Have you ever been discouraged? Have you ever felt as though your life were a failure? Have you ever been frightened about the future?
If so, you're not alone. The Apostle Paul experienced discouragement. In addition to hardships like shipwrecks, imprisonments and beatings, Paul had also died and came to life again. In speaking of this experience, the Bible tells us that Paul saw things he could not even repeat to others. He was caught up into a literal paradise. Paul had a new point of reference. And as a result, he became relatively fearless.
So Paul, ignoring the potential dangers of returning to Jerusalem after his missionary journeys, made his way there anyway. And sure enough, he was arrested and incarcerated ... again. And it would appear from the circumstances that he was discouraged. He was concerned about his future. So the Bible tells us that "the following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, 'Take courage!'" (Acts 23:11 NIV). It doesn't get much lower than a first-century Roman dungeon. Yet Jesus was saying, "Paul, take courage."
Courage seems to be in short supply in this day and age. Courage, also known as bravery, will and fortitude, is the ability to confront fear, pain, risk, danger, uncertainty or intimidation. Physical courage is bravery in the face of physical pain, hardship or even the threat of death. Courage is something that flies against logic at times. To be courageous is to overcome suffering.
Some of us know people who are not necessarily courageous, but just a few clowns short of a circus. They are usually guys – not girls (who just know better) – and most of them are no longer with us. When I was a kid, it seemed like we always had one friend who was willing to do anything. He was the one who would always try something first, who would jump first, who would take the risk first. But that is not necessarily courage. It may just be stupidity.
Courage is overcoming your fear in the face of adversity. And we have all seen courage on display. Military members, firefighters and those in law enforcement are just a few who have to muster up courage each and every day as they put their lives on the line.
But then there is moral courage, and that is equally as important and we, as a society, will have more emphasis put on that in the days to come. Moral courage is the willingness to stand up for what is right. And it takes courage to do the right thing today. We are living in a time when it is not popular to say that God's definition of marriage is a man and a woman, not a man and a man or a woman and a woman. We are living in a time when it is not popular to say that life begins at conception, not at birth, and that every child, regardless of the circumstances of his or her conception, ought to have a right to live. That is not the popular thing to say. It takes courage to stand up for those things.
It takes courage to honor your marriage vows today, because there is so much pressure to abandon your marriage at the first sign of difficulty or to trade in your mate for a newer model. But you made a vow that you would take your husband or wife for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do you part.
It also takes courage today as a single person to remain sexually pure and wait until you meet that right person and commit your life to him or her in marriage.
We need courage today. But where do we get it? We find, from a number of examples in the Bible, that God's power gives courage. He has all the power you will need to face whatever you will face. He won't necessarily give you the power before you need it. And He won't give you the power after you need it. But you can be certain that He will give you all the power you need when you need it.
This is why, instead of looking to people for answers, we need to look to God. Because ultimately, it will come down to this: God is with you, even if others have forsaken you. Even more, God loves you. There is no greater proof of that love He has for you than in the fact that He sent His very Son to die on the cross for your sin. And your troubles, though unexpected to you, come as no surprise to God. God was more than aware of Paul's situation, and He is more than aware of yours. He knows where you are. He knows what you are going through. He knows what you need.
God had a future for Paul, and God has a future for you as well. So take courage!