What Is Courage?
Courage is the ability to confront the unpleasant aspects of life, such as fear, pain, danger, and intimidation. Some people hold that courage means having no fear, but for most, courage means overcoming fear, rather than avoiding it.
Notice that many of these responsibilities require both courage and self-sacrifice, love for one another being the overruling and primary example. Loving each other requires the courage to be honest, open, vulnerable, and selfless, and these are no easy responsibilities to assume. How do we develop courage as Christians?
In the Christian sense, courage is often attributed to both missionaries and martyrs, such as St. Stephen or Jesus Christ. Martyrs overcome the fear of death for the noble purpose of staying true to their own beliefs.
Not all of us (thankfully) need be martyrs -- however, if we're looking to develop courage in our own lives, there are a few good places to start. In a practical sense, we need to recognize our responsibilities, to ourselves, our families, and our communities. How are we living in their service? What are the steps we're taking to make the lives of the ones we love better?
Where Do We Find Courage?
Then, we need courage. Where do we find it? For years, mental health professionals have championed the idea that most fears are really fears of the unknown -- and, for the most part, they've been right. Say you had a desperate fear of snakes. If you really wanted to get over it, there's only one way to do it quickly -- get up close and personal with snakes.
First, you'd learn their anatomy, perhaps with a dead specimen. Then, you might try looking at a snake in a terrarium, consciously putting yourself in a situation which could trigger your fear. After a few encounters, you might feel up to handling a harmless variety, such as a garter snake. Finally, you might even be comfortable enough to keep one as a pet!
We can apply these same ideas to responsibilities in our own lives. If we're afraid of taking on too much too fast, we need to start small, setting reasonable goals for ourselves until we become comfortable under the strengthening weight of responsibility. Just as you couldn't begin training for a marathon by running twenty-six miles, you must begin reasonably when finding the courage to add responsibilities to your life.
However, while these are practical ways to assume small responsibilities, eventually you may need to take on large responsibilities, and to do that you may need something greater -- something like in God and Jesus Christ.
Courage to Fall
Imagine a first time skydiver who has courage to jump from an airplane. Where does his courage come from?
It comes from his faith in his equipment, his common sense, and his instructors. Though his instinct for self-preservation is telling him that jumping out of a plane is crazy (and, let's admit, it is a bit crazy), his faith allows him to do so. He doesn't know that his parachute will open, but he believes it will, and he is almost always right.
Similarly, faith in Jesus Christ and God's forgiveness may allow us to overcome fear - and that's a parachute that will always open. We need to allow ourselves the faith to believe that we can do things that might seem...well, crazy, at first. When Jesus was first confronted with the idea of his having to die for the sins of mankind, odds are that he was afraid - that some part of him wanted to turn away from that massive responsibility.
In fact, as late as the night before his arrest by the Romans, Jesus asked the Father to remove the cup (which we can take to mean the responsibility of dying for mankind's sins) from his lips. In the end, however, he said only, "Not as I will, but as You will," meaning that it was his faith in God that gave him the courage to do what needed to be done.