Of Cowards and Christians
“God has not given us a spirit of fear.”
–Paul, 2 Timothy
“Don’t be afraid.”
These are the confessions of a recovering coward.
When I was an adolescent I liked to challenge teenagers bigger than me to play basketball so I could prove myself. I also gravitated to events during my youth that involved public speaking or performing in front of large groups. Not long after high-school I left my home in Virginia and moved to another continent with a vision of helping that small, counter-cultural movement known as Christianity grow in the secular, hostile setting which is Western Europe. I also found and took a wife at a young age (21) and have had four kids all the while doing it with the often shaky financial foundations that come with church and missionary work.
I even attempted to eat Marmite on one occasion…
I changed a dirty nappy once too…
I don’t use a night light anymore… Most of the time.
For all those reasons, I was a little surprised when God started calling me a coward.
I began to hear this “C” word a couple of years ago. I noticed how with friends and different members of my nuclear and extended family I would often “give in” for the sake of peace. I don’t mean that I had the admirable quality of being gracious and preferring others. Rather, I realised that I would often let things happen which I disagreed with simply for the sake of peace and harmony. I would let things remain in an unhealthy or second-rate condition because confronting the issue could bring out strong, negative emotion and that made me uncomfortable (read “afraid”). I would fail to speak the truth in love - because I was afraid. I could dramatically preach hard truths before an audience of 1,000 but not address family members or close friends in a firm but loving way over sensitive issues.
Then I heard God use the “C” word in my professional life. It started when I had a meeting with two local Christian leaders who wielded a tone that I did not expect - they were rude, bullying and reckless with their words. During this meeting, I failed to continuously address their errors and speak what I knew was true. Since then, God has shown me how I often let cowardice affect my work relationships. I often fail to speak the truth in love to those I work closely with when I know it could stir up negative emotion. Sometimes this is due to fear of confrontation. Other times, it is self-doubt and I step back from speaking in the moment out of fear that I may be wrong. That’s fear of failure or fear of looking foolish before others.
Yes, sometimes it is wisdom to keep quiet and consider a matter. But other times our quiet is just cowardice. It takes prayerful self-awareness to know the difference.
This no small matter. God says in the Book of Revelations that the first group of people to be kept outside of the City of Life is cowards.
“But as for the cowardly…their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.” –Rev 21
Courage is another “C” word and it is what God calls his people to walk in. By God’s grace, I have been making progress, but I still have a way to go. I’m learning that even though I must not be harsh, unkind or arrogant in speaking the truth, I must still speak it.
What about you? Courage is not the lack of fear, but a commitment to doing and saying what is right even when we are afraid. It is continuing to manifest the character of God in the face of intimidation, failure or rejection. We can only do this because Jesus courageously faced into the bloody cross where he willingly took the judgement for all our sins - including cowardice. What is the fear that keeps us from acting and speaking courageously? Let's give that over to God and find our security in him.
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