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Courage is fear that has said its prayers

Unsplash/Armand Khoury
Unsplash/Armand Khoury

From the time Saul of Tarsus became the apostle Paul, trouble had been his middle name. He seemed to bounce from one crisis to the next. It was always something.

And tough as he was, as strong in spirit as he may have been, Paul was still human, and every human I know goes through times of discouragement.

Yes, Paul knew Heaven awaited him ... eventually. But he was also a flesh-and-blood man and couldn’t help but be concerned about his future. The Lord knew that, of course. He knows our hearts better than we do. As David once prayed, “All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you” (Psalm 38:9, NLT).  And in Psalm 56:8 (TLB) we read: “You have collected all my tears and preserved them in your bottle! You have recorded every one in your book.”  

The Lord knew all about the state of Paul’s soul. And He knows our hearts as well. That’s why it meant so much to the weary apostle when the Lord paid him a visit in jail.

In Acts 23:11 we read that “the following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome’” (NKJV).

On first reading, you might wonder if those were the words Paul really wanted to hear. You’re in a dungeon (it can’t get much lower than that) and someone comes to you and says, “Cheer up!”

It’s not always such a good idea to go to someone who is feeling down and say, “Put on a happy face. Smile awhile.” Glib words like that don’t often comfort — and can actually make things worse.

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I’m not critiquing what Jesus said to Paul; I would like to clarify what He said to His discouraged servant. The fact is “cheer” or “cheerfulness” is not really the best definition of the word that is used here. You might say that cheerfulness would be the outcome of what Jesus actually commanded here.

You see, our Lord never commanded people to be cheerful. He didn’t go to someone with a disability and say, “Be cheerful. Smile. Snap out of it.” No! He had true compassion, reached out to them in their agony, and sometimes shared the agony with them.

A better translation of the Lord’s words to Paul would be, “Paul, be of good courage” or “take courage.”

That’s the operative word. Courage. And courage seems to be in short supply these days, doesn’t it? What is courage? Courage, also known as bravery or fortitude, is the ability to confront fear, pain, risk, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation. Physical courage is bravery in the face of physical pain, hardship, or even the threat of death.

I think you and I tend to imagine that some people are simply “more courageous” than others. But that isn’t necessarily the case. It was Mark Twain who said, “Courage is the mastery of fear. Not the absence of fear.”

Then again, what some people call “courage” is really more akin to insanity! I remember when I was a kid growing up it seemed like I always had one friend who was willing to do anything. Maybe you’ve known people like that, too. They usually have nicknames like Animal, Psycho, Hot Dog … or maybe just Fool. Most of those guys are no longer with us. (And they are usually guys. Rarely girls. Girls are smarter than that.) But these are the guys who always try it first, whatever “it” happens to be. Walking across a railroad trestle. Jumping off the roof. Driving with no hands. That stuff isn’t courage, it’s just a shortage of common sense.

True courage is overcoming your fear in the face of adversity. As one person has said, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” And we’ve all seen that kind of authentic, admirable courage on display from time to time — especially among those in our military, in law enforcement, and in our fire and rescue units. We’ve heard so many stories of heroism over the years of those that have laid down their lives for others.

We need such courage today. But it isn’t all about running into a burning building to save someone or throwing yourself on a grenade to protect your buddies. There is moral courage, as well — courage to stand up for what’s right. It takes courage to go against the whole current of our culture and do the right thing today. It takes courage to follow the commands of Scripture and to stand by what the Bible teaches.

We’re living in a time when it’s not popular to say that God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. This is an era when it’s not popular to say that life begins at conception and that every child, regardless of the circumstances that led to their conception, ought to have a right to live. It takes courage to stand up for those things.

It takes courage to honor your marriage vows today when people all around us divorce at the first sign of hardship or trials. It takes courage today to remain sexually pure as a single person, waiting until you meet that right person to whom you will commit your life. It takes courage to follow Jesus Christ and to share your faith with other people.

We need courage today. But where do we find it?

Paul found it in the presence of the Lord.

Acts 23:11 says, “But the following night the Lord stood by him...” And we might add four words to the verse of Scripture above, “… And nobody else did.”

We don’t read of anybody from the church of Jerusalem coming to Paul’s aid at this point. As far as the local Christians seemed to be concerned, the apostle was on his own with the Romans. It had happened a number of times in the apostle’s life.

Have you ever felt that way? As though everyone has abandoned you? Maybe there was a time in your life when your friends — or perhaps even your family — disappointed you. Maybe your husband or your wife let you down. Sometimes we become so discouraged we falsely imagine that even God has let us down.

You can look to people for comfort, and sometimes you’ll find it. But I just have to warn you: If you consistently look to people for your comfort and support, you will be disappointed. It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend, a close relative, or even a pastor. Yes, there are good and godly people out there who will help you, lift you, and encourage you at times, and God will work through obedient, Spirit-filled people to do these things for you.

Ultimately, however, you need to look to God for comfort. He will be with you, standing at your side, when all others have faded from the scene.        

I would rather be in the worst place imaginable with the Lord than in the greatest place imaginable without Him. And that was the apostle’s experience as well.

The Lord came and stood by Paul in the prison of the Roman barracks, and we don’t have any record of Him using a “Find My Friends” app on a smartphone to track His servant down. The Lord didn’t need to hire private investigators to locate Paul. Jesus knew exactly where he was.

So, God can meet you even in an actual prison, behind literal bars of steel. But not all prisons are jails or penitentiaries. A hospital bed or a convalescent home can be a prison. So can an injury or a chronic illness. Old age itself can be very confining, where you find yourself unable to get out or do what you used to do, and you feel bound.

Paul says to all of us as He said to Paul, “Be courageous. You’re not alone, and I am fully aware of your suffering.”

You might be in a prison cell of mourning because of the loss of a loved one through death. Jesus is there with you … and with me as well. He understands what you’re going through, and He knows what lies ahead for you.

He says, “Take courage.”

And then He supplies us with what we could never find on our own.

Greg Laurie is the pastor and founder of the Harvest churches in California and Hawaii and Harvest Crusades. He is an evangelist, best-selling author and movie producer. “Jesus Revolution,” a feature film about Laurie’s life from Lionsgate and Kingdom Story Company, releases in theaters February 24, 2023.

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