Summer 1997

Volume 16, Issue 2

Courage To Conquer

by Rod Culbertson


Rod Culbertson is Director of Admissions and Adjunct Professor of Practical Theology at RTS/Charlotte. He holds a B.A. degree in education from the University of South Carolina and a Master of Divinity degree from Columbia International University.  After ten years at the University of Florida as a campus minister with Reformed University Ministries, he planted Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Clearwater, Florida.   Rod and his wife, Cathy, have four children.

In one of the most bizarre games in college football history on November 11,1939, Texas Tech and Centenary racked up an amazing seventy-seven punts. Yes, you read it right - seventy-seven punts! Texas Tech punted thirty-nine times, Centenary thirty-eight times, both hitting the all-time record. Sixty-seven punts were made on first down, including twenty-two in a row in the third and fourth quarters. Texas Tech finished with minus one yard of offense; Centenary rolled up a big thirty yards total. The final score was 0-0. Nobody won, nobody lost - nobody took many risks.

Sometimes, Christians approach life like this: not willing to trust God, we do nothing and gain nothing. Lacking courage, we punt! God wants us to learn to trust Him, to take risks, and to watch Him work in our lives to glorify Himself. With God on our side, the ordinary believer can live with courage and boldness, before the big and little challenges. Our culture says "Just Do It!" God says, "Just Trust Me and Do It!"

The nation of Israel, as recorded in Numbers 13 and 14, teaches us valuable lessons about courage. They were facing the finest opportunity of their lives, having recently experienced the greatest deliverance imaginable. From the bondage and harsh slavery of the Egyptians, God had redeemed them as a people for Himself and given them a leader in Moses. He had bestowed upon them the law and given them a culture. All they needed was a place to live. The challenge of courage was before them. Indeed, courage always involves a challenge. In Numbers 13:1-25 God told His people to explore the land He promised to give them through His covenant - a command which would require planning, strategy and courage. Those chosen to explore were leaders - not the fainthearted, but trusted, reliable and proven men from each tribe.

Like a good church planter, Moses told them to do a solid and thorough demographic study - assess the people, the population, the towns, the land, the fortifications, the soil, and the fruit. For forty days, they explored and spied the land. The other Israelites probably waited with great anticipation; suspense thrived in Israel's camp while the explorers engaged in their dangerous mission. Theirs would be a call to courage; how would they handle it?

The explorers finally returned, prompting a huge turnout for their report. Like a CNN update on the late news, all ears and eyes were tuned to their every word. The report was mixed, however. While the land did indeed flow with milk and honey, and its fruit was of incredible size, the inhabitants were powerful, living in large, fortified cities. Suddenly the spirit of the entire camp changed; pessimism replaced optimism, fear ruled over faith. As the masses panicked, the Israelites reflected certain attitudes which paralyzed courage.


The first paralyzing attitude which they experienced was a fear of obstacles, demonstrated by the word "but." The land was good, "but" the people who lived there were powerful. Obstacles to hopes and dreams certainly make courage waver. Unless we take God into consideration, obstacles loom large and can defeat us. We want to go forward, "but" (fill in the blank) is an obstacle in the path.

When Cathy and I were ministering in Gainesville, Florida in the 1980's, growing our family of four children, Artie Stine, my adopted grandmother, was always there, bringing us homemade potato soup or slipping me a ten dollar bill after the worship service “just to help out." Artie, in her seventies then, was known for saying, "I'd rather burn out than rust out!"

Recently Artie turned ninety and her age could be an obstacle to ministry. However "but" isn't in her vocabulary. Though home-bound most of the time, she gets to church with the help of her friends, and every time I call or visit, she reminds me, "I pray for you every day!" Artie's resolve to serve God is undiminished by age or health; she has overcome the problem of allowing obstacles to block out opportunities.

The second paralyzing attitude was that of powerlessness. The majority of Israel's explorers declared, "We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are." "Can't" is a cancer which has the potential to affect and destroy everyone. It saps confidence, drawing attention away from God's power and toward our weaknesses. The people of Israel were so persuaded by the "can't" mentality that they felt like grasshoppers in the presence of giants and spent the rest of the night weeping and wailing. Suddenly, losing all perspective, they began to feel very small. Their awareness of giants looming in the distance created in them a sense of fear and weakness and a desire to run (or hop) away to safety. Fleeing became their only option, and "can't" became their rallying cry although there was nowhere to run.

Now we surely can't do all things. I can't dunk a basketball and maybe you can't sing. But the attitude of powerlessness is wrong when God has said "You can!" Courage shouldn’t wilt when God has provided the gifts, calling, and His promises of blessing. When God places a need or ministry upon our hearts, it will often appear to be bigger than we are. In reality, it is. But God is bigger still. He bestows gifts, resources, and energy to enable us to "attack" the challenge before us with His power. He will not give us more than we can personally bear, but He will give us more than we can do because in such circumstances we learn to conquer in His strength alone.

The third attitude which paralyzed Israel was that of questioning, expressed by the word "why?" The Israelites' weeping turned to grumbling and the entire assembly then asked, "Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to fall by the sword?" God does allow us to question His purposes - just read the Psalms - but Israel's unbelief was so great, they cast aside the plan of God for their "better" plan to go back to Egypt. The problem with the "why" question for believers is that often God does not disclose the complete answer. We must walk by faith and learn what He allows us to learn.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn spent eight years in labor camps and three years in exile in Russia because he was falsely accused of political crimes. In his three-volume edition, Gulag Archipelago, he wrote about his experience in prison: "I thank the gulag for turning me to God." Rather than living in the realm of "why?", Solzhenitsyn sought God's answers. In doing so, he found God's help and blessing.


To be courage-filled Christians, we must cast aside these three paralyzing attitudes. Yet, still more is required. We must look to God as our source of courage and begin claiming the promises of God. Note that in a span of forty days, Israel, due to a bad report, forgot that God had said, "Explore the land I am giving you" (13.2). By contrast, Caleb was convinced that the land was "certainly" theirs to conquer because of God; promise (13:30). The Hebrew word for "certain" means "to overcome, to be victors, to succeed, to prevail, to endure." As we trust God's promises and place our courage in Him, we will become victorious. Martin Luther once wrote these words, which I keep in my Bible, "When the soul firmly trusts God's promises, it regards Him as truthful and faithful. Nothing more excellent than this can be ascribed to God."

To be courageous, we must also rest in the reassurance of God's presence. Joshua and Caleb (who gave the minority report to take the land) declared to the dissenting mob "the Lord is with us." Fear, the biggest enemy of courage, was unnecessary in light of God's very presence. These two courageous men were thinking, "Who can defeat God?" This reality made their hearts swell with courage. In the same breath, these two spokesmen exclaimed, "[the Canaanites'] protection is gone."

Their courage was further strengthened by the certainty of God's providence. Their times were in God's hands; the sin of the Amorites was full (Genesis 15:6), and nothing could stop Israel from defeating even the Nephilim giants. When God calls us to act, we can go in full confidence that God will fulfill His sovereign purposes. The courageous Christian knows he or she walks hand-in-hand with a sovereign God who rules over all.

When I was in junior high school, on those cold, rainy days which frequent Greenville, South Carolina, in the winter, our physical education teacher had only one option for an indoor activity. He divided all the boys into two teams, gave us ten volleyballs, and we played "free for all" dodge ball for an hour. The other team could throw one or more balls from various angles and if one hit you, you were out of the game and relegated to the sidelines. Some guys (like muscular Jeffrey who had failed two grades) could almost give you a concussion if they hit you. (This was before Ralph Nader raised our safety awareness). My strategy, because I was small and quick, was to throw few balls and concentrate on dodging. By running and hiding, I lasted a long time in most of those games. But I operated out of fear; I lacked courage.

Many Christians go through life dodging dangers. They're good at avoiding uncomfortable situations such as witnessing, ministering to the imprisoned or deathly ill, or teaching the junior high Sunday School class. What challenges do you face today or in the near future? Without a doubt, God will place some fear-creating, gut-wrenching challenges in your path. You can try to dodge them and survive to play safely again or you can go after them, knowing full well that God's promises, God's presence, and God's providence will see you through and help you do something for His kingdom you never imagined. Take a risk, with God on your side. He simply says to each of us, "Just Trust Me and Do It!"

Reformed Quarterly, Volume 16, Issue 2
Reformed Theological Seminary
Articles may not be reprinted without permission.

Last updated 8-9-99.