Man Alive: Courageous

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9 NLT

In a poll of random acquaintances, I asked the question, “When you hear the term manhood, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?”  I tallied the responses in the hope of identifying characteristics of manhood that are written in hearts, not what has been taught us in school or portrayed by the media. (See Man Alive: What is Manhood?) Responses covered so far include:

  1. “Responsible.” 
  2. “Christlike.” 
  3. “Inner strength.”
  4. ”A Protector”
  5. “Maturity”

Ranking Number 6 in the poll is “Courageous.”  Courage, in English, comes from the Latin word for “heart.” Courage is something in the heart.  A quick survey of dictionary definitions gives us something like “doing something in spite of fear or showing great determination in spite of pain or opposition.”  Courage isn’t a failure to feel fear.  We all feel the emotion of fear at times.  In fact, the inability to feel fear is a neurological disorder.  The fear response is God-given and equips us to deal with threatening situations. As John Wayne so vividly put it, “Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.”

This verse, Joshua 1:9, was spoken by God to Joshua as he faced the daunting task of leading Israel into the promised land.  He had only recently replaced Moses, one of the greatest leaders of all time.  Moses had been famously unable to get Israel across the Jordan, now Joshua is supposed to take them in.  The depth of Joshua’s misgivings is reflected by the fact that this admonition is repeated to him 6 times. God knew he was shaky.

Living as a Christian man in today’s world takes courage.  If you live your faith, some will hate you.  It may cost you friends, accolades, even jobs.  In fact, if you’re not meeting resistance to your life of faith, you’re probably not doing it right.  If God’s assignment to you for service in His Kingdom is easy and without sacrifice, then you’ve not found your assignment yet. Giants, man! There are always giants right in the middle of the Promise!

This admonition to Joshua is helpful because it tells us three things:

  1. What to be: Strong and courageous (You’re gonna need it)
  2. What not to be:  Afraid or discouraged (You’re gonna be tempted)
  3. What you need to know: He’s gonna be with you. (You won’t always feel it)

Let’s take a look at each of these and explore some ways to build our courage in the face of threats and challenges.

  • Courageous Truth #1: You can be very, very courageous.

Looking back at our scripture from Joshua, we see that this was given as a command: be strong and courageous.  That means it’s possible.  God is a just God, and He doesn’t give commandments that cannot be kept unless He makes provision for our failure.  I’m reminded of the New Covenant commandment to love one another with the self-sacrificing love that Jesus showed His disciples. (John 13:34-35).  That would be impossible in our human ability, but along with the commandment Jesus made the way by exchanging our nature for His (2 Corinthians 5:17, 21) and filling us with His own love (Romans 5:5).

Joshua is facing a two-fold dilemma: getting the children of Israel across the Jordan and mobilizing them to defeat the inhabitants of their new homeland.  In the face of that tremendous task, he is commanded to “be strong and courageous.”  These two words are Hebrew synonyms. This kind of construction, combining two words od similar meaning, is used to emphasize a concept.  (See Psalm 68:3 “exceedingly rejoice.”) We might translate the command to Joshua as, “be really, really brave.”  When God gave this command, He spoke it to Moses, who spoke it to the people and then to Joshua before the people twice. (Deuteronomy 31:1-8). That’s like, “Be really, really courageous.  Seriously, very, very courageous.  I’m not kidding, be courageously courageous!”

Two other examples come to mind. Solomon was commanded by his father, King David, to build the temple. David, the greatest king of Israel had wanted to build it but couldn’t because of the stains in his life.  Now Solomon is commissioned to do what David could not. (1 Chronicles 22:11-13) Similarly, Hezekiah was in the midst of leading a great revival in Judah when Sennacherib’s Assyrian army came calling.  They actually surrounded the city, stood outside the walls of Jerusalem, and shouted threats.  Hezekiah responded with the stirring words, “Be courageously courageous, for … With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God…”  The Scripture says the people were strengthened by the words of Hezekiah. (2 Chronicles 32:7-8)

All three of these faith heroes were faced with overwhelming tasks:  Battles to fight, buildings to build, people to lead.  The fact that God spoke to them so strongly to be courageous tells me they were feeling fearful and inadequate, but God promised His help.  All three were tremendously successful in their efforts through the supernatural intervention of God. 

So, the takeaway from this first truth about courage is that you can be brave.  Yes, you can! You will probably feel fear. If you are genuinely determined to follow God, there will be battles to fight and mountains to climb. You will surely feel inadequate. (I pray for guys who never feel small in the face of life’s challenges) But you can choose courage. Remember Paul’s bold proclamation, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13 NKJV)” God doesn’t play favorites.  You can do whatever He puts before you to do.

