A Time for Strength and Courage

By Mike Mazzalongo Topic: Encouragement Posted: Sat. Jan 18th 2014
In this sermon, I want to examine this quality of courage and demonstrate the various elements that come together to produce it. I want to do this by reviewing the story of a man who found the courage to stand up for God when it wasn't a popular or safe thing to do.

It seems that since the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers in New York City, we live in an increasingly worrisome world.

  • A war in Iraq that cost the U.S.A. lives and an enormous amount of money seems like a wasted effort.
  • On-going terrorist strikes against various nations each day, who knows - there could be one here too!
  • An economic instability that affects each of us in some way as the unemployment rate goes up and our paychecks shrink.

Of course all of this, plus the normal challenges of everyday life as well:

  • Raising children in an increasingly dangerous world.
  • Keeping up with the pressures of school, work, or caring for a family - some people having to do all three!
  • And then there are health and emotional issues that demand our attention.

In addition to all of the things that people must deal with, for those who are Christians:

  • There is the question of service and support of our church life, and the very painful experience of working through disagreements and offenses that occur in every congregation from time to time.
  • Some may look at all of this and say that all they want to do is find a warm blanket and take a long nap in a safe, cozy place.

Of course this is what children need to calm their fears and anxieties, but children aren't responsible for the world, or the church - we are! What we need at a time such as this is a strong dose of courage.

It would be nice if we could just order it up and take a drink of it when needed, but it doesn't work like that. Courage is composed of many elements that come together to fill a person's heart with strength and power to overcome fear and great obstacles.

Courage as a human quality is timeless. It is the same today as it has been in the past. It has no language or culture and resides in no special country or heart. In a recent survey, soldiers in every branch of the military were asked what one thing frightened them the most about going into battle. You'd think that getting wounded or killed, or captured by the enemy would be number one on the list. But when results were tallied, the #1 thing that military personal feared the most was a situation where they would lack "courage" under fire.

They would rather be wounded, captured, even tortured than be seen as weak or cowardly in the heart of battle. The need for courage when facing a dangerous or stressful situation is almost as great as the need to survive. As a matter of fact, to be courageous is a necessary trait in order to keep our self-worth alive and prevent it from crashing under the many pressures we face. Some people would rather die than be considered cowardly. This is true not only of soldiers in battle, but also of ordinary people as they face opposition and challenges in everyday life.

In this Mini Book, I want to examine this quality of courage and demonstrate the various elements that come together to produce it. I want to do this by reviewing the story of a man who found the courage to stand up for God when it wasn't a popular or safe thing to do.

Be Strong and Courageous - Joshua 1

This profile in courage begins with the experience of Joshua, the great Jewish leader who succeeded Moses, as he was poised to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land after 40 years of desert wanderings. God spoke to Joshua and the people at this time and told them that they would need courage to face the future.

In the book of Joshua 1:1-18 we see an explanation of courage, and what Joshua said it would require of God's people. I believe that these words can teach us today what we need to know in order to develop a courage of our own with which we can face our trials and challenges.

1. Cut Your Losses

Now it came about after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, that the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' servant, saying, "Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel.
- Joshua 1:1-2

Moses had led the people for 40 years in the desert. His loss was a great blow to them and a great challenge for the one who was to take his place. This, however, was not a time for panic, not a time to dissolve into grief or regret. The Lord encouraged Joshua to accept the fact that they had lost a great leader and move on.

Courage requires us to let go of the past and accept the task at hand. Courage lives in the present, no matter how difficult, not in the past, no matter how pleasant.

2. Occupy Your Time with Preparation - vs. 2

This verse also includes the admonition to get busy. Fear, panic, depression, grief, and fatigue have a way of immobilizing us, of driving us from action. Courage requires us to start the machinery again, to get busy with the business of life or ministry, whatever that may be. The Lord shows them that the first step in their long journey of recovery is to move forward and cross the Jordan River into the new land of Promise.

