I have been reading short biographies of famous Jewish Christian leaders from the nineteenth century. What impresses me is their courage in the face of intense persecution and real danger. Many traveled to strange and distant lands to reach people with the gospel. Some were captured, beaten and robbed. Others were thrown in prison, sometimes for years. Several were threatened with death. One was poisoned.
It is humbling to read these accounts because I wonder, if pressed, would I make the kinds of sacrifices that many of these people made? At the same time I have been encouraged and inspired by their examples of faithful service to God.
Yet I am always a little surprised when Christians tell me that the courage they see in the Jews for Jesus missionaries has similarly been an inspiration and example to them. We don’t consider ourselves all that courageous. Most Jews for Jesus volunteers and missionaries who do public street ministry feel inadequate much of the time. I suppose the willingness to be visible in public, openly identified with Jesus, is courageous. But that doesn’t make us feel courageous. Mostly what we feel on the streets is too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. And, whatever the weather, people often vent their frustration on us, or else pretend we don’t exist. How do we feel about that? Sometimes sad, sometimes startled and sometimes bored. But there are many times when we feel lifted up and it’s at times like those that we smile and say, Someone is praying for us.” And during those times when we can engage in meaningful conversation with a seeker, we feel energized.
Right now several dozen of our missionaries and volunteers are out on the streets of New York City and Manchester, England, wearing Jews for Jesus T-shirts, handing out gospel tracts and telling others of the love of God. No doubt many of our campaigners are feeling inadequate right now. Their feet are getting sore, their bodies tired and emotions ragged. I know they would greatly appreciate your prayers for strength and for courage.
I try to imagine what life was like for those nineteenth century Jewish Christian leaders I’ve been reading about. I’m guessing that they had similar feelings of discomfort, even fear and uncertainty in facing their challenges. Perhaps they would be surprised to know that one day we would see them as examples of courage.
But they persevered, and by God’s grace, so will we—because we believe it is what God wants us to do. Persevering doesn’t always feel courageous. Sometimes it is like wading through a field of molasses, one slow step at a time.
Many people view courage as a superhero approach to life: fearlessness in the