"Grace" may be my word for the year 2020, but "courage" is without a doubt my word for the decade of the 2010s. By nature I am not brave; I always identified with Piglet, the Very Small Animal of the Pooh stories. Through the many dangers, toils, and snares of the decade nearing its end, however, it seems that God intends to teach me courage if it kills me. (Kidding. Kind of. Maybe not.)
In a recent Joni and Friends podcast episode, Joni Eareckson Tada commented that you don't learn to swim on dry land, and you don't learn patience without something to endure. Similarly, you don't learn courage in green pastures and still waters. You learn courage in the valley of the shadow of death, with the wolves howling nearby. You learn courage in the middle of the sea with waves swamping your boat and no land in sight.
You learn courage in the days when you wake up thinking, "I can't keep going. I have to keep going. Lord, keep me going. Courage, dear heart."
And He does.
I am learning that courage is foremost a person, specifically the person of Jesus Christ. He faced down fear that caused Him to sweat blood at Gethsemane. He could have destroyed the Roman and Jewish leaders without strain, but He displayed the courage to submit to flogging, mocking, a crown of thorns on his head, nails in His hands and feet, stripped-bare humiliation, and the agony of death by asphyxiation on the cross. He chose all of that because it was the only way to wipe out the sins of wretches like me. And that supremely, sublimely courageous one dwells in me and in all who trust Him. His courage is my courage.
I need to read that again: He who is courage lives in me. His courage is my courage.
I am learning, second, that courage is rooted in the promises of the God who cannot lie. The God who reveals Himself in the Christian Scriptures does not change His mind. He does not make promises and then forget them. He does not give up when He realizes I'm not worth it. (He knows I'm not and loves me anyway.) His promises light up like neon signs when we go to His Word in desperate need. If you don't know where to go, try Romans 8, Psalm 23, 27, 46, or 91, Isaiah 40, Isaiah 41:10, Isaiah 43:2, Ephesians 1, John 10, 14, 15, and 16, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, and on and on. In 33 years of walking with God, I have yet to find a need without a promise to match it.
I am learning, finally, that courage is a plodding path forward in the will of God, no matter how much my knees and ankles tremble in my hiking boots and braces. As the saying goes, it doesn't have to be a big step; it just needs to be a step in the right direction. "Courage is not the absence of fear; courage is fear walking" (Susan David). What is my next right thing? What is yours? Lord, grant us grace to do that, knowing You go with us and dwell in us to enable us to do Your will and be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).
Lord, it feels like You are inviting all of us in this storm of a year to grow in courage. In some area or other, or maybe many at once, I suspect that everyone reading this feels a Very Small Animal. And sometimes we feel ashamed of that fear. Thank You for being our Very Big God, for being with us, for being for us, for empowering us to walk in Your will even when we're afraid, for picking us up when we fall, for wiping our tears when we fail miserably and come running back to You. Strengthen us with Your Spirit to become more like Your Son in every way, including His courage. When we feel afraid, let us trust in You. Mark our lives with Your fingerprints, that the watching world may see Christ in us and want to know You. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.