What is courage? How do we define courage today? While thinking and praying about this topic I seriously considered putting a picture of John Wayne opposed to writing. I mean what else needs to be said. I could place a picture of John Wayne and simply say Amen. There would be no need to read; you would know what I was trying to say.
But in all honesty, what is courage? We hear it all the time in scripture. We see it everyday in the movies. The men and women serving in the armed forces face it in battle. I spent the past few years at Gordon Conwell in their Ethics department studying the four cardinal virtues. The four virtues are Prudence, Justice, Courage, and Temperance. These four virtues are interconnected; we cannot fully mature in one of the virtues without maturing in the others.
- Prudence is the ability to recognize good and gives the ability to make right choices.
- Justice is the virtue that enables man to give another man his due.
- Temperance is the inner battle and inner thought of man. Temperance is the perfection of the inner man as it pertains to righteousness.
- Fortitude or courage?
Thinking on this topic many things come to mind, but lets focus on Joshua 1. We find Moses at the end of his journey. His wandering has finally come to an end, and he leads his people to the beginning of the promise land, but he cannot enter. He transitions and God hands the reigns to Joshua.
Side note here, if you know me you know that my core message is found in the pursuit and encounter of God and how that feeds everything we do. Joshua was a man known to stay in the tabernacle, or presence of God, even after Moses left. He was a man who encountered God on numerous occasions and God’s presence flowed over him. I KNOW those encounters prepared him for the mission he was to take.
However before Joshua was to lead the Israelites across the Jordan to take hold of God’s promise (promises are not given, they must be taken) God spends a number of days preparing Joshua. He tells him numerous times to be strong and courageous (1:6, 1:7& 1:9). Actually in verse seven God say be strong a VERY COURAGEOUS, and then in verse 9, God says, “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.” I find this verse to be incredibly rich. Every word has a deep meaning and every word is interconnected to the others. But before I go off on a tangent lets look back at Courage. What is courage and why is this a command of God?
What Courage Is Not
First and foremost Courage is not blind rage like we see in the Movies. Rambo, even though he has a six-pack, should not be our icon for courage. Side note: does anyone know why Rambo has to go to war with his shirt off? Anyhow in the Hebrew the word amats means strong, fortified, steadfast, speed, established. I could go on and on. It is the same word used when God is talking to David in regards to ruling Israel.
Courage is not blind rage, and it is not the absence of fear. Courage is feeling and knowing the full weight of fear and moving forward in strategic boldness. Joseph Peiper a Catholic Philosopher in his book on the Four Cardinal Virtues gives an excellent summary of fortitude/courage. Fortitude comes third in the cardinal virtue equation according to Pieper. Fortitude is equal to bravery. We recognize that prudence gives us the ability to make right choices, justice enables us to recognize virtue and fortitude is the ACT of pursuing good. Fortitude is bravery and bravery applies only to those who are vulnerable. Vulnerability has with it a measure of fear. How we respond to fear is important. According to Pieper we must not respond in blind rage (as in the movies) to injustice. We must be patient. We must recognize and understand the injustice and an appropriate response. We must feel the full weight of the fear and then move forward in bravery. Fortitude must be willing to sacrifice everything as in martyrdom for the sake of the good. It is a battle for the realization of the good.
The last thing I will point out is fear. In Joshua 1:9 we see a clear commandment “do not fear”, yet in the above definition we say feel the full weight of fear. Courage is not ignoring fear and sweeping it under the rug; courage is feeling the full weight of fear yet overcoming it through faith. We have faith that God is with us, we have faith that God has gone before us, and we have faith that God has commanded us to go. And when we move forward we do it strategically in faith. Giving into fear would push us back, but overcoming fear moves us forward.
Courage To Dream
Many of us have a dream, a desire or a vision. Many of us feel these dreams are either not from God or unattainable. I challenge you all to bring these dreams to the Lord. They are attainable and they have a purpose. God is moving, and we must do our part. Do not ignore the desires God has put on your heart. It takes courage to pursue them. It takes time for God to prepare you. And pursuing them is not without a measure of fear. If you are sure God is behind them, then prepare to pursue them by first pursuing and encountering God as Joshua did. Let God massage and ready them and you for the challenge ahead.
ASLAN IS ON THE MOVE!
Colby May is a father of two wonderful boys and husband of 13 years (Amanda May). He is been involved in campus ministry for over 15 years, much of that time in Austin TX. Colby is founder and president of LIT, a non profit organization leveraging energy consulting as a means to empower change (via the local church) in the most vulnerable countries. He recently spent two years in Boston completing is MA in Ethics & Society (Biblical Justice) from Gordon Conwell Seminary.