Who comes to mind when you think of people who exhibit “bravery”? For me, bravery is most often linked to soldiers and emergency service providers such as police, fire or EMTs performing their best despite life or death circumstances. That is bravery to be sure, but it can also carry other meanings. Isn’t it brave to: stand firm against injustices; take a risk to tell someone what you really believe even though they may disagree or reject your statements; or keep trying when you feel defeated?
The Boy Scout Handbook (from 1911) offers these words to explain bravery; “A SCOUT is BRAVE. He has the courage to face danger in spite of fear, and to stand up for the right against the coaxing of friends or the jeers or threats of enemies; and defeat does not down him.” The more recent wording is “A Scout can face danger although he is afraid. He has the courage to stand for what he thinks is right even if others laugh at him or threaten him.”
There’s a lot to be gleaned from these phrases. Certainly courage is needed when confronted with dangerous situations – keeping a calm mind and being prepared through training and practice go a long way to dealing with serious problems. In 2009, a plane took off from LaGuardia airport in New York City and suffered a complete loss of power when it hit a flock of geese. The pilot landed the plane in the Hudson River. In a CBS 60 Minutes interview, the pilot, Captain Sullenberger, was quoted as saying that the moments before the crash were “the worst sickening, pit-of-your-stomach, falling-through-the-floor feeling” that he had ever experienced. Speaking with news anchor Katie Couric, Sullenberger said, “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience: education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”
Bravery is also about perserverenence – staying the course to keep on trying. If you look at the old BSA description, it ends with the phrase “…and defeat does not down him”. When you give up trying to master a new skill you’re giving up on yourself and you’ll never know if you could have mastered it. Being brave is overcoming that internal sense of disappointment and trying again and again, if needed. Teddy Roosevelt is quoted as saying; “The only man who makes no mistakes is the man who never does anything.” Sometimes it takes bravery to keep trying until you master it, but in the end, the victory is worth it.
Bravery is also about recognizing the “right thing to do” and doing it – especially when others disagree or might mock you (i.e. “… the jeers or threats of enemies”) This is especially true when we consider our spiritual lives. How we live and how we act depend on our set of “rules”.
In the Bible, there’s plenty said about what is right and how we are to behave. When I searched for specific references to bravery or courage, I found several, excellent examples:
1. Bravery in physical confrontations. In 1 Samuel 17, we learn about King Saul’s leadership of the army of God against the Philistines. They were challenged by Goliath who mocked them for forty days until David showed up to question the reluctance of the army to trust God. This didn’t make David popular among the soldiers or his own brothers.
Here’s the text: 1 Sam 17: 8-11&16 sets the scene. 8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified. 16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand.
1 Sam 17:32-37 defines bravery. 32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” 33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.”
1 Sam 17:45-47 Shows us why he was brave – he trusted God to prevail. 45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
2. Bravery also comes from tackling tough plans that take a long time to implement in the face of uncertain times. When the Israelites were finished wandering in the wilderness and were finally ready to enter into their promised land, Joshua was instructed to lead them as Moses would not be going with them.
Deut 31:7-8 7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. 8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
3. Bravery is found when we stand up and commit to what is right especially when we risk our reputations, or even our lives.
- Daniel 1:8-10 8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your[c] food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.” (How would you respond to the government official who was worried for his own life? Would you back down, or press forward as Daniel did?)
- Daniel 3: 15-18 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us[c] from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” That’s sticking up for one’s beliefs to the bitter end. If you don’t know the rest of the story, check it out – they emerge from the furnace unharmed and don’t even smell of smoke!
- Acts 4:8-13 When questioned by officials about their intervention to heal a man, Peter’s response was… 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.” 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” 13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. Peter didn’t back down. He told it plainly and respectfully, and because of his response, the council had a lot to think about!
Bravery takes time to develop. If we occasionally fail to be brave, we should use that as a learning lesson in how to do better next time. We can learn from history’s heroes and people like Captain Sullenberger that training and education can help us be ready when the critical moment of testing arrives. We can and should learn from the examples in the Bible that helps us get through the crisis and that faith may sometimes be the reason we’re being ridiculed.
Stand up and do the right thing. If you make a mistake, try again. Be brave.