Life’s not always easy, sometimes it takes courage. According to the dictionary, courage is ‘the ability to control fear when facing danger or pain’. The subject of courage is perhaps not one that we hear much about in the Christian church. That bothers me, and so here is a message is about Christian courage. What I want to talk about, though, is not just that it takes courage generally to face living, but about the special fact that it takes courage for God’s people to face up to those things that come along with the special intention of ruining our faith in God, and negating our witness for God. That is a special kind of faith and courage that God gives to us.
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It takes courage
Elijah was a man of great courage. As a prophet of God, he was asked to deliver some pretty powerful messages to the king of his day, King Ahab. But, as Elijah’s story unfolds on the pages of Scripture, we find that it is linked importantly to another righteous and courageous man, a man named Obadiah. Come back with me about three thousand years to meet this remarkable man. Settle back, and listen to Obadiah’s story.
‘My name is Obadiah and I work for King Ahab. You might wonder how a man gets a name like Obadiah? It means ‘servant of Yahweh’ and my guess is that my parents wanted me to be a man of God just like my father was. You see I grew up in a home where God was worshipped and from my early youth I too have been a man who worships the living God.
‘As I said, I work for King Ahab as his steward and it is my job to look after the palace for the king. For a number of years I have had a real problem in keeping up the water supply to the palace, and especially to find grass for the king’s horses and mules. This lack of rain began about three years ago when a prophet of God named Elijah had come into the palace and had said to the king, ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, who I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.’ 1 Kings 17:1. And that’s what happened! For the next three years, we received no rain and even in the morning, there was not a dew.
‘Everything was drying up, and I had to go further and further to find water and grass for the horses and mules. King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, was so angry with God about all this, that she had taken it on herself to kill off as many of the Lord’s prophets as she could. I suppose she thought that she was showing God who was boss, but I knew that she was deluding herself. Being a devout believer myself I had hidden a hundred of these prophets in two caves and I would sneak food and water to them to keep them going.
‘Of course, Ahab and Jezebel didn’t know this and I suspect that if they did they would have put me to death.
‘Now if there was ever a man to avoid in Israel at this time it was Elijah. After he’d delivered his message to Ahab, God had taken Elijah away to nobody knew where, and he couldn’t be traced. But Ahab reckoned that all this trouble that had come on us was his fault. And Queen Jezebel was so full of hatred for him that she swore to put Elijah to death the moment she laid eyes upon him.
‘So, imagine my surprise when about three years after the rain stopped, I came across Elijah. It happened like this. King Ahab was worried that his horses and mules might die because of lack of grass, so he and I divided up the land and began searching for hidden patches of grass. He went off one way and I went the other. I was walking along searching for grass and water when there, right in front of me, was Elijah. It took me a bit by surprise and I bowed down to the ground and said, ‘Is it really my lord Elijah?’ I guess I should have recognised him but three years had passed by and I didn’t expect to ever see him again so it was a bit of a shock.
‘Elijah didn’t seem to mind and said, ‘Yes’ But, I wasn’t ready for the command he gave me then. He said, ‘Go tell your master “Elijah is here”’. I have to admit that I wasn’t too sure about doing that. The last time I saw Elijah at the palace he had delivered his message to Ahab and then he had vanished for three years. I thought to myself that he might do that again and if he did then I would be in big trouble. Ahab wasn’t the kind of man that you could fool around with. If what you told him wasn’t right he was likely to have you put to death and I didn’t want to die.
‘So, I tried to reason with Elijah. I told him that Ahab had hunted high and low in every kingdom for Elijah, for three whole years, and he had even made the kings of the other countries swear that they were not hiding him. And I also told him that I knew that God had been hiding him and that God was able to carry him away by his Spirit. It was that last bit that had me really worried. I figured that if I went and told Ahab that I had found Elijah, God might step in and carry him away before Ahab could get to the place where he was. If that happened, I would be a dead man because Ahab would blame me for what God had done.
