“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:7)
These are words from Moses to Israel just prior to his death on Mount Nebo (Deuteronomy 34). The phrase “be strong and courageous” occurs two more times in the chapter (v. 7, 23) and five times in the book of Joshua. It’s always used in connection with some aspect of taking the land.
From there it’s not far to the truth that being strong and courageous is always about entering new territory for God. There’s not a big need for strength or courage when you are doing something you’ve done before—that’s usually more about patience and perseverance. But when you’re venturing into new territory it’s a different matter, isn’t it? You don’t have your experience to fall back on, so the element of the unknown looms large and you find you yourself asking a lot of “what if” questions.
This is exactly where courage comes in. Someone said that courage is “fear that has said its prayers.” I like that. Courage is when we approach the unknown and naturally have some anxiety about it. But rather than allowing it to stare us down and disable us, we hand it over to God.
It takes strength to do this. It requires effort to wrest something away from an overfocused mind and anxious heart that are extrapolating on all the negative potentialities and give it to God. It takes courage to pump the brakes and plant the flag of faith that enables the new territory (and all it involves) to be claimed for God.
But that is exactly what our Father wants us to do.
I’ve noticed over the years is that young people tend to do better in this area than older people. The young David had more courage than his older brothers. He had more courage than King Saul. This might seem counter-intuitive, but I think it makes sense. Young people are constantly being introduced to new frontiers in their lives—socially, physically, academically—they live in the midst of change and challenge and that requires courage.
But after they grow up and get established, what do they do? Many time they try to eliminate as much change and challenge as possible! They settle down and develop routines where they have everything under their control. The irony of course is that when they come to the later seasons of their lives, they usually find themselves back in the change mode, but by then they’ve often lost their flexibility.
Life is meant to be lived in a change mode that requires the constant presence of courage. We are supposed to live in a manner where we are continually allowing God to lead us into new territory. When the Hebrew writer was challenging his readers toward the end of his letter to them (13:5), he reassured them by reminding them, “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” That’s a quote from our text in Deuteronomy 31:6. If you go back and catch the context in Hebrews, he was challenging his readers to allow God to take them into the territory of living free from the love of money and learning to be content with what they had.
What new territory do we need to occupy for God?
Be strong and courageous!