Let’s start with Webster’s definition of three very ordinary words-courage, fear, encourage
Courage-the capacity to meet danger without giving way to fear
Fear-the instinctive emotion aroused by impending or seeming danger, pain or evil
Encourage-to give courage or confidence to
Let me expand the definition of encourage-to give the capacity to meet danger without giving way to the instinctive emotion aroused by impending or seeming danger, pain or evil.
Now let’s take a look at a familiar story in Matthew 14, where Jesus walks on water. Even a person with a passing encounter with Sunday School will be familiar with this story! Jesus had sent the disciples on their way, by boat, while he went up to the mountain to pray. It says that the boat was battered by waves and that in the early morning Jesus came walking towards them on the sea. It also says that the disciples were terrified because they thought it was a ghost. Here’s where it gets interesting, verse 27. The NRSV Bible renders the translation like this: “…‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” The King James version says “Be of good cheer.” For me, neither one of these translations invoke a sense of powerfulness. What I hear in my head is that old song from the late 80’s early 90’s “don’t worry, be happy!” Sweet, but not exactly powerful.
Leslie Weatherhead translated it differently. In the Positive Affirmation for day 18 he translates it this way: “Courage, it is I.” I could never recall hearing it translated that way, so I did a little digging and the NIV Bible says this for verse, 27: “Take courage! It is I!” What do I hear in my head? Every musical track that has ever been used in a movie when the hero comes to the rescue!
Talk about a powerful image! Here are the men, on this boat, waves literally crashing over the top of the boat while they are tossed around, pretty certain that they are not going to make it, when all of a sudden, here comes this figure, walking towards them, stomping waves like a child stomps an anthill! They are terrified! Then suddenly, this big strong voice shouts out to them “ TAKE COURAGE! IT….IS…I!!!” Wow! That is powerful!
Then we go on to verse 28 where Peter says “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” What does Jesus say? “Come.” We know the rest of the story, Peter does get out of the boat and does just fine until he gets distracted by the wind and then he becomes frightened again. Down he goes, so he calls out to Jesus who grabs him by the hand and brings him back to the ship safely. Jesus says to him “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Now, I want to throw out one more definition. This word, has about a half page column in the dictionary but, I want to focus on the very first definition listed.
Take-to get possession of by using force or superior strength
When you think about this Bible story and what Jesus said, and the definitions of those key words, “take courage” is not a warm and fuzzy, comforting phrase. It is a command! Jesus is telling Peter to forcefully grab on to courage and not give way to fear! This completely changes the dynamic of this story! It also gives a new understanding to the question that Jesus asked Peter. “Why did you doubt?” Jesus is saying “you had it in your hands, why did you let go?! Why did you let yourself get distracted? Why did you give fear free reign again?”
Think about how many people could use this type of message today! Average, everyday people, just trying to get by in life. They want to do something different, but they are afraid. Their life boat is getting swamped by the waves of bill collectors, threat of house foreclosure, possibility of losing their job. Their children are struggling in school. They have a sick parent who needs assistance. They are living at the mercy of the waves, just barely getting by. They are baling as fast as they can but still the waves come! They want to get a different job. They want to go back to school. They have an idea for a business but, oh Lord! It’s just too risky! They are barely holding on as it is! What if they take the chance and fail?! All the people they would let down! All the things they might lose! They are terrified, just like the Disciples in the boat! Fear is a powerful thing!
Courage is equally as powerful if we can just take hold of it! Look around you. Is there someone you know who took a risk and against all odds succeeded? Look at individuals in the military who go above and beyond the call of duty. I guarantee that each one experienced fear, but they took hold of courage and did something extraordinary! If you are fearful, look to others who inspire you and who have exhibited courage in their own life. Or, maybe, you are the courageous one. Can you be the person who reaches out to another individual and offer encouragement? Can you help blaze the path? In a society where fear runs rampant, when failure seems the only option, can you be that person who grabs on and doesn’t let go?
Imagine how different things could be if we made it a practice to encourage courage! How much change would we see if we delivered this one simple message-take courage! Even in a storm, we are never truly alone. Encourage yourself, encourage others. Imagine how different life could be if we all chose to “take courage!”
I will never look at the story of Jesus walking on water the same way again! From now on, I will see it as a powerful story of how life can be if we stop living in our own private world of fear. Take courage, Jesus said. Take courage and believe! Take hold of that powerful, awe inspiring message and boldly walk forward in courage today!