are important; Moses, Joshua, those sent to spy out the promised land, the fighting men of Israel and the apostle Paul are held up as examples of courage.
What is courage?
As we look at courage in the Bible, we begin to get a picture of what it is by the words associated with it. The Bible speaks of its opposite – fear and dismay/discouragement (Josh 1:9). Words that describe courage include “strong”, “bold” and “confident”. Courage is universally used when the circumstances being faced are daunting and even overwhelming – to the point where it seems acceptable and even right to give up and stop pursuing the course you have set. But courage does not give in to such fears. It leads the person to act despite their fears and the action is often described as bravery.
Where does courage come from?
In our individualistic world, character traits are seen as something the person innately and internally possesses so that courage could be seen as part of who you are. This is not the Bible’s attitude. While the Bible heroes are described as courageous, they are also described as taking courage (Judg 20:22; 2 Sam 10:12; 2 Chr 15:8; Ezra 7:28; Ps 27:14, 31:24; Mk 15:43; Acts 23:11, 28:15). That means that courage is not something internal but something given to you – from outside of you.
While the Bible heroes are described as courageous, they are also described as taking courage
There are two sources from which these heroes took courage. The first is the Lord. They are called to remember that God controls all things, that he is on their side and will fight with and for them, and that his good outcome will prevail. The second well these heroes draw from is other people.
It is not surprising our word for this is shaped by the idea of courage – it is the word “encourage”. Through encouragement, one person gives to another the capacity to be brave (Deut 1:38, 1 Tim 5:1). And encouragement is communal (Col 4:8, 1 Th 4:18, 5:14). Encouragement, in these cases, is not about warm fuzzy feelings. It is modelling and reminding others of the truths about God and what he has called us to so that we may be strengthened to bravery. We all have the responsibility to encourage each other to persevere amid the difficulties of life.
What gets in the way of courage?
If courage is such a prized attribute of the Christian life, what is it that saps our courage? The answer seems obvious. It is the immensity of the problems before us. But dig a bit deeper for the reasons for diverting from your noble course. Most of these reasons are because of delusion.
The devil loves to use deceit and delusion. He deludes us into thinking he is more powerful than he is, and this saps our courage. We are deluded into thinking the outcome will be worse than it is, which saps our courage. We are deluded into thinking we will not recover from an event (as if our loving God does not permanently hold us in his everlasting arms).
We are deluded into thinking a different course is better than the one of obedience, when really, it’s just that we prefer comfort to toil. And because we are powerful, resource-rich people we are deluded into thinking our internal capability is all that we need and so we stop listening. We stop listening to God and to others.
An example of courage
In Matthew 8 a centurion, a powerful respected man, comes to Jesus asking for his servant to be healed. He is used to getting his own way: “I tell one, ‘Go’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come’, and he comes. I say to my servant ‘Do this’, and he does it” (v9). Such power and authority often leads a person to conceit and arrogance – to looking down upon others and dismissing them. It leads them to the delusion that they have the power to control things.
But this is not the case with the centurion. He says to Jesus, “Lord I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed” (v8). That takes real courage for a leader to admit their shortcomings and willingly submit to someone who is not in their hierarchical structure. It must have been humiliating for him to do this before the very people over whom he was to show authority. No wonder Jesus remarks, “Truly, I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (v10).
You see, courage pops up in the strangest of places and in the strangest of ways. But here is a man who is not frightened or dismayed at the loss of his reputation and relates to Jesus appropriately. That is courageous.
Courage is often given by God in times of need and not given when it is not needed. At those times we must be willing to stand beside and support those needing courage and beware of too quickly saying, “I understand” to relieve the pain when the choice is made not to stand, as those two words can inadvertently sap courage.
So, pray for courage. Pray for it for every Christian. Despite this age of individualism, courage is not an internal trait. It is given by God, and he calls his people to be courageous. Help each other to be courageous.
The Rev Archie Poulos is head of the department of Ministry and director of the Centre for Ministry Development at Moore College.