TEXT: Joshua 1:5-9

I said last week that we would be talking more about Spiritual Gifts in the coming weeks. For those of you who know the Bible passages about spiritual gifts, you will recognize that courage is not on the traditional list. But I chose courage to talk about this morning for two reasons. First, as I have talked with many of you over the past few weeks, there are a number of you facing some pretty intimidating challenges. I've been facing some of those myself, and when I turned to this passage in Joshua for personal comfort and it came through for me yet again, I decided that it could probably be a benefit to many of you as well.

So in that sense it is a deviation from the discussion of spiritual gifts. But in another sense, it is the perfect prelude to that discussion. When we discover that we have gifts from God and gain a sense of what using those gifts actively for God might look like, we are often left trembling in our boots. Not because the task is awful–often it is exactly what we've dreamed of, but simply because it is new, untried, because it promises to be a channel for the power of God. When you know what the power of God is capable of, becoming a channel for it is like deciding to work in a nuclear plant or with high voltage wires. Do it right and millions benefit. Mess up and you're toast. Now God is much more forgiving than high voltage wires, but it is a scary prospect none the less.

So this is just a quick look at where we can find the courage both to face life and to live it with integrity. In the passage that we read from Joshua, God says to Joshua three times "Be strong and courageous." Joshua's going to need that. Moses has just died, and Joshua has big shoes to fill. He is the leader of Israel now, and it's his job to get them into the promised land. He will need both strength and courage in large measure. Where does he get it?

Well, before we can answer that, we need to take a look at what courage is and at what it isn't. The first thing to understand is that courage is only evident when we are actually doing something. There is a limited amount of courage involved to speak our intentions..."I'm going to march right in there and call his bluff." "I'm going to tell the boss that I refuse to work for a company that harms people the way ours does." Because words are often a first step toward action, stating our intentions does involve a degree of courage. But the big test is in what we actually do, not in what we say we're going to do.

Because courage has to do with our actions rather than our intentions, we can be afraid and still have courage. This is the lesson of the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz. The lion thinks he has no courage because he is afraid. When he discovers that the Wizard could give him the courage he seeks, he sets out with Dorothy and his friends. During their adventures on the way, the cowardly lion acts with courage to save the ones he loves...even though he is terribly afraid. By the time they get to the Wizard, the Wizard is able to point out that the lion has courage already. Even though he was afraid, he didn't act on the fear. He let love for his friends take charge of his actions, and that love gave him courage. The lion learns that he doesn't have to quit being afraid so much as he has to stop ACTING afraid. In order to have courage he simply has to do what love demands rather than doing what fear demands. That he feels fear isn't's what he does that counts.

So how do we get to that point? How do we move from being to afraid to do anything to having the courage to do what is needed? Well, courage takes faith. Everybody has faith in something. You might have the courage to face a bully because you have faith in your own physical strength. You might have the courage to debate because you have faith in your intellectual ability. You might have courage to go back to school because you have faith in the educational system; or you might have courage to engage the courts because you have faith in the legal system or in a particular attorney. You might have faith in science or nature or friends.

It's not wrong to have some degree of faith in any of those things. But the witness of Scripture is that if you want to be sure your courage never fails, you need to anchor your faith in the God who never fails. All of those other things will be a help from time to time. But every one of them is also capable of letting you down. If you really want courage to face whatever you have to face, it needs to be anchored in faith in God.

The passage we read from Joshua shows how and why that works. God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous. Why? Because God is with him. Not because there are no threats, not because it's going to be easy. Joshua is told to act with courage because he is doing God's work and God is with him.

But notice that Joshua is not to assume that God will support everything that Joshua decides to do. God is always with him, as God promises back in verse 5..."I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you," says God. But God's presence only means success in a particular venture when the particular thing is part of God's will. That is why after saying "Be strong and very courageous" in verse 7, God adds, "Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful."

The ability to act with courage comes out of faith in God's presence with us and obedience to the will of God. But, Anne, how do I know the will of God? Well, that's the million dollar question, and there is no sure-fire, easy answer. I can't tell you how to know the will of God in every situation, I have times when I have trouble figuring it out myself. But I can tell you that you won't ever come to a point of being able to know the will of God if you are not in relationship with God.

The better you know a person, the more likely you are to know what that person would want, how they would respond to something, what they are thinking, etc. It's the same with God. To know God's will, you need to begin by knowing God. Where you start that process depends largely on your personality type, but there are three different things that need to eventually be in place. One of those is the Bible. In this book...or rather this collection of 66 have a ton of information about what God does and doesn't like.

And if you have trouble with just the words, you have the physical picture of Jesus. Jesus shows us how God wants us to behave in the world. It may not give you a specific answer about your situation, but it certainly can give you the general principles by which God operates. And sometimes, discovering God's will is simply a matter of comparing your options to those general principles. Does it show love to all concerned? Is it fair and just? Is it merciful? Without knowing the Bible, you are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to figuring out whether you are headed in a direction that God can support.

A second thing you will need is an active prayer life. It's helpful to read about someone, more helpful still to read their letters, but if you don't actually have conversations with them, it's hard to really know who they are. Prayer is one place you get help in how to apply the general principles of Scripture to the exact situation you are facing. Work on how to pray. And the third critical piece of learning to know God's will is participating in Christian fellowship. Being with other Christians provides you with a living voice outside of yourself that can help you gain clarity and perspective.

Bible, Prayer, and Christian Fellowship...any one of them by itself can leave you with a lopsided picture, sometimes even a distorted picture of the nature of God. We need the balance that all three together provide to really develop a strong relationship with God. A strong relationship with God provides more ways to determine God's will in any given situation as well as the faith that the God that you know will be there with you in the situation. As you faith and your knowledge of God's will grows, so will your courage.

Virtues like courage are not things that simply appear in full measure where they have never been before. They develop as we develop. I guess the long and short of the lesson is don't expect to win a marathon by watching a lot of them on TV. Like anything else, you will have to train and learn and develop the strength and endurance over time. If you find yourself in a crisis and the courage to act is failing you, I refer you to last week's sermon...ask for help. I have done that...I still do that. If you are not facing something fearful right now, then by all means use the time to prepare yourself for when you are. Those trials will come, and this is your chance to be ready for them.

Dust off the Bible and start reading. We've had a wonderful turnout for the Bible 101 class and we will be offering it again. Study with a group, read it on your own. Become a person of prayer. Be faithful in attending worship and gathering either formally or informally with other Christians. When you are too emotionally involved to make a decision, they will help you see. Get to know God and at least generally the kinds of things that God likes or doesn't like. Talk with Christian friends about how God does or doesn't speak to them. Get to know the God who made you...the God who is closer than your breathing...the God who loved you before you knew your own name...before your parents knew your name.

"Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."


(c) 2001, Anne Robertson

Return to