Courage: the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear. John Wayne once said, "Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway." I think one of the most accurate definitions of courage may have come from one of today's philosophers and writers, Maya Angelou, when she said, "One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We cannot be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest." We definitely are not born with courage, for if you observe a small baby, you see them exhibit the "startle reflex" whenever they are moved too quickly, or even cry when they think they have been abandoned and left alone. Therefore, courage has to be developed - just as one might develop another virtue - over the course of time and in the midst of circumstances where our faith and wherewithal is put to the test. It is this "testing" of sorts which gives most of us the "rub" when it comes to courage - for we'd rather have been born with it!
Don’t fall into the trap of being a coward—trust the Lord, and you will be safe. (Proverbs 29:25 CEV)
Cowardice is the exact opposite of courage - for what is implied is the lack of courage to face pain or uncertainty. Some might label this as being way too timid for one's good - no self-assurance, being easily alarmed, and pulling back when faced with uncertainty. In some cases, this is sheer preservation - in others, it is a life-crippling event. I have pulled back on occasion because the step forward seemed too uncertain for me to take. I have also plowed ahead in the face of uncertainty, because where I was at required some change in order to get out of the place I found myself standing in way too long! Our writer tells us cowardice is a trap - something which entangles and holds us captive. Courage is the thing which drives us to take the first step out of the trap - for it points us toward another possibility outside of the trap we have presented before us or have already fallen into!
Now, sheer will-power or self-assurance will not get us through much of life unscathed. In fact, they really just drive us forward, but not always in the right direction. We need something more to keep us safe from harm as we step forward in life - this is where faith comes in. Trust is really the basis of faith - for if you trust something or someone, you are willing to bear your full weight on it or put your full confidence in them. I trust the chair I am sitting in right now to hold me upright and in the position to be able to view my screen and type on my keyboard. I placed my full weight upon this chair this morning, not with concern of any kind that it would not hold my full weight. There was no hesitation because I have come to trust this chair to be able to do what it is supposed to do. When faced with life-altering decisions, I wonder if we place our full assurance in what self can muster and do, or in what God will do within us and through us?
A coward is trapped by their own moments of indecision. A courageous man or woman is set free by recognizing the limitations of their own self-will and self-ability. Courage as it should be is really trust in another - not in one's self. When our focus is fully on Christ and his ability, something happens within us which moves us forward, even in the face of uncertainty. Trust the Lord and you will be safe. This is both a command and a promise. When we rightly take our moments of indecision (those moments of realized cowardice) and place them squarely into the hands of Jesus, we are taking the boldest steps toward converting our cowardice into courage we can possibly take! There is a transition which occurs whenever we take our self-determination and hand it over to Jesus. It is like surrendering our trust in "self" for the better trust - that of allowing God to live in and through us.
Lest I over-simplify this courage thing, let me just say it is really difficult at times to let go of what we "think" we can do and let another do it for us or through us. I can drive myself to every destination I need to go - because I have a car, gas in the tank, and a driver's license which permits me to drive. I don't always drive, though! Sometimes I allow another to get me to my destination - something we call car-pooling. Why? It makes sense to share the load. In life's biggest decisions, it makes more sense to let go of what we normally would do ourselves and let another come alongside - especially when that "other" is Christ Jesus! We need to let go a little more often - in order to allow him to take the load we really don't need to bear ourselves. Sometimes courage is best described as knowing when to let go and allow God to take over the directing of our course! It can take more courage to take our hands off the reins than it does to direct the course of our lives all on our own!
If we want to be men and women of courage, we must first recognize how much of a coward it is to hold onto our lives and the control of the outcomes by our own efforts! Just sayin!
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