Each month, three staff members respond to an excerpt from Dr. Stanley’s teachings. For this round, Jamie A. Hughes, C. Lawrence, and Joseph Miller chatted in our team Slack channel about courage, how to practice it, and the role faith plays in our moments of bravery. This month’s excerpt comes from Dr. Stanley’s book Waiting on God:
“It is not easy to be courageous, especially in the darkest of moments when we are shaken to the core of our being. But courage is a state of mind that is absolutely essential for the child of God to triumph. When everything looks bleak and there is no hope in view, we dauntlessly continue to trust the Father is in complete control. We don’t give up or quit because we have faith that the Lord is still God and He has a wonderful plan for our lives. And we are willing to face adversity and forgo good opportunities that offer temporary comfort in order to take hold of the very best the Lord has planned for us.”
C. Lawrence: One of the things I notice about the quote is how assured it is—how much confidence Dr. Stanley projects. As a longtime doubter, I don’t know that I’ve always felt so resolute.
Jamie A. Hughes: I agree. While I aspire to that, I don’t know that I could say it with the same assurance.
Joseph Miller: I will say, I think the first part of the quote, concerning how difficult it is to be courageous, rings true for me. Over the past few years, in learning to deal with seasons of anxiety, I’ve had to lean into the word courageous. To me, it’s a turning toward something frightening, and honestly I think I can do it only with God’s help.
Aline Mello: These admissions make me think about faith and the role it plays in having courage, especially with C. saying that he’s a longtime doubter. Have any of you seen faith and courage work together?
Joseph: For me, courage in the face of something that feels daunting, possibly hopeless, relies on my faith that the Lord has my back.
Jamie: I think one follows the other. Sometimes, you just have to have faith, squinch your eyes shut, and trust that God’s at work. Courage isn’t something we gin up on demand.
Sometimes faith is the harder thing to have and maintain.
Joseph: We know that Scripture tells us faith is a gift of grace from God. I feel like with courage, even when you can’t “gin it up,” there’s still some strong component of will. It’s a choice to face a fear or challenge.
C: I was taught that courage isn’t the absence of fear (or perhaps doubt), but continuing on in spite of those things. In spite of not knowing what the outcome will be. We might get the idea that courage is possible only when we’re at our strongest, our most faithful, but that can’t be true. Especially not if we consider what Paul says about boasting in our weaknesses.
“It is not easy to be courageous, especially in the darkest of moments when we are shaken to the core of our being. But courage is essential for the child of God to triumph.”
I can’t help but think of Thomas wanting to put his finger into Christ’s wound, or Peter and John running to the tomb in the early morning. What if Thomas had reached out and it truly was an apparition, his hand falling through the air? Or if Peter and John, out of breath, arrived at the tomb to find Christ’s body still shrouded? We know that’s not how the story goes, but I can’t help imagining those thoughts and the related emotions were going inside these men as they went forward. It makes me wonder how courage is connected to our desire for something greater than our fear—greater than us.
Joseph: Good point, C. I think that’s what I mean by a “turning toward”—at least that’s how courage has unfolded in my life. Some baseline fears are always there, and then larger ones present themselves. When you think about the actions of those close to Jesus when He was on earth, perhaps every decision toward Jesus took some measure of courage.
Jamie: That’s the courage that motivated Mary to sing her magnificat, I think. Knowing full well that there would be danger, hardship, and loss but choosing to have courage and sing blessing over it.
C: That’s an amazing point, Jamie—I don’t know that we contemplate just how courageous Mary, as Jesus’ mother, truly was.
Joseph: And the fact that she was practically a child.
Jamie: But what does she base it on? The second half is based on Old Testament history. She takes courage from the way the Lord showed up for Israel before and knows that He can and will do so for her also.
C: That’s what I was just thinking about—a recollection of who God is and what He’s already done.
Joseph: That’s where faith comes in. Is this the God who said all these things and did all these things—is He at work in this?
Side note: I don’t think doubting is the opposite of faith, either.
We might get the idea that courage is possible only at our strongest, our most faithful, but that can’t be true. Especially not if we consider what Paul says about boasting in our weaknesses.
