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Courageous: 10 Strategies for Thriving in a Hostile World
by Dr Robert Jeffress
Learn More | Meet Dr Robert Jeffress
Survival Tip #1
Don 't Panic
The flight from Columbus, Ohio, to Los Angeles, California, was routine. Aboard USAirways 1493, David Koch sat shoeless in first-class compartment seat 2A. As the airliner neared Los Angeles International Airport, he looked out the window as the sun began to set over the Pacific Ocean. They would be landing soon.
I probably ought to put on my shoes, he thought, but he decided to wait. On their final approach, David watched the sun sink below the horizon. Moments later, he felt the familiar jolt and heard the screech of the tires as the 737 jumbo jet, carrying eighty-three passengers and six crewmembers, touched down on LAX’s Runway 24 Left.
Then David heard “a sudden, sickening crunch.” Sparks hurtled past his window, followed by the bright flash of a fireball. Screams filled the aircraft as a flight attendant shouted, “Stay down!”
As the plane skidded along the runway, David unbuckled his seat belt to prepare for a quick exit. The plane came to a violent stop, and another explosion rocked the cabin, throwing him forward into the first row of seats and then into the bulkhead. The fuselage went dark and began filling with smoke. No instructions came from the pilot or flight attendants. Passengers were on their own, running toward the back of the plane.
“I immediately got on my hands and knees and attempted to find my shoes,” David recalled. “I believed it would be difficult to escape a burning plane in my stocking feet.” But his shoes were nowhere to be found.
Trying to stay under the smoke, David crawled toward the back of the plane. In a panic, other passengers trampled him. “I encountered a fighting, frenzied mob jamming the aisle,” he later said. “Escape was probably impossible because I was last in line to get out the rear exit. I concluded that I was probably going to die. At that point I stood up and, choking heavily on smoke, walked back toward the first-class section.”
“I was not panicked nor was I terrified,” David remembered. He was resigned. “For a few long moments I stood there, immobilized, not knowing what else to do, and I knew with absolute certainty that I was going to die.” Then it came to him: if smoke was coming in from the front of the plane, then there had to be an opening that might offer a way of escape.
David worked his way toward the cockpit, but seeing flames lick the passenger door, he realized that was an impossible route. On the verge of passing out—he guessed he had maybe ten or fifteen seconds before he fell unconscious—he turned to the opposite wall and saw a crack in the fuselage. He wedged his fingers into it and pulled. It was the galley door, and it opened to the outside. He thrust his head through and gulped a few breaths of air. “A tremendous sense of strength came over me, and a wave of adrenaline shot through my body,” he said.
David looked down and saw a fire burning under the airplane. To clear the flames, he jumped away from the wreckage and hit the asphalt ten feet below. Other survivors were scattered about. Some sobbed, some were silent, and some stared in disbelief at the burning aircraft.
“I consider it a miracle that I escaped,” David said, “and that I came through the ordeal as well as I did.”1
Do Not Panic
The number-one rule in any survival situation is this: don’t panic. Studies have shown that when most people—those of us without military, first responder, or survivalist training—are faced with a threatening situation, about 10 percent of men and women have a fight response. They are able to gain control of their emotions and determine the right course of action to survive. Another 10 percent have a flight response. They lose control of their emotions and panic, which causes them to do things that are harmful to themselves and others. The remaining 80 percent freeze. They become emotionally overwhelmed, unable to do anything at all.2
David demonstrated the fight response in his escape from USAirways Flight 1493. But other people apparently had flight and freeze responses. Investigators who interviewed survivors were told that the passenger in 10F—an emergency row—froze in fear and was unable to open the exit door. The passenger in 11D climbed over the seats, unfastened the latch, and pushed her through the opening onto the wing, saving her life. A few moments later, two passengers began fighting about who would exit next. The altercation lasted only a few seconds, but it slowed the evacuation. In both instances, panic led to unnecessary deaths.
As I read the story of USAirways Flight 1493, I found myself wondering, What would I have done if I were a passenger on that plane? What would you have done? Thankfully, you and I will probably not have to make a life-or-death decision while trying to escape a burning aircraft. But that doesn’t mean we won’t face other fearful situations.
