November 2011 - Vol. 54

Moses anoints Joshua "Be strong and courageous, the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9)

The Courage to Go Forward 
......– and the Strength to Persevere
by Charles Simpson

 A number of years ago, during the early days of the Jesus Movement, a young man from our church invited some of the kids from a local drive-in to come to a fellowship at the church. "Can we bring the group?" one of them said. "Sure, bring the whole group," the fellow replied. 

He didn't know that "the group" was a hard rock band. The young people in our church showed up at the fellowship hall that night and found the band already there – sunglasses and all – tuning up their instruments. They had enough mikes and PA systems to give a concert in a stadium. They looked terrible, and sounded worse. Our kind and naive youth leader did allow them to play one song. One of the girls in the youth group went outside and threw up. 

By the end of the evening, however, the kids in the band felt that we really loved them. The drummer was converted. They began bringing their friends to our services, and pretty soon the church was full of young people who needed Christ. One Sunday morning a guru even came down the aisle – medallion, robe, and everything - and gave his life to Jesus in front of the whole congregation. 

It took courage to let those kids into our fellowship hall. It took courage to let them keep coming back with their friends. It took courage that I, frankly, did not have. It ruptured the peaceful pattern of church life I was comfortable with. 

I began to see the importance of courage in our Christian lives. God is continually shattering our notions of how he works. He is constantly asking us to step out into uncharted territory – uncharted by us, that is, not by him. 

To step out, we need courage. That's one of the many qualities of character that only God can supply. Look at what the rock band incident led to. 

We developed a reputation for being able to help street people. One day a physician came to me and asked me to help a family member who was on drugs. 

I went to the young man's house – an old, three story structure that was sorely in need of repair. I went up the long stairs and walked down a long hall to the back of the house to his room. It was dark. You could feel the oppression in the place. In the room, I found a shriveled-up addict trembling in the bed. There were holes in the wall where he shot roaches with a .38 pistol. 

I was supposed to tell this man about Jesus Christ! 

I talked, he listened, and invited me back. A few days later he said, "There's someone else you need to talk to." 

He took me across town to another terrible looking run-down house. A fellow drew back a little slot in the door, let us in, and quickly closed the door behind us. The lights were down, and I realized that I was in a house of prostitution on my way to witness to a hooker. I nervously sat in the parlor while the man who brought me ran up the stairs and disappeared. 

Courage failed me. I started for the door. But before I could get out, the addict came downstairs with his girlfriend. She had been supplying him with money for his habit. And he said, "Tell her." 

"Tell her what?" I said. 

"Tell her what you've been telling me." 

"Here? Let's get her out of here. Let's get her to church." 

"No. You tell her right now. We don't have long." 

So I told her. Nothing seemed to happen that night, but later both the addict and his girlfriend gave their hearts to the Lord.

Fifteen years later I met the woman again. "I just want you to know that I am still walking with God," she said. "I have a prison ministry, and every day girls are giving their hearts to Jesus Christ." 

If I had had the time to think about all of this, I would have been so frightened about potential repercussions from church people that I would have been too prejudiced to probe the enemy lines. But a beautiful thing about Jesus is that "He will not judge by what his eyes see, nor make a decision by what his ears hear" (Isaiah 11:3). Jesus doesn't judge by appearances. 

What war? 
We are in a war. We've been born into it. The moment we accept Christ – evil is our enemy. We wage war against every crime, all deceitfulness, all suffering, and every human battle that has ever been fought – whether with angry voices, courtroom tricks, swords and spears, guns and tanks, or bombs and missiles. These are the earthly manifestations of a cosmic war that has been going on since Satan's rebellion. 

The origins of this war are described in Revelation 12:7-9: 

And there was a war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. And the dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
Satan, our enemy from before the beginning of time, sowed subterfuge and deception, discord and subversion. That's how the enemy works; he militates against the truth. In fact, he has convinced many people that there is no war. 

A major objective in this war is to advance truth. We have to fight for it. There are places in this world where you couldn't find out the truth even if you were willing to buy it. There are places in this world where you'd be in trouble if you spoke the truth. Truth is a cause that someone has to fight for. To the degree that we are free, it is because someone fought tor and paid a price for truth. 

Ultimately, we have to choose which side we're on. We say either: "There is such a thing as truth," or "I don't know, and I don't care." But we are all forced into the choice; we can't be neutral. Neutrality is an alliance with evil. 

This spiritual war is inherent in the Great Commission. Jesus said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you" (Matthew 28:19, 20).

The Great Commission invites active hostility. Not everyone wants to be a disciple. Jesus didn't say, "Go and disciple all those except those that don't want it." He said to go to all the nations. 

Joshua leading the Israelites across the Jordan River

The challenge to be courageous 
The 1828 edition of Noah Webster's dictionary says that "courage" comes from the French word for "heart." It means "to have heart." Courage is the quality that enables us to face danger and difficulty with firmness and without fear or depression. 