C: It has something to do with experience—in Mary’s case, the collective experience of her people over centuries. But with Thomas, Peter, and John, it was their personal encounters and time with Jesus that compelled them to go anyway and reach out.
Joseph: Look at it this way: All believers have doubts. If we’re a part of the body of Christ, we responded to God’s invitation into His kingdom. That doesn’t stop us from fear and doubt; if those things plagued the disciples, how are we going to be any different?
Jamie: Remembering is essential. Think about how many times and in how many ways Israel was called to remembrance. Celebrations, festivals, observances, ebenezers …
C: Would you guys say, then, that faith is the act of remembering? Or something more than that?
Jamie: Perhaps one strengthens the other, undergirds it. And that constant rehearsing, through liturgy or ceremony, is a reminder for all us shortsighted folks. Those things remind us there’s a forest when all we can see are trees.
C: Yeah, that’s a great point, Jamie, about worship and how we move throughout the Christian seasons. In remembering, we’re reenacting to some extent the story of God. It seems memory plays a crucial role in sustaining faith and our ability to continue in faithfulness. But it’s not everything.
Joseph: I think it’s both an act of remembering and something much more. In one sense, it’s the fundamental thing undergirding our relationship with Jesus, right? But also, the daily enacting of faith is a kind of remembering what happened before us. If we believe it.
Jamie: During baptism ceremonies, Methodists say “Remember your baptism and be thankful. Amen.” And I’ve always liked that. It’s a time to celebrate another person and also to remember your own journey from that day years past and see how far you’ve come.
Joseph: Communion. Every time.
In remembering, we’re reenacting to some extent the story of God. It seems memory plays a crucial role in sustaining faith and our ability to continue in faithfulness.
C: Maybe a simple way to say it is that at some point, you just have to step out of the boat. I suppose we could argue that Peter didn’t have to set his feet on water that day. But he wanted to. I guess that brings us back to desire. What do we want? What do we want more than our own comfort?
Jamie: And Joseph, I think we can forget Jesus easily … especially when what He commands is contrary to our desires. Sad but true.
Joseph: I mean, I was sort of joking. But seriously, it’s not as if we’ve forgotten what happened. I think maybe He meant more. I mean, maybe remembrance in the Lord’s Supper, specifically, is “remember what I’m about to do for you.” Which maybe is more to Jamie’s point. Daily we “forget” the Lord when we act out of turn from who He is and who He is making us.
Jamie: I love that it’s tangible. It’s one thing to say “remember” and another thing entirely to say “imbibe this, ingest it, savor it.” There’s a certain solidity to that, which Jesus knew we would need. Something to take in.
Jamie: There is something for you to do, to C.’s point.
C: A late thought here, but considering that Paul admonished the Corinthians to take receiving Communion seriously, you’d almost think that partaking of the body and blood of Christ itself is an act of courage! It’s certainly an act of faith—or evidence of it, at the very least. If not, it should be.
Joseph: Agreed, especially if you do it to the fullest, as commanded by Paul, to examine yourself before partaking. “Hey, just think on all those sins you struggle with before you eat and drink this, m’kay?”
Jamie: Most times, the confession time is too short for me. I’m like, “You people must be a lot holier than I am. Just halfway through over here.”
Aline: Let’s look at this part of the quote: And we are willing to face adversity and forgo good opportunities that offer temporary comfort in order to take hold of the very best the Lord has planned for us.
Adversity can become a focal point instead of the thing we ought to desire most: ever-deepening oneness with God.
Joseph: Perhaps there are some forms of adversity we can avoid. Even when God allows them into our lives for our own growth in the spirit, it’s still a sad thing. It’s a compromise, and perhaps not the best thing for us. There’s growth when we face the fear.
C: I wonder if part of the issue is that adversity can become a focal point instead of the thing we ought to desire most: ever-deepening oneness with God.
Joseph: I think we can’t help but focus on adversity. Usually it brings some sort of pain—physical, emotional, mental …
Jamie: I think a lot of Christians have been taught/trained to “face adversity” when it comes to their faith. I know I was. However, “forgoing good opportunities”? Not really. I’m willing to bet that’s the greater of the two struggles. And people don’t even think about it in those terms. Instead we’re all #blessed.
