Nothing Changes Without Courage
God wants to use your life to change the world, but I’ve learned that this will not happen without courage. The trouble is that there is a lot of confusion over just what it is.
The first thing we need to understand is that courage is always based on something.
I am bold in a fight because I believe that I am stronger than my opponent. I can stand up in front of strangers and speak because I am confident that the audience will appreciate what I have to say. So often, God stirs up our hearts and we feel compelled to act, but we don’t follow through. Why? It’s likely that our courage is not founded on what it should be.
We may measure the problem against our talents or resources and think, “This isn’t adding up. I don’t have what it takes.” Or maybe we focus on our struggles and think, “I’m too weak and too sinful. There’s no way God can use me.”
In both cases, the issue lies in the fact that we are looking to ourselves. We are no match for the problems in the world today. They are too big; we are too small. They are complex, and we lack wisdom.
Our boldness cannot depend on what we have or do not have. If it does, we will shrink back and do nothing. Instead, it must come from who God is.
For a time, our family lived on the edge of the red light district in Amsterdam. One day, rival gangs were fighting on the street just below our apartment building. A police officer showed up and without hesitation, charged into the middle of the brawl. Immediately, the two groups of armed gangsters froze, dropped their weapons, and took off down the street. It was a strange scene: one cop chasing down a mob. After pursuing them for a hundred feet or so, he suddenly turned around and ran back to his car, presumably to call for backup. It was as if it had finally dawned on him that he was sorely outnumbered!
This bizarre scene illustrates a critical principle. This officer so believed in the authority of the police force that he was willing to run alone into the middle of great danger. Similarly, understanding God’s authority over all things gives us the ability to respond to whatever He is calling us to.
Real courage comes from looking to God.
Billy Graham famously said, "Believers, look up - take courage. The angels are nearer than you think."
This simple statement reveals a lot about his understanding of courage. He recognized that the source of real courage is a profound awareness of God’s power and authority over all things. By looking to Him, we can overcome fear in all situations because He is greater than anything we will ever face.
As Jesus reminds us in John 16:33, “...in this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
But sometimes we can’t see or feel God, and need to act anyway. This is because, ultimately, courage is not an emotion.
Have you ever felt brave one second, only to lose heart the next? This happens when our courage is based on feelings - which are unstable, vulnerable, and don’t always reflect reality.
Have you met a person who is sad even though everything around them is going well? Or the person who is happy even when everything is falling apart? Emotions are unreliable and a poor reflection of what is true. They are part of the human experience and, though not inherently wrong, they shouldn’t be in charge.
Through many years of experience, I have learned that courage is a decision. Like anything important such as love, patience, or discipline, we must choose it. There are times when I feel like serving my wife, but most days I’d rather serve myself. For the sake of my marriage and out of a desire to obey God, I choose to ignore my feelings, and I decide to serve her whether I want to or not. In the same way, we must decide to act boldly.
I have been in full-time ministry for over ten years, and I have felt a lot of fear. Yet, I have learned that real courage is not the absence of fear, but rather a willingness to do what is right despite it.
Ephesians 2:10 makes it clear that God has prepared a plan for your life. He has uniquely equipped you, placed you in a particular context and, if you are willing, He will use you to make a difference.
But you’re going to need courage because without it, nothing changes.