Think for a moment about what you fear most in life. What are some of your greatest worries? I imagine that many of your fears involve something being taken away from you—a person, a position, or a possession. Maybe you are afraid that you will lose a loved one through death or desertion. Perhaps you are worried about losing your job and, as a result, your prestige and financial stability. Or maybe you are fearful about losing your health or physical well-being.
Parents fear their children will become enslaved to addictions such as drugs, alcohol, or pornography. Young adults fear they will not be able to find well-paying jobs that allow them to live independently from their parents (some parents share that same fear!). Middle-aged men and women, who have more years behind them than ahead, fear their lives won’t count for much. Senior citizens are afraid of being lonely. And Christians of all ages look at current events and worry that our culture is unraveling. You could add your own personal and particular fears to that list.
The truth is, there are seemingly endless situations that tempt us to fear in this life. Whether it is the corroding effects of our culture or the issues that confront our hearts and homes, this world can be a frightening and dangerous place. However, if we are to survive when challenges come, we must not panic.
Keep Calm and Carry On
Sometimes, when I have an evening at home, I enjoy snacking on a bowl of popcorn while watching the news or a television program. Not long ago, I tuned in to a fascinating historical documentary about an event that illustrates this survival principle.
At the start of World War II, when Britain stood virtually alone against Nazi Germany, the Ministry of Information printed a series of three posters designed to prevent people from panicking. The first poster read, “Freedom Is in Peril; Defend It with All Your Might.” The second said, “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory.” Thousands of these two posters were plastered all over Britain.
A third poster was printed but not distributed, intended to be used only if Germany invaded Britain. In bold, white letters printed against a red background, and proudly displaying the royal crown, the third poster simply read: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”3 Of course, that is easier said than done, especially when bombs are falling on your head! But this message is more than British stiff-upper- lip propaganda. It can help us maintain a proper perspective on fear, no matter what circumstances we may be facing.
We can see the idea of “Keep Calm and Carry On” throughout the New Testament, especially in the book of 1 Peter. The apostle Peter wrote this letter to Christians who were being slandered and shunned because they dared to live faithfully for Christ in a pagan society. In the face of increasing persecution, Peter encouraged believers to remember two things: first, the world is hostile to Christians, and second, the grace of God is sufficient to deal with these hostilities.
How to Live in an Anti-Christian World
The culture in which the first-century believers lived was dominated by values and beliefs that were contrary to Christianity. According to Peter, many people were indulging in “sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries” (1 Pet. 4:3). They were “surprised” that followers of Jesus “[did] not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation” (v. 4). As a result, they ridiculed and maligned Christians who didn’t participate in their immorality.
Not much has changed in two thousand years, has it?
When Peter wrote this letter to encourage the early believers to stand firm in the grace of God, he gave two commands that are just as relevant to us today.
Be Disciplined in Your Thinking
First, Peter said that for Christians to live holy lives, we need to be disciplined in our thinking. In 1 Peter 1:13, he wrote, “Prepare your minds for action.”
The mind is extremely important—it functions as command central for the rest of the body. That’s why the Bible continually talks about the importance of right thinking. For example, Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” And Philippians 4:8 admonishes us, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (NIV).
A church member once told me that every night he used to watch cable news before he went to bed. He said it made him so anxious and depressed that he decided to stop watching the news before he went to sleep. You know what he does now? He listens to sermons before he goes to bed. He said, “Pastor, it’s the most amazing thing. I drift off to sleep listening to those messages, and then I sleep well all night.” (He’s not the only one who has fallen asleep listening to my messages!) Seriously, though, this person has learned one practical benefit of filling our minds with the Word of God.
If we are going to “prepare [our] minds for action” (1 Pet. 1:13), then we need to refuse to fill our minds with things that tempt us to fear. And that means controlling the sights, sounds, and experiences that go into our brains. What kinds of input are you storing in your mind? The things you allow into your mind eventually will affect your actions. As believers, we must make every effort to keep our minds free from things that could cause us to compromise our commitment to Christ.
Let’s be honest: today’s culture is filled with distractions that, if we are not careful, can lead us away from the things of God. I remember a time when I got distracted, and it led me into trouble. When I was five years old, my father took me to the State Fair of Texas—the largest fair of its kind in the country. As we were about to enter the midway, my dad stopped at the restroom and said, “Robert, wait out here for me. I’ll be right back.” I stood there for what seemed to be an eternity, waiting for my dad. But the bells and whistles of the midway were too much for me to resist, and I wandered away. Soon, I was completely lost. I still remember the terror of that moment, being surrounded by strangers in an unfamiliar place. Fortunately, a police officer noticed me and placed me on the back of his three-wheeled motorcycle to take me to the lost and found. And fortunately, as we weaved through the midway crowd, my dad spotted me on the back of the motorcycle and started running toward me. When he reached the motorcycle he literally swept me off the back of the vehicle into his arms. Why did I wander away from my dad? I was distracted by the midway instead of being disciplined in my thinking and obedient to my father.
In the hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” one of the refrains says, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.”4 It’s true: you and I are prone to be distracted by any number of things in this world, and we end up wandering away from our heavenly Father. That’s why Peter said that if you and I are going to survive in this world with our faith intact, we must be disciplined in keeping our thoughts centered on God and His truth.
Be Disciplined in Your Conduct
Second, if we are going to survive as followers of Christ in this world, Peter said we need to be disciplined in our conduct. In 1 Peter 1:13, he wrote, “Keep sober in spirit.” In other words, we are to be calm, steady, and controlled—not giving in to our “former lusts” (v. 14). Instead, we are to pursue a life that is pleasing to God.
Peter continued, “Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (vv. 15–16). The word holy means “separate.” If you are a Christian, that means you are to live separately and in a different way from the unbelievers around you.
Now, I don’t have to tell you that living a holy life in this world is no easy task. That’s why Romans 13:14 tells us, “Make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” If you are going to resist temptation, you cannot make an allowance for sin. You are going to have to run as far and as fast from temptation as you can. Your choices may look different from those of your friends, your coworkers, or your neighbors—but if you are committed to living a life that pleases God, you will choose to honor Him in your thoughts, words, and actions.
“Wait a minute, Pastor,” you may be saying. “Do you mean that to survive as a Christian in this world, I have to separate myself from sinful people?” Of course not! Where on earth could you go where there would be no sinners? It is not only impossible to separate yourself from unbelievers but it is also unbiblical to do so. In John 17:15, Jesus prayed for us, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.”
God has called us to be “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20). We cannot be an ambassador to people if we are not spending time with them! As Jesus’s representatives in this world, we are called not only to communicate God’s message of salvation but also to influence our culture with God’s truth.
So how can we live holy lives in the midst of today’s secular world? It’s a matter of perspective. Are you primarily concerned with the things of earth, or are you keeping your focus on Jesus Christ? In 1 Peter 1:13, Peter said that believers can stand firm in our conduct when we “fix [our] hope completely on the grace to be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Our anticipation of Christ’s return strengthens our faith and gives us hope during difficult days.
I know what it feels like to anticipate the return of someone I love. Though it was decades ago, I distinctly remember being in a chapel service during my freshman orientation at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. My girlfriend (now my wife) was one hundred miles away at the University of Texas in Austin. It was the first time we had been separated in our four years of dating, and I was miserable. We would not be able to see one another for two whole weeks. I was counting the minutes until Amy and I were reunited!
In much the same way, the Bible says, we are to eagerly anticipate the return of the One who loves us the most: the Lord Jesus Christ. But until that glorious day comes, Peter said, we remain on this earth “as aliens and strangers” (1 Pet. 2:11).
As our nation moves further and further away from its Christian foundation, believers in America are increasingly experiencing the sense that we are aliens in a foreign country. Living in a culture that mocks biblical values and accepts immorality can make us feel as if we are surrounded by strangers speaking an unfamiliar language. We are living, as C. S. Lewis put it, in “enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is.”5
Being an outsider in a hostile land can be frightening. Many years ago, when I was a youth minister, I took a group of teenagers to the Soviet Union for a mission trip. It was during the Cold War, and the atmosphere was so oppressive that we couldn’t wait to get out of there. On the day we were to leave Russia, I got caught on the wrong side of the customs line without my passport. I explained my predicament to the Soviet agent, but he was very clear: no passport, no exit. Those few minutes before my passport turned up were some of the scariest moments in my life. I still shiver when I think about what might have happened if I hadn’t found my passport.
As Christians, we are to conduct ourselves not as citizens of the culture in which we live but as citizens of the culture we represent—heaven.
Stand Firm in Grace
The world system has always been hostile to the Christian faith. It was true two thousand years ago, when Peter penned his letter to the believers in Asia Minor, and it is true today, as I pen this book to believers in the United States and across the globe. The world is not our friend. But that is no reason for us to panic! We do not have to fear the world, because God’s grace is sufficient to overcome the world’s opposition to Him and His truth.
Peter concluded his letter with these words: “This is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it!” (1 Pet. 5:12). Grace is the overriding theme of 1 Peter. The word grace occurs in every chapter, because grace is the thing we need most when we go through difficult circumstances.
Since grace is essential to our lives as believers, it’s important that we understand exactly what grace is. What do we mean when we talk about grace? When we are speaking of our salvation, grace is God’s undeserved favor. Though there are many ways to explain it, I particularly like this definition: “Grace is God’s burst of undeserved generosity.” 6 Grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve: eternal life.
But grace is more than that. It also refers to God’s supernatural help. For those of us who have received God’s gift of salvation, when we go through suffering or trials, God gives us His grace—His divine assistance—to supply us with the strength we need. Peter had this kind of grace in mind when he urged believers to stand firm in grace.
The apostle Paul described a time when he experienced God’s supernatural help. He said that he was given “a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me” (2 Cor. 12:7). Satan’s message to Paul was pain and panic. But the Lord’s message to him was grace: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (v. 9). Three times, Paul asked God to take away this “thorn.” Instead, God gave Paul what he needed most—His help. As a result, Paul did not simply endure his suffering; he rose above his suffering. By God’s grace, Paul was able to write, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (v. 9).
This was the message Peter wrote to the first-century believers. And it is the same message you and I need to hear today. God’s grace is more than enough to help us rise above the fears that tend to grip our hearts. The promise of God’s grace stiffens our spiritual spines with courage. This is great news, because make no mistake about it, storms will come—either literally, as when brave men and women across our nation face devastating hurricanes and floods, or figuratively, as when our culture outlaws any mention of God in the public square or when your spouse files for divorce.
No matter what storms we face, they almost always bring a rising tide of panic. And when the wind is howling, either outside our windows or inside our hearts, you and I need to hear a message of courage, like the one Paul delivered to his frightened shipmates after their vessel crashed: “‘Do not be afraid.’ . . . Keep up your courage” (Acts 27:24–25).
Without courage, the difficulties of this life would cause us to despair. This is why we must never let fear gain a foothold. “Fear and faith can’t live together very long in the same heart,” observed Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe. “Either fear will conquer faith and we’ll quit, or faith will conquer fear and we’ll triumph.”7
Joshua: An Example of Courage
The Bible is filled with stories of ordinary people who overcame fear with faith. One of my favorite examples is Joshua, Moses’s protégé. Standing at the Jordan River and peering into the promised land, Joshua trembled at the task he had been given. Moses had died, leaving Joshua as the new leader of Israel. But how was Joshua supposed to fill the sandals of Moses—the man who spoke face-to-face with God and led Israel for forty years?
I know a little of what Joshua must have felt. In 2018, the church I pastor, First Baptist Church of Dallas, celebrated its 150th anniversary. This church was established by great men and women of God. Over the years, many gifted preachers have filled its pulpit. Perhaps the greatest of these was my mentor and pastor Dr. W. A. Criswell, who delivered God’s inerrant Word to First Baptist Dallas for fifty years. When I stood in the historic sanctuary of First Baptist Dallas to deliver my first sermon as senior pastor, standing in the same spot as the legendary pastor had stood, I felt insignificant and afraid. How was I going to fill Dr. Criswell’s shoes?
In time, I learned that God’s kingdom work always goes on. For me, that meant stepping into the pulpit and continuing Dr. Criswell’s legacy of faithfully preaching God’s Word. For Joshua, that meant leading the Israelites into the promised land and defeating the enemies there. For you, it will mean something else. You may not be thrust into a position of responsibility, following on the heels of a beloved leader. But God will lead you into places where you encounter people and tasks that are larger than you. Whenever this happens, whether in your job, your family, or your spiritual life, it can be terrifying. You will be tempted to panic and run in the opposite direction or be frozen by fear. Instead, God wants you to summon the courage to obey Him by taking that first step into the unknown.
God’s command to Joshua could have easily sent him into a full-blown panic attack—it certainly would have unnerved most of us, had we been in his place! The Lord said to Joshua, “Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel” (Josh. 1:2). This command was filled with danger. Joshua would have to march down the steep eastern bank of the Jordan Valley, cross the river at flood stage, ascend the western bank, and attack an army of “men of great size” (Num. 13:32). No wonder he was shaking in his sandals!
Three Reasons to Take Courage
A frightened leader can do more harm to a group of people than an enemy horde. Leadership experts sometimes refer to this as the “headless chicken” syndrome, when a leader’s observable fear during a crisis causes people to run around in a panic, and nobody knows what they are supposed to do.
While fear is an understandable response to danger, the good news is that all of us can learn how to take courage during difficult times. Leadership blogger Seth Godin explained, “Fear is a natural reaction to risk. While risk is real and external, fear exists only in our imagination. Fear is the workout we give ourselves imagining what will happen if things don’t work out.” He went on to say, “It’s possible to have risk (a good thing) without debilitating fear or its best friend, obsessive worry.”8
So to embolden His timid leader and keep panic from spreading throughout the camp, God gave Joshua three limitless resources that would provide the new leader with courage: God’s promises, God’s Word, and God’s presence.
Courage from God’s Promises
God commanded Joshua to lead the people into the promised land, to defeat the enemies there, and to divide the land according to tribe. This was a huge undertaking, especially for a new leader. But God doesn’t give us commands without also providing the resources we need to obey those commands. So God gave Joshua three promises, one for each task.
First, God promised that the Israelites would enter the land. He said to Joshua, “Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea [the Mediterranean] toward the setting of the sun will be your territory” (Josh. 1:3–4). God promised to lead the way across the Jordan River and give His people everything they needed to claim the land. If the Lord has called you to a new task and you step out in faith, then you can rest assured that what He has promised, He will fulfill.
I remember when God called me to a new task that required me to step out in faith—my first invitation to contribute to a national news program. At the time, I was pastoring a church in the small city of Wichita Falls, Texas. Who am I to appear on this show and speak God’s truth to a national audience? I wondered. Although I sensed that God was calling me to accept the invitation, I have to admit that I balked when I considered the criticism I would surely receive from the mainstream media. Then I remembered that somebody once said there are three guaranteed ways to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. All true leaders are going to face criticism. I realized that the question I had to answer wasn’t, Will I be criticized for doing this? It was, Am I willing to obey God no matter what others might say?
After much prayer, I concluded that what God had called me to do, He would equip me to fulfill. I decided to go on the news program and speak God’s truth. Since that time, God has given me thousands of opportunities to proclaim His truth on major media outlets to millions of viewers, some of whom would never attend a church. But it all started many years ago, when I sensed God’s call to a new task and, despite my inexperience and concerns, decided to respond with faith instead of fear.
What new task has God called you to do? What have you sensed the Holy Spirit leading you to do, but you think, I could never do that? You can respond to that seemingly impossible task with either faith or fear. Perhaps right now you can only see the difficulty of your circumstances. But alongside that reality is another reality: God Himself will be with you, surrounding and protecting you as you follow Him.
Second, God promised that Israel would be victorious over their enemies. God told Joshua, “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Josh. 1:5 NIV). Hearing these words must have given Joshua courage.
Every Christian has enemies to fight. It’s easy for us to think of those enemies as being “out there”—in the culture. But in reality, our fiercest battles are with the enemies “in here”—with the sin nature that, though defeated, still resides in our own hearts. We wrestle with fear, worry, depression, doubt, anxiety, and a number of other struggles that seem to persist no matter how hard we pray. And the struggle is never-ending. Yet God has promised to give us the ultimate victory over sin.
We have this assurance from God’s Word: “This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4). If you are a Christian, then you are “freed from sin” (Rom. 6:7). Sin has no more power over your life today than you allow it to have. What lie have you bought into that is causing you to panic? Choose today to believe God’s truth: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (8:31).
Third, God promised that Israel would divide the land as an inheritance. The Lord said to Joshua, “You shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them” (Josh. 1:6). This promise reaches far back into Israel’s history to the time when Abraham (then called Abram) left his home in Ur and headed west, traveling to a land that God had promised to him. When Abraham passed through the land, the Lord appeared to him there and said, “To your descendants I will give this land” (Gen. 12:6–7).
As Christians, we have God’s promise to give us an inheritance that is different from a plot of real estate on earth but rather is “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4). Because God always keeps His promises, we can take courage no matter what circumstances we encounter here on earth, because we know that our eternal inheritance in heaven is secure.
At the end of his life, Joshua reminded the people of God’s faithfulness. In Joshua 23:14, he said, “Not one word of all the good words which the Lord your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed.” God kept all His promises to Joshua, and He will keep all His promises to you and me. However, before God fulfills His promises to us, we have to exercise our faith.
Courage from God’s Word
When we encounter situations that tempt us to panic, we can take courage not only in God but also in God’s Word. Joshua faced a physical enemy: the giants who occupied the land. Few of us will ever have to cross swords with another human being, but all of us will have to cross swords with evil and its devastating effects. If we are going to win this invisible—but very real—war, we must follow God’s instructions completely.
Joshua had to make the same commitment. The Lord told him that to succeed, Joshua had to take care “to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded” (Josh. 1:7). Let’s look at the three commitments that required.
First, Joshua was to walk a straight line. The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not turn from [Moses’s instructions] to the right or to the left” (v. 7). I often say—well, to be honest, I yell—something similar to drivers on the Dallas freeways: “Keep it between the lines!” Joshua was not to deviate one iota from God’s instructions. Likewise, we must be careful to walk according to the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ, without veering into the “broad” path that “leads to destruction” (Matt. 7:13). As Jesus explained, “The gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (v. 14).
Second, Joshua was to speak the truth. The Lord told Joshua, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth” (Josh. 1:8). The taste of truth was to remain on his tongue. The only way Joshua could accomplish this was by consuming the Word of God through regular reading, study, and application.
We too have been given the responsibility to speak the truth. Ephesians 4:15 says, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.” We are called to know God’s truth and then to stand for the truth whenever God’s Word is being maligned. Now, it’s important to remember that this verse says, “speaking the truth in love.” When we stand for truth, some people will be turned off by that. But many people have been turned off to Christianity not because of the offense of the gospel but because of the offensiveness of other Christians. We need to speak the truth, but we need to speak it in love.
Third, Joshua was to think biblical thoughts. Referring to the book of the law, the Lord said, “You shall meditate on it day and night” (Josh. 1:8). Joshua was to memorize Scripture and repeat it over and over in his thoughts. The Hebrew word for “meditate” means to turn over, to moan, or to mutter. Joshua was to be so preoccupied with God’s Word that he muttered passages of Scripture as he went about his daily routines. As we will examine further in chapter 5, one of the most effective ways to overcome our fears and move forward in faith is by committing Scripture to memory.
Faithfulness to these three commands equips us, like Joshua, “to do . . . all that is written” in God’s Word (v. 8). Only then will we be able to fulfill God’s calling on our lives and “have success” (v. 8).
Courage from God’s Presence
Whenever our circumstances tempt us to panic, we can draw courage from God’s promises and God’s Word. But God has one more assurance for us: His presence.
In Joshua 1:9, God said to Joshua, “The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” And because that was true, the Lord commanded him, “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed” (v. 9). Yes, Joshua would face giants and fortified cities, but he had nothing to fear because God Himself would be with him.
Throughout the Bible, we find reminder after reminder of God’s unceasing presence. Perhaps one of the most beautiful is recorded in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Speaking through the prophet, God promised, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10).
No matter what happens, God is with us. What a great comfort and source of courage is the presence of our Lord!
When life feels out of control, God’s words are not pretty-sounding platitudes meant to make us feel better. God is not like a kindly old grandfather who absentmindedly pats our heads and says, “There, there. Everything will be okay.” No, when God gives us a promise, He speaks with the authority of the Creator of the universe, who not only brought the world into existence by the power of His Word but also continues to speak to us today.
So, when God commanded Joshua to “be strong and courageous” (Josh. 1:6–7, 9), Israel’s new leader was able to respond with obedience. I think it’s interesting to note the order of the words in this command, because only when we are strong are we able to be courageous. The Hebrew word for “strong” (hazaq) refers to internal confidence. Only after Joshua developed his inner strength by relying on God’s promises, God’s Word, and God’s presence could he then be “courageous” (’amets), which is the external quality of boldness. Courage is confidence in action.
The key to having courage during difficult times is facing your fears in faith. Before you go to bed tonight, I encourage you to make a list of the three things that frighten you the most. Are you fearful of what is happening in our nation’s cultural climate? Are you worried about international unrest—rogue nations with nuclear bombs or terrorists? Or are your fears closer to home: the illness of a loved one, a rebellious child, the suspicion that your spouse is having an affair, a downturn in your business, or the loss of a job?
Make your list. Then, with the help of a Bible concordance or a godly friend, find at least one Scripture reference to write down next to each concern. For example, are you fearful that you won’t be able to provide for yourself and your family financially? Next to that specific fear, write out Matthew 6:25–26:
- For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?
Claim those passages as God’s promises for you. Memorize those verses and then meditate on them every time you are tempted to panic. In time, the Lord will build up your confidence so that you can live with courage.
No Reason for Panic
To give in to fear is to assume that you are powerless. And in many instances, you and I are powerless. We are probably powerless to stop terrorism or to cure cancer, for example. But if we allow our fears to morph into panic, then we are assuming God is also powerless—and we know He is anything but that! In the words of Peter Kreeft, “God had more power in one breath of his spirit than all the winds of war, all the nuclear bombs, all the energy of all the suns in all the galaxies, all the fury of Hell itself.”9 So why should we “tremble or be dismayed” (Josh. 1:9)?
This week I read Mark Batterson’s book All In. In it he tells the story of a group of missionaries who a century ago were known as “one-way missionaries,” so called because they only bought one-way tickets to the mission field. In fact, they didn’t pack suitcases; they packed their belongings in coffins because they intended to be buried in foreign lands. One of these missionaries was A. W. Milne, who set sail for the New Hebrides Islands in the South Pacific. Tribesmen had martyred every missionary to these islands. And yet Milne packed his coffin and boarded a ship. He wasn’t afraid of death. He had already died—to himself. If he lost his life in the endeavor, he would do so knowing that he had been faithful to Christ, who called him to minister among these South Pacific tribespeople.
Expecting a martyr’s death that never came, Milne ministered in New Hebrides for thirty-five years. When the Lord eventually took His servant home, the tribespeople buried Milne in the coffin he had brought and erected a tombstone. This was the epitaph they carved on it: “When he came, there was no light. When he died, there was no darkness.”10
What was it that gave Milne the courage to face death and live among those who had killed other missionaries who had come to their islands? He relied on Jesus’s promise: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. . . . Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). And he relied on Jesus’s presence: “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
The promise and presence of Jesus kept Milne from panic. And it will do the same for you. No matter what distress you might be experiencing right now, there is no reason to panic. As Paul wrote, “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). Whenever you are tempted to become anxious about the shifts taking place in our culture or the turbulence in your own life, you can take courage in this unchanging promise: “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
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