8 Baby Steps To Christian Courage

Christian leaders face many difficult, daunting, demanding, and, sometimes, dangerous situations – both outside the church and inside the church. That’s why the military model of leadership is used so commonly in Scripture. And yet the vast majority of us are cowards. We avoid danger. We walk away from conflict. We prefer comfort and ease to sacrifice and pain. Christians especially may have a tendency towards timidity rather than bravery. Fear comes more naturally than faith. 

That’s why God calls us to courage in the Bible (Josh. 1:6, 9, 18; 1 Cor. 9:26; 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 1:7; 2:3-4), and also gives us many examples of it in the Bible and in Church History. These exhortations and examples set the bar high but don’t really provide help in reaching it. So, although I feel I have more expertise in cowardice than courage, here are a few things I've found useful in times when I have been enabled to put my head above the parapet.

1. Memorize scripture

When I studied at Glasgow University, I did a bit of open-air preaching with some other young guys. Most of us did so with ghost-white faces and jelly-knees. We also published and distributed a Christian newspaper for students. I remember handing it out to 300 students at the door of my moral philosophy class, and then entering the lecture auditorium to find 598 angry eyes staring at me (there was one other Christian in the class). I must admit that I used to have sleepless nights before such baby-steps of Christian witness. However, I still remember the spiritual power I enjoyed when I tried to memorize Scripture before venturing forth on these mornings. I used to look for two verses: one to remind me of God's greatness (e.g. Isa. 40:12), and one to remind me of human smallness (e.g. Isa. 40:6).

2. Ponder the potential

When faced with challenges, I have a tendency to focus on all the possible negative outcomes: he will laugh/shout at me, they will leave the congregation, she will slam the door in my face, they will assault me, etc. I have to battle to think and keep thinking about the possible positive outcomes. I especially want to remind myself of the potential of my pathetic witness being used to save a precious soul to the glory of God. "Come on, David, think of what one verse of Scripture can do with God's blessing....This tract could transform a family...This young man may become a missionary to the Jews...This young Christian woman could be rescued from a miserable marriage to a worldly man...Jesus might be loved by one more person."

3. Seek the En-courager

The Holy Spirit is called the Comforter, which can also be translated "the Encourager," the one who comes alongside us to prompt, motivate, and move us forward. The most Spirit-filled people I've known have been marked by a gentle courage. And that's quite different to a rude, aggressive, and abrasive spirit that has more to do with nature than with grace.

4. Take baby-steps

Military cadets are not thrown straight into front-line battle. They are broken in gradually; trained and pushed further and further until they are battle-ready. Some Christians let the "small" battles pass them by; they're waiting for the big test; but that never comes. Meanwhile they are softened and weakened more and more by their refusal to fight the "little" fights God brings their way - until they are useless for anything. (Although they are usually fantastic armchair generals). So, don't view the little fights as beneath you, but as sent by God to train you and gradually build you up for more vicious battles ahead.

5. Trust the Lord with your future

The Lord may ask us to take action that risks our future ministries. We may have to take a stand against powerful people, even Christian people, who might not hesitate to use their influence to destroy us and our congregations. Everything is saying, "If you do this, or say that, then your ministry will be terminated, your character will be blackened, you will be put out of the church, your past will be dredged for skeletons, etc." But we must trust the Lord, not just for our salvation but for our providence.

6. Hold on to the promises

The Lord has promised that He will honor those who honor Him (1 Sam. 2:30). How many Christian men and women have held on to that promise in the heat of battle. How many have found it to be so abundantly true, no matter how much dishonor may be heaped upon them for a time.

7. Maintain a clear conscience

Always tell the truth; No matter the cost or consequences. Nothing weakens a person like an accusing conscience. I've seen good men retreat from spiritual battles because of something in their past: "How can I take this action, speak this truth, if I've done this or that myself?" The Devil uses these weaknesses: "Who are you to take a stand when you're no better yourself..." Why was Paul so courageous? Because he exercised himself to have a conscience void of offence before God and man (Acts 24:16).

8. Remember the final judgment

We may have to suffer loss for a few years here on earth. We may see the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. We may even see good people defend the wicked and oppress the righteous. However, we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account for the deeds done in the body. However many unjust judgments are passed upon us here, we may appeal to the final judgment, lay our case there, and wait for the verdict that will both bring forth our judgment like the noon day sun (Ps. 37:6) and also cut down the wicked, no matter how strong their tree may appear (Ps. 37:35-36).

Dr. David Murray