Courage: How to Face Down Your Fears
November 6, 1994
How much courage do you have? Would your friends, co-workers and family members call you a courageous person?
My text this morning is one verse of scripture:
“The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” Proverbs 28:1
The dictionary defines courage this way: the ability to face and deal with a dangerous or difficult situation.
There are two parts—first to face, and then to deal with.
It is interesting to read modern writers on the subject of courage because they give you some interesting definitions. For instance, one that is often quoted goes this way, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” General George Patten defined it this way: “Courage is fear that holds on for one more minute.” Franklin P. Jones said it this way: “Courage is the ability not to let people know how scared you are on the inside.” Captain A. Riddenbacher put it this way: “Courage is doing what you are afraid to do. Where there is no fear, there is no courage.”
Think about the definition. It is the ability to face and deal with a dangerous or difficult situation. I ask you again: how much courage do you have? Would your friends call you a courageous person?
It is interesting to think about the images of courage. Most of the popular images of courage have to do with men fighting on a battlefield. It’s the soldiers coming ashore at Omaha Beach. It’s the defenders of Baston, holding out against the opposition. It’s the Marines landing on Iwo Jima. It’s the Blue and the Grey battling at Gettysburg or it’s President Kennedy standing strong during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Those are the popular images of courage. They have to do with warfare and bloodshed and the crash of armies on the battlefield.
I don’t deny or doubt in the least that those things are part of what courage is all about; however, if that is all that courage means, most of us are left out because most of us won’t ever literally be on a battlefield.
I have been pondering about the many faces of courage. This is what I think courage is. It is a family dealing with terminal cancer. It is a single mother, struggling to raise her family. It is a widow who faces the last years of her life without her beloved husband by her side. It is a child of divorce, struggling with his self image, with doubt and anger and feelings of rejection. It is a single person who chooses purity over promiscuity. It is an engaged couple who will wait even though the world says go ahead. It is somebody who moves into the Austin community. It is an employee who sees something wrong, greed or corruption, and has the courage to blow the whistle. It is a mother facing a difficult surgery. It is what President Reagan showed yesterday. Did you hear the announcement that came late yesterday afternoon? Former President Reagan announced to the nation that at the age of 83, he’s been diagnosed with having Alzheimer’s Disease, an irreversible, incurable disease, a disease that will not only take his life, it will take his health, his rationality, everything from him. Courage is a man like that saying something when he didn’t have to. He could have decided to keep it quiet for years. But he wanted to help other people.
What do those things have in common? Four things:
1. Bravery in the face of danger.
2. Steadfastness in the face of opposition.
3. Action in the face of resistance.
4. Optimism in the face of despair.
The first one says I won’t be afraid. The second one says I won’t give up. The third one says I won’t be intimidated. The fourth one says I won’t lose heart.
It is amazing how much the Bible has to say on this subject.
“Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 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,” Joshua 1:9 says, “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.” Joshua 1:6-7
“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.” Psalm 27:1-3
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7
“Perfect love drives out fear.” 1 John 4:18
You ought to read your Bible sometime and count the number of times God says, “Fear not.” The people who count such things have counted the fear nots in the King James version of the Bible. They tell us that there are 365 fear nots, that is, there is one fear not for every day of the year.
I want to give you four steps to dealing with fear. These four steps will help you move from fear to faith, from cowardice to courage.
1. Remember your position.
Our text says, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” The righteous are bold, not the wicked. The wicked are scared to death. The first step to courage is to remember who you are in Jesus Christ, to remember that in Christ you are strong, victorious, accepted, justified, redeemed, saved, and completely forgiven. Your sins are washed away. You are seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenlies. You are justified, therefore you are righteous. You were born for courage, not for fear. II Timothy 1:7 tells us that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, of power and of a sound mind. If you have a spirit of fear, timidity or anxiety, it didn’t come from God. God does not give to his people a spirit of fear.
Remember that in Christ you are strong, victorious, accepted, justified, redeemed, saved, and completely forgiven.
You may remember the story of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. It is the story about the American Hockey Team, basically made up of men barely out of their teens. Some of them just out of college, some of them still in college, all basically amateurs. They were given no chance of winning the gold medal because to win it, they would have to defeat the mighty, awesome, unbelievably talented Russian hockey team, a team that we have not beaten in Olympic competition in 20 years, a team that was considered to be invincible. In 1980 the American team won the first game, the second and third games, and moved into the medal round. There they were to face the Russian team in the semi-finals. Almost nobody thought they could win that game. Gathered in the locker room before the game, the coach, Herb Brooks, looked at the faces of his players and knew that he had just one chance to say something to them. He said one sentence, “Men, you were born to play this game.” As one man, they arose and went out on the ice and defeated the mighty Russian team and went on the beat Finland to win the gold medal against all odds. Brothers and sisters, I will say the same thing to you. You were born to play this game. You were born for courage, for bravery, for strength, to be an overcomer. God has given you his Spirit. You were not born to be a loser. You were born through Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit to be victorious over the problems, struggles and trials of life.
