Our world is scared, and increasingly so. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US today according to the National Institute of Mental Health affecting one third of the North American population, with a staggering 37% and 50% increase in occurrence among children (ages 4-10 and 11—19) over the last decade. It is estimated that anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, nearly one third of the country’s total mental health bill.
But the cost of anxiety is not limited to medical bills. The fear of terrorism has caused an arming 114 percent increase in the US defense budget in the last 13 years, which would total about $586.5 billion in 2016 (by far the greatest in the world). In addition the global security technology and services market which is expected to total $86 billion this year.
Our world is a scary place. Our society is characterized by a sense of anxiety and vulnerability, daily fueled by images of terror and rumors of impending disaster. But we are not the first generation passing through these shadows of uncertainty, uproars and unrests. Like the generations before us we need to overcome the urge to panic.
This is a call to courage. It’s not the time to be anxious, to be intimidated, to succumb to terror. As we see the climate is changing, the shadows drawing longer, we need to look back and find courage from the accounts of others that have navigated similar moments in history. During Nero’s reign Paul urged the anxious, persecuted believers to look into the the Scriptures for “learning… encouragement… comfort… [and] hope” (Romans 15:4). And what examples of courage does the Scripture not have!
Abraham left all he knew for promise from God in his spirit. Later he pursued five kings with their armies to save his nephew Lot from slavery. Noah, a preacher of righteousness had courage to confront a perverse generation and build the ark amidst their mockery for 120 years. Young David stood up to Goliath the giant. Joshua and Caleb were not intimidated by the giants in walled cities and trained armies that occupied their Promised Land, patiently waited forty years and in their old age lead the nation to possess this land. Daniel walked into a den of lions, and his three friends into the fiery oven because they would refused to bow to another god. He did falter to fear but told Darius straight-up “God found you too light!” Moses confronted the terrifying Pharaoh demanding release of all his slaves, and then led the entire nation into. Queen Ester risked her life when she approached the Persian king to save her generation from annihilation. Nehemiah did the same to rebuild the holy city. Gideon and his small army walked unarmed into a Midianite camp with 15’000 soldiers. Samson single-handedly took on 1’000 Philistine warriors. Jehoshaphat led the whole nation into the dessert against three massive armies. Elisha was besieged by the entire Syrian army but walked right up to them and led them into siege. Elijah challenged all the Baal prophets to a public showdown asking “Who is the real God?!” Jonah walked into the most violent city of his day as a foreigner, demanding repentance and submission to his God. Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Malachi, Amos, Hosea, Nathan and John the Baptist willingly chose a life of mockery, poverty and pain as they confronted kings, rebuked hypocrisy, and exposed the injustice of the day.
Jesus, son of God, left the comfort of heaven, the honor of the throne, the worship of the angels and the power of divinity to enter a life of pain, poverty and persecution – ultimately to suffer brutally and die shamefully. All because “God so loved the world.” And his courage set the pattern for his followers, as we see in the first beatings of Peter and John, the first martyr Stephen, the hardships of the Apostle Paul history of the church throughout the ages.
How do we grow in courage?
In Joshua 1:1-9 we see the Lord giving a pep-talk to the new leader called to lead the Hebrews to occupy their land inhabited by Giants in secure cities. We learn much from this instruction about how to “take heart” when times are tough.[i]
Courage must rise in the face of fear. There is no need for courage when everything is plain sailing, when all is as it should be. But in the threat of pain of discomfort, loss or death, when the natural inclination is to hide or run away, that’s the que to take heart! The Lord told Joshua to be courageous because the situation was terrifying. A sense of fear must trigger the response to courage.
Courage has a cause. When there is no need, no urgency, no mandate, there is no need for courage. When one puts his hand into a lit furnace for no reason he is rightly labelled a fool. But a woman who runs into a burning house to save her daughter is a hero. Joshua had to be courageous to fulfill his mandate. Bravery is called upon when the fight is worth it. Courage is needed to uphold the righteous purposes of God.
