June 04, 2011

A Spirit of Courage

I have a terrible case of cowardliness.  It is a rather debilitating illness that I have wrestled with for some time.  Actually, come to think of it, I haven't wrestled with it at all.  I have slowly allowed it to steal away my ability to impact the institutions I am a part of and the people that I interact with.

You see, while some cower at spiders, I cower at the thought of confrontation.  While others shy away from heights, I shy away from challenges that I may not conquer.  While many steer clear of snakes, I steer clear of vulnerability.

While I do suffer from ornithophobia (an intense fear of birds) it is far from being my most hindering fear, particularly when considering my desire to make an impact wherever God has me at any point in time, my greatest fear is my fear of experiencing pain.  Again, I find myself convicted to revise, I dislike discomfort of any kind.  Such a fear is unacceptable for one who wants to lead.  It is ridiculous for me to pursue leadership only to the point at which I experience pain because it is at that point that true leadership begins.  If I am unwilling to speak the truth when it hurts, do the difficult tasks when the reward is small and recognition none, and share my thoughts and opinions openly, I am not truly leading anyone.

Suffering is an inevitable part of leadership.  I cannot expect to reap rewards if I do not first experience hardship.  A study of Romans led me to this revelation.  Though I am reluctant to compare the lesson I learned (which I believe to be true) to the lesson Paul communicates, it was the source of my inspiration and so I feel compelled to share it nonetheless.  (I apologize if anyone feels that this is terrible misuse of scripture.)

"The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.  Now if we are God's children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." - Romans 8:16-17

Because I am a coward, God has been teaching me about courage.  I am always amazed at how consistent God is.  He faithfully teaches me lessons at the time I need to learn them.  Some may call this serendipity.  I know it to be sovereignty.

One thing that I have been convinced of, though I have known it for some time, is that courage is not an absence of fear.  Rather courage is the presence of action in the presence of fear.  In the book Spiritual Leadership J. Oswald Sanders reminds us that even Paul, a courageous servant of God if ever there was one, experienced fear.  In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul writes,

"When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." - 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

This leads me to the second thing I am learning about courage; the Spirit is the only adequate source of it.  He gives it freely when  I do not suppress it.  This past month I have been reminded continually that, "...God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, or love, and of self-discipline." - 2 Timothy 1:7

The difference within the disciples following the gift of the Spirit demonstrates this power.

My problem is that I frequently quench the Spirit and I think that it is partly out of fear that I do so.  The Spirit is powerful.  I have experienced that power, and as I mentioned in my first post I am not one who likes to relinquish control.  I find myself continually quenching the Spirit.  I quench the Spirit through sin, not necessarily in my direct breaking of the Law, but in my general rebellion against God.

For example, I have a habit of defaulting to television when I do not have an urgent matter to take care of.  Though I do not watch anything that people of my generation would find morally reprehensible, when I watch my thinking does become increasingly conformed to the patterns and values of the world.  Such distraction from a God who loves me, seeks me out, and longs for my attention is shameful.

Though in no way do I mean to say that media is sinful, I do think that it "lulls me to sleep".  It quenches the Spirit as my mind strays from whatever is true, honourable, just,  pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.

My view of sin is too narrow.  I do not frequently take stalk of how my thoughts, attitudes, and actions differ from the holy God I so long to honour.  God is changing that and I am thrilled.  I have been captivated lately by Psalm 19 in which David expresses his desire to be blameless.

12 But who can discern their own errors?
   Forgive my hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
   may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
   innocent of great transgression.
 14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
   be pleasing in your sight,
   LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:12-14

I cannot boast a prayer life in which I ask God to reveal my hidden faults.  In fact, I am quite happy keeping those faults hidden from myself.  God is stirring within me a new desire; the desire of David.  Only through the Spirit can I bear my unseen sin.  Only through the Spirit can I find the courage to speak truth, seek out hardship, and lead those God might entrust in my care.  I truly believe that if I allow the Spirit to work I will be able to courageously lead in the midst of fear.

Finally, on a strictly practical note, my fear is directly related to my level of preparedness.  I need to spend more time in preparation.  As Sanders notes, "The Spiritual leader must be ready and able to teach."  This readiness, I believe, is a combination of preparation and willingness.

Please pray for me,  that God would make me a willing, ready, and courageous servant and that I would be overcome by the Spirit of God within me.