Be Strong and Courageous

By Rev. Dan Hazen, pastor of New Perth ARP Church

“Be strong and courageous.” This is a command of God that appears many times in the Bible. It is said to Joshua many times as he takes up the heavy mantle of Moses, and is tasked with conquering the promised land. It is said to the people as they, inexperienced and unskilled in war, are to follow Joshua into battle. It is said to Solomon when he is tasked with building the temple of the Lord. It is said to Daniel when he becomes dismayed and weak because of an overwhelming vision. David says it to himself when he is praying, in Psalms 27 and 31, as he faces trouble and enemies. Psalm 31 was the psalm that was prayed by Jesus in his dying breaths… “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

Like Joshua, we are called to spiritual warfare, to conquer the devil’s strongholds in this world and in the lives of our neighbors, and for that we need strength and courage, and the full armor of God (Eph. 6). Like Solomon, we are called to join in building God’s house and kingdom in this world (1 Peter 2:5), standing firm in the faith and building one another up. Like Daniel, we are called to receive the Word of God, a word that deals with sometimes overwhelming truths, humbling us, challenging us, and making us sense our weakness. Like David, we face trouble in this world and must wait on the Lord. And like the Lord Jesus, we are called to bear our cross, die to self, and sacrifice. Are you up for this? Do you feel capable and confident (i.e., strong and courageous) about doing all these things?

I know there are troubles and challenges you are facing that stir up feelings of inadequacy and fear. God says, “Be strong and courageous.” On the one hand, the command makes sense, if that’s what we need to do. But on the other hand, it is such a strange command! What good does it to do command something weak to choose to be strong? What good does it ever actually do to tell a person who is afraid to be unafraid? Is being strong a matter of making a choice? If I go to the gym and “choose” to be strong, and try to bench press 300 pounds, my “choice” isn’t a choice but a delusion! I would be crushed under the weight. You can’t merely “choose” to be strong. Similarly, courage is not exactly a choice. Do you know anyone who struggles with fear or anxiety? Telling someone “Don’t be afraid” or “Don’t be nervous” doesn’t actually make them less afraid or less nervous. Many people deal with fear and anxiety and don’t want it but it’s there and they can’t seem to will it away. Weakness and fear control people; people aren’t in control of them.

And yet God says, “Be strong and courageous.” Perhaps he commands it a bit like he commanded, “Let there be light” and there was light. It is done by his power, with the caveat of our simple faith in him. Our strength and courage are matters of sanctification, so they are matters of salvation, and like salvation itself, they depend on our faith in the God who calls into existence the things that do not exist (Romans 4:16-17). If your strength and courage are nonexistent, I think this is relevant!

God commands the weak to be strong and the cowardly to be courageous ONLY as they depend upon him FOR that strength and courage. It is faith in God – and not in ourselves, in our strength or in our resolve – to which we are called. This is precisely the point in Hebrews 11, where it speaks of faith in God and then says that they were made strong out of their weakness: “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection…” (Heb. 11:32-35). THEY did none of those things by their own strength or courage, but GOD did it all for them as they trusted in him. God has called you to do and be what you cannot do or be… unless you trust in him, and he enables and changes you. Then, as it is written, “With God, all things are possible.”

But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand… Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD! (Psalm 31:14-15, 24)

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