The word courage is a funny thing. Ask ten people what it means and you will likely get ten different answers, providing of course, you disallow the use of a dictionary. It has been my experience, however, that the one theme that seems most prevalent in answering that question is the theme of risking life and limb. I have heard things like “risking your life for someone you love” or “risking death for a cause” or even “taking risks without evincing fear”. But the true distinguishing trait of courage is the willingness to act in the face of risk or even certain loss. It doesn’t matter whether the risk involves physical danger or social danger. What defines courage is the willingness to act regardless of what may be lost. In other words, I believe that true courage is the capacity to put everything on the line for the sake of standing up for that which you sincerely believe to be right.
Courage seems like such an admirable trait and most of us, if asked, would probably indicate that we would like to believe that we do, at least occasionally, behave courageously, but I’ve come to believe that cowardice is the trait which typifies human behavior (mine included) most frequently. I say this because most of us tend to think of courage as being something only required in unusual circumstances like war or some other life threatening emergency such as rescuing someone from a fire. Because we most frequently think of courage in the vein of risking our physical well being and because we think of the need for this sort of courage as being infrequent, I think we often overlook courage of a more subtle, and frequently challenged, nature: social courage. I submit to you that a truly courageous life will more usually involve frequent, ongoing challenges involving risk to our social well being than to our physical well being.
How often do we remain silent, at best, or participate, at worst, in situations involving malicious behavior, be it bullying, gossiping, or belittling, by someone in a position of social power against someone perceived to be either a rival or a social misfit? How often have we stood by while words which we knew to be untrue were spoken but remained silent for fear of losing a “friend” or social status? How often have we told “polite lies” rather than had the courage to speak the truth in love? How often have we played the coward knowing that doing so meant an advantage in money, status, or opportunity?
A truly courageous life is not an easy thing to undertake. It involves embracing the truth with the confidence that the One that is Truth demands our full devotion. We can only dare to live that way if we completely trust Him, and accept that the only opinion that matters is His. I firmly believe that this is what Yeshua was talking about when He said: “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life“. John 12:25 (NIV) Wow. Those are powerful words. All too often we hear or read them and simply process them in an abstract way that insulates us from what He is actually calling us to do, but denial of His meaning will not change that meaning. Yeshua did not mince words. He didn’t sugar coat it. Living a safe life of cowardice will not cut it. We either stand up in the courage of His Spirit, or we risk, by the exercise of cowardice, our very spiritual health and life.
Note that it is only by standing in His Spirit that we can ever hope to find the strength to live courageously. The reason for that is simple. It has to do with the two basic emotions: love and fear. Since perfect love casts out fear and only Yeshua is perfect Love, then only in the strength of His perfect Love will our fear be cast out allowing us to live a courageous life. On our own, self doubt and insecurity will have a much stronger sway. Only by knowing that I am perfectly loved and accepted by the only one whose eternal opinion really matters can I find the strength to risk the rejection of those around me whose temporal opinions have only a fleeting effect. In other words, it is the fact that I know the Truth, that the Truth can set me free. He is the Truth and I know Him, therefore I am free to live confident in His Love.
So what about you? Are you willing to hate your life? Are you willing to live a courageous life? Do you really want to know? Because, if you do, then there’s really only one way to find out: examine your actions. It’s not enough to merely want to be courageous. It’s not enough to have good intentions. Actions do indeed speak louder than words.
Here are a few challenges faced by the average person fairly frequently. Be honest with yourself to determine if you have faced these challenges, or others like them, courageously.
- You are at lunch. You see Pat sitting alone. You know Pat is socially awkward. Pat doesn’t seem to have any friends. In fact, you have never seen anyone ever sit with Pat for lunch. After all, Pat can be really obnoxious, inappropriate, or flat out rude. Pat is just NOT a likable person. What is your action? A) You can’t even feel sorry for Pat due to all these antisocial behaviors. Besides, if you sit with Pat, everyone will avoid you like the plague. Only a loser would risk alienating all their friends to befriend someone that so clearly is not interested in being friendly. B) You feel compassion for Pat, but feel helpless to do anything about it. If ONLY Pat weren’t such a pain. You’d like to help, but, after all, it’s really Pat’s problem. Pat could simply learn to be nicer and then the problem would go away. Vowing to pray for Pat, you go sit with your friends. C) Saying a prayer for guidance, you walk over and ask if you can join Pat for lunch. (Pat may or may not seem to appreciate this action.)
- You are hanging with new friends – friends that practically define the “in crowd” – when Marty walks by. Marty used to be one of your best friends but over time you have drifted apart some, but are still on good terms. One of your new friends, upon seeing Marty, immediately starts talking about what a loser or jerk Marty is, relating a story very personal and embarrassing to Marty. How do you respond? A) You are mortified. Part of you really likes Marty and hates what is happening. Perhaps you even realize that a real friend would defend Marty, but another part of you realizes that to do so would be social suicide, almost certainly resulting in losing these new friends whose acceptance you have worked so hard to achieve. You remain silent. B) You like Marty, but realize that this is a chance to gain major points with your new friends. You join in the Marty bashing. After all, you know things, embarrassing things, about Marty that no one else knows. In fact, you embellish the stories a bit since they seem to delight these new friends so much. You know you have moved up in the world. C) You know it will cost you socially. You know that speaking up will practically guarantee losing these new friends, but you also know that what these new “friends” are doing is nothing short of social murder. You politely, but firmly, state that Marty is your friend and that you really wish the others would give Marty a chance.
- You see a stranger sitting alone in tears. You don’t know this person at all, but you can tell that they are terribly upset. On the other hand, this person is dressed strangely. Perhaps in Muslim fashion or perhaps looking seedy or rough. Do you: A) Speak to the stranger, asking if there is a problem or if you may be of assistance, prepared to render aid or simply an ear if needed. B) Ignore the stranger and walk on by. After all, it’s not your business and you are late for an appointment. C) Pray for them as you walk by.
- You see an ad on TV for an organization asking you to sponsor a child. Do you: A) Ignore it. After all, what good will it do to save one child when there is SO much poverty. B) Say a prayer for all the poor children and feel so much better. C) Decide to do whatever you can to help. It may not be much, but it’s better than doing nothing. Yes, it means you may have to give up a few things, but it’s worth it.
- Your family is discussing ideas for Summer vacation. You: A) Suggest you go on a family mission trip to help others. B) Think about suggesting a mission trip, but remain silent when you hear about that wonderful resort. C) Never even think of going on a mission trip. After all, don’t you deserve to have fun?
- You are sitting in a group of intellectuals discussing science when the topic of evolution comes up. Immediately, several people express the opinion that only a fool could ever believe the “creation myth” of the Bible. After all, the whole concept of gods or deities was simply a result of the ignorance of humans before the advent of modern science. These are very intelligent people for whom you have a great deal of respect. What do you do? A) Sit quietly, making no comment. Perhaps you pray for these poor lost souls. B) Nod your head, hoping no one will call you out on your ignorant beliefs. C) Begin to wonder if maybe they aren’t right. D) Speak up concerning the arrogance of assuming that science can ever rule out a creator. Admitting that you don’t have all the answers but assert that you do know that you have a personal relationship with a very real and loving God.
These are just a few scenarios. There are many others. Courage is not an easy thing, but the opportunities to live courageously abound. Simply open your eyes and look… if you dare.