The English word “courage” comes from the Latin word “cor,” which means “heart.” Do you have the heart to obey? If you do, you have courage. Courage is not the absence of fear; rather, courage is doing the will of God even when you’re trembling. Your desire to obey is stronger than internal emotions. Some people are willing to disobey God because of fear rising within. Their hearts are divided. But the heart of the obedient isn’t; it is set on obeying God.
I once had a friend who said to me, “I’ve come to the place where if I know it is God’s will, I will do it, regardless.” Are you courageous in that sense? Will you fold under intimidation? Or have you determined that you will obey your Commander in Chief no matter what? When Ezra rebuked the Israelites for intermarriage and told them to separate from foreign wives, the leaders said, “Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it” (Ezra 10:4). It took great courage for Ezra to do what he had to do, but they put courage into him with their exhortation. Courage meant to “do it.” When Asa heard the encouraging words of the prophet Azariah, “he took courage. He removed the detestable idols from the whole land…” (2 Chr. 15:8). Joshua was exhorted to courage, first by Moses (Deut. 31:6), then by the Lord (Joshua 1:6,9), and then by the people (1:18). It was in the context of obedience, of being careful to obey all the law.
David was speaking to his son Solomon as he passed the baton: “Then you will have success if you are careful to observe the decrees and laws that the Lord gave Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged” (I Chr. 22:13). He also told him, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work” (28:20). Courage is related to obedience, to doing what we are supposed to do. It is more than guts. Some brave people are disobedient, like David’s captain Joab. Courage in the Scripture is connected with the will of God.
I want to encourage your hearts with this word. In other words, I want to put courage into you. Discouragement is dangerous, because it takes courage from us, the will to obey. The ten spies discouraged the people with their report, and they never made it into the land. It is especially important for leaders to have courage; in fact, it is impossible to lead without it. When Hezekiah was being attacked by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, he built his defense and strengthened his people. He “encouraged them with these words: ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him’” (2 Chr. 32:6,7). True leaders put courage in the hearts of those who follow them. Winston Churchill put courage in the heart of England during World War II, and it was his and their finest moment. If you as a leader are discouraged, it will be hard for you to lead and still more difficult to obey, because discouragement literally means “without courage.” Discouraging words can rob us of courage. If we are dis-couraged, we cannot en-courage. The chronically discouraged may then say, “Well, I guess I can’t lead.” But those with a heart to obey will say, “Encourage me, God, so I can lead as I am called to.”
Courage is often a missing ingredient in pastoral leadership. A kind heart is not necessarily a courageous one. To be able to comfort but not to challenge shows lack of courage. To comfort when you need to challenge is not leadership. A coach who cannot correct is not a coach. Conflict proves the leader. God gives shepherds both a rod and a staff.
Why is it so essential for leaders to walk in courage? Because…
.Jesus made it an essential ingredient for leadership (Matt. 20:22,23).
.Without courage leaders are facilitators, not leaders.
.Some issues are non-negotiable, and the failure to lead turns black and white into shades of gray, and we ultimately lose our prophetic voice.
.Compromise removes the blessing of God from our lives.
.Our lives speak louder than our lips. Our strongest sermon is our example. People won’t hear our fine messages if we lack integrity of heart. And courage is not an issue of personality—it is one of obedience. Temperament is no excuse for the lack of boldness. .We must raise the bar when society is lowering it. Tolerance has become a virtue.
A pastor friend who held a policy of not marrying people who were living together did not face opposition until it was tested by long-standing members in his congregation. He was surprised how many people caved in under the pressure of the moment, but he didn’t. It took courage—and he had it!
We had a strong couple in our congregation who were moving toward marriage. When I asked them about physical relationships, they confessed to me that they had gone over the line. We prayed together, and I urged abstinence based on the Word of God. When they confessed at the next appointment that they were still struggling, I gave them some motivation. I said that I would not marry them if it happened again, even if the invitations were in the mail. My sadness as a pastor was that many couples were willing to violate the Scripture for personal preference. And pastors are too often willing to “forgive.” Forgiveness is not the same as excusing wrong. It is releasing from guilt in order to bring power over sin, not freedom to sin. Courage is also needed to pastor prophetic types, and renewal-based pastors often back off from the spiritually intense ones, like prophetic people and intercessors.
Why do leaders sometimes fail to walk in courage?
.They confuse peace at any price with truth at any cost. Truth is a higher priority than peace. We are to have peace insofar as it depends upon us, but sometimes the sword is required. If a split is inevitable, courageous leaders do not avoid it.
.Expediency often wins over integrity. Principles are violated under the pressure of the moment.
.They fear people more than God.
.They make a god out of peripheral issues, like financial security.
.They have unfinished business with their past.
.They are living in sin, and it robs them of boldness.
.They muddle grace and truth. Grace is the power God gives us to be what we are called to be and to do what we are called to do. Grace does not let us off the hook, but that is what some people think it is. Grace not only forgives—it empowers.
