When faced with crises, disappointments, frustrations and delay, fear and anxiety can enter our minds and hearts.  When that happens we need to find within ourselves and in God a deeper heart of courage to do what is right in the face of fear.   So what is courage and how can we grow in courage?

What is Courage?
Courage is not angry vengeance or rash impetuousness. It is something much deeper and wiser than erratic passion or unprepared foolhardiness.  Ancient philosophers picture it as something more like a settled disposition of the mind and heart that enables us to do what is right, at the right time and in the right way, in the face of fear.  It is a deep-seated virtue steadily engraved in a person’s character over years of doing what is right when fear knocks at the door of our heart.

Pictures and Stories of Courage 
Sometimes a powerful word or concept such as courage is best described with a picture or a story. One of most common and powerful pictures of courage in many cultures is the lion.

Remember the Lion King Mustafa in the Disney movie and stage play? I can see him now seated on a rock surveying his domain, and then demonstrating courage even to the point of death.  In ancient English history there is King Richard the lion heart who showed immense courage in battle. These are two powerful pictures and stories of courage.

Then in Southeast Asia we have Singapore–the lion city, a courageous city of people who have boldly created an economic powerhouse out of a small fishing settlement.  There are also the Punjabi people of North-East India where every man proudly carries the middle name Singh or lion.  They are a brave warrior people who have demonstrated courage on the battlefield for hundreds of years.

Finally there is that wonderful story of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, written by C.S. Lewis. What a fabulous fable about a mythical land of Narnia ruled by the Lion Aslan.  Borrowing from biblical imagery, Aslan is meant to remind us of Jesus the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5).

Joshua a Courageous Leader
In the Old Testament, there is another descendent of the tribe of Judah who also provides us with a profound picture of courage.  That is Joshua the servant of Moses who led the people of Israel into their promised land.  His name means God saves and it was translated Jesus in the Greek version of the Old Testament, We mainly hear about his exploits in the book that bears his name.

Right at the beginning of the book of Joshua, we read how God commanded him to be strong and courageous.  These words are repeated three times.  No doubt the repeated emphasis shows that the task Joshua faced after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness appeared somewhat fearful or even terrifying.

Joshua 1:1-9.  After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. …. 6Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.  7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. … 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” 

Recently while rereading this text I asked myself, if God commands Joshua to be strong and courageous then where is Joshua to find that courage? Surely God would have also shown him how to grow in courage. I think the clue to Joshua’s source of courage is in the next phrase—“I will be with you wherever you go.” God himself was to be an encouraging presence for Joshua in all his battles.  I think that simple thought has profound implications, so let’s explore it a little more.

Joshua’s Source of Courage: God’s Encouraging Presence
Joshua’s story begins back in the books of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  Here we find him as a young man, fighting battles, being faithful to God’s promises but also encountering disappointment when others didn’t share his passion and confidence in God. 
He steadily developed courage as a warrior (see Exodus 17:8-16) and courage in the face of obstacles and opposition (Numbers 14:5-9).

Every warrior has to develop a capacity for emotional control, focused stillness, and an instant readiness to respond in the face of danger and opposition.  However, Joshua’s courage had much deeper roots than just the training and disciplines of a warrior.  He also demonstrated a regular practice of lingering in God’s presence (Exodus 33:11).  That commitment to God as a worshipping warrior was reflected in Moses decision in Numbers 13:16 to rename him Joshua (God delivers) rather than just Hoshea (Deliverer).

Joshua’s regular discipline of waiting on God continued right through 40 years in the wilderness to the time where the people of Israel were once again standing on the edge of the promised land.  There Joshua continued to listen to God’s voice (Joshua 1:1-9) and seek his guidance (Joshua 5:13-15).  And as he heard God’s word he responded with a settled stillness that relied on God to act, much like his mentor Moses did at the Red Sea (compare Joshua 1:1-6 with Exodus 14:13-14).

Joshua a Source of Courage: Being an Encouraging Presence
Joshua was not only a courageous warrior but also an encouraging leader.  He know the importance of giving encouragement to those who followed him.  In their book Elements of mentoring – 75 practices of master mentors  W Brad Johnson and Charles R. Ridley maintain that “Numerous studies across a range of professions and mentoring contexts show that encouragement and support are among the most important mentoring functions.”  
Joshua learned to be an encourager through his mentor Moses. Years before Joshua’s ultimate challenge on the edge of the promised land, Moses encouraged Joshua to be strong and courageous (Deut 3:28; Deut 31:7).

Joshua took these words to heart as a word from God; but he did not just apply them to himself, he passed that courage on to others.  When two and a half tribes began to hesitate about helping their colleagues in the battle ahead, Joshua reminded them of their commitments (Joshua 1:12-15).

Something about Joshua’s manner and words reenergised them, and they were able to say “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.” (Joshua 1:16).  Then they also took up Joshua’s refrain saying “Only be strong and courageous.” (Joshua 1:18b). That is courage multiplied. It is the reproducing fruit of a master mentor who knows how to be an encouraging presence.

Joshua’s life is a profound story of a worshipping warrior who found courage in God.  His courage was not only grounded in the personal disciplines of a warrior, but also in the spiritual practice of lingering in God’s encouraging presence.  Through years of practice as a warrior and a worshipper he had developed the capacity to do what is right in the face of fear.  But even more than that, he found a capacity to instil that courage in others—he was able to be an encouraging presence for those who followed him.  Through stories and examples like Joshua we too can find courage to face our fears with a resolute heart. Joshua’s courageous life also points forward to the even more courageous example of our Lord and Saviour –the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

Discussion Questions
1. What are some symbols and stories of courage that have been meaningful to you?
2. How would you define courage?
3. Read through Joshua 1:1-18
4. What does this passage say to you about courage?
5. Share times when you have experienced fear or anxiety.  What did you do practically to overcome that fear?
6. How can we all grow in courage in our day to day lives?
7. Pray for those who may be feeling anxious and worried in this season.
8. Share some of the promises God has given you in times of difficulty and anxiety.

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