I think we all know courage when we see it:
It’s the first responder running toward when everyone else is running away.
It’s the kid on the playground standing up for the other kid who is being bullied.
It’s the soldier willing to sacrifice himself in order to save another.
Yes, we know it when we see it. And we can even somewhat define it, at least in part. In our attempts to do so, we might say that courage is akin to bravery. Or that it’s the decision to press on despite the potential consequences of doing so. Or that it’s the willingness to embrace personal cost for someone or something else. Or that it’s internal fortitude, grit, or resolve. And all of those things would be right.
But here’s another question: how is courage learned? Or grown? Or developed? Is it through opportunity? Discipline? Faith? The list could go on, but there is one essential ingredient for courage that must be named, at least for the Christian.
And ironically, it’s also the one ingredient that can most easily be overlooked: God’s Word.
God’s Word is an essential ingredient for courage. Christian courage. And it can also be overlooked if we think of courage only as an internal quality or relegate it to the level of risk-taking. By way of example, consider Joshua:
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
This is actually the third time in that chapter that God has told Joshua the same thing – to be strong and courageous, so it’s clear that this is important to God. He very much wants Joshua to be strong and courageous, and that ought to make us wonder why. What reason did Joshua have to need to be so strong and courageous? After all, he had led troops in battle. He had seen the glory of God with Moses. He had spied out the land and come back to urge others to courageously to go in and take the land. And yet here, despite his pedigree and experiences, all of which tell us that he IS strong and courageous, we find God telling him over and over again to be strong and courageous.
The answer to why is found in verse 2: “Moses my servant is dead.”
Moses the deliverer after 400 years of slavery. Moses who God had used to perform all the signs and wonders and even part the Red Sea. Moses who had been given the law. Moses who had stood between the nation and their God. And now Joshua—those are some big shoes to fill. Can you imagine the pressure?
True enough, Joshua had been prepared for this moment. He had been groomed over the years to take over the reigns of leadership. But then he watched the people around him die, one by one, over 40 years of wandering in the desert, until only he and Caleb remained of the originals. And so here he finally stood, the one in leadership, at the edge of the land God had been promising to His people for generations. Suddenly it’s no wonder that God was telling him to be strong and courageous:
Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
There is evidently a direct correlation between strength and courage and the Word of God. Look at how Joshua is meant to treat God’s Word. He is supposed to read it. To talk about it. To meditate on it. To obey it in its entirety. In other words, Joshua is to become to intimately familiar with God’s Word that everything he thinks, feels, and does is filtered through that Word. And if he does that, then he will be strong and courageous. Now why might that be?