C: I think you’re right, Joseph. We can’t help but focus on it, when it comes to us. I was thinking more along the lines of how we orient our lives—whether we do so in anticipation of adversity, or in anticipation of something else.
Joseph: Good point to consider. I would assume people with certain personalities, like mine with anxiety issues, really struggle with giving adversity too large a place at the table, so to speak. I was just commiserating with a friend recently about how I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Always.
Aline: I can’t stop thinking about your example of the disciples’ responses to Jesus’ resurrection, C. I’m wondering if anyone has a personal example that can show some of the pretty heady stuff we’ve talked about here.
C: It’s hard, when putting my life against those moments the disciples had—I don’t have anything in my story quite so cinematic to share. But I do think about courage in relationships, for some reason, which if you think about it is what’s really at the core of Thomas’s ability to reach and the others’ willingness to run. I think it takes courage to continue in meaningful, intentional friendships, with all the vulnerability and giving of self that requires. It’s the same with family, my marriage, and especially the decision to have children and let the love between my wife and me expand into these small, vulnerable creatures we’re responsible for.
Adopting our kids left me a lot more open and vulnerable than I’m comfortable with, but God has used that to change in me in ways I never could have been changed if I’d stayed closed off.
Especially when you look at the kind of year we’ve had, knowing it’s likely not the last.
Jamie: My example is family-related, too. My husband and I had no idea what we were getting into five years ago adopting kids. It was a complete black void, but we knew it was what we were called to do. So we stepped into it and have been feeling our way through that space ever since. Doing it left me a lot more open and vulnerable than I’m comfortable with, but God has used that to change in me in ways I never could have been changed if I’d stayed closed off. I don’t always like it or enjoy it, but I know in my bones that it is right. And that gives me courage to keep going. Like the mama in Langston Hughes’ poem, “For I’se still goin’, honey, / I’se still climbin’, / And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”
Joseph: You and Wayne made a choice. And there was the real threat of adversity all along the way. Think about how sad Jesus was when the rich young ruler turned and walked away from Him. Heartbreaking.
Aline: Joseph, do you think the rich young ruler walked away because of a lack of courage?
Joseph: Absolutely. To him, giving up his riches was like giving up his identity and security in one fell swoop. Honestly, ever since becoming a Christian 22 years ago, I’ve struggled with the fear of getting “lost” somehow inside God. Like if I truly give Him everything, what’s left of me? And I know the Bible points us to the answer: the redeemed version of me. But who is that?
C: I can’t help but come back again to the connection between courage and desire in thinking about the rich young ruler. He wanted life with Christ—that seems evident enough. He just wanted his wealth and comfort more.
Joseph: The guy was torn.
C: I can relate.
Jamie: But people like Zacchaeus and Nicodemus wanted life with Christ, too—and they followed through.
The rich young ruler wanted life with Christ—that seems evident enough. He just wanted his wealth and comfort more.
Joseph: “You can’t always get what you want …”
C: Although Zacchaeus was a cheat and extortionist …
Jamie: But wasn’t he rich and powerful in his way?
Joseph: Then lost four times what he had, so he’s broke now.
Jamie: The system was working for him, is all I’m saying.
Joseph: Yeah, like if he had just offered to pay one time back, Jesus would’ve been good with it. But Zaccheus was like four times!
Jamie: But that’s the exchange well worth making when you find Christ, isn’t it? You can’t throw money away fast enough.
C: Thinking back to domestic life with friends and family as the place where courage often shows up, it points to the idea that, most likely, courage isn’t going to show up in our lives in some dramatic moment or grand gesture. It’s the same with faith—it’s in the small, humble moments of the day-to-day to that it manifests.
Jamie: Exactly. We’re “ready” for the big cinematic moment, but if we’re asked to do it in a hundred little ways that may never be recognized? That’s harder to embrace.
Joseph: Fear has a fundamental ability to freeze us in our tracks. For me, courage is about moving forward regardless of expected outcome.
Jamie: We’re all trained to be Elisha, but the fact is that the widow was pretty brave, too, checking that jar of oil and ration of flour every day and finding it there. That’s commonplace courage.
Art by Jonathan Todryk