3 Habits That Build Courage

A man is jumping over a chasm.
As Christians, we are uniquely and richly equipped for courageous living. So where do we start?

I was born and raised on the Gulf Coast, where hurricanes are a regular part of life. Hurricanes are catastrophic, unpredictable storms that can turn at the last minute, putting you suddenly in their crosshairs. In the best cases, you have days to prepare or evacuate — but sometimes it’s only hours.

It’s a strange way to live, yet coast-dwellers accept it as our reality. When a storm comes, it targets us all, no matter who you are or what you have done. Nothing you do will make it go away. Your only choice is to prepare and respond well when the hurricane hits.

The truth is, everyone’s lives are lived on the edge of the storm. The storms of life hit regardless of who you are or what you’ve done. We live in a fallen world marked by suffering, tragedy and evil. You cannot escape it; your only choice is to prepare well so that when life’s storms hit, you can respond courageously. As Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft wrote, “A hero is a person who acts courageously. In a fallen world, courage is among the most important of virtues.”

We need heroes today. I believe every person can become a hero and live courageously. Particularly as Christians, we are uniquely and richly equipped for courageous living. So where do we start?

Courage is a biblical virtue

We follow a King who courageously faced death at Calvary. Reflecting on this, G. K. Chesterton wrote, “Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point and does not break.”

Despite its prominence in Scripture, courage is one of the most overlooked biblical virtues among Christians today. When you read closely, you will find that the Bible has many references to courage. Believers are frequently called to “be strong and courageous,” “stand firm,” and “take heart.” In Joshua 1:9, God challenged His people, “Haven’t I commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Likewise, Jesus exhorted His disciples, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).

There are many more examples of valiant faith throughout the Bible. In Exodus 2, we read how a nameless mother’s defiance against a tyrant led to the deliverance of a nation. In Judges 6, a farm-hand named Gideon was called to lead his nation’s warriors against their adversaries. In 1 Samuel 17, we meet the shepherd boy David who slayed Goliath. In the book of Acts, we see the gospel advance through the early church despite opposition.

There are many more examples of Christian courage throughout Scripture and church history. As the author of Hebrews wrote, we have a “great cloud of witnesses” as a testimony to faithful, courageous living (Heb. 12:1). It’s a great tradition, and you are invited to participate in it.

The engine of courage

Where does this kind of courage come from? The world assumes that courage is a natural-born trait; you either have it or you don’t. While it’s true that some innate traits or personality types can better aid boldness, courage is a virtue that any of us can develop with the right habits in place.

We must start by tapping into the correct source. The world tells us to find courage by looking inward, but the Bible tells us to find courage by looking upward. Courage only comes from fixing your eyes on Jesus. “Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

When the exiles returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city wall, they were faced with danger and opposition from the surrounding people. They were forced to work on the wall with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other. Nehemiah charged them, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the great and awe-inspiring Lord, and fight for your countrymen, your sons and daughters, your wives and homes” (Nehemiah 4:14).

The English word courage comes from the Latin cor meaning “heart.” Valiant faith is a strength of heart produced by the love of God and His Spirit of boldness (Romans 5:3-5; 2 Timothy 1:7). When people consider courage, they tend to only think of valor in the face of death. But it is much more than that. Courage is doing what is right when tempted to do what is wrong. It is doing what is hard when you want to take the easy way out. It is telling the truth when you are tempted to lie. Courage is at play when your character is tested but doesn’t break. It keeps us honest, dutiful and faithful even in the most unfavorable conditions. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”

When we see an artist whose skill is far above the average, we call it virtuosity. They have transcended the expectations of their craft to such a degree that they inspire awe and admiration. I like to think of courage as virtuosity in character. Therefore, the most courageous aren’t always the most impressive in the eyes of the world. Instead, they are those who have sharp minds, big hearts, and shoulders broad enough to bear the burdens of life. Virtuosity in character is the engine of courageous living.

The habits of courage

Virtues are those attributes of character forged through repeated decisions. As Justin Whitmel Earley wrote, “All those who want to be attentive to who they are becoming must realize that formation begins with a framework of habits.” Our habits are the hammer and chisel that sculpt virtue, so we should pursue habits that build the virtue of courage in our lives. But what are these habits?

Practice trust in Christ in everyday life. You can only face life’s great storms by practicing trust in Jesus against the chaos of everyday life. In Mark 4:35-41, Jesus rescued His disciples from the storm by calming the sea. Yet we shouldn’t overlook the fact that Jesus also took His disciples into the storm, then rebuked them for responding in fear instead of faith. This story teaches us that He rescues us through the storms, not necessarily from them.

Christ’s love is powerful enough to make us more than conquerors (Romans 8:37-39). You are not called to be courageous because you have something to prove, but because of what Jesus proved for you. Practice Christ-centered courage in everyday life and you will be able to sing with John Newton and William Cowper: “Be gone unbelief, my savior is near/And for my relief will surely appear/In prayer I will wrestle and he will perform/With Christ in the vessel I smile at the storm.”

Take small steps of courage. Children go through the natural progression of crawling, walking, then running. Similarly, you build courage through trusting Jesus.

You might start weak, and that’s OK. It’s similar to working out. As a CrossFit trainer, I have everyone start light and easy until they build the skill and strength for greater challenges.

Researchers have discovered that through gradual exposure to one’s fears, an individual can begin to overcome those phobias and anxiety. Even better, psychoanalysts have observed that those who stretch themselves through exposure to their fears exhibit greater confidence and willingness to face challenges in other areas of life. Facing your fear in any area of life has an impact on your courage across the board. So, do not avoid opportunities to step outside of your comfort zone or face a fear.

Build intentional communities that bring encouragement and solidarity. In his book “Live Not by Lies,” Rod Dreher shares dozens of stories from Christian dissidents who survived Soviet oppression in Czechoslovakia and other nations. One of the primary strategies, particularly those in the “Velvet Revolution,” was the formation of intentional communities. These communities were underground groups that would meet for the purpose of education, training, encouragement and inspiration.

You can build intentional communities that study Scripture, read great books, and provide encouragement to give your life to the calling God has given you. Often the key factor you need in order to take that bold risk or courageous sacrifice is a band of supporters around you. An intentional community can easily be formed where there’s already Christian community such as your church, collegiate ministry, or other Kingdom-oriented group.

Courage when it’s needed

Our world already has too many celebrities and influencers. What we truly need is more heroes who eschew the life of self-pleasure for the nobler calling of self-sacrifice for the highest good. Through the gospel of Jesus, you can build the virtue of courage so that in the hour of need, empowered by the Holy Spirit, you can step up to be the hero that God calls you to be.

Copyright 2022 Aaron Shamp. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Aaron Shamp

Aaron Shamp is a writer, host of “Filter” — a Christian worldview podcast, and lead pastor of Redeemer City Church in Lafayette, LA. He has an MA in Christian Apologetics from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and lives in Lafayette with his wife and two children. You can follow him @aaronmshamp on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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