Courage – What is it?

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December 4, 2012
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May 31, 2013
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Courage – What is it?

Part one of a series on courage.

Legendary coach John Wooden once said, “Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.” I like that–many of the ingredients that create success or failure are not within my control. I can’t manage the economy, the weather or even another person’s behaviors. Being courageous, however, is completely up to me. I can be courageous regardless of what is happening around me. In being courageous, I can be successful.

The iconic picture of courage is of fire fighters, law enforcement officers, and soldiers risking their lives for someone else. Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha, for example, although attacked by a Taliban force six times the number of his men, daringly defended an American outpost in Afghanistan. Wounded, and at the risk of his own life, he fought the attackers, led other soldiers to safety and retrieved the bodies of fallen Americans. On that day, courage counted!

God talks about such heroic deeds and those less noticeable. In Joshua 1, God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous (see Joshua 1:6, 7, 9, 18). In Hebrew, “strong” and “courageous” have parallel meanings. To be “strong” has the idea of being bound fast, settled, and firm. It has the sense of securely taking hold of something and not letting go, even under pressure. In a similar way, “courage” means to be strong, solid, bold, and firm with the focus on being determined or persistent to fulfillment of one’s duty.

Think of the popular playground game Red Rover. When we played Red Rover our classmates would divide into two teams. The members of our team would hold hands securely so a member from the opposing team could not break through our griped hands. Then the team would call for someone from the other team to come over and try to break through our line – “Red rover, red rover, send Mike right over.” Mike, with all the gusto of a second grader, would then charge the line hoping to break through the linked hands. It was a test between our team’s gripping each other firmly (“being strong”) against the determination of one person to fulfill his role – breaking our line (“courage”). Being strong is seizing upon something so important or valued that we will not let go then courageously acting upon that with determination and persistence.

Although courage is not an emotional state, it is often evident during times of intense emotions, especially fear and doubt. Having strength and courage is, like Romesha’s example, realizing something is more important than my fears or uncertainty and then faithfully doing my duty or responsibility, even when the likelihood of success is small. Courage is doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason. Courage is character quality in action–especially during times of danger, uncertainty, fear or pain.

It’s courage that counts. Without courage failure is certain.


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Bart Fowler
Bart Fowler

Dr. Fowler is a licensed psychologist and the executive director of CHARIS Counseling Associates. He is devoted to helping people thrive instead of just survive so they may live out the fullness of what God intends for their lives. He may be reached at 360-891-2000 x109.