A Time for Courage
If you hadn’t noticed, the world is a bit topsy-turvey at the moment. As you all enter adulthood, you are faced with hard times. Congrats. You can either mope about it, complaining about previous generations idiocy. Or you can say, “I need a lion or bear thrown in to make it more interesting (Cf. Pro. 23:16).”
This is a time for courage. But courage isn’t a pill you take. It isn’t a class at a Christian Liberal Arts college. Courage isn’t found in poasting edgy memes. Courage is the steadfast stance of faith. God is your God. Believe it. Then live it.
But we must first ask, “Where does discouragement come from?” There are a few ways in which staunchness can turn into stench. First, discouragement can arise from unconfessed sin. The cure, of course, is to confess your sin. To God & to those you’ve sinned against. Then sin no more. In the battle against darkness, harboring evil or disobedience in your own heart is doing the Enemy’s dirty work for him. Think of the Lord’s warning in Leviticus 26:14-17 “But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments; And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant: I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you.”
Secondly, discouragement can arise from saying yes to going along with sinners. In other words, you may not be doing anything sinful per se (or so you argue with yourself), but you keep finding yourself keeping company with knuckleheads & idiots. Solomon’s instruction is the cure if this describes you: “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not (Pro 1:10).” Learn to say “No.” “No” to your own heart, and “no” to the enticements of evildoers.
A third source of discouragement comes from external trials. This one is trickier. It may be that you look around you and think that you didn’t ask for any of this. You were minding your own business. You didn’t ask to be cast in a dystopian novel about tyrannical mad scientists & politicians wanting to run experiments on you, while you wear VR headsets in a pod, being fed plant-based meat goo, and sedated with AI kink-porn generated specifically for you. Trials which arise without your doing can discourage. But you must not, for any reason, make excuses. Here be dragons, demons, devils, and dictators. You can either be a NPC or imitate Christ and open prison doors through Gospel fidelity and Gospel proclamation (Is. 61:1).
A Lesson from a Hobbit
Let me go on a little rabbit trail to Middle Earth for a moment. There’s a wonderful line in The Hobbit where it describes Bilbo entering Smaug’s lair for the first time. He had already faced many dangers, and acquitted himself nobly & courageously. But the seemingly small step from the safety of the tunnel into the danger of Smaug’s treasure room was described this way: “It was at this point [the end of the secret tunnel] that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.”
It was that small step of courage that enabled great feats of history. In other words, faithfulness in a thousand daily duties is what leads to great exploits. You aren’t born courageous, you become courageous by doing the good things you know you ought to do, even when no one sees it; and fleeing the evil things you ought not to do even if everyone is telling you otherwise.
Where Courage Comes From
Furthermore, Scripture teaches us where true courage comes from: “Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you (Isa 35:3-4).” Inward strength & fortitude arise from eyes fixed on Christ. This passage in Isaiah is foretelling the coming of the New Covenant mercies which Christ would usher in, and the exhortation to strength is in the context of the sweeping reformation which His redeeming work would bring about.
You cannot stand firm on toothpick stilts of self-determination, or self-righteousness. The only solid ground is that God, in Christ, has forgiven all your sins and given you His Spirit in order that you might walk in all righteousness. Paul exhorts the Corinthian church this way, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong (1Co 16:13).” This steadfast courage arises from those who know and believe that they have been buried with Christ, and raised into the life of resurrection which Christ secured for them, and which the Spirit assures them of. One saint of old said it this way, “My time is short; I must be up and doing; I must go briskly on with my work, leaving it to my Lord to find me strength for it and success in it. His blessing I expect here and forever; not for anything I have done; and yet I would labor as hard as if heaven was to be the reward of my labors.”
Ye Fearful Saints
And so, as the hymn reminds us, “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take.” You’ve got a lifetime of hardship ahead. Don’t bemoan it. Don’t give way to discouragement. Rise to occasion. Play the man. Let Christ be seen in how you keep your room, your budget, your browsing history, your words to friends and strangers.
As William Plumer, a theologian of yesteryear, wrote, “Would you have dauntless courage in all coming trials and persecutions? Die unto sin, hold fast the covenant and promises of God, and let Christ be all in all to you. He who would not be filled with shame, must first count the cost of all he undertakes. God’s word and Spirit are always on the side of truth and duty, and may be infallibly relied on. The enemy has no arts nor devices that have not been thwarted a thousand times. He can be beaten. He has been vanquished.”