2. Confront your fears.
Remember the text. “The wicked flee when no man pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” You will be gripped with fear until you decide to confront it. Fear will win every day until you stand up, look that fear straight in the face, and say, “You are not going to win over me anymore. By the help of God and with the power of the Holy Spirit, I am going to win against you.” You will never win until you rise up and confront the thing that is dragging you down.
Courage is nothing more than seeing the fear and taking action against it. How many of you know the 95% Rule of Worry? It goes like this: 95% of the things you worry about won’t happen. Some of you may be surprised to know this, but I tend to be a worry-wort. At least once a week my wife will say, “Stop worrying about that. You’re worrying about something that is never going to happen, and even if it does happen, we’ll deal with it when it happens.”
God has given us a sound mind so that we can look at our problems. He’s given us power so we can overcome, and he’s given us love so we can respond in his character. There is no reason for a child of God to be gripped and destroyed by fear.
I was reading this week and came across a very interesting story. This is the story about Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play in the major leagues. A man by the name of Branch Ricky, the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, tried to sign Jackie up back in the 1940’s. No black man had ever played in the major leagues, and Jackie wanted to, but was scared of the reaction. Here is the story of their encounter, as Branch was trying to recruit him to be the first black player.
Courage is nothing more than seeing the fear and taking action against it.
“Mr. Ricky,” I said, “It sounds like a dream come true. Not only for me, but for my race. But there will be trouble ahead for you, for me, for my people and for baseball.”
“Trouble ahead,” Branch Ricky rolled the phrase over his lips as though he liked the sound. “You know, Jackie, I was a small boy when I took my first train ride. On that same train was an old couple also riding for the first time. We were going through the Rocky Mountains. The old man was sitting by the window. He looked ahead and saw that just ahead of us there was what looked to be a sheer drop off. He said, ‘Trouble ahead, Ma!. We’re high above the precipice and we’re going to run right off.’ To my boyish ears, the noise of the wheels repeated it, ‘Trouble ahead, trouble ahead, trouble ahead.’ I never hear train wheels to this day but what I think of this. But our train course bent at the last moment into a tunnel right after the old man spoke, and we came out on the other side of the mountain. That’s the way it is with most trouble ahead in this world, Jackie, if we use the common sense and courage God gave us. But you’ve got to study the hazards and build wisely. God is with us in this, Jackie. You know your Bible. It’s good, simple Christianity for us to face realities and recognize what we’re up against. We have to fight our problems together with tact and common sense.”
You have to confront your fears. You think you’re going to go over the edge. You’re never going to know until you get out there and confront it.
3. Censor your input.
A healthy mind is absolutely essential to getting free from fear. The Bible says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” There is a negative side to this and a positive side. The negative side is that you have to cut the negative people out of your life, those who are dragging you down. You probably have people telling you that you can’t, it can’t be done, it won’t work. They tell kids you can study all you want, you can work as hard as you want, you still won’t make an A. You can save all the money you want, you still won’t buy that house. You can apply for that job, but will never make it. They are just a bunch of can’ts and ain’ts and naysayers who pull you down and feed your fears. Sensor your input so you’re not listening to people who are feeding your fears. The positive side is Romans 12:2. “Be not conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Colossians 3:2 tells us to set our mind on things above where Christ dwells with God in heaven. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Psalm 119:165 says, “Great peace have they which love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.”
This will work for you, but you have to make it work. Put the word of God in one ear, and the fear will go out the other ear. Fill your mind with the Word of God, and you won’t have time to dwell in the depths of overcoming fear.
I have a dear friend who is going through a difficult experience. A terrible thing is happening to her and it’s hard because it’s not her fault. I saw her about a month and a half ago. I asked her how she was doing. She poured out her story. It was awful. I didn’t know what to tell her because there was another person involved. There was no magical formula I could give her. You can change your own heart, but you can’t change somebody else’s heart. That’s in the hands of God. I told her that I didn’t know how to change the situation, but I did know what she ought to be doing personally. I told her, “You can take care of yourself, you can handle yourself without regard to the other person. I want you to start memorizing scripture.” She looked at me like I was the man from the moon. She said, “Where do I start?” I said, “Psalm 121: I will lift my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” She said, “I don’t know if I can.” I said, “I know you can. Do it.”