.It was not modeled for them, nor was it emphasized in their training.
The ultimate threat is to our life. Paul determined that he could not be threatened by death. He considered his life worth nothing to himself, “if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me” (Acts 20:24). In other words, service overrides survival. You can’t buy off a leader like that. Actually, the threat to our spiritual lives ranks higher than a threat to our physical lives. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). The fear of God must override every other fear. (Longer than normal. Hope it’s worth it.)
Courage has a relational component. That is why we have the power to encourage or discourage. Joshua and Caleb encouraged each other in their bold testimony of the land, although they were disregarded. Joseph of Arimathea must have been encouraged by the willingness of Nicodemus to help him care for Christ’s body. He literally put courage into Joseph’s heart. Jonathan’s armor-bearer put courage into him by saying, “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul” (I Sa. 14:7). And Jonathan put courage into David, anointed by Samuel but fleeing from a mad king. Barnabas put courage into young Saul after he had returned to Tarsus, perhaps defeated.
Courage in the New Testament is often related to speech. St. Paul asked for prayer “that I may open my mouth boldly” (Eph. 6:19). When the religious leaders saw “the courage of Peter and John,” it was what was heard that demonstrated their courage (Acts 4:13). Later, the disciples had a prayer meeting. They said, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness” (Acts 4:29). So courage starts in the heart, but it impacts the way we live and speak.
Daniel was a man of integrity, and he was hated by the satraps because of it. They conspired against him by tricking Darius to issue an edict against praying to anyone except to him. Listen to the response of Daniel: “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:10). What changed after the edict? Nothing. Call it courage. He couldn’t be discouraged from doing the will of God. Intimidation didn’t work for him. Does it work for us? Can we be bought off or scared off? He could have said with good reason, “I will continue to pray, but I’m going to close the window,” or “I’ll pray quietly. No sense in ruffling their feathers unnecessarily.” But he didn’t want to bend for a moment to their fear tactics. He knew that if he changed his strategy, he was giving in to them. Being bold is not being brash, but it is being obedient and not having a divided heart. Pilate would not take the risk to do right. He folded under the pressure of an angry crowd, and he goes down in history as a morally weak man, unwilling to buck the crowd to free Jesus. He feared the consequences of doing right more than
the consequences of doing wrong. The opposite of courage is not simply cowardice—it is disobedience. Courageous people obey regardless, while cowards do what is expedient.
We are told twice in Genesis 5 that “Enoch walked with God.” The second time it says that he “walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (5:27). Hebrews adds that “by faith, Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God” (11:5). Few people have bypassed death, but Enoch did. (So did Elijah). If Enoch walked with God, he must have talked with Him. He made decisions based on the ever-present God, not based on crowd-pleasing or playing it safe. It so moved God that He had enabled him to go from life to eternal life. Must have taken courage to never make a decision based strictly on the opinion of people. He was one of a kind in his day. The Bible says, “It is appointed unto men once to die…” (Hebrews 9:27), but not Enoch. He is an exception–because he was exceptional! He made decisions as if God were across the table! He was! Where God walked, he walked. No shortcuts to sin, no diversions for a moment of selfish pleasure.
What kind of courage did it take for Noah to build a 450-foot boat on dry ground. It had never rained before. He was mocked daily for a hundred years. That wears on you after a while. How many times did he consider giving up? His kids probably tried to talk him out of it: “Are you sure, Dad? What’s rain?” They were sure thankful he persisted, because they made it in with him. The people who reviled him incessantly were banging on the door after twenty days of downfall. Noah listened to the One voice that mattered. “It doesn’t make sense, Dad!” It did to God!
Biblical courage is not being foolhardy: it is being obedient; it is taking a stand. When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the bold Russian social critic and novelist, delivered his powerful message to the graduating class at Harvard in the late 70’s, he spoke about the loss of courage in the 20th century. He wasn’t speaking of daredevils but of morally responsible people, those willing to go against the current. We need courage to:
.stand our ground when the culture is eroding morally around us. .love our children with the truth when we are tempted to cave in. .serve even at the expense of our position or reputation.
.pay the price when we feel like backing off.
Courage leads us to do the will of God regardless. We are not responsible for the outcome of our responses, but we are responsible for our responses. Rahab took a risk and saved the spies as well as her family. Jonathan took a risk in battle and turned the campaign against the Philistines. Elijah took a risk and turned the tide of a nation. Esther did not know the outcome of her courageous act. She said, “If I perish, I perish,” and she delivered the Jews from genocide. Daniel’s three friends took a risk, not knowing the outcome of their obedience, and Jesus joined them in the furnace. John the Baptist took a risk—and he lost his head, but he won the admiration of Jesus. When the cowardly are weighing the consequences and turning back, the courageous are taking risks and bringing victory. If we ever needed courage, we need it now! May God encourage our hearts, and may the Church rise up for the challenges of our day!