Cowardice and courage

The older I get, the more courage is required of me.

Have you noticed that? What scared the pants off you earlier in life seems laughable now compared to what you’re facing today. It reminds me of how jarring the arrival of our first child was. Our whole world flipped on us, stealing our sleep and sanity, stretching us to our breaking point.

That was nothing. Try two kids. Or how about three kids, when, as my friend put it so well, parents “move from man-to-man defence to playing zone.” I assume four kids would be brutally hard, though I imagine at some point, five or six might become a blur. At least you can redeploy some of your older troops to the front lines of battle—cleanups on isle ten, babysitting on Thursdays, that kind of thing.

I remember my early days in ministry, how arranging that first carwash fundraiser in the church parking lot tied my stomach in knots. Now I’m the Lead Pastor of a church of 350 and the stakes are a wee bit higher. The decisions are more costly. The courage is harder to come by, but more needed than ever.

The dictionary on my macbook defines courage this way: “The ability to do something that frightens one… strength in the face of pain or grief.” It comes from an old Latin root, cor, which means heart.

In other words, courage is strength of heart.

This is why the heart is so central in scripture. We’re warned to guard our heart, invited to believe and love and live with all our hearts. The Bible speaks of losing heart, breaking the heart, and strengthening the heart. In this light, to be heartless is to lack the courage needed to care for others, take necessary risks, and take a stand where needed.

For years now, one of the most common questions I ask my wife, Shauna, is “How is your heart doing?” Mostly, I’m asking about her emotional strength, but one way we can gauge the health of our hearts is to measure the strength of our courage:

- Am I procrastinating things I know I should be doing? (Laziness is nothing of the sort, it’s a subtle form of cowardice).

- Am I taking a stand on issues that need my voice?

- Am I stepping out in faith at the uncertain edges of my life, or merely existing within my comfort zone?

- Am I giving myself to a cause worthy enough to require more than it gives me in return?

- Am I merely nostalgic about my dreams, or am I moving toward them in faith?

- Am I living the kind of life anyone could live without God, or the kind that would fall flat without his supernatural power?

- Am I embracing the cowardice latent in bitterness, or choosing the courage it requires to forgive?

This is why C.S. Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Without courage, our faith and character are just pretty ideas in our heads.

* What about you? Where is God calling you to exercise courage?

Comment here, I want to hear from you!
bradhuebert says:

Well put, Paul. So true, and I can relate. I think what I’m referring to is, it’s possible to get lazy within our comfort zone, to achieve a certain feeling of mastery within that zone even if it took real courage to get there. I love how God continually challenges us to step beyond what we’ve mastered, inviting us to the edges of new fears, putting us into new positions requiring fresh faith.

Paul Buller says:

Agreed. OT shows many examples of Israelites getting a little too comfy in their comfort zone and moral disaster ensued.

Paul Buller says:

I find that with greater Christian maturity my need for courage diminishes. The more I grow in my understanding of life (from a Biblical perspective) the more I realize that in all of life God’s piece of the “responsibility pie” is much larger than mine, and my piece is always smaller than I automatically assume it is. That is comforting on two levels; God has the bigger piece of the pie than I do, and he’s a much bigger guy than I am. Given these facts, I face life with far less fear which, in turn, requires far less courage.

The greater courage challenge, I find, is letting go of those parts that God already has his hand on. Once that is done – in other words, once I accept reality instead of trying to define it – then the rest comes easy. Well, maybe not “easy” just easier…