Where Does Real Courage Come From?

Monday, November 8, 2010



I think about Julie a lot.

It was my first pastorate. She was adored in the church. For over a decade, people came around her to drive her, three times a week, to the dialysis center. When she suffered a heart attack, we were amazed to hear her story.

“I was there!” she told us, “in the presence of Jesus.” Then – thump! – she was back, looking into the face of a doctor. “Oh how that surprised me!”

Years later the phone call came. Julie was taken to the ER. I rushed to the hospital and found her already in the ICU. She was conscious but weak. A team of doctors coming in and out until they finally decided to take her to surgery. Another demanding, invasive, not-sure-she’ll make it surgery.

“I’m done,” she told them. “I can’t do it.” She was bleeding inside, just weeks after open heart surgery. The doctors wanted to go in, find it and stop it. But she didn’t have the strength. Her body was done and she knew it.

I will never forget the brightness in her eyes.

Her daughter and I stood on either side of her bed. At some point Julie asked me to recite Psalm 23. I didn’t have my Bible, gave it a try and completely messed it up. Julie looked me straight in the eyes and frowned, “That’s not it. You need to memorize Psalm 23 in the King James!” And I did, the next day.

But what surprised me most was something I’d never seen before.

She had faith to go home. Not just faith in the Lord. She had that. I had that. This was different. She had strength in her broken, weak heart to see the door of the Kingdom of God opening to her. I saw it as she comforted her daughter. I heard it in the gentleness of her voice. I felt it in the touch of her hand.

Nearing midnight she said to me quietly, “I’m sorry it’s taking so long. You need to go home and get rest.” And then she smiled. How was it possible? Here she was facing death and concerned for me? So peaceful. So ready to go home.

Julie, I’d rather you not go.

But she did. As if it was all perfectly orchestrated, Julie’s daughter began to sing Amazing Grace and, just before the last verse, the Lord came for her.

Home at last.

In the weeks and months that followed, I struggled with what happened that night. Julie had faith I didn’t have. But why didn’t I have it? Shouldn’t all Christians have it? I mean, it’s the heart and soul of who we are and what we believe. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. He has forever defeated death.

Julie knew that. But not just knowing it in her head. She experienced it. She held it, or was held by it, like a little girl safe in the arms of her Father. She was not afraid. But I was. She was not anxious. So why was I?

Does it mean I’m a Christian in my head but not in my heart?

I turned to the Bible. I continued the story God laid out from the beginning. It amazed me to find Abraham in the same struggle of faith. This man knew the call of God on his life. He eventually left everything and followed the Lord to the Promised Land. He even received the blessing of Melchizedek.

But he didn’t understand.

He was told he was going to have a son. He was an old man. His wife beyond child-bearing years. It was impossible for them to have children. So Abraham did what most of us would do. He came up with a plan. He reasoned that Eliezer of Damascus, a man born in his house, would be his promised son.

“This man,” the Lord shot back, “will not be your heir; but one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” Then the Lord showed Abraham the stars in the heavens. “Count the stars, if you are able to count them” the Lord declared. “So shall your descendants be.” (Gen 15:4-5)

Then it happened. The impossible became possible. The Genesis 15:6 miracle.

The Lord opened Abraham’s heart to believe the promise. He gave him faith to see the child before the child was ever born. Faith leaping beyond reason! Faith that sees with God’s eyes. Faith that knows. Faith that experiences. Faith that holds the promise to come as if the promise is already here!

The gift of God come down from heaven!

Oh, thank God, it’s something He does. It’s not something I do. Faith is not something worked up by me or in my own strength. He does it. He opens the heart. He gives the gift both to believe in Him and to believe in His promises.

That’s what Abraham had. Faith to believe in God, yes. But also this special, particular faith to believe that he, in his old age, would have a promised son.

It’s also what Julie had.

It seemed to make sense to me. Julie had a call of God on her life that I didn’t have. It was as if she stood at the Jordan River ready to make the crossing into the Promised Land. It was her time. The Lord was calling her home. And with the call came the faith she needed to see Jesus, to know, rejoice, and cross over.

And she did. And I got to be there. At first, it confused me. Why didn’t I have this gigantic miracle faith coursing through my veins? I wanted it. I felt guilty not having it. It made me question everything. Was I, in fact, a Christian at all?

But then I understood. The gift the Lord gave me was front row seats! I got to come right up to the banks of the Jordan. I got to see Julie hear the call of God and then to receive the gift of faith that triumphs in the face of death!

The impossible altogether possible.

Faith to go home! I knew that night that someday in the future the same would happen to me. I’ll find myself at the riverbank. I’ll hear the Lord call my name. And suddenly my eyes will see. My heart will know. This gift of God will come at just the right time. It’s all because of this simple biblical principle I saw lived out in Julie’s life that night. Something I will never ever forget.

With the call comes faith.

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John 15:1-11, the Vine and the branches. "Is He everything to you?