I am not a courageous person. I am like Esqueleto (Nacho Libre’s sidekick) who circles his opponent in the ring for fear of getting gut-punched or killed. I duck from harm, hide from confrontation, and plead “uncle”. I have to confess that in the past year (or more) I have avoided the ring like my dog avoids her kennel. Given the opportunity I have tucked tail and run. I have been holed up for fear of getting cold-cocked from the shadows.
What that has meant for the church is that I have, at times, been absent. It’s easy to hide behind sermon prep. I can close my office door and read and write and look busy when in fact I’m just avoiding people and the confrontation that often ensues.
But lately I’ve been praying for a renewed courage and a new zeal for ministry (Will you pray with and for me?). I’m beginning to lift my head again and seek out friendships so that I have a place to be honest and where I will receive honest evaluation. Could this be an ounce of “strong and courageous”? I sure hope so.
But my real hope is that it is not in the strength or courage of my own, but because of His promise that “I will never leave you or forsake you.” It’s a repeated phrase of God to His people. Moses said these words to Israel in the transition between himself and Joshua. Moses spoke from experience. From the outset of Moses being called, reluctantly at best, he found God faithful. God raised Moses up as a leader, took the people, under Moses’ direction, out of the slavery of Egypt. He led them through the wilderness. Now Moses is at the edge of the promised land and says in Israel’s hearing, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them (inhabitants of the promised land), for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
When Moses dies, the Lord quotes Moses to Joshua (What?! Not Keller?)that he might go into the promised land courageous and trusting: “I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous . . .”
Through songs that the Lord's people would sing, Psalm 94:14 reminds God’s people that though they undergo hard discipline from varied angles, “ . . . the Lord will not forsake his people.”
But the greatest fulfillment of that promise comes in the New Testament. At the birth of Jesus we are reminded of God’s word through the prophet Isaiah that a baby would be born called Immanuel, or ‘God with us’ ” (Matthew 1:23). “I will never leave you or forsake you” takes on greater meaning when “God is with us.” In Matthew 2:6 we are told that through this Immanuel He provides One who “will shepherd my people . . .” A shepherd doesn’t abandon or leave the flock but protects and guides.
Matthew then records the life and ministry of Jesus culminating in Christ’s laying down his life and taking it up again because He loves His people. The very last verses of Matthew’s gospel read:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted (Hey. That’s me!). And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
It’s not an easy task to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them all that Jesus has commanded. There will be heartache, persecution, and suffering. But Jesus has said, in essence, “I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous.”
Lastly, the writer of Hebrews says it again to encourage Christians who are tempted to trust in the things of this world for their ultimate comfort (like closed office doors): “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”
We all need to hear and trust Christ’s promise of His very active presence with us. In that we can be strong and courageous in the strength of Christ for what He has called us to do and bear. I am writing these things hoping for change in me and in us. Sometimes saying it out loud is the beginning of repentance. Will you pray for me as I pray for you?