Power in Death
In his engagement with Jesus and his recognition that his old life was not only flawed but completely bankrupt, Paul recognized he had to embrace the death he would surely face in the desert. Deserts are not places where people can survive easily.
So his spiritual desert, he embraces the idea that he was already dead. And as soon as he embraces that idea, he finds the power of the resurrection.
The Band of Brothers Easy Company like so many bands before them, embraced the reality of death and found not only camaraderie in that common experience but also victory in the end.
It’s fascinating to me that almost every successful businessperson you can find anywhere has been through bankruptcy or something very close to it—where to all intents and purposes, they lost everything.
Having lost everything, you’re now able and more fully equipped to earn and find everything. It’s a fascinating truth.
So what is the Lord saying to us in this? I think he’s saying that heroism and courage can be the experience of everyone.
When Jesus says to his disciples that you need to take up your cross and follow me, he’s inviting them on their own heroic journey of following him into embracing their death so they discover the power of their resurrection.
Jesus is inviting each person to face his or her deepest fear—the fear of death itself—so that in facing that fear and finding that the fear itself didn’t kill them, they can discover something beyond the fear.
Once you’ve faced the fear, it’s hard for the fear to get you again.
I think this is foundational to the Scriptures, to the story of God’s people, to the story of Jesus, and to the story of your life and mine.
The Desert and Fearlessness
The children of Israel had a short journey (comparatively speaking) between Egypt and the Promised Land. But when the spies went into the Promised Land and brought back reports of how big the people were and how gigantic the task before them was, the people faltered and attacked Moses for bringing them there.
Of course, two of the spies wanted to go in—Joshua and Caleb—and they outlived the whole generation and actually did go into the land. They heroically led the people into the land.
But what did God do with the rest of them? He kept them in the desert and caused them to raise a generation in the desert having to face difficulty, scarcity, and privation every day.
Did he do that just to be mean? Of course not. God is gracious and a loving heavenly Father, and has never been anything other than that.
What he needed to do is to get the people to face their deepest fears. They faced enemies in the desert far greater than they would ever face in the Promised Land. In the desert, they faced enemies created by the natural circumstances of being in the desert, and enemies in people who didn’t want them to be near their borders and threatening their own existence.
As they faced all these enemies, they became strong, capable, and fearless.
What Is Courage?
Courage is not about deciding that you’re not going to be afraid. Courage is getting to the place where even though you know that the natural reaction is to be afraid, you’ve been there before, and so you can get into territory where fear no longer holds you.
Being courageous means you’re in territory beyond the place…
where fear stalks the land…
where fear holds people in chains…
where fear will hold you back from receiving your victory, your breakthrough, your resurrection.
That was the story of the children of Israel.
That was the story of Paul going into the Arabian Desert. And of course, it’s the story of our Savior Jesus.
In microcosm, Jesus faced his own heroic journey in the desert, confronted by the devil, recognizing the frailty of human flesh as he fasted for 40 days. That heroic journey in microcosm equipped him for the larger heroic journey from his baptism through to his death to his resurrection. That journey in the desert equipped him to be fearless in the larger heroic journey of salvation for all of us.
There was a moment in Gethsemane where the elements of the heroic journey were re-expressed. Jesus went a little way from his disciples into that other world of agonizing prayer.
There he sweated blood.
There he, in agony of soul, faced his deepest fears.
There, with the mentoring of his Father and the ministry of the angels, came through the darkest of valleys.
As he came out of the darkest of valleys, he was equipped to face the greatest of fears—the fear of separation from his Father on the cross—knowing that beyond that darkness, beyond that loss, beyond that apparent hopelessness, there was a victory on the other side.
“For the joy set before him,” says the writer to the Hebrews, “Jesus embraced the cross.”
This is the call.
This is the journey.
This is the way of the Christian.
And it’s the way quite different from the way of the world.
The world right now is beset by fear.
The world right now is running from the consequences of fear and anxiety.
The way of the hero
…of the follower of Christ
…of the fearless
is to face the fear
….to embrace it
…to perhaps even ritualize it by going into it through fasting and prayer, and allowing the full gravity, the full weight of the fear to manifest itself in your heart …and to discover that there is something on the other side of that fear— fearlessness, which the world knows as courage.
I can’t advise you to take that journey. I can’t cajole you to go in that direction. I can’t offer you anything other than what I have shared with you—that I believe this is the story of faith and the journey of the people of God. This is my own experience and the experience of others who have found courage in the face of terrible threat.
Today, my encouragement to you is to audit your fear and ask God by his Spirit to give you grace to face the fear—to come toe to toe, nose to nose, eye to eye with that fear.
Do this knowing that:
• The scarcity you fear is most certainly not greater than the abundance at your disposal.
Audit your fears. Look at your fears and ask the Lord which one he wants you to take on. Probably, it will be one of the smaller fears, so you can grow in your capacity by stretching that spiritual muscle and growing it so you can take on the larger fears as you go on.
It may be that at first, you’re not sure of what the fears are. It’s almost as though you are incapable of articulating them because they’re so large. Just write down the fears you know about and ask the Lord Jesus to send you by his Spirit the grace you need to face that fear, to engage that fear as you pray and read the Scriptures and fast and share them with others.
Remember that in the externalization of these realities, they often dissolve and are blown away. It’s often in the auditing of these fears, the facing, and sharing of them, that you find they aren’t that powerful at all.
The more powerful fears will need to be faced in a more strategic and fully orbed way. My suggestion to you is this: do it in fellowship with others. Be accountable with others. Tell others what you are planning to do.
Say something like:
Do it in a way that leads you to the life you long for.
Do it progressively in a way that builds from one fear to the next.
Find yourself becoming like Paul, who says, “I know I’m already dead, but you know what? Because I’m already dead, I’m alive.”
Be like the Lord himself, who in his death found resurrection that he shared with others.
Perhaps you too will find yourself not only the recipient of a fearless heart, but also a channel of the grace of resurrection.
My prayer for you is that as you go on your heroic journey, you choose to take possession of that which is promised:
Previously Published OCTOBER 6, 2016