Courage is gained in the knowledge of God. Joshua was told to not forget “The Book of the Law” which Moses left Israel. Today we have it as the first five books in our Bible. Why would that help Joshua to grow in courage? Because it records – from Creation to Exodus – the accounts of God’s wisdom, power and loving faithfulness with his people. Joshua would be “encouraged” every time he reads how faithfully and powerfully God had preserved and delivered his people in desperate times past. Thus courage is gained as we become convinced and get reminded of God’s power and might – that truly “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Courage grows as we learn from these accounts who God is: that God is good, righteous, faithful and merciful. This revelation of God’s power and character is preserved in Scripture as records of his interaction and decrees, so we get to know God and are encouraged as we read these accounts of divine intervention (Romans 15:4). Indeed, “but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.” (Daniel 11:32)
Courage is gained in the assurance of God’s presence. The Lord encouraged Joshua with the promises of his personal presence. More specifically “as I was with Moses” – thus Joshua was promised the same intimacy with the Lord, the same faithfulness in preservation and the same powerful interventions which Moses experienced as he lead these people. What an encouraging promise! The Lord made that same promise of companionship his ascension (Matthew 28:20), and that companionship we experience in the empowering presence of His indwelling Spirit (Romans 8:11). We grow in courage as we grow in revelation of the Lord’s personal presence, declaring with David “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6)
Courage is infectious. The Lord encouraged Joshua. Before these words of encouragement Joshua was intimidated and anxious. But the words of encouragement put the necessary strength into his heart to go on and fulfill his mission. That’s why we are repeatedly called to “encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) – literally “put courage and strength into the heart of another”. We get encouraged through deliberate effort to be built up, but also indirectly as we see others or hear their stories as they continue courageously amidst hardship, thinking “If another can do it, so can I.” Courage is infectious, as we can see in this video
Read here how to Encourage One Another (https://walklikejesus.net/2015/09/10/encourage-one-another/)
Courage is a choice. The Lord’s repeated commands of courage implies a choice to succumb to fear and intimidation or to take heart and continue with his commission. We either choose to allow fear to dictate our actions, or we choose to allow courage to reign in our hearts. So Jesus told his disciples – as he is saying to us today “Let not your heart be troubled…believe in me” because “In the world you will have trouble. But TAKE HEART; I have overcome the world.” (John 14:1; 16:33) These exhortations from the Lord demand a response, a resolve to not allow fearful situations to “trouble your heart” and dictate your actions. So when there’s a choice to fight or flight, choose to fight and persevere.
Add courage to your faith
Life in the kingdom of God is not for the faint-hearted – it never was, it never will be. The kingdom suffers violence” said Jesus (Matthew 11:12). Our world is unfriendly and uncertain. But so it was in the days of Jesus and the Apostles. Their society was oppressed by the Roman army and heavily taxed by Caesar, plagued by perpetual civil unrest and terrorism, divided by extreme classism. For that reason Peter exhorted the church to “add to your faith COURAGE“ (2 Peter 1:5). Mere saving faith does not make you fit or fruitful to fulfill your mandate. Our mandate is clear: peacemakers, Kingdom-bringers, heralds of the Good News.
So “don’t be anxious about tomorrow…” (Matt 6:34), don’t live a life pacified by fear or paralyzed by what can go wrong. Fear steals your joy and taps your strength. Reflect on this truth: if God is for us, who can be against us!? Then look up, shape up, sign up and step up. TAKE HEART, finish the job, then we can go Home.
[i] Note the incredible similarity in form of the appeals to courage to complete the divine mandate with assurance of the Lord’s power and presence in the following texts: Solomon’s charge to build the temple (1 Chronicles 28:20), Joshua’s command for conquest (Joshua 1:1-9), the disciple’s commission (Matthew 28:18-20), the angel’s warning about Paul’s shipwreck and appointment with Cesar (Acts 27:24-26) and the Corinthian’s church charge to not fear death but continue in their faith (1 Corinthians 15:57-8).