EXERCISES:

  1. What tasks has God given you that seem impossible?  Be honest, are there fears and anxieties that keep you awake at night?
  2. Go back and read the Hezekiah story in 2 Chronicles 32. What was the strategy of the Assyrians?
  3. What was it that strengthened the people to face the Assyrian threat (Verse 8)?
  4. Who do you talk with about the tasks that frighten you?  What do they tell you?  Do you need to find a Hezekiah to speak words of faith?  Where can you look to find one?
  5. When you speak about the challenges you face, are you speaking “can do!” or “Who, me?”  Get Philippians 4:13 in your memory banks and put it on repeat until you believe it. You can do!
  • Courageous Truth #2: Fear and discouragement are our enemies.

Fear and discouragement (some translations have “dismay”) work hand in hand to defeat Christians, stopping them from fulfilling their God-given destinies. These two villains are not the same, but they work together in a truly diabolical way.  Fear comes first, but if we recognize it and get through it to a place of faith, discouragement comes subtly to sap us of the strength to stand.  Let’s look at each of these foes:

  1. We all fight fear.  As noted above, it is a built-in safety device that helps us recognize threats and mobilize for escape or battle.  It becomes an issue when we are faced with a dilemma: I have something I am obliged to do, yet I feel fear at the thought of doing it. It can become immobilizing.  If the devil can get you frozen, he has you defeated. Its important to differentiate again between feeling fear and acting on fear.  David said it really well, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.” (Psalms 56:3-4 KJV) When I feel fear, I choose to trust in God.  I do this by focusing on His Word, trusting Him by acting on the Word instead of the fear.  Fear can be a noun, “I feel fear,” or a verb, “Fear not!” A noun is the name of something.  In this case fear is the name of the feeling that hits my belly when a threat is perceived.  A verb is an action.  In this case, I choose to trust God by acting on what the Bible says instead of what the fear says.  That is called faith. My favorite example of this concept is the healing of Jairus’s daughter (Luke 8:41-56) This father left his dying daughter’s bedside to find Jesus and prevail upon Him to come and heal her.  Wonder of wonders, He agrees to come.  Don’t you know Jairus was thrilled!  Suddenly, a woman pushes through the crowd, touches Jesus’ garment and is healed.  Jesus stops to converse with her, wasting precious time for Jairus.  As Jesus finishes the conversation, the message comes from Jairus’s house: “Your daughter has died. Do not trouble the Teacher. (Verse 49 LITV)” Can you imagine what must have been going on in Jairus’s emotions? Fear and discouragement and dismay at the least. He must have wanted to cry out in despair and anger.  Before he could act on his emotions by speaking his pain, Jesus utters some excellent advice for us all when unexpected setbacks occur: “Do not fear; only believe.” When fear attacks, don’t speak it, don’t act on it.  Listen for Jesus.  Find your faith, speak your faith, act your faith. Practice making your first words, “Lord, help me.”
  2. We leak courage.  If courage is “doing something in spite of fear or showing great determination in spite of pain or opposition,” then discouragement must have something to do with losing that will or determination to act in defiance of fear or pain.  Courage is a matter of the heart. It’s tied to hope and it keeps us moving, looking for solutions, battling with the circumstances, holding fast to our faith.  Dis-couragement is the draining of courage from the human heart.  It ends in despair, leaving us sitting by the wayside, heads down, voices silenced.  It is resignation to what we think is now inevitable. It is diabolical. The most famous biblical story of discouragement is the tale of the children of Israel the first time they prepared to enter the Promised Land.  As you remember the story (Numbers 13 and 14), they had a promise from God that He would give them the land. He gave them permission to send a 12-man fact-finding team to take a look at the situation.  On their return 10 of them gave a terrible description of the giants, the terrain and the fortifications.  Their estimation: “We can’t do this!” Despite the best efforts of the other 2 committee members, Joshua and Caleb, the people backed away from the promise of God.  Recounting these events in Deuteronomy, Moses quotes the crowd, “Where can we go up? Our brethren have discouraged our hearts, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven; moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakim there. (Deuteronomy 1:28)”  The report of the 10, ripped a hole in the fabric of their faith, courage drained out of their hearts.  When that happened the giants got bigger and the Promise of God diminished in their minds. Discouragement did its diabolical work. They crumbled. In the New Testament, faced with resistance from people and from our own human weakness, we are encouraged to keep our minds set on the work of the Lord. He endured violence at the hands of sinners because He believed the Promise of resurrection.  He had the word of His Father.  He could see past the pain to the day when the Church would be born with Him as He overcame the grave and ascended to His throne. (Hebrews 12:1-3) The race of faith is often difficult. People don’t like us. Our human failings bedevil us. We stumble, we get up, and then repeat the process.  We even get tired while doing good stuff.  (Galatians 6:9) Our weariness causes our hearts to leak courage and we “become weary and discouraged in our souls.” (Hebrews 12:3 NKJV)  We often address fear in our preaching.  We are sensitive to it’s uncomfortable emotional and physical presence. We learn to act and speak in faith in the crisis moment.  Then comes discouragement. Often the courage leak is so slow, or from such an unexpected quarter, that our emptiness surprises us as we collapse on the way.  Once we come to the conclusion, for whatever reason, that we are hopelessly defeated, courage departs and resignation sets in.