‘So I said, ‘What have I done wrong,’ but what I was really meaning was ‘Do you really want me to stick my neck out for God?’ I certainly gave him plenty of good reasons for not doing what he asked, and he didn’t argue with me. He just said, ‘As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab this day.’ Somehow those words did the trick and I went and told Ahab. I followed him back to where I had left Elijah and I’ll never forget what Ahab said to him. “Is that you, the troubler of Israel?” And Elijah’s feply was bold in truth: “It is not I but you who have brought this trouble n Israel!”
‘I have to admit that I didn’t know Elijah very well – except that he was a prophet of God, and that like me he was a man who worshipped the Living God – but that day one thing stood out more than anything else, even over the great miracle of the rains that came at his praying. It was his courage – courage that emboldened him to face the man who had vowed to kill him, because of his absolute trust in the God who had commanded him to do this thing. As long as I live I will never forget this demonstration of the truth that it takes courage. the real God-given courage, to carry through the things that God asks of us.’
Faithful people. It takes courage to do the thing God wants
We don’t hear of this faithful and courageous man Obadiah again in the Bible, but we should never forget that it took very great and constant courage for Obadiah to hide and provide for those one hundred prophets of God in the caves. Daily he faced a possible death sentence because of it. He had also fulfilled the other great work in arranging the fateful meeting between a once God-fearing king and a prophet of the living God.
But think, too, of the courage of Elijah! Hunted unceasingly for three years, and with a death warrant out for him, he’d carried on. Both the king, with absolute power over his citizens, and the queen Jezebel, wanted Elijah dead. But, in spite of their threats he still went about doing God’s work. While we don’t live in Elijah’s day, we do live in a world that desperately needs to see God at work. There is a timeless truth that comes from Obadiah’s story and the truth is this: doing God’s work – it takes courage
It takes courage for the church to lead change.
In a book titled ‘Courageous Leadership,’ the author Bill Hybels says this.
‘I believe that only one power exists on this sorry planet that can transform the human heart. It’s the power of the love of Jesus Christ, the love that conquers sin and wipes out shame and heals wounds and reconciles enemies and patches broken dreams and ultimately changes the world, one life at a time. And what grips my heart every day is the knowledge that the radical message of that transforming love has been given to the church. That means that in a very real way the future of the world rests in the hands of local congregations like yours and mine. It’s the church or it’s lights out.
Without churches so filled with the power of God that they can’t help spill goodness and peace and love and joy into the world, depravity will win the day; evil will flood the world. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Strong growing communities of faith can turn the tide of history. They can. Don’t bother looking elsewhere. The church is it!’
What does it mean to say that it takes courage to do God’s work? Jesus was once asked by the Jews, “What is the work of God?” His reply sets the stage for the rest of this message. He said, “The work of God is to believe in the one he sent.”
For you and me as Christians in the 21st Century, this means that doing God’s work is ‘living in a way that brings honour to Jesus as Lord.’ Over the span of my life, I have come to realize more and more the implications of that. You see, to do those things that bring honour to Jesus Christ sets me against the agenda of the prince of this world, Satan, who actively works to blind people of their need for a Saviour. So to say that doing God’s work takes courage is certainly a timeless truth. Let me show you how that works out in two areas of life.
It takes courage to do even ordinary things.
It takes courage to live as a Christian in a society like ours that is primarily pagan. It has been said that when less than 7% of the population of a country regularly attends a Christian church then that country is essentially pagan. So, by that benchmark Australia is a pagan country. Just to acknowledge that you are a Christian puts you in the line of ridicule so it takes courage to do so.
It takes courage to stand up for God by telling the truth when a white lie would be the easy way out. Listen to this: A survey has found that only 38% of workers who phone in sick are actually ill. The survey found that there were a number of reasons for this preponderance for telling such lies. At the top of the list is family issues (23%), personal issues (18%), stress (11%) and feeling that they were entitled to their sick time (10%). Hangovers, unexpected concert tickets, drug habits, hot dates and running a business on the side were some things that fitted into these categories. It follows that if you strive to be honest it shows up the dishonesty of others and that will not be tolerated, so again it takes courage.
