Devotion: Real Strength and Courage

After conquering her enemies and defending the weak, the superheroine peels off her mask and gently pats the flesh wound on her shoulder, where her costume was torn (again) in the heat of battle, exposing her flesh. She would have her costume repaired in time for the next battle, and the wound would heal. In the meantime, she would re-assume her alter-ego and ready herself for the next round of preserving justice and defending the defenseless. There would be another villain to fight tomorrow, next week, or next year—and she would be there. As the credits roll, the world is safe for now, thanks to the brave superhumans who have committed to use their powers for good.

Strength and courage. They are virtues valued in our world, and they speak loudly in our imaginations. Few, we believe, can accomplish anything great without them.

But what do they mean to God?

Joshua 1 gives us a great picture of what strength and courage mean in God’s view. The phrase “Be strong and courageous” appears four times in this chapter, which records a sort of pep talk God gave Joshua, then Joshua delivered to the rest of the people of Israel, after the death of Moses. God recognized Joshua as the leader of the people of Israel, he gave Joshua the mandate to lead the people into the Promised Land, and Joshua told the people to get ready to do what their families had been waiting forty years to do.

This was a big moment. These descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who had never been a nation, never had a land of their own, and never fought a battle, were on the eve of doing all three. This occasion definitely called for strength and courage.

But on the surface, they had very little reason to consider themselves strong or to lift themselves on an emotional wave of courage. They were outmatched, facing a foe who had intimidated their own parents so much, they had refused to take the land God had promised to deliver them. They were facing the formidable wall of Jericho, about five feet thick and twelve to seventeen feet high. They were a fresh-faced fighting force led by a group of priests carrying a fancy box. At face value, they had very little strength. And courage looked an awful lot like stupidity.

But God didn’t ask them to exercise these virtues because they were in themselves powerful. He commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous for three reasons, which had nothing to do with who the people were:

“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you” (1:5).

“I will never leave you nor forsake you” (1:5).

“for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (1:9).

The people of Jericho, who would soon meet the strength of Yahweh, were strong and courageous too. Their wall was strong, and they were brave because they trusted in it. But their trust was misplaced. The people of Israel would prevail because their strength and courage came not from themselves, but from the one thing God values more than anything else in humans: faith in God.

Later, God gave the people some odd instructions when it was time to take Jericho: March around the city with the priests leading the way. This was not the way to attack a city if you were trusting in the strength of your own army.

Generations later, God told Gideon, a weak and unimportant man in the eyes of society, to go into battle hopelessly outmatched, to see how God would fight for his people (Judges 6–8).

Many years later, God responded with a display of great power when the prophet Elijah went up against the most powerful members of his society, again hopelessly outmatched and armed only with faith and prayer (1 Kings 18).

Later, through the prophet Isaiah, God told his people, “In quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

He told Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

God doesn’t choose his servants for their courage or strength. He doesn’t look at the things that impress our friends and qualify us for admiration. He looks at our hearts. He looks for faith and for willingness to do what he asks us to do. He looks for the kind of humility required to exercise courage and strength in his name so that he is revealed as the hero.

If you feel weak, if you don’t feel like a heroine, take heart. This is exactly the way God wants you.

This devotion appears in the brand-new NIV Bible for Women. Copyright 2015 by Zondervan.

© 2015 Amy Simpson.