Monday, April 20, 2015

Being Strong and Courageous

If someone came alongside of you, put an arm around your shoulders and said, “Be strong and courageous,” how would you react? Would you say, “Thanks, that sounds like a great idea!” or would you reply, “Are you kidding me? Do you have any idea what I’m facing?”

Over the years a number of people have called me an encourager. I appreciate the compliment, even though I’m not sure it’s always true. The Bible teaches all followers of Christ are bestowed with spiritual gifts, and I do think a gift I have is encouragement. However, as is often the case, a strength can also become a weakness.

Most days I feel encouraged and optimistic, and try to pass that perspective along to others. But sometimes it seems discouragement lurks just outside my door, eager to pounce whenever the opportunity presents itself. I can be cruising along, enjoying my rose-colored glasses view of life, when something happens and BOOM, I’m hyper-discouraged.

Being strong and courageous requires more
than flexing well-toned muscles.
One definition of the word encourage is to “inspire with courage, spirit, or hope.” This makes sense, because when I’m being encouraged by someone else, it takes more than a “don’t worry, be happy” type of exhortation. It’s the act of imparting courage – because often that’s exactly what circumstances demand.

Amid the chaos of this thing we affectionately call “life,” at times it requires courage just to get out of bed and confront the day. Then, after turning on the morning news, we need courage to resist the temptation to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over our heads!

As I recently began reading the Old Testament book of Joshua, it was interesting to see things haven’t changed in the thousands of years since that narrative took place. The Israelites were about to realize the promise God had made 40 years earlier, entering the Promised Land and experiencing for the first time the “land of milk and honey.”

Many of the people of Israel imagined they’d soon be thinking, “We’ve got it made!” They would be leaning back in their recliners, sipping cool drinks, and proclaiming, “Ah, this is the life!” But God was saying, “Not so fast, my friends.”

Joshua had just succeeded Moses as the Israelites’ leader, and was about to command them to cross the Jordan River. But first God had a few choice words for Joshua, instructions he would need to follow more times than he could have guessed.

What did God say? “Be strong and courageous…. Be strong and very courageous…. Be strong and courageous.” Are you seeing a pattern here, that God had a point of emphasis He didn’t want Joshua – or the Israelites – to miss? This command appears three times within the first nine verses of the opening chapter of Joshua.

Why the repetition? Because the Israelites would certainly be entering a land overflowing with everything they needed, but it wouldn’t become theirs easily. They would encounter formidable opposition, other peoples not particularly thrilled with surrendering control of their good stuff.

So the Israelites and Joshua, as their leader, would definitely need to be strong and courageous. It might have been worthy of a picture postcard (if such things had existed then), but the Promised Land wasn’t a place for weak hearts – or weak knees. Interestingly, the people of Israel must have realized that as well. Upon affirming their commitment to follow Joshua, they also exhorted him to “be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:18).

Seems to me the Lord might be telling us the same thing. This was not a directive reserved only for itinerant Israelites. In His last days with the disciples, Jesus was telling them that very quickly “business as usual” for them would be over. His earthly ministry was about to end.

The disciples, clueless about the monumental events about to unfold, were distressed. Jesus told them to calm down: "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

Turmoil enveloping our world can seem daunting, even overwhelming. Looking to our national and international leaders, can we be blamed for occasionally wondering whether all they’re doing is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic? If ever there were a time that called for strength and courage, it’s now.

It’s the last portion of Jesus’ declaration that makes this more than Pollyanna thinking. After telling His followers to “take courage,” He added the assurance, “I have overcome the world.”

We therefore have a choice: We can accept what Jesus said as a promise and follow the exhortation of the apostle Paul, who wrote, Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). Or we can dismiss it, arguing, “Jesus, You don’t understand what we’re up against here.”

I’m thinking that being strong and courageous – in His strength – is the better option.

No comments: