Courage - Leadership's Foundation
How would you define courage? According to Webster’s dictionary, courage is “mental or moral strength to venture, preserve, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” It is the ability to go forward despite the obstacles.
You see courage in many areas around us. Notably there is always the soldier who faces the odds and rescues a comrade or the hostage. What about the bystanders who race into dangerous situations to rescue a small child? Courage can be seen by those that stand up for the “little guy” though society might be against them. Courage is going forward no matter what the naysayers say.
How is courage defined biblically? You could say that from a biblical standpoint, courage is basically the same. I say basically, because it really is more than just the worldly definition. Courage is going forward despite the dangers before them, yes. But it is also letting God have control and following Him wherever He leads. Courage is surrendering and obeying.
Courage is an extremely important characteristic to have as a leader. You might agree but do you really understand why? A leader is more than the leader of a present day army who sits miles from the main action. A leader in the army of God is one that is always on the mainline of the battle. They always have to face the danger head-on or the entire company falls. Courage is needed for preparing for battle, engaging in battle, and seeing it through. A leader without courage is nothing more than a person play-acting. They are an empty shell.
Now, before I continue let me address something else about courage. Having courage does not mean that you have no fear. It was once said that courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to continue despite it. A leader for God’s army is not nonchalant about the battle. In fact they are very aware of it. There might be a fear of not being prepared or concerned of the aftermath, but in the end it is turned over to God for Him to handle. To better understand biblical courage, let us venture into a few areas of courage and see how leaders chosen by God exemplified these areas.
Accepting the Challenge
The slap has occurred. The glove has been thrown to the ground. The challenge has been made. The leader is called to either accept it or run for the hills. They are about to walk into the unknown. A leader needs the courage to accept the challenge presented to them and walk forward though they have no idea what is about to happen next. They place their faith, trust, careers, and even their lives in God’s hands as they raise up their chins and step forward to engage the challenge. That is courage.
My hero is Esther. I fell in love with her story twenty five years ago and I still get goose bumps when I read it. It is a story of a young Jewish girl who against all odds becomes the Queen of Persia. Though now in a position of pampered daily life, she is in essence the prisoner of the king. She cannot do anything without his permission especially appear in his presence without his summons. To do so would result in her death. The smart thing would be to keep your head down, enjoy the lavish lifestyle, and appear to your husband whenever he desired your company. But you soon discover that courage does not always follow the “sensible” things of this world. Esther unknowingly has become a leader of her people. They were a nation despised by many and that includes some Persian. The most powerful hater of the Jews is a man named Haman who has the king’s ear and uses it frequently. He has more sway over the king than his young wife. When his hatred for the race increases, he manages to use his sly ways to get the king to sign an edict demanding the death of all Jews. A king’s edict was irreversible. Since the king and all others in court were unaware of Esther’s ethnic background, no one gave it a second thought. Through the guidance of her uncle who has experienced Haman’s wrath many times, Esther realizes her new position and now can understand why she of all the beautiful women of the kingdom was chosen as the queen. God needed a leader in the palace for His people. It had to be Esther.
What does she do? She does the unthinkable. Yes, she goes before her husband without being summoned. She appears before him and requests his presence in a meal she would have in his honor. Instead of the expected death declaration, the king sees in his wife a regal courage, a beauty, an innocent, and a power that draws him closer. Instead of death, she receives a “yes” to dinner. Included in the invitation is Haman. After several meals, the king knows that his wife wants something. He tells her to ask and it will be hers. She wants her people safe.
She boldly approaches the forbidden throne room. She dares to ask the king to dine with her. She declares her heritage and in the same breath asks for safety. Esther had no idea what would happen each step of the way. Death was on her heal at all times. Esther had the courage to approach the unknown by giving everything over to God and walking into the darkness. She had the faith to know that the light would shine on the path ahead and guide her through the murky terrain. Esther’s courage was in knowing that her life was on the line and still went forward because she heard God’s call.
