The leaves of the neighborhood maple and oak trees were transforming from light green to brilliant oranges and reds. The marigolds bordering the driveways and sidewalks were full and dazzling as they danced in the brisk, fall breeze. The walk home from Lincoln Elementary School in Sioux City, Iowa should have been a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting composed of yellows, oranges, and burgundies. It was, however, not a Norman Rockwell painting, because behind the old oak tree near the corner of Douglas Ave. and 34th street, Larry was lying in wait. He would attack from the rear, spin me around, and punch me in the gut. This chronic ritual occurred every day after school for several weeks. I would take different routes home; I would do anything to avoid confrontation.
8 years later, the smell of hotdogs and popcorn, the sound of the crowd cheering for their hometown football team, his flaming red hair, and the impacts of Curt’s fists against my face permeated my senses. I was a freshman in high school, standing one level of the bleachers below Curt, receiving a plethora of sucker-punches in direct retaliation to my quiet, subdued presence that had apparently disrupted Curt’s evening. I stood there, lips bleeding (because of my braces—not his poor excuses for punches), and did nothing. I would do anything to avoid confrontation.
Fear is a four-letter word that haunts me, dominates me, and discourages me!
The Christian leaders who tell us that when we submit to Christ, our lives will improve, that the beer will flow like wine, and beautiful women will instinctively flock our direction like the salmon of Capistrano are liars. When we decided to fall under the Lordship of Jesus, we pledged to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus into battle…a battle where fear rears its ugly head and the enemy is dead-set on destroying us.
Why do we do it then?
One of the final episodes in the HBO series Band of Brothers is entitled “Why We Fight.” The Band of Brothers series takes you on a journey with Easy Company—a paratrooper regiment—from D-Day to the end of the Second World War in Europe. In this episode, Easy Company encounters a death camp. The regiment—who had been questioning their purpose up to this point—discovered why they followed their leaders into battle. Why they did what they did and risked what they risked. They were fighting an enemy who stole peoples’ freedom…an enemy who killed, maimed, and destroyed; they were fighting for life, for freedom, for redemption.
This is why we follow Jesus. We follow Jesus because we believe that life, freedom, and redemption are worthy ventures…they’re worth sacrificing all of who we are—including our lives. We don’t follow Jesus because the Christian life provides us with something materialistic or it enriches our lives by providing us with easy living or earthly possessions. If those are the reasons why we pursue Jesus, once the Larrys and Curts of the world decide to compensate for their lack of self-esteem and fire their weapons in our direction, we will either be paralyzed in fear, or turn-tail and run in order to avoid confrontation.
I think one of the main reasons I find Samwise Gamgee, the Hobbit gardener from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so compelling is because this character embodies a part of who I am, who I might have been, and who I want to become. At first, Samwise is afraid of his own shadow. Eventually, however, Samwise says the following:
“I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something—that there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”
Samwise overcame his fears because he believed there was some good in the world and it was worth fighting for. Courage filled his very being…the kind of courage I want to fill my soul.
Following Christ is definitely worth the risks, and He does promise us power and courage to fight the battle that lies before us.
In Acts 4, the early believers, after enduring persecution and imprisonment, pray for courage. They were afraid, people wanted to kill them, so they asked God to help them. It’s interesting that they didn’t ask for God to destroy their enemies, or change their circumstances, they just asked for courage…and God answered by filling them with the Holy Spirit.
One can translate the Hebrew word ruach as either “spirit” or “courage.” Being filled with the Holy Spirit is often thought of as being filled with God’s power. A better interpretation would be being filled with God’s courage.
Erwin McManus writes in his book Uprising:
“Only when you embrace God’s calling on your life will you need God-inspired courage. We often ask for God’s power to accomplish our small dreams. We should instead cry out for God’s courage to step out on His bold adventure.”
I’m not a natural-born hero…definitely evident in my inability to defend myself against Larry or Curt. Some people may be born with courage running through their blood. Others may foolishly jump into battle without the needed fear that makes them sensible. I think most people are like me. I’m afraid of the enemy and I fear the weapons he might use against me…be it attacks at my character, false accusations, addictions, relationship problems, financial hardships, sickness, death. Whatever arrows the enemy hurls in my direction, I know that I can ask God for the same courage those early believers asked for…and I’m assured that God will give it to me.
Give me your courage, so that I may take on these trials with boldness and be victorious.
With the Spirit of God thriving inside me, I can overcome my fears, and press on for there is some good in this world that’s worth fighting for: redemption, freedom, and life in the arms of Jesus Christ.