Put the word of God in one ear, and the fear will go out the other ear.
I saw her the next week and asked her how it was going. She told me her story. It had only gotten worse. I asked her how she had done with the Scripture memory. She said, “I haven’t done too well on it. I memorize a verse then my mind goes crazy on me and I start thinking about all the other stuff.” I told her to keep working on it. I didn’t see her again for two or three weeks. When I asked her how she was doing, she said her personal situation was worse, but she had Psalm 121 memorized. I told her to let me hear it. She said, “I’m not ready for that yet, but I’m doing better. What should I do now?” I said, “Go to Psalm 91; that’s like the NFL of Psalms. It has a lot of images in it. You have to think hard if you are going to memorize it.” I didn’t see her for five or six weeks. I saw her this week and asked, “How is it going?” “Not much better in personal ways. But,” she said, “I’ve been memorizing Psalm 91.” I looked at her and noticed she is doing great. In the midst of a great catastrophe she has decided to sensor her input and build her life around the Word of God and build it into her mind so that in the midst of what ought to be a fearful situation, she can be strong because she is standing on what God has said. She has literally built it into her mind. You have to censor your input in a time of crisis so the Word of God becomes not just something you read on Sunday, but literally the stuff that you live on.
4. Cultivate your love.
You have to live in such a way as if the fear didn’t exist. I John 4:18 says, “Perfect love casts out fear.” You can either have the love of God or you can have fear generated by Satan, but you can’t have them both dominating your life at the same time. Either fear will push the love out, or the love of God will push the fear out. How do you do that?
A. Thank God for the thing that is causing you to fear.
Have you ever done that, thanking God for the very thing that is causing you trepidation? Lord, I didn’t want this, I didn’t need this, I’m not sure I deserve this, but I thank you for sending it into my life.
B. List the blessings that have come into your life because of the thing that you fear so badly.
Now you’re praying, you’re reading your Bible, asking your friends to help you pray, you can’t wait to come to church because you’re dying during the week. And best of all, at long last, God has got your undivided attention, which is what he wanted all along.
C. Each day share one of those blessings with one other person.
I’ve talked before about Fred Hartman, a member of this church, the Deacon over Awana with his wife Erlene. Fred’s been in a two-year battle with cancer. I think he’s one of the most admired and loved men in this church. This week I had a little chance to spend some time with Fred, Erlene and Danny. Things aren’t good right now. The cancer is roaring on. But when I went into their house on Friday night, I felt the spirit of peace in that house. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit filling that house where a man is struggling against cancer. I asked myself, “How can it be, here at the end of the battle, they can still smile, they still believe in God?” Erlene is still going on. And through the tears there is joy.
I was reminded of something yesterday. Over two years ago when Fred first got the cancer, the first time I went to see him Fred said something to me that nobody else has ever said. He said, “You know, when people get cancer they want to ask ‘why me?’ I have never done that. I have asked the Lord ‘why not me?’ All my life I have known God’s blessings. He’s been so good to me. He has watched over me, brought me back, given me a wonderful wife, a son, a business, a wonderful home, a church, more friends than anybody should ever be allowed to have. I have received so many of God’s blessings, if this happens to other people, why shouldn’t it also happen to me?” I thought to myself, “When you go in with that attitude, that is why when you come to the end of the road you’re still smiling, still rejoicing and believing in God.”
Brothers and sisters, that is what courage is. It is facing and dealing with the impossible situations of life and still believing in God, still rejoicing in his goodness.
I don’t want you to add courage. You already have courage. God put it in you the moment you came to Christ. Use the courage that God has given you. You already have victory in Jesus Christ. Now live in that victory. You already have power. Use the power that God has given you. What is courage? It is facing and dealing with dangerous and difficult situations of life.
This is what I want you to do:
- Name your fear. You already know what it is.
- Make a decision this week to confront it and not run away from it.
What would your life be like if that fear didn’t exist? It is possible. There is an old Italian proverb that goes this way: Better to spend one day as a lion than one hundred years as a sheep. Better to spend one day with courageous faith in God than a whole lifetime cowering in fear.
- Go out and the Lord will be with you. Lift up your head with hope and confidence in Almighty God, that whatever he throws your way, you can face. Take courage, be strong and courageous, for the Lord our God is with you. Fear not, children of God.