There was another Jew in Persia that exemplifies biblical courage. That man was Nehemiah. He was the cupbearer for the king and his job was to bring the wine to the royal ruler and nothing else. But as usual God has different plans. He tells Nehemiah that he is to go back to his homeland and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. How was this to happen? Who knew? But God did.
One day as Nehemiah is performing his normal duties, the king sees something in his face that prompts him to ask what was wrong. That is in of itself amazing since most royal rulers never took notice of their servants. Here, the king did take notice. Instead of saying that all was ok as most of us would have done, Nehemiah stepped into the unknown. He told the king of the sadness over him about his homeland and the devastation there. He goes on asking the king if he could return to his homeland to rebuild the walls. Surely the king would say no. Quite the opposite. He gives him his blessing. But does Nehemiah stop there? He follows God’s lead and keeps going on. He asks for papers that showed that the king endorsed the project, the materials to build the wall, and an extended period away from work to accomplish it. Instead of being killed instantly, all was granted to him without a second thought. Nehemiah had the courage to go forward despite the dangers and gave it all to God to handle.
Stand on the Truth
Another aspect of courage in leadership is to stand on the truth and not waver despite the winds that whip around you. This is not easy if your courage is not grounded in the Word.
One of the most notable stories in the Old Testament involves a king and a preacher. The king had sinned by committing adultery, lying, murder, and treachery. Not many would confront the king on issues such as these. They would be crazy to do so. The best case would be death. The worst case would be a social outcast and banned from court after a good flogging. But Nathan stood on the truth of the Bible and approached the king.
Nathan did not tremble in fear as he faced King David. He approached him with courage and pointed out all the laws David had broken and the offense he had done to God. He took courage as a mantle and continued in the face of danger. His weapon was not logical reasoning. It was the Word of God. The result? A humbled and stronger king.
Throughout all of Paul’s writings you will see the courage of standing on the Truth. But one of the main ones that comes to mind is when Paul has to address the matter of requiring Jewish rites on the new converts to the Christian faith. He could have stayed in the shadows since he had not been in the group nearly as long and did not walk with Jesus to learn. But he knew what Jesus had taught and he knew the Old Testament like the back of his hand. He took that truth and he courageously approached the established leaders of the Christian church and challenged the actions of other believers. He used the Word as his platform and he went into the unknown. He could have been ostracized. He could be pushed away from the heart of the Christian church. Instead, he got the men to thinking and studying and the perfect solution was obtained for all.
Paul allowed God to direct him in the truth and he followed through. He stood on the truth and let God deal with “fall out”.
Admitting Sins Publically
One thing that really gets me respecting a leader is when they can admit their mistakes before others and ask for forgiveness. That is a leader worth having. Why? Because they are not perfect and when they know that and can admit it, there is room for more growth and an even stronger leader.
Yes, David. That liar, murder, and adulterer is a great leader because he publically confessed those very sins. He could have denied them all. He could have hidden in his position as king. He could have silenced all those that spoke against him. He could have twisted the law to suit him and even make him look innocent. He could have put it all on Bathsheba. But instead he did the honorable thing and confessed to them all. He went further and repented. He didn’t do it behind closed doors and let his PR guy handle things. He let all see his guilt, his pain, his pleas, his devastation, his agony. He let them see it all.
David could have hidden it longer, but he stepped into the unknown and let God have control. He stepped out of the driver’s seat finally and gave the wheel to God. This was the perfect reaction to show the kingdom how they should really respond to God.
We see Paul again here. He wasn’t a choir boy, either. Paul’s past was littered with persecution, judgment, and murder. These were acts he could have ignored once he had converted since that was his old life and in reality should be ignored. Instead, Paul used his past as a way to relate to others. He confessed to the world and to generations that he was once pretty dirty himself. He laid out his sins and he exposed it all. He didn’t wait for the tabloids to expose them. He put them all out there and then showed how wrong he was. He used his past as a teaching tool about Jesus’ grace.
Paul stepped out to potential ridicule and public shame. He relied on God to make his path clear and the results perfect. Paul bared his soul to save ours.
