The saying is, “Practice what you preach.” If my goal is to preach only what I practice, then a closing devotion on courage is a hard thing for me to do. I feel more like my life has been defined by fear. Who am I to talk about courage. I am plagued by questions. Will my family be OK? Will we be stranded? Will we be destitute? Will some disastrous event catch up with us?
The truth is: God has taken very good care of me and my family from the time I was child. You’d think that after 48 years of existence I would be comfortable with this. God will not abandon me.
The catch is this: I don’t doubt God will have God’s will done. I do doubt that I will always like what God decides to be done. So I go through life with my teeth clenched, my eyes closed tight, metaphorically screaming at God, “What are you going to make me endure next?!”
And the truth is that God has been very kind to me. God has most certainly not done everything for me I hoped God would do, but God has always provided for me and my family. He has always taken care of us. How could I possibly doubt him on this?
Even supposing I get past worrying that God will provide for me, life offers new challenges, new things to fear. In the last few weeks the burning question has been: will I stand up for what I believe is right, insist on what I’m fairly certain scripture says very plainly, no matter how much others may call me ignorant and unenlightened — or worse, deliberately prejudicial and unloving.
We are called to bear witness to a message that is not always welcome, and this should not surprise us. Paul was actively opposed in Philippi and Thessalonica. He received a tepid reception in Athens, followed shortly by open mocking. He ran into intense opposition from the Jewish population in Corinth. In Ephesus, he discovered just how violent a crowd can become when its economic interest is threatened.
We don’t go looking for opposition. We don’t go out trying to make people mad. But as soon as we start to say, “This is what God expects of us, and that is not something God allows for us,” we should expect people to object.
And if we discover that our behavior looks so much like the non-Christians around us and the things we approve and disapprove are so much like the non-Christians around us that we never do anything particularly objectionable, then it is worth asking if we are really representing what God has asked us to represent.
In any case, once the inevitable opposition comes, once we encounter those who will mock us, who will discredit us, who will try to silence us, who will say, “You can’t say that; it’s not polite,” or, “You don’t know what love is,” when we simply state what God requires of us … then it takes courage to go on. Then we have to hear what God told Paul in Corinth, “Continue speaking. Don’t be silent.”
Did you notice how the last three chapters of 2 Corinthians read? Paul almost seems to be humiliating himself before the Corinthians, but he has to get their attention. He has to make sure they stand firm. Whatever it takes, he will do it to make sure the Corinthians stand firm.
So stand firm. Represent the gospel, not in a mean-spirited way, not in a way that discredits the gospel, but nevertheless resolutely. Represent the love of God, but be ready to represent a love that can say both, “You have no idea how much God loves you,” but can also say, “We don’t believe that is behavior our loving Creator expects of us.” Christians have always had to do both.
In several of these closing devotionals, I’ve said something like this: “If you cannot achieve this high ideal, then at least do this one thing here.” In each case, I felt like I was saying something like the author of Ephesians: “After you have done everything, stand.” I say this as much to myself as anyone else.
Your courage may not take you to some extraordinary heights. It may not have you accomplish anything that strikes you as great. But God will give you the courage to stand. When you’ve done everything else you can do, when you can see no way forward, just stand. Stand put … and see what God can do.