The Courage to Overcome Fears

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

After a history class, my brother pointed out to me that wars are cyclic. A war tends to break out once per generation. If the war was glamorous and popular with the people, the next war would follow soon after. If the struggle was bitter and carried heavy losses, the next war would be long in coming; though, always before the next generation, there would be a war. Time dims the memory of the horrors of war.

The idea makes sense. On the one hand, wars appear glamorous. Men find honor in serving their country. Often a noble cause is found to justify a country’s participation in the battles. But once the reality of war sets in, once people realize their loved ones will never return to them, once they sense that these young men and women who leave may never be seen again, then fear grips the people of the nation.

War is a scary business. During World War II, General George Patton was met by a military governor who praised his bravery in battle. General Patton replied, “Sir, I am not a brave man – the truth is, I am an utter craven coward. I have never been within the sound of gunshot or in sight of battle in my whole life that I wasn’t so scared that I had sweat in the palms of my hands.” How could such a man function with these fears? Many years later Patton wrote in his autobiography, “I learned very early in my life never to take counsel of my fears.”

The Bible records the amazing deed of Jonathan, David’s closest friend (I Samuel 14:1-14). In a rash and daring move, Jonathan decided to cross the lines of battle into enemy territory. The Philistines had tight control over the iron market. No Israelite was allowed to work as a blacksmith (I Samuel 13:19-22). Farm implements were available, but the charge for these tools was so high that few could afford the price. When Saul lead the Israelites in rebellion against the Philistines, only Saul and his son Jonathan had swords. The remainder of the army used sharpened farming tools.

It was during this war that Jonathan and his armor-bearer approached a garrison of Philistine soldiers who had sealed a pass between Israelite and Philistine territory. Jonathan and his armor-bearer walked boldly up to the Philistine camp. A Philistine sentry spotted them, seeing them alone, decided to have some fun with these silly Hebrews. He invited them to come up into the camp to “tell them something.” Jonathan had already determined that this would be a sign to him from God as to where to wage the battle. He entered the camp and slaughtered 20 armed men in a small section of ground.

What gave Jonathan the courage to attack an enemy garrison by boldly walking up to it? It was his faith in God. Moses told the people, “When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you ... Do not be fainthearted. Do not be afraid, or panic, or tremble before them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you” (Deuteronomy 20:1-4). God fought alongside of Jonathan, sending an earthquake that so terrified the enemy that they began to kill each other (I Samuel 14:15, 20).

Christians continue to wage war today. It is not a battle of swords, or even tanks and guns. It takes place on a spiritual battlefield (Ephesians 6:10-13). And yet that battle may spill over into the physical world. There are times Christians are called upon to suffer or even die for their belief (I Peter 2:20-24; 4:12-19). I pray that each may do so with the courage shown by Jonathan.

Do you fear the force of the wind,
The slash of the rain?
Go face them and fight them,
Be savage again.
Go hungry and cold like the wolf,
Go wade like the crane:
The palms of your hands will thicken,
The skin of your cheek will tan,
You’ll grow ragged and weary and swarthy,
But you’ll walk like a man!

by Hamiln Garland

For Further Study

Verses to Consider

  • Exodus 23:27-29
  • Deuteronomy 20:8
  • Deuteronomy 31:6
  • I Samuel 17:32, 45-47
  • Psalm 3:6
  • Psalm 23:4
  • Psalm 27:3
  • Psalm 53:5
  • Psalm 118:6
  • Proverbs 28:1
  • Proverbs 29:25
  • Isaiah 12:2
  • Isaiah 51:12
  • Daniel 3:14-30
  • Matthew 10:28
  • John 14:27
  • Philippians 1:27-30
  • II Timothy 1:7-8
  • II Timothy 2:11-13
  • II Timothy 4:7-8
  • Hebrews 13:6
  • Revelation 2:10

Questions to Ponder

  1. Why would God encourage those who were afraid to quit the battle before the enemy was engaged?
  2. What idea allowed people facing terrors to overcome their fears?
  3. Are most fears real or imagined? Why?
  4. How is courage a sign of salvation?
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