“Be strong and be brave.”
This quote is part of Joshua 1:9, which is this month’s memory verse for our kindergarten through fifth grade students: “Be strong and be brave. Do not be afraid. Do not lose hope. I am the Lord your God. I will be with you wherever you go.”
“Be brave.” I grew up reciting that to myself, as I’m sure many of us have. We even raise our kids to say it to themselves now: “Be brave! Be strong! Don’t be afraid! Don’t lose hope!” We recite these mantras, and yet we leave out the second part of the verse: The Lord, your God, will be with you wherever you go. We don’t have to be brave, but we can be brave because God is with us. Our bravery has nothing to do with our own strength, but rather who God is: a being that never leaves us alone.
The verse for adults this week, Philippians 4:13, is similar. It starts off saying, “I can do all things….” If we stop there, we walk away with an inflated ego and a whole mess of burdens resting on our shoulders. But when we finish it—“…through Christ who strengthens me”—we gain supernatural strength. We gain the courage we could never muster from our own abilities.
As I remember it, Philippians 4:13 was actually one of the first Bible verses I ever heard. It was at my varsity soccer game, and we were in the first round of the state tournament. The score was tied, and we had just gone into shootouts. We had worked very hard to get to this point and it all came down to one shot. One shot that, if our goalie saved it, meant we were moving on. One shot that, if our goalie missed it, meant we were done for the season, which was a big deal for the seniors on our team.
I remember the moment so clearly because one of those senior girls was shouting, “Phil 4:13!” at the goal keeper. At the time, I had no idea what it meant. I remember thinking, “Who’s Phil?” And then thinking, “Who cares, as long as he helps her save this goal?” When I later learned what the verse was, I thought that there’s no way God would care about us winning our soccer game. He must have better things to do. But, looking back on that moment now, I think maybe she was saying it not as a reminder to God to give her strength, but as a reminder for her to have no fear because God is with her in all things. Even soccer games.
Looking back, it was such an insignificant moment, but for my team, at the time, it was everything. Being there, kneeling on the sidelines, holding the hands of the players next to me, praying to a God I didn’t even believe in yet, was the result of hours upon hours of training—years, even, for most on my team. We ran suicide sprints until we dropped. We worked harder than, at that point in my life, I had ever thought possible. Winning a state championship, for a high school soccer player, is as high as we know to reach at that point in our lives. I tell you this because the older we get, the more we forget. We forget what our kids are going through, how much these “insignificant” matters, well, matter to them. Sometimes we want to force courage onto children by telling them to get some perspective. We tell them it doesn’t matter.
But, to them, it does.
A soccer game seems very trivial to adults, but these are the types of moments that your kids care about. Making the team might be a matter of life and death. The choice of who to sit with at lunch can be truly treacherous. There is so much we can’t control, so many steps we don’t know the ending to, and this lack of knowledge and control can paralyze us with fear. And that is why it is so important that, this month, when your kids walk away learning about courage, which we define as “being brave enough to do what you should do, even when you’re afraid,” make sure they don’t forget the key part: …because God is with you. They don’t have to do it alone; God is with them! If they can learn this through all those minor moments, then they will already know it when life “gets real.”
This weekend, the adults will hear about a man named Caleb that lived a moment that is about as real as it gets. He was about to lead his people into the Promised Land. After a lifetime of slavery, this was the moment! He stood looking down on the land and saw the opposition that awaited him and he had a choice: Believe God is with me, have courage, and go fight for the land that is rightfully ours… or run.
Caleb chose to be brave when everyone else wanted to run. He had courage not because he was invincible or fearless, but because he knew God was with them and he had faith to take the step despite his fear. We hope your kids will grow up learning that being brave is not the absence of fear, but the courage to take a step of faith in the midst of fear. And that courage comes from not some buried earthly strength, but God’s presence in our lives.
That kind of faith overcomes impossible barriers. That kind of faith perseveres, even in the face of the unknown.