I am by no means a paragon of courage.
For example, I am not a fan of scary movies. I can’t handle them. I mean come on, life is scary enough without going over the top with it. I have enough scary information to process after watching the news. I don’t need Freddy, Jason, Michael or some scary kid crawling through my television set to freak me out.
High adrenaline sports are not my thing. I have friends that have jumped out of planes when they turn a certain age because…they want to speed up the process? Maybe it is on their bucket list and they want to experience life at high speed? Perhaps they like to tempt fate and win? Honestly, I’m not sure why they are doing it. They just do. God’s speed to you…or maybe God’s parachute.
Some people will swim with sharks. No thank you. Is it cool to see on the Discovery channel? You bet. But guess what? I get a better look at a Great White when I am on my couch with a bowl of popcorn, not peeing my pants, than I ever would if I were face to face with it in a cage surrounded by chum. My odds of survival on the couch are a lot better too.
All that to say, I am not a big fan of being scared. My relationship with fear is that I’d rather not. If I can avoid it, I will.
Even so, there have been moments in my life where I have had to face my fears in order to grow.
When I was a kid, I couldn’t think of anything I’d like to do less than speak in public. It made my stomach churn, my palms sweat and my heart pound. I would think about it for days before I had to do it and each day that I drew closer, my symptoms would get worse. Right before I had to do it, I thought I was going to pass out. Then something weird would happen when I spoke. I converted all of that frenetic energy into speaking. I channeled it. I made the tension work for me. The more that I spoke, the more I enjoyed it and the less intense my symptoms were. I faced my fear. Do I still get nervous before I speak? You better believe it. I’ve just been able to manage that fear a lot better the more I spoke.
Starting a church in San Antonio definitely challenged me. I thought and talked about doing it for years. I was fascinated with people who had made the decision and went for it. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to leave the safety of a regularly paying job with benefits to do it. Then COVID hit and things changed. I saw pastors do and say things I never thought I’d hear or witness. God began to stir up something up inside of me that felt a lot like…courage. To be clear:
It wasn’t a lack of fear, but a passion that superseded my fear.
My desire to see people experience Jesus and His love, became greater than the anxiety that I felt over leaving the safety and security of a role and position that I was comfortable in.
Pushing back on our fear is important. If we don’t challenge the fear that resides within us, we will be a prisoner of our emotions. We’ll let our feelings be in charge of our destiny. We will also never experience the victory of sticking to a goal that we deem important and seeing it through difficult times. I love what Pastor, writer and speaker Erwin McManus says about the relationship between our future and courage.
“Our courage directly affects the speed at which the future unfolds.” Erwin McManus (pg 97, Uprising)
What a great observation! Courage is a future accelerant!!! The more we embrace courage, the faster we will see our dreams realized.
Courage is a tricky thing to talk about. Everybody has their own version of what courage looks like in their life or someone else’s for that matter. While we are on the topic, isn’t it interesting how we can quickly recognize a lack of courage in someone else’s life and quickly excuse it in our own. We have our own way of rationalizing why we didn’t show courage in our jobs, relationships and dreams. No shame here. I started by telling you that I am not a role model when it comes to this. My point is that a lack of courage in someone else is sometimes easy to see but we are often blind to our own courage deficiencies.
So, what does daily courage look like? Not the grand standing, moment of truth, action movie version of courage but the discipline of courage. Here are a few suggestions that I have found helpful.
- Push back on fear. It is easy to say that we should push through our fear. The problem is, we all have our limits and ultimately we all succumb in one way or another to our fears. Truth be told, fear has a practical use. It keeps us from making stupid decisions and from putting ourselves in dangerous situations.
What I’m saying is there is a healthy amount of fear that we all live with and should pay attention to. That’s why I am not a huge fan of the phrase “faith not fear”. It trivializes fear that we should listen to and often times is intended to wound people who are doing their best to make wise decisions. I don’t disagree with the notion that faith helps us navigate or even minimize our fear. I wholeheartedly agree. It has just become a slogan that often hurts people who are struggling.
Your faith can absolutely help you push back on fear. The nature of faith is trust. When you trust God despite your fear, it develops a muscle in your spiritual life that needs to be flexed. It is the occasional reminder to your fear that it is not in control and even if you are feeling anxious, it does not need to paralyze you.
2. Be encouraged. Encouragement is not complimenting someone to make them feel better. I’m not exactly sure what to call that. Maybe it is well intentioned compassion. To me, that is not encouragement. To encourage someone is literally to give courage to them. It is a reminder of who they truly are and who God has made them to be. It is calling out the best in them that already exists. That to me is encouragement. We all need people in our lives that will remind us of who we truly are and call out our better nature in moments of trial. That requires building strong relationships with people. It could be, and probably should be, a select few who are in this category. They can be reached by phone, Zoom or even be met for lunch or coffee. Find those people and schedule regular time with them. (1 Thess. 5:11; Hebrews 10:24)
3. Be courageously vulnerable. If you are open and honest with a few trusted people in your life, it produces courage. Being vulnerable is one of the scariest things you can possibly do. Am I selling vulnerability right now or what? However, when you practice being vulnerable with people close to you, it has an impact on the rest of your relationships. No, I don’t think you should practice the same level of vulnerability with your work colleagues that you do with your best friend from college. That’s not hypocrisy or being fake, that’s just wise. Find a few trusted friends and regularly tell them how you are actually doing. In case you are puzzled by this comment, let me help you out. what if you told someone close to you that you are scared about your current job situation instead of saying, “Everybody has problems. I’m just glad I have a job.” Instead of avoiding telling your close friends “I’m tired but I know everybody has a busy schedule” how about telling them “I’m exhausted and I just need a break. I’m not sure I can keep going at this pace.”?
4. Accept a courageous goal. Courage isn’t a state of mind that some people have and others don’t. It is something that we find along the way. If you choose a path that requires courage from you, and it means enough to you, you will find courage when you need it. When your passion about something drives you past your fear limit, you know you have something. That’s what courage looks like. It is not the absence of fear but persistence despite it. When Jesus went to the cross, He did so with much trepidation. He also did so with great joy. This is courage.
“looking only at Jesus, the originator and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2
5. Finally…put a lid on hopelessness. Find sources that drain you of hope and limit your exposure to them. Complaining and blaming is hopeless. So is being manipulated through fear. When you open the door to these things and they become coping mechanisms, you allow hopelessness in and cowardice is not far behind you.
I hope this helps you. My prayer is that you will realize that despite the decisions you have made up until this point, you’ll see that you are capable of living courageously. You can begin to make courageous decisions today. Start small and start by developing courageous habits.
See you next week.