Courage is a Command
Before moving to Kenya I went on an extended fast. I found myself praying constantly about protection for my family. The terrorist group Al-Shabaab was on my mind. Others had suggested we move to a different location in Kenya, away from where they were active. But we were certain of God’s direction to this particular location in spite of its reputation. Daily this was my concern until one afternoon I felt a particular sweetness from the presence of the Lord. I began to weep as the words of Jesus thundered in my spirit “of how much more value are you than the birds” (Lk. 12:24)! The Lord was not directing this at me per se, but was saying it about my wife and children. I could entrust them into his hands. He cared for them more than I did. The next morning my oldest daughter and I were reading our prescheduled devotions. Amazingly, it was from Luke 12.
I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:4-7)
Boldness is a gospel imperative. This is seen in Jesus’ words “do not fear” and “fear not”. The basis for this is that the only one who has final authority over your soul is God. And what happens to your mortal body in this world is not the end all.
The only fear that the Bible promotes is the fear of God. To understand this type of fear we must imagine the kind of awe that one might feel standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, or traveling in deep space. There is a very fine line between ecstasy and terror. Humans were made to stand on that fine line and gaze at the vast power and beauty of God. This is what worship is.
And we can abide his power because we are secure in his love. Jesus assures us that the almighty God, the judge of the living and the dead, treasures us far more than we can fathom. He knows the number of the hairs on our heads. Those who trust in him will be safe. This is true even if the worst were to happen. Death is not the final word on life.
The importance of boldness in the Christian life cannot be overstated. Boldness implies that someone believes God and fears God. There is nothing else to fear. Fear is the opposite of faith and “without faith it is impossible to please him” (Heb. 11:6). Consider the warning of Revelation 21:
The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (Rev 21:7–8)
“Cowardly” is the first in a list of indictments condemning people to “the lake that burns with fire.” Why? For one, the cowardly do not overcome. Notice that it is those that “conquer” who will “have this heritage” and will “be my sons”. In order to conquer one must be willing to face the enemy and battle. The bold are not the thieves, the liars, and the murderers. The bold are the righteous who love truth and choose to love. It takes boldness to “put to death” the desires of the flesh and say no to things like pornography, adultery, and idolatry. We have to face our own sin, and we have to “resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).
We are called to overcome in a world of sin and false prophets. We are called to preach the gospel to 1.6 billion Muslims and 800 Million Hindus. We are called to decry the evils of abortion, sex trafficking, and racism. We are called therefore to boldness. Timidity does not serve the Lord.
One of the African missionaries we work with told us about arriving in a Muslim village in Ethiopia. He was convicted that they must preach the gospel to people in their homes in order to make an impact. His translator nervously insisted that it was to dangerous. Filled with zeal, he told the interpreter, “we must visit people where they live and share Jesus.” He proceeded with a plan, “you stand behind me when we approach their houses, if anyone attacks you will be able to run away and I will take the hit.” They they ended up leading several Muslims to faith in Christ.
Before Jesus went to the Father he gave instructions to the apostles, “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Nowhere in that command did he say, “be safe”. There is a very good reason for that; he was sending them to war. Jesus knew that there would be powers and principalities which would thwart them and he told them to go anyway. It is important to be prepared and careful but not safe. I’m sure that the Navy Seals who stormed the compound of Osama bin Laden were thoroughly prepared and very careful but they were not safe. The war motif can be seen in Jesus’ words, “I will be with you, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). He seems to be echoing the word of the Lord to Joshua and Israel, “the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Jos. 1:9).
The only reason to be safe is to preserve one’s self, but self-preservation stands in contradiction to the gospel and to faith. We are not called to preserve ourselves but to lay ourselves down for God’s sake, and let him preserve us. It will do us enormous good to know that courage in not an option, courage is a command.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Jos. 1:9)