Ignoring Peer Pressure
My two choices for this category are Joshua and Caleb. These were just two of many spies sent into Canaan to get a scope of the land and report back to Moses as to what was in store for them. Once all the men got a good look at things they reported back to camp and their leader. But here is where the courage of Joshua and Caleb show them to be the future leaders God needs in the coming years.
The spies return and report how it is really impossible to take the land. The men are too big, the cities too fortified, and it would be just illogical to even try. Joshua and Caleb are now at an impasse. They could just stay in the shadows and allow their friends to keep on going. But when their turn came, they didn’t just say “Ditto” and keep on walking. They stepped out into the unknown by speaking what they saw as the positive aspects of it all. They reported on how fertile the land was and that it was everything promised to them.
Joshua and Caleb stepped out and let God take their back. They went down a different path than their friends. They did not follow the masses. They did what they believed was right and let God deal with it all.
Anyone going through life will hit a wall and need to get around it. Leaders will hit a multitude of them and they are always as high as the sky and as wide as the earth. If a leader can be brought down, the enemy will have a success to notch on his belt. But a leader in God’s army has to face their wall.
Walls come in all shapes and forms. They could be political laws or physical handicaps. In Moses case it was a sense of extreme shyness and a lack of confidence. He could not face his enemy. Or at least he thought he couldn’t.
Moses had an issue with standing in front of others and leading. He doubted that his tongue could deliver God’s message successfully. God showed him that what Moses saw as a wall was just a slight detour. Aaron, his brother, was to be part of the leadership and would fill in where Moses was weak. If Moses was to be the leader, he had to face the wall. Conquering it was not the way he would have chosen, but it was the most perfect result.
Moses allowed God to lead him around the wall and continue on into Egypt. Because of that, Moses was blessed with knowing God in a way that no one else did.
I have to bring Nehemiah back not because there is a shortage of examples in the Bible, but because he has one of the most perfect stories in leadership. He has many a “wall” to face in building the wall. A normal man on the street would have given up long before, but Nehemiah faced his wall.
Nehemiah arrives back in his homeland to find vast destruction. He has to rebuild the wall in what seems like impossible circumstances. But then more walls appear. Besides the rubble, Nehemiah has to deal with the rulers around him trying to thwart his efforts. He is faced with lies, slander, and deceit. Most men would have packed up and gone home. But none of this phased Nehemiah. He raised up his chin and let God make his decisions. He allowed God to speak for him and in the end, he was still standing while his foes fell to their deceit.
Nothing can distinguish a leader like their ability to confront someone in a loving yet strong manner. The Bible demands that we make each other accountable and hold each other up to the Word. Sadly, much of that has fallen by the wayside. But a leader cannot do the same if they are in the army of God.
Paul had a time when he had to confront one of the original followers of Jesus. Most would be surprised to learn that it was Peter that needed some rebuking in his actions. Paul noticed that Peter talked one way about the interaction of Jews and Gentiles but when staunch Jewish believers appeared, he tended to change his tune and become a yes man to them. Paul saw the double actions and speak and called Peter on it. He knew that the actions could be detrimental in the growth of the Kingdom so he confronted his mentor and showed him where he was wrong.
Paul could have kept his mouth shut as he saw a leader of his own make errors and not correct them. He could of thought of his career first or how it might be perceived by others. Instead, he stepped out and stood on the truth and showed true leadership by confronting an unbiblical action.
I know that I mentioned Nathan and his confrontation of David earlier. I used the characteristic of courage that required a leader to stand on the truth as the topic. But Nathan also showed courage in confronting his king.
God chose Nathan as the religious leader. Why? Because He knew that Nathan would be willing to rely on God to confront horrible sin and try to get a child relationship with his Father back on track.
Courage for a leader in God’s army requires surrender and obedience. It leads the person into unknown terrain that strengthens purifies them. Courage under God is due to surrender to God. Only when a leader can take this kind of courage will they come out a champion.