Despite our love of God and our faith in His sovereign will, Christians are no strangers to anxiety, worry, and fear. Most of us have likely experienced a fair amount of these emotions in the past year, as the COVID-19 pandemic has put our physical, mental, and emotional health at risk, and has drastically changed many of the structures and plans we had in place.
But Dr. Russell Moore with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) reminds us that being courageous and faithful does not mean we are without fear. Dr. Moore addresses this topic in his new book The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul, and he joins Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s episode of Family Policy Mattersto discuss his book.
Dr. Moore points to Biblical figures who experienced fear despite their faith, like Elijah, Peter, and the shepherds at the birth of Jesus. “When someone’s starting to feel fear,” observes Moore, “that doesn’t mean that that person isn’t courageous. Many times the courageous things that someone has to do? They’re coming with great fear.”
So what does it mean to be courageous? Dr. Moore argues that our society has lost sight of what true courage looks like, and that we often fall short in one of two ways. “One is with a sort of bravado and swagger, ‘nothing bothers me,’ sort of a mentality that often people think of as courage. And the other would be a kind of cringing cowardice and withdrawal.”
“But in the middle of those two things is an understanding of dependence and vulnerability. One recognizes that one’s power isn’t coming from self; it’s coming from God.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Dr. Russell Moore give advice for how we can show true courage through trusting God in the midst of our fear
TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Despite our love of Christ and our trust in his sovereign will, Christians often find ourselves anxious, worried, and sometimes downright fearful about our society and the future.
In his new book, The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul, Dr. Russell Moore explores the root of much of today’s fear and offers a paradoxical path forward. Dr. Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and we’re grateful to have him with us today to delve into some of the excellent topics and advice that he explores in his new book.
Dr. Russell Moore, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
RUSSELL MOORE: Well, thanks so much for having me.
TRACI GRIGGS: In your book, you point out that there’s a difference between being courageous and being fearless. Why do you make that distinction?
RUSSELL MOORE: Well, I think because a lot of people assume when they start to feel afraid that this means that they’re cowardly—that they’re not courageous—but that’s not actually how the Bible defines it. God tells us repeatedly, Old and New Testaments, “don’t be afraid.” But He’s always saying that to people who were afraid at the time. So, if you think about, for instance, the shepherds at the birth of Christ. When the angels appeared they were greatly afraid, and then the angel say, “Don’t be afraid because I’m bringing you good tidings.” And the same thing happened at the resurrection; it happens often.
I think actually what Jesus does with all of us is similar to what he did with Peter. When Peter went walking out on the water, he starts to sink beneath the water and cries out for help and Jesus then pulls him up. I think that’s often what He does in our lives. So, when someone’s starting to feel fear, that doesn’t mean that that person isn’t courageous. Many times the courageous things that someone has to do, they’re coming with great fear. I was just talking to a mom yesterday who was dealing with a really difficult situation with her child and she was handling it really well. And she said, “I have to admit, I’m scared to death.” And I said, “Well, you’re scared to death, but you’re very courageous because you’re doing your duty in the right way.” And I think that’s how the Bible defines it.
TRACI GRIGGS: Those are some great examples. You also used Elijah though, quite a bit in your book. Why did you choose to feature him?
RUSSELL MOORE: For two reasons. One of them is that Elijah is such a big figure in scripture. Even though he’s only there for a few chapters in 1 and 2 Kings, he’s referenced constantly throughout the rest of the Bible. But the second reason is because I had often misunderstood Elijah, even though I knew his story really well. When I would think of him, the image that would come to mind was always that encounter with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, where Elijah calls down fire from heaven. And it’s really this triumphant sort of moment. But the more I spent with Elijah, the more I realized actually the hinge point of his story wasn’t then; it was what happened right after that. Where Elijah, in 1 Kings 19, is saying to God, “I don’t even know what I’m doing here.” And God shows himself to Elijah in a way really that is pointing us to Jesus. And I think that’s important because maybe even, especially in sort of a social media era—where so many people are comparing their lives with the lives of people that they see, who of course are editing and curating those lives—to remind us that God is really often doing most of His work in us, not in those moments where we feel like we’re winning, but in those moments where we really understand our dependence.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well, we’ve had a lot of opportunities to be afraid in the last year, and to be more dependent on God. Do you think that there are some common denominators behind the fear that we see so often in the world today?
RUSSELL MOORE: I think there are. I think that often the fear is a sense of hopelessness and inability to see the future. I think that that can be true with sort of big global things like the pandemic, and it also can be with smaller things. The person who maybe has a family history of heart disease, and every time that she feels something in her chest, wonders, “Does this mean that I’m going to go down that path,” or anything like that? There can be a sense of insecurity because we just can’t see and we can’t know the future. I know that’s where my fear mostly comes from. God has to work on me to stop being a control freak about my own life and thinking, “Well, if I just knew how this particular thing is going to go, how my kids are going to turn out,” or whatever it is. But that’s not what walking by faith is like.