Sometimes we are discouraged by the mountain that is before us. A good first step is to pray, and then take the next step before you, whatever that is, no matter how small it is - just one step at a time.

3. Understand that God is with You

No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.
- Joshua 1:5

Courage is not to be confused with pride. Pride is thinking that you do great things because you're great. Courage is doing great things because God is great. The basic motivation for courageous living is the promise that God is with you and will not abandon you regardless of your state of affairs. Men and women of courage are not daredevils or fools, they are people who overcome fear through faith - and don't lose that faith regardless of the outcome of their efforts.

4. Refuse to Give Up Your Principles

Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.
- Joshua 1:6-7

Jesus explained that we shouldn't fear those who can destroy the body but not the soul, but rather fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Mt.10: 28). People compromise what is right:

  • Because they're afraid that the world will not agree.
  • Because they're afraid that they won't have enough money.
  • Because they're afraid they they'll be considered weak or foolish.

These people are afraid of the wrong things, of the wrong people. Courage means that you are more afraid of God than you are afraid of man and this world.

5. Apply Yourself to the Task at Hand

Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, "Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, saying, 'Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you are to cross this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you, to possess it.'"
- Joshua 1:10-11

I suppose that one of the reasons that things don't get done is that they don't get started, or they get started too late. Joshua heard God's command and immediately set his men into action to prepare the people to cross over to the Promised Land. Human nature always tries to do or go the easy way, the wide way, the free way.

Some students, for example, will waste precious time and leave until the last moment the important business of preparing for an exam. They'll do everything else first (talk to friends, play video games, etc.) and when there is nothing left to do, they'll study and then wonder why they do poorly on the test!

It takes courage to say no to laziness, fear, and uncertainty and begin the job, the task, the project - whatever it is that needs to get done. The person with courage is the person who gets going.

6. Give Ear to Past Voices of Encouragement

To the Reubenites and to the Gadites and to the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, "Remember the word which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, 'The Lord your God gives you rest and will give you this land.'
- Joshua 1:12-13

Joshua used the past as a motivator for the future. He reminded them that they were going to get what God promised Moses. He was also reminding them how God had provided in the past, and encouraged them to remember this as they went forward.

Every new thing is scary; every unknown step is risky. It is always easier to maintain the status quo, and easier to resist change than to make change. However, every time we are afraid of the future, we should bring to mind other steps we have taken in this life with Jesus and ask ourselves if He has ever abandoned us or left us hungry, homeless, or without help. Courage has a memory of God, and it is this memory of God that moves us courageously into the future.

7. Enable Others with Your Courage

They answered Joshua, saying, "All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you; only may the Lord your God be with you as He was with Moses. Anyone who rebels against your command and does not obey your words in all that you command him, shall be put to death; only be strong and courageous."
Joshua 1:16-18

The people drew courage from the courage of Joshua. They responded to him by repeating God's admonition to be "Strong and Courageous". Courage is an amazing commodity:

  • One person's courage can be multiplied to inspire one or one million people.
  • It is infectious. Those who never had courage can catch it from being with someone who does.
    • You don't have to sell courage or convince people to buy courage. It overwhelms you, pushes you, carries you to say and do things you never thought you could say or do.

You don't get it from a book or pill or bottle - courage comes from people, and is available to everyone. Courage does not discriminate. The lesson of Joshua is a lesson that teaches us that God's people need courageous leaders to inspire them to have the kind of courage they need to do great things for God in this world.

Summary

We are all heading into an unknown future. A new type of war, with a new type of enemy, using weapons and a strategy that threatens everyone, not just our military. We also have the challenges to continue proclaiming the gospel, expanding the kingdom, and standing fast against Satan, despite the storms that rage in our lives as well as in the church.

  • Will we have the courage to do all these things?
  • Will we have the courage to overcome whatever stands before us in our own personal lives?