“Depression begins with disappointment. When disappointment festers in our soul, it leads to discouragement.”

Joyce Meyer

“A man can get discouraged many times but he is not a failure until he begins to blame somebody else and stops trying.”  

John Burroughs

EXERCISES:

  1. Many men are slow to admit that they experience fear. We think it’s a sign of weakness, but it’s only a sign that we’re human.  List the three things that you fear the most.
  2. Now take the three things on your list and find what the Bible says about that situation.  For example, if you fear financial insolvency, you might like the verse that says “I have been young, and now am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread. He is ever merciful, and lends; And his descendants are blessed.”  (Psalms 37:25-26 NKJV)
  3. Next, find another guy who knows God and who you believe is a man of faith.  Ask him to agree with you concerning your three issues.  Base your prayers on the Scriptures you found.  This will enable you to be in genuine agreement. Lord , we agree that it will be unto me as you said in your Word. You said…”
  4. What are the areas of discouragement in your life?  These are places where you have believed God, fought the fear, but the desired results seem a long time coming.  You may be keeping a happy face, but you can sense the weakness coming in your soul.  You want to quit.
  5. God told Moses to encourage Joshua and he would take the children of Israel into the land. (Deuteronomy 3:28) He did so by speaking words of faith to him.  Who do you have in your life who will speak encouragement?  Where might you look to find someone?
  6. King David found himself threatened by his own people. After all he had done to lead them, they wanted to stone him. (Sound familiar to anyone?) 1 Samuel 30:6 says, “but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God.”  What can you do today to encourage yourself in the Lord?
  • Courageous truth #3:  God is with you.

Let your character or moral disposition be free from love of money [including greed, avarice, lust, and craving for earthly possessions] and be satisfied with your present [circumstances and with what you have]; for He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!] [Josh. 1:5.]

Hebrews 13:5 AMP

When God told Joshua to be strong and courageous, to reject fear and discouragement, He gave him the reason he should be able to do this: “For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”  Courage in the face of resistance and danger is possible because God is with us. The promise to us in the New Testament is so strong that Hebrews 13 repeats the “will not” three times.  This forceful construction is reflected in the Amplified translation quoted above. “[I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!]”  Kenneth Wuest translates the phrase as, “For He himself has said, and the statement is on record, I will not, I will not cease to sustain and uphold you. I will not, I will not, I will not let you down.”  I think he’s trying to make a point.  He is with us.

The promise of God’s abiding presence to Israel was wonderful: the cloud by day and the fire by night.  His glory hovered over the tabernacle and led them safely through the wilderness. (Exodus 13:21-22; Numbers 9:15-23) But for us in the New Testament, it goes to another level. He takes up residence by His Spirit in each of us.  God lives in me, and He never leaves!  (Colossians 1:27; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Ephesians 3:17; 1 John 4:4; Romans 8:9-11)

When we say “God is with us,” we are not simply saying He is there to hold our hand in the middle of our troubles.  He is not just a disinterested observer, neither is He there just to encourage us to persevere.  In every instance, when the Lord says “I am with you,” He implies He is present to help us with the battles we face.  In fact, for Joshua, He gave them strategies, did miracles, and generally carried the weight of every victory they won in the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 2-10).  For Solomon, He provided wisdom, laborers, and finances for the Temple.  When it was finished He showed up so powerfully that the priests all fell down. (2 Chronicles 1, 2, 5)  For Hezekiah, He sent His angel to destroy the Assyrian army.  He literally fought the battle for them. (2 Chronicles 32:20-23) Confidence that He is present is confidence that He will intervene to help.

In Exodus 33, Moses told God that if His Presence was not going to accompany them into the Promises Land, then they weren’t going.  He knew the power of the Presence.  The Presence is what set Israel apart from all other people: “For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.”  The Presence of God is what marks us off as being His property. It makes us stand out: We are different because God is with us.   

The promise of His Presence with us is one of the most oft repeated promises in the New Testament.  In Hebrews 13, He emphasized the source of the promise: “He [God] Himself has said.”  If God Himself has told you something, you can definitely believe it. If He says He is with you, then He is with you whether you feel anything or not. His Presence is not contingent on your emotions. If He is with you, He is not just along for the ride, He is there to do something on your behalf!  Believe it and expect it.

