Courage is a funny thing. Most of us would like to be more courageous, to have the strength to stand up to our fears. But if you listen to most advice for how to conquer fears and become brave, it’s complete garbage. Far too much of it centers on ignoring or minimizing the fears you face. That might work for small fears, but it’s utterly incapable of addressing the larger fears of life—loneliness, loss, rejection, death.
Which is why I love the biblical picture of courage. Scripture doesn’t give us some pat on the back and say, “It’s not so bad out there. Go get ‘em!” Scripture is pretty blunt about the reality of fear. But it also shows us a God who far exceeds fear. That’s the true secret of courage: God doesn’t call the brave; he makes brave the called.
Gideon is a perfect example. Gideon is decidedly not courageous. When we meet him in Judges, he’s threshing wheat in a winepress to hide it from the Midianites. We modern readers are liable to miss how strange that little detail is, but any farmer can tell you: it’s absurd. To thresh wheat, you need to toss it way up in the air, so that the wind can catch the lighter, useless stuff—the chaff—and leave the good, heavier grain to fall back down. Winepresses are underground, completely devoid of wind and with pretty short ceilings. You might as well try flying a kite down there.
So why is Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress? Because he’s terrified. And yet the angel of the Lord says to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12).
Mighty man of valor? The guy hiding in a cave? Apparently so. I find this so beautiful: God doesn’t speak to Gideon based on what he is, but based on what God is going to do with him. That’s how God works, and I’m eternally glad he does. Because that means he doesn’t see me or define me by the condition I’m in. He defines me by what he has determined to make me in Christ. That’s good news. I was a mess when God came to me. So are you. Thank God, he doesn’t reward the righteous and courageous; he makes people righteous and courageous.
The Apostle Paul points out that faith is believing God when he calls into existence things that do not yet exist (Rom 4:17). Your bravery, your integrity, your holiness—these are things that don’t exist. You aren’t naturally brave or honest or holy. But when God comes to you, he doesn’t start with what you are. He starts with Christ. He can say to a man cowering in a hole, “Man of valor!” He can say to you and to me, “My beloved, pure, blameless, strong, courageous child!”
The question for us is, Will we believe him? Or will we believe the accusations of Satan? After all, Satan does just the opposite: he starts with who we are and defines us by that. He whispers, “You’re a failure, a coward, a reject.” And he usually has facts to back up his case. Satan and the Holy Spirit both talk about our sin. But Satan starts with what we’ve done and beats us up for it. The Holy Spirit starts with a declaration of what he’s making us in Christ—and grows us up into it.
God doesn’t call the brave; he makes brave those he calls. So if you’re waiting on God to take away your fear, you’ll never start moving. Gideon becomes a hero, even though he never does stop being afraid. But he’s given an assurance to overcome his fear: “I am with you.”
“I am with you.” That’s God’s one-line answer to all of Gideon’s problems. It’s the statement he gives to end every argument. And it’s ultimately what he says to us in our greatest moments of fear. Because if God is with us—literally inside of us by his Holy Spirit—then what does it matter how great our enemies are? We might still be afraid, but we’ve got an Advocate that can conquer every fear.
Courage isn’t the absence of fear. That’s naiveté. Neither is it ignoring our fears. That’s foolishness. True courage is following God in the midst of fear, embracing our identity in Christ, and allowing his salvation to embolden us. God doesn’t call you because you’re brave. But he is calling you. And if you answer, his perfect love will drive out every last fear.
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