In defining courage, Webster cites Deuteronomy, chapter 31, where Moses is laying hands on Joshua and telling him to have courage. So I went to Webster for a definition of courage and he sent me back to Joshua. 

Joshua is one of the best biblical models of a courageous man. He was one of the twelve men who spied out the promised land; he and Caleb said it was possible to go into the promised land while the other ten said it was not. The majority prevailed. But Joshua stayed committed to God's purpose for forty years. 

When Moses died, Joshua succeeded him. The first message Joshua gets as a new leader is, "Moses is dead." This is more than a statement of fact; this is a statement of responsibility. 

Crossing the Jordan River, print by Dore

The second message he gets is, "Arise, take these people across Jordan and take the land that's been promised to them." Joshua didn't have thirty days to mourn for Moses and then to go through his notes to be sure he knew what he was doing. It all came at once: "Moses is dead. You're the leader. Get them across the Jordan, and drive out the enemy." It seemed God gave Joshua an insurmountable mission. 

At this point God tells Joshua to be courageous. When God says something once we should take note. But he says it three times, and then adds, "don't tremble." That's a clue. 

See how Joshua responds. He doesn't look for a way to avoid confrontation. He doesn't only talk about taking the land. Rather he looks for a way to get over to the other side so he can deal with the enemy. Joshua also had the courage to inspire his people to face danger, to keep the rules, and to stay together when they want to divide. In fact, he banished discouragement among his people. 

We all know what happened. Through his courageous leadership, doing exactly what the Lord commanded regardless of the pain or risk, Joshua led his people into the promised land. 

We need to see the call to be courageous in the light of his mission to take the land. We cannot take the land and obtain God's promises without dealing with the issue of courage – that is, to be spiritually vigilant, alert, ready to spring into action, able to face danger (real danger, if we are talking about real promises) with firmness, and without fear of depression. 

The pillar of fire and the tabernacle in the wilderness

Courage and the presence of God 
Another Old Testament passage casts light on a different aspect of obtaining courage – the importance of abiding in the presence of God. 

[In Exodus 13:21 we read how God made his presence known to Israel. “The LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light”.]

God lifted his presence when Israel made the golden calf. Moses took the tabernacle down and pitched it a good distance from the camp. If anyone sought the Lord he had to go outside the camp (Exodus 33). 

Then God spoke to Moses. "Go on up to the land I promised you," he said. ''I'll send an angel and drive out your enemies. But my presence won't go with you" (see Exodus 33:1-3). 

But then Moses said: "If your presence doesn't go with us, I don't want to go" (see Exodus 33:15). He wasn't after what God could give him; he was after God! So God decided to go up with him. 

We can do a lot of things without God's presence. He can even do a lot of things for us. But the presence of God is our source of courage and conquest. 

The presence is our point of reference. When the presence leads us into battle, our lives may be on the line, but God's purpose will prevail. 

Before I was converted in 1951, I wrestled with the presence of God. I wanted to be a Christian, but I didn't believe I could be a Christian. I wrestled with the convicting presence of the Holy Spirit. Finally I decided to follow the presence. I trusted Christ to make me a Christian, and he did. 

In 1955, God called me to be a preacher. I didn't want to be a preacher. But I could see where God's presence was going, and I went through the fear of losing the presence. Finally I surrendered to the call and followed the presence. 

In 1963, when I was spiritually dry, I didn't want to be a Pentecostal. I didn't want to speak in tongues. Tongues seemed like nothing but trouble to me. I was looking for the presence, not tongues, but the presence moved me right into a Pentecostal experience, including tongues. 

The presence took me where I didn't want to go. I wanted to move up the denominational ladder, and into certain circles that were appealing to me. But the presence seemed to move me to a new place, against all my roots, history, heritage, ambition. The presence of God led me to act courageously. 

Follow the presence. God has a purpose that's different than yours. If you're following your understanding and your logic, you're missing the focal point – the presence of God. 

A point of no return
Just as Israel crossed the Jordan, the presence of God will lead you past the point of no return, where your whole life becomes committed to God's purposes. 

The presence will lead you to points of action, steps you must take. Discern where the presence of God is moving in your life, and follow it. You will not be disappointed. 

Arc you facing a big decision in your life? Arc you wrestling with the changes you feel the Lord is leading you to make? Follow the presence. Make it your point of reference. Don't be afraid if it leads you into deep waters. God will reveal himself to you in a new way. 

A friend of mine said, "If Columbus had turned back, nobody would have blamed him. But nobody would have remembered him, either." Columbus fought the odds and even his crew to continue his voyage. You can turn back, but you'll miss the mission that God has for you. Follow the presence and press on with courage!

[This article was originally published in New Covenant Magazine, October 1987. Charles Simpson is senior pastor of Gulf Coast Covenant Church in Mobile, Alabama. He is author of The Challenge to Care and Courageous Living (Servant Books) and is Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine.].
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