“The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’” (Acts 23:11)(NIV)
“Courage under fire”
The book of Acts is all about courage. Thanks to its author Luke, Acts read like a fast-paced novel, complete with riots, courtroom drama and prison breaks. It is the tale of a church living dangerously, and among all its characters, Paul stands out to me as the penultimate tough-guy. Up against kings, political rulers, religious leaders and lynch mobs, his life was frequently on the line. And yet he could not be silenced. This passage provides an explanation why: here, the Lord has bodily appeared to Paul and tells him to “take courage,” that he “must testify.” Not, “it’s going to be tough” – because Paul already knows it will be; not, “I know you can do it” – because Paul already knows He does; but simply – “take courage, and go.”
Political journalist Theodore White once wrote, “To go against the dominant thinking of your friends, of most of the people you see every day, is perhaps the most difficult act of heroism you can perform.” I concur. It’s probably why I find ways to hide my yellow belly among the ranks of “better theologically qualified” and deftly change the subject when I feel an unseen finger tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me that it might be a good time to speak up already. Yet I long to be courageous. And I can be. I already have the only tool required for courage: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In truth, I will likely never face portentous political opposition or certain death. My faithful expressions might make for awkward social pauses at best, and for my intense unpopularity at worst. I thank God that Paul – the world’s most successful missionary – wasn’t as full of diffident excuses as I am. I thank God that he was consistently brave in his proclamation of the Gospel. What a different world we might be living in if he hadn’t been.
Heavenly Father, I am too-often comfortable in my silent Christianity. I would do well to remember that I am commanded to be Your witness “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). I used to pray that you would take away my fear. I pray now that you help me find a way through it. Make me brave in my witness for Your name’s sake, and give me courage under fire. Amen.