The things that cause people to be afraid varies from person to person. Sometimes our fears are irrational: spiders don’t bother me much, but they cause others to freak out. A mouse, however, darting along the wall makes my heart race. What’s the rhyme or reason to this?
If I know what I have to say, then public speaking doesn’t cause me any fear. For others, having to speak in front of crowd is the scariest thing they can imagine. If, however, I’m obliged to enter a room full of strangers and make small talk over refreshments, well then my blood pressure will rise dramatically. When we are tempted to mock others for their fears, we should take a moment to own up to our peculiar terrors.
Courage is something we can easily get confused about. Somebody who feels no fear in the face of a truly threatening situation isn’t courageous. Maybe they’ve moved beyond the point of caring, or maybe they’re just plain stupid and don’t realize what’s at stake. Courage isn’t fearlessness; it’s the capacity to get yourself to do what needs to be done even when you do feel afraid.
Courage is a basic theme of the story of Jesus making his way to Jerusalem. Jesus goes knowing that when he gets there he will die violently. His disciples follow along, but do so reluctantly; they don’t have the courage that Jesus has.
It isn’t that Jesus has a death wish, nor that he is immune to fear. Rather, his clarity about the necessity of his offering up his life allows him to find the courage he needs to go forth in spite of his fear.
If we think that we are supposed to be fearless, we will either go out of our way to avoid confronting the things that frighten us so as to appear fearless, or, we will despair when we discover our hearts are full of fear.
To be human is to deal with fear. The question instead is whether our fears will have the final word in our lives. Can we step forward in spite of our fear? Can we conquer the fears that would shrink our world and keep us following where Jesus leads?
The hymn “God of Grace and God of Glory” contains these words: “Fears and doubts too long have bound us; free our hearts to work and praise. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days…”
Lord Jesus, help us both to acknowledge our fears, and to turn to you for the courage to overcome these fears. We would meditate upon your courage to set your face towards Jerusalem, that in doing so we may receive strength to bear our own crosses. Amen.