I related in Monday’s blog that I preached a sermon a few weeks ago, titled The Cosmic Cardiologist. The message was warmly received, and I decided to divide it into three parts—His Patient, His Prescription, and His Promise—to present to you this week on the blog. The message was based on Psalm 31:24—“Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” Today we’ll look at Part Two: His Prescription.
His Prescription: “Be of good courage”
Charles Spurgeon rightly observed, “They err from the Scriptures who make the grace of God a reason for doing nothing . . . for it is the reason for doing everything.” The Gospel sets the captives free (Ephesians 4:8). We are freed from the dominion of sin, Satan, and death, to be sure, but we are also freed to live the life God is calling us to live. Grace is the reason for doing everything, not because of what we might get, but because of everything we have already been given! You might say we march behind two banners: the first being the finished work of Christ, and the second is the promise of His return to make all things new. His finished work and His promised return combine to give us a glorious freedom . . . freedom to live the life we have been called to live, spurred on by a heart that overflows with thanksgiving.
When the psalmist tells us to “Be of good courage,” he presupposes that there are times when our lives are marked by something less than good courage. We all know times of doubt, discouragement, fear, and frustration. So how are those who hope in the Lord to apply the exhortation to “Be of good courage” in their lives? The Scriptures tell us there is only One who can give to us the courage we need in every circumstance we face:
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2 NIV)
One of the clearest examples in all Scripture that illustrates what happens to our courage when we focus on anything smaller than Jesus is found in the story of Jesus walking on the water:
In the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. (Matthew 14:25-32)
I’m sure many read this account and shake their heads indulgently at Peter’s failure. Big talk about walking on the water, but there goes Peter, sinking to the bottom of the sea! I read that story a little differently; Peter was the only one of the disciples who had enough “good courage” to step out of the boat and actually walk on the water! Peter wanted to experience the power of God in his life in a new way, and he was doing just fine until he took his eyes off Jesus and glanced anxiously around at the winds and the waves. When Peter focused on something smaller than Jesus his courage vanished and he began to sink.
So the key to courage is focusing on Jesus. Regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in, we need only to look to Christ and we will have all the courage we need to get us through whatever it is we are going through. And let me point out that when Peter failed, and looked at natural things rather than the Master of all nature—He to whom the wind and waves grant immediate obedience—at that moment when the waves were about to swallow Peter and he uttered his despairing cry, did our loving Lord hesitate? Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and took hold of Peter. What a gracious, patient Savior we have!
But let me utter a word of caution here: don’t wait until you are in the midst of a storm to fix your eyes on Jesus; we must also focus on Him in times of triumph. In spite of overwhelming evidence that God is our only hope, Satan is a master at getting us to focus on self rather than the Savior.
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. (1 Kings 19:1-8)
The account of Elijah running for his life is a great reminder not to forget our God in times of great victory, which is far too often the case with us! Proverbs 27:21 solemnly warns, “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives.” To be sure, Satan comes after us when we are in times of weakness, fear, and doubt. But he also comes after us in times when we might least expect it: in times of great victory.
I’ll complete this message on Friday.