Ken Harrison: There’s a surprising connection between humility and courage

Christians, mostly sub-Saharan migrants, take part in a Sunday mass in a cathedral in Rabat, Morocco. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy, File)

The Bible is filled with stories of immense bravery: Moses leading millions of people into the desert with no water or food; David fighting Goliath; Gideon; Jeremiah; Esther; Abraham. The apostle Paul’s life is one long saga of bravery and suffering. And at the core of courage is humility. Humility was the mark of each of these heroes’ lives. There were some falters, especially with Abraham, but courage marked by humility was the overarching quality that each possessed.

Courage isn’t something conjured up at the moment that it is needed. It is the expression of your character at a moment of testing. Courage is the sum of all your virtues expressed at a single moment in time. The person you have been, your secret thoughts, the skeletons in your closet, and a lifetime of training suddenly spill out. Would you run into a burning building to save a child with a crowd watching? What if no one is looking? What if you are rescuing an old man instead of a child? What if it is your enemy?

Near one of San Diego’s best surfing spots, Solana Beach, a 66-year-old man was training for a triathlon. He was just off Fletcher Cove and in a line with several swimmers when he burst from the water, both legs in the mouth of a great white shark between 12 and 17 feet long.

The man emerged long enough to scream that he was being attacked before being dragged under again. Despite the obvious danger, two swimmers in front of the man turned and swam back to him, into the growing cloud of blood where a monstrous shark lurked, and pulled the man through the surf 150 yards to shore. Sadly, he died a few minutes later.

JUDAH AND CHELSEA SMITH: ON EASTER, ASK YOURSELF, DOES YOUR LIFE REFLECT JESUS' EXAMPLE?

Courage is the expression of someone who sees something more valuable than herself.

Courage defends a victim by standing up to the bully, even though he’s bigger.

Courage says grace aloud in a restaurant.

Courage witnesses to a stranger. A lack of humility says, “I don’t want to ask that woman if she knows Jesus. I might look stupid.” This is an attitude that values self more than another person’s soul.

“Hang on. That’s not fair! I don’t really know how to share my faith,” you might object. Then care enough to learn. Put down your pride and pick up a book by Greg Stier of Dare 2 Share. He’ll teach you how.

Countless times I have seen my wife walk up to a stranger and say something brief and watched while the woman crumbles in tears. Elliette prays beside her for a long while, and then the woman hugs her tightly. I used to ask Elliette, “What was that all about?” “God just told me to go ask that woman if I could pray with her,” she’d answer. “I hate it when He does that. I’m always terrified that I’ll look stupid.” Yet she obeys and lives are changed.

Courage isn’t a lack of fear. It’s being terrified and obeying anyway. Here we see why humility is the foundation of courage. True courage flows out of concern for others without regard to the risk to oneself.

Courage and integrity

“The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything, yet he himself cannot be evaluated by anyone” (1 Corinthians 2:15, HCSB). Many Bible translations use the word "judge" where the word "evaluate" is used in this scripture. The English language has two meanings for the word "judge:" one is “evaluate”; the other is “condemn.”

People who don’t follow Christ love to quote Jesus saying that we are not to judge (Matthew 7:1, HCSB). Jesus means not to condemn. He isn’t telling a godly person not to evaluate or discern.

How do we evaluate or judge true courage? Courage is an outward expression, but its true motivation is inward, and we can’t observe that. As an example, let’s take two platoon commanders in the same battle. Both charge a machine-gun nest, brave the bullets and save their men. Each gets a medal for his actions.

The first man saw that the guns would soon mow down his men. He was drafted into the war; he didn’t volunteer. He comes from a broken home with no father to teach him honor in battle. Terrified and without thinking, he charges to save his men’s lives. He captures the guns, and his men live.

The second man is also terrified. He comes from a decorated military family. He joined the military because that’s what all the men in his family do. He looks around for escape and sees none. He doesn’t care about his men but is terrified to be branded as a coward. He’d never be able to look members of his family in the eye again. Seeing no way out of his predicament, he charges and his men are saved.

Are these men the same? We don’t see their hearts; we see their actions. They each earned the military reward that is given by mere men, but God knows who they are on the inside, why they did what they did. “I, Yahweh, examine the mind, I test the heart to give to each according to his way, according to what his actions deserve” (Jeremiah 17:10, HCSB).

One man says grace in a restaurant with meekness and humility out of pure gratitude to God, who gave him the meal. Another says grace to impress the people around him with how religious he is. He smacks of religious pride. Both have completed the same action, but one said grace in humility and the other in pride.

So how do we properly judge courage? We judge it only in ourselves. We can judge — evaluate — others only by their actions, because we can’t truly know their motivations. And this is where the man of God must dwell — at a point of constant self-examination:

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Why did I say that? Why did I react that way?

Guard your heart and your integrity. Courage, or lack of it, is a window that reveals your level of humility, which makes it a primary signpost on your walk with Christ — and on your journey to becoming one of God’s servant kings.

Excerpted from "RISE OF THE SERVANT KINGS: WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT BEING A MAN" by Ken Harrison. To be published by Multnomah, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, on May 7, 2019.

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