So, you can deviate from courage in two ways. One is with a sort of bravado and swagger, “nothing bothers me,” sort of a mentality that often people think of as courage, but it’s not typically defined as such. And the other would be a kind of cringing cowardice and withdrawal. But in the middle of those two things is an understanding of dependence and vulnerability. One recognizes that one’s power isn’t coming from self; it’s coming from God. Now to go back to Elijah. I think about the way in which the Scripture points out that he’s being fed; God’s feeding him; God’s giving him water. There are people that God sends into his life that he did not previously know. And all of those resources, I think God puts in our lives at those moments of fear. So if you think about, for instance, the people in your life, there’s a real bond that forms when there’s somebody who is with you in a time of darkness or trial.
TRACI GRIGGS: So if this type of courage is so apparent in the Word, and you’ve given us many great examples of that, why do so many of us miss it?
RUSSELL MOORE: I think for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is because we’re made of dust. We have that natural weakness in us, which is why we need the power of God. And I think the other reason is because again, when we tend to look at courage? I think about some of the people, some pastors that I had, that I really admired for their courage. But then later, sometimes maybe years later, you can talk to them and they will say, “Yeah, I was scared to death at that moment. I was second-guessing myself the whole time.” If we don’t really understand that, then I think we can think, “Well, that means that I don’t have what it takes to be courageous,” or because we think that courage is about these big sorts of moments in life, fighting a war or something like that. When in reality, most of what we need courage for are those things that we would think of as very ordinary, everyday sorts of occurrences. And I think sometimes that’s confusing to us.
TRACI GRIGGS: So how do we get there? How can we embrace this paradox with joy and courage?
RUSSELL MOORE: If you get to the point where you’re actually asking that question, you’re usually further along than you think you are. And I think that I know very few people who are really courageous, who feel like they’re courageous. Just like I know very few people who are humble, who know that they’re humble. That’s something that God does in you. And so I think that often it’s looking back. Somebody asked me one time, “If you could go back and talk to your younger self, what advice would you have?” And the first thing that I said was, “Stop wasting so much time worrying, because the things that you’re worried about, either (A) never came about, or (B) if they did, God was faithful; you were able to live through those things.” And then on second thought, I said, “You know what? I wouldn’t want to talk to my younger self though, because I really needed all of those moments. God really taught me things in even those things I wouldn’t want to live through again.” And I think that’s true for all of us. So often people actually are much further along in the process than they think they are.
TRACI GRIGGS: Are there some other tips for how we can kind of untangle and reject the twisted ideas of success and power that seem to come with our culture and society?
RUSSELL MOORE: I actually had this conversation with someone not long ago, who was going through what might stereotypically be called a midlife crisis. But he just said, “I’ve gotten to the point where I’m really re-thinking all my priorities and the things that used to matter to me don’t as much, and other things do.” And I just said, “You know, you should thank God for that.” Because you’re going to go through that moment at some point in your life. And if you have that moment, the earlier you can have it the better, because what you don’t want to do is to have that on your death bed. So just embrace the crisis, whatever it is and say, “God, I know that you’re here with me and that you’re showing me something and I trust you through it.”
TRACI GRIGGS: I appreciated your contrasting the two ways that people often do in the face of fear—one is that bravado or swagger, and one is withdrawal. And I think when you look at how Christians engage the world on some of these very controversial topics, you see this, you know? You see some that you’re like, “Oh, please just be quiet.” And then other people you’re like, “Come on, engage!” How can we find that middle ground when we’re discussing a lot of these really tough topics with friends, relatives, and even going on social media and talking about them?
RUSSELL MOORE: First of all, you’re going to get it wrong sometimes. Sometimes it’s very difficult to figure out. I mean, you think of the Proverbs that put right together, “Answer a fool according to his folly” and “Answer not a fool according to his folly.” Sometimes it’s difficult to know which of those two things is applicable at the moment. You’re going to make mistakes and don’t beat yourself up about that. But secondly, I would say the key is for someone to say, “What is my point of vulnerability?” and overcompensate there. So, you think of Paul’s warnings to Timothy about timidity and don’t let anyone despise your youth. And then you have Paul’s warnings to those who are quarrelsome and who have an unhealthy craving for controversy. I would say the people who ought to be the most engaged in particular points of controversy ought to be the people who least want to do that. And the people who most want to do that should be the least to do it. What I would say is if you’re sort of the person who really enjoys a good argument at the Thanksgiving table, then you probably ought to be focused on stepping back. And if you’re the sort of person who you really have a word that you need to speak, but you’re afraid to do it, then you probably are the one to do it. A lot of that has to depend on where you are in relationship to other people. So rarely is social media a place for controversy, because most of the time you’re not actually going to change people that way.
But you base it upon your relationship. I would speak much more bluntly to one of my sons than I would to one of their friends, maybe even if it’s about the exact same issue. If you know people, you’re going to know as best you can how to speak to them. So, I’m going to have one son who really needs direct talk and another son who’s more sensitive and that would actually not be effective. So as best as you can, sort of read the situation and know the way that you should engage. And again, you’re going to make some mistakes.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well, we’re just about out of time, but before we go, Dr. Moore, where can our listeners go to get a copy of your new book, The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul?
RUSSELL MOORE: Well, they can get it anywhere that they buy books, or they can go to the website russellmoore.com, and there’s a link there as well.
TRACI GRIGGS: Sounds great. Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters.
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