The awareness of God’s Presence is our #1 protection against discouragement.  If God is for me who can be against me? (Romans 8:31).  He fights my battles, terrifies my enemies, and provides all I need to fulfill His plan.  He told Jacob, “I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you. (Genesis 28:15)”  He is the original and only infallible  “Promise Keeper.”  In the face of the enemy He strengthens me, helps me, and upholds me.(Isaiah 41:10-12)  When I go through difficulties He keeps me safe and undamaged, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you.” (Isaiah 43:2)

If these things are true, if God is really with me all the time, then why do I ever get discouraged?  For most of us, we just get so involved in the details of life that we forget to do the things necessary to remain aware of His Presence. It’s not so much that we do bad things.  We clean the house, go to work, pay the bills, corral the kids, etc. Unfortunately, these “good” and necessary things begin to displace the things of God in the forefront of our consciousness, at the top of our daily agenda.  When our consciousness of intimacy with God begins to fade, though He is still with us, our awareness of His nearness begins to slip away. We begin to leak courage.

As men, we sometimes think of courage in terms of physical strength or mental and emotional bravado, a kind of Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson energy.  The God kind of courage is much less showy. It helps us have hard conversations, resist strong temptations, push past peer pressure, and tackle big challenges. It reflects our constant awareness of the personal Presence of God.  Our courage doesn’t flow from the weight room or the pep talk.  Our courage flows from the prayer closet and the Bible study and  faith-filled fellowship.  We all know the feeling of anguish and despair that comes when courage begins to leak. We sometimes call it “a sinking feeling.” So, when I’m losing courage fast, how do I become en-couraged again?

EXERCISES:

  1. Before you can refill your heart with courage, you have to patch the leaks.  Think of a flat tire.  You have to find the hole and patch it.
    1. Do you have friends who are prone to disparaging you or making good-natured but negative comments about God and His goodness?  Time to plug that leak.
    2. Are you listening to, reading, or watching content that tears down your sense of the Presence of God?  This would include things you wouldn’t want Jesus to sit and enjoy with you.  Time to plug that leak.
  2. Failure is a teacher, not a dwelling place.  Learn the lessons, make the necessary changes to do better, and move on.  Don’t let failure build an encampment in your mind.
    1. What was the last failure or disappointment that left you feeling discouragement?  Write it down.
    2. What 2 things would you do differently if you had it to do again?
    3. What can you do to prepare yourself for the next similar situation?
    4. Make a plan, write it down, and let’s move on.
  3. What’s your favorite encouragement provider?  It can be a person, a book, a preacher, an activity.  What, or who, do you have in your life that usually leaves you feeling built up?  Take whatever steps are necessary to partake of it regularly.
  4. Learn to live with the awareness of His Presence.
    1. Talk to Him out loud.  For sure, speak to Him aloud every day in your prayer time.  Include verbal worship, thanksgiving, and prayer.  If you don’t have a regular prayer time, then this will make more difference than anything else you will ever do.) If you don’t talk with Him, then you don’t really believe He is there. Psalm 63:1-5
    2. Consciously speak to Him during the day.  Let your mental complaints become verbal prayers: Lord, help me, give me wisdom, show me what to do. Philippians 4:6-7  (You can find a place where others won’t hear or care)
    3. Speak with tongues regularly.  1 Corinthians 14:4-5, 14-15
    4. Do Hebrews 13:6, “ So we may boldly say: “THE LORD IS MY HELPER; I WILL NOT FEAR. WHAT CAN MAN DO TO ME?”   Say it out loud, say it boldly, say it often.

If you have seen areas where courage is lacking in your life and you would like to make a change, let’s apply the change process from Man Alive: Change Gonna Come

  1. Admit you need it.  You can’t change something you won’t admit.  1 John 1:8-9
  2. Find scriptures that tell you what God thinks about it. Review these passages daily.  Say them out loud.  Psalm 19:7-11
  3. Go to the Lord and ask Him to help you make this change. Psalm 121:1-2
  4. Commit to a process of learning to listen and obey. God will guide you if you take a moment to listen.  There is a place in your heart that knows what to do when you need to do it. Romans 8:14-16
  5. Address the root, not just the behavior.  Trade in your ideas and values and prejudices for the thoughts of God. He is God.  He’s always right.  Get your mind in line with His. Romans 12:1-8
  6. Make a very specific plan for change and begin walking in that direction.  What are you going to do and when are you going to do it?  Write it down!  Habakkuk 2:1-4
  7. Find someone you can trust and talk with them.  Share the problem, share the plan, ask for input.  Pray together and stay in contact to report your progress. James 5:16
  8. If you screw up, get up.  One step in the right direction is one more than you made before.  Process the lesson and take another step. Romans 8:31-37

OK, let’s do this!  Be strong and courageous!

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