It takes courage to stand for God and to talk about Him in a secular society that is so beset with its own wisdom and importance. In an interview I heard, a ninety-year-old astronomer was asked if his work over the years, introducing people to the world of the stars and planets had led him to believe in God. His answer as that he didn’t like to use the G-word, but he was sure that there was some power holding the universe together. Even to suggest that God is the creator and the sustainer of our planet gets you the thumbs down, so it takes courage to do so.
Where to get the courage we need
A question that pops into my mind here is how do we get this courage? Why can we Christians have courage? Why was Obadiah able to have courage to do the things he did? Why was Elijah able to do what he did? A look at Psalm 91 helps us here just as it helped the Obadiah’s and the Elijah’s of the past.
The Psalmist writes that those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2)
The courage we need comes from God, directly as a gift to us.
The Prussian king Frederick the Great was widely known as an agnostic. By contrast, General Von Zealand, one of his most trusted officers, was a devout Christian. Thus it was that during a festive gathering the king began making crude jokes about Christ until everyone was rocking with laughter – all but General Von Zealand, that is. Finally, taking courage, he arose and addressed the king.
“Sire, you know I have not feared death. I have fought and won 38 battles for you. I am an old man; I shall soon have to go into the presence of One greater than you, the mighty God who saved me from my sin, the Lord Jesus Christ whom you are blaspheming. I salute you, sire, as an old man who loves his Saviour, on the edge of eternity.” The place went silent, and with a trembling voice the king replied, “General Von Zealand, I beg your pardon! I beg your pardon!” And with that the party quietly ended. (Today In The Word, August, 1989, p. 7.)
It takes courage to stand for God by being a Follower.
I like the story of the young woman who wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read the question on the application blank that asked, “Are you a leader?” Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, “No,” and returned the application, expecting the worst. To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: “Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower.”
One of the big problems of our day is that everyone wants to lead and few want to follow. As Australians we have a tendency to denigrate our leaders and the tall poppy syndrome is alive and well. But, I’ve noticed more and more that we don’t seem to be very good at following even our own convictions either. And that is especially true of those of us who say that we are Christians.
I believe that it takes courage to follow convictions; it takes courage to follow God – because to really follow God means that I have to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Jesus, talking about discipleship said this, “if anyone would come after me, or be my disciple, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
The courage of disciples
Notice the three things that Jesus says:
First, a “disciple must deny himself.” In plain English that means that I must deny myself the right to have first say over what I do or where I go. It takes courage in my person and faith to give Jesus that supreme place – as Lord.
Second, “a disciple has to take up his cross daily.” Again, in plain English, that means that I must be ready and willing each day to do those things that identify me with Jesus and his gospel; the offering up of self to do God’s will, and to ever be showing the same supreme love for others, sometimes in the most difficult and unpleasant ways.
Third, “a disciple must follow Jesus.” That means that of all the possible people I could choose to follow I choose willingly to follow Jesus by living the way his word tells me. Disciples are distinguished by their devotion to the Lord, Jesus Christ. And in our world it takes courage to be a disciple of Jesus whom the world hates.
I know that I have left many areas out in this brief message, but I’m sure that you will have seen where I’m coming from. We’ve seen that it takes courage to do God’s work, which is to live in such a way that we bring honour to our Lord Jesus. I’ve given you two examples of where that is needed.
- To take courage and do the ordinary things
- and we need to be courageous to follow our convictions and be disciples of Jesus;
Take hold of God’s gifts
First allow the Lord to put us, each and every one, under the spotlight and eye of his Holy Spirit, to show us all those areas where we fall short in courage, and fail to live up to him, and exercise faith and boldness in being his called disciples. Whatever the detail is for you, please allow God to start to change you and help you do His work.
Secondly, allow me to give us some great news. The great news is that God has promised to be with us in all of the challenges we face as we do His work; He has promised to be with us as we live against the tide. He has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to live for Him, and His Word to teach us His ways and to give us the courage to live for him.
Listen again to the Psalmist:
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91:14-16)
Oh yes, it takes courage. But as the word also says “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world”. If Elijah could take on Ahab and Jezebel surely we can take on the world with God’s help and, as Bill Hybels said, we as the church can change the world, one life at a time.
Yes, it takes courage, but it’s not our courage but the courage that God gives us.
original by Graeme Daniels, May 2020, Edited for online publication