Thursday, March 10, 2016

Be Courageous!

“Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous!  Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
-God speaking to Joshua, in Joshua 1:9

Could Joshua Really Do This?

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Moses had died, and now Joshua was beginning his leadership of God’s people.  But how do you follow Moses?  Moses was a legend in his own time, and his legacy as an all-time great leader would only grow through the years.  Joshua had to be at least a little afraid of failure, trying to stand in Moses’ shoes.

What’s more, how was Joshua supposed to lead the Israelites in taking the promised land?  Joshua had always been a good military leader (that’s how we first meet him in Exodus 17:9), but conquering the stronger, entrenched nations of Canaan?  There’s a reason the Israelites had been too scared to try about 40 years earlier. 

Yet God’s command to Joshua is given repeatedly in Deuteronomy chapter 31 and Joshua chapter 1: Be strong and courageous! 

How Do You Build Courage?

I have often thought about what a strange command this is.  If I am afraid, how can I just “be courageous?!”  How do I stop being afraid?  Fears are real, and oftentimes they really do hold us back.  It seems strange to just tell someone to stop being afraid and start being courageous.

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I have recently been reading a book called The Bully Pulpit, which in part tells the life story of Teddy Roosevelt, one of America’s most popular presidents.  So popular, in fact, that today his face is on Mount Rushmore, with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.  Teddy Roosevelt would come to be known and loved for his boundless energy and enthusiasm, a strength of will that would not be denied. 

But Teddy Roosevelt’s life did not begin with those qualities.  He was a sickly child, lacking strength and coordination, struggling with asthma and stomach problems.  His father saw this, and worried that Teddy was “becoming too familiar with illness, timidity, and frailty, too prone to retreat into invalidism” (p. 39).  So Teddy’s father sat him down and had a talk.  He praised Teddy for his mind, but told him that his mind would never go as far as it could without his body being stronger.  So he told Teddy that he must “make” his body, however much effort it took.

Now, parents give good advice to their children all the time, and I would guess that most of the time it falls on deaf ears.  Or at least it isn’t picked up the first time.  But Teddy allowed his father’s challenge to echo in his life for years to come.  He wanted to make his body strong, no matter the difficulty, through years of exercise and effort. 

But then Teddy took it one step further, which is where I think we can learn something about applying God’s command to Joshua.  Teddy wanted to get rid of his “timid” nature, so he not only wanted to strengthen his body, he also wanted to strengthen his courage. 

Notice how the book described his process:

“There were all kinds of things of which I was afraid at first,” [Teddy Roosevelt] acknowledged, “but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.”  As a childhood friend observed, “by constantly forcing himself to do the difficult or even dangerous thing,” he was able to cultivate courage as “a matter of habit, in the sense of repeated effort and repeated exercise of will-power.”  (The Bully Pulpit, page 40)

That’s amazing to me: he began intentionally doing things even though they scared him, knowing that it would eventually produce courage.  And so Teddy will learn to ride horses, whether it scares him or not.  He will learn to swim, whether it scares him or not.  He will go talk to the girl, whether he is scared or not.  Because he wants to have courage, he forces himself to fight through fear.  Eventually, he will run for President, refuse to back down from his critics, and impact the world, because courage will become part of his DNA.

Cultivating Courage As a Habit

I guess that’s the only way to do it, isn’t it? 

I’m sure you and I have plenty of fears, and some of them are spiritual fears that hold us back from serving God.  I’m afraid to teach a class, it might not go perfectly.  I’m afraid to invite someone to church, they might treat me differently.  I’m afraid to ask someone to pray for me to be stronger, they might judge me.  I’m afraid to pray before my meal in public, someone might think I’m strange.  On and on we go, letting fears tell us why we shouldn’t do what we know would make us more faithful and effective in our walk with God. 

Some people live their entire lives that way. 

“Be strong and courageous!”  How?  Let us act as if we are not afraid, force ourselves to do the difficult thing, and like Roosevelt, “cultivate courage as a matter of habit.” 

Yes, the first time we step out in greater faith we often must grab ourselves by the back of the neck and make ourselves do it.  But I’m going to do it because (1) It’s God’s word, so I know it’s the right thing to do., and (2) I know God will be with me, because it’s His idea not mine (see Joshua 1:9, above, “God is with you wherever you go”). 

So how can I ‘have courage’ and not be afraid?  Fear won’t disappear by itself.  We must begin the process of cultivating spiritual courage a habit.  Whatever it takes, we are not going to settle for living our lives in fear.  We are going to be people who trust God is with us, and launch out to do the things God wants, even if they scare us the first few times. 

What steps of spiritual courage do you need to take this week?  It starts by saying “I trust, and I will.” 

God is with you wherever you go - be strong and courageous!

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