From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 7 – Some more of the ways in which we must become faithful
Lack of courage causes people to stay silent when they should speak up. It causes many preachers to give a compromised, watered down message. They know that telling the whole truth about what the Bible says would cause controversy and tension. It could possibly even lead to them losing their position as a minister. The thought of losing his income, home and pension has caused many a preacher to tone down what the Bible says and to limit themselves to saying what people want to hear, rather than what God wants to be said.
Whoever you are, and whatever the circumstances you might face, the answer is the same. We all need to settle things beforehand, and to make a clear and firm decision, that we will always say and do what is right, regardless of the consequences. It is no good leaving it to the moment of crisis and hoping that at that point you will make the right choice. You won’t. You will buckle under the immediate pressure of the situation and give in to your fear.
But if you settle it all clearly beforehand then, when the moment of testing comes, you will already know very clearly what you must do. The fact that the decision has already been made makes it much easier to carry it out when the crisis comes. It means that you don’t have to think quickly on the spot, or make instant decisions, because you have already done your thinking and made your decisions.
But someone might reply to that by saying that if the fear is too strong, and your courage is too small, then there is nothing you can do about it, just as there is nothing you can do about your height or the colour of your eyes. Some might even say that the amount of courage you have is genetically determined and is just something you are born with. Therefore, they would argue that there is nothing you can do about it if you don’t have enough courage. According to that line of reasoning you can’t be blamed if you fail for lack of courage, because it’s not your fault.
That is not how the Bible presents it. It makes clear that we are very much answerable for our lack of courage. We are also answerable for our failure, in the months or years leading up to that point of severe testing, to have prepared ourselves for it properly. The point is that, at least in the West, it is rare for any person to begin their life as a Christian and then immediately be thrust into a situation of very severe testing and danger. It is not impossible, especially in certain countries where Christianity is forbidden. However, by and large, God arranges it so that the tests we have to face begin small and then get steadily larger over the years.
Therefore, a faithful person with the right heart-attitude will prepare themselves for larger and larger tests by passing each of the smaller tests which they face along the way. No school will enter a pupil for ‘A’ level exams before he has taken GCSE exams and a host of other, easier, exams in the years before those. Likewise, God expects you to develop the quality of faithfulness, and to grow your courage, by taking and passing a long series of smaller tests from the moment you become a Christian.
If you set your heart to pass those earlier tests and sincerely pray that God will give you the courage to face them, then your courage will have grown to the required level when the time comes to face a more severe test. Moreover, the practice you have had will put you in the habit of immediately resolving to be faithful and deciding to be obedient before you ever face the danger. That way, when danger does come, you will be ready to make the right decisions instantly, before you have had any time to dwell on the danger, or to be talked out of doing what is right.
So, you will certainly be held accountable for the hundreds of small challenges and tests of your courage that you take along the way. Therefore, if you really want to be faithful, then you will resolve to learn courage from each of those experiences. So any failure on your part to handle a severe test later on would really have been caused by your repeated failures to overcome your fear when facing smaller tests in the past. For those reasons, you cannot deny responsibility when your courage fails you in some major crisis. That’s because you could have developed your courage to the necessary level, if you had really wanted to and had been determined to pass the earlier test.
A classic example of this is the teenage David, when he volunteered to fight Goliath. He was certainly brave on that day, but it was by no means his first battle. He had, on many occasions, fought smaller battles with bears and lions when he was caring for his father’s sheep. It was on those many previous occasions that he learned how to control and overcome his fear.
That was also when he had learned how to use a sling shot. So he perfected that skill too, ready for when he needed it. David had practiced overcoming his fear and so the contest with Goliath was not quite as unfamiliar an experience as it might appear. He knew that he had killed lions and bears before and thus he was confident, with good reason, that he could kill Goliath in the same way.
If you don’t resolve now to deal with whatever your current fear may be, and also to seek God’s help to overcome it, then it will eventually grow to the point where it controls you and paralyses you. Your fear will then be a snare to you. It will trip you up and trap you every time you have to face a test.