Paul Coughlin Christian Blog and Commentary

Courage and Faith

That courage is inseparable from faith wasn't always news to ministers and leaders.  Past generations had a better handle on this than we do today.  To quote John Bunyan in Pilgrim's Progress:  "There are two things that they have need to be in possession of, that go in pilgrimage; courage and an unspotted life.  If they have not courage they can never hold on their way."


"You of little faith," Jesus said to Peter.  "Why did you doubt?"  He said this while standing on and walking on water at night.  He said this just after Peter walked on water for a few miraculous steps.  He said this while Peter was sinking into the water, after he cried, "Lord, save me!"  Peter likely knew how to swim.  He probably could have saved himself.  But fear has a way of clouding our thinking just as it can kill our faith and our courage.


In all the turmoil of this scene, we forget the answer to the question Jesus poses—he already said it a few verses earlier.  We should also note that while he's asking this question of Peter, in general, he asks of us all:  Why do you doubt me in light of all I've done, all I can do?


We all lack faith.  Let's take a closer look at why.


Peter sees a Savior Man walking toward him on the water.  He thinks it's a ghost, and the group cries out in terror.  Their minds (a miracle is taking place before my eyes, it's true) and their hearts (this is frightening, this is scary?) were engaged.  Then Peter, uniquely showing a tremendous display of thumos, says, "Lord, if that's you, tell me to come to you on the water."  Jesus says to come, and he does.


But why does Peter lose his faith and in the process start to sink?  I think the answer is found in the first words Jesus tells the boatload of frightened men: "Take courage!  It is I.  Don't be afraid." 


He doesn't say take my courage.  He means for them to stoke their God-given capacity for flexing this pivotal virtue. 


Peter takes courage, which bolsters his faith.  But then he remembers the wind and the waves and becomes afraid again.  Fear suddenly buries his courage and swamps his faith.


Not only can fear and cowardice drain faith, they can also steal it away completely.  Jesus, in his parable of the sower, said that certain people just don't have a "rootedness" or "staying power," and they walk away from their faith when the going gets tough.  Some people have nothing within them to help them stand firm, to grip and hold on to what's essential to their spiritual growth, to keep them from being pushed over.  Courage is a nonnegotiable ingredient in the terra firma of our faith, part of the structure that gives it mooring, footing, and action.


Think about the manner in which Jesus died, and I'm not just talking about the crucifixion.  I'm talking about how it came about.  He chose the twelve disciples knowing full well that one would betray him—with the feigned affection of a kiss.  And he did it anyway.  And in Gethsemane he was abandoned by his friends, who fell asleep on him.  Twice.


Have you ever had your friends abandon you during a tough time, while you took a controversial stand?  I have, and it's gut-wrenching.  It tears your chest out.  You feel like the walking dead.  It's bewildering, and at times it's like there's literally nothing under your feet when you walk.  It's hard to breathe.  Your throat chokes up.  You feel utterly alone—no one anywhere.  It's terror-producing, and I'm convinced that it somehow shortens our lives.


Yet in Gethsemane, where Jesus admits to those closest to him that horror and dismay were engulfing him ("My heart is ready to break with grief"), he still persevered.  Not because he followed his heart—which clearly failed him, by his own admission—but because of an inner heat and a higher calling, a cause that transcended him: his Father's will.


In Gethsemane, utterly alone, isolated from others to help build his courage, and feeling so distant from his Abba, he forged ahead, alone.  We mortals are just not capable of such lone-courage living.  We need others.  We need fellowship.  An isolated man is not a courageous man, at least for very long, and especially not while on an important mission.


Skeptics ask: why are all those miracles from jesus so important to you?  When it comes to thumos courage and free will, they mean everything.  Jesus chose the cross.  Again, suffering in and of itself is not courageous.  It's electing to suffer that puts Jesus' death in the pantheon of deaths.  It's the manner in which he died—his choosing not to slay his murderers through whatever miracle he could have performed—that haunts history.  Unlike most prisoners of war, Jesus had a choice.  With supernatural power and free will in play, the manner of his death is inexpressibly miraculous.


It's important to point out once more that there are about two dozen examples of cowardice in the Bible and about two dozen examples of courage, including instances of personal bravery—from Deborah in leading Israel's armies, from Jael in killing Sisera, and from Esther, in convincing the king to save her people.  The word for courage itself appears at least ten times in the New Testament, and there is no reference among them to God reaching into people's lives and giving them courage.  We are told three times to take courage and we're told three times to keep up or hold on to our courage.  Paul even says he hopes that he will have sufficient courage so that "now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death."


I have longed to find a New Testament example of an anointing of courage, a time and a place where God intervened and turned a coward, like I can sometimes be, into a real champ.  I haven't found it.  There isn't one, unless my understanding of an anointing is wrong.


One definition of anointing is to "equip for service."  Courage, I've concluded, is a virtue that we are called to exercise, as seen in the life of Joshua.  In fact, the Bible shows us people known for courage acting cowardly, such as Saul and David.  This gives me hope, which gives me courage.


Perhaps it comes down to this: Similar to other virtues and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can choose to be courageous—or not.  I have prayed for courage in my own life, and I've prayed that god would give the people I love courage as well.  Of the times when I've felt more courageous after praying, I think one reason why is that through prayer I've found a comforter, an advocate, and I'm reminded of how someone truly loves me.  And then I'm also reminded of the times when Jesus went forward with boldness and courage, which frees and ignites me to do the same.


After I'd spoken at a church in Oregon, a woman came up to me and said my message on being courageous was about her.  She said friends have told her for years that she was more courageous than your average Joan, and that she had banished the word nice from her vocabulary.  "I don't like that word," she said with a powerful grin and happy eyes.


But then something remarkable happened.  This strong woman teared up.  She shed similar tears to those I've wept when I've come across someone else who sees what I see, who confirms both my conclusion and the antidote to our lack of courageous faith.  She had been wandering in the wilderness for a long time, and my talk confirmed within her that she wasn't alone and that she wasn't crazy.  Because that's what happens, eventually: Thumos people think they're just plain nuts sometimes.  You feel like the odd one out, a pilgrim without a homeland, because frankly, you aren't welcomed by the keepers of the Script.


It's the men and women of thumos—the malcontents, misfits, visionaries, prophets, those wielders of double-bladed axioms—who always have and always will be the ones who shake the world's foundation by their faith in action.  And during their brief appearance on this poorly lit stage with many trapdoors, this better breed is among the most widely reviled and misunderstood—even toward one another.  Later, upon their passing, after the ripples of their disruptive faith have been absorbed, they're adores—irony of ironies.


They are, as the author of Hebrews put it, "too good for a world like this," exactly like their fierce and disruptive hero, the best-kept secret of the Bible, Jesus Christ.


Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including Unleashing Courageous FaithNo More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the values-based and faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for public schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals who want to diminish child-based bullying. 

Visit Paul's websites at:, and

Visit Sandy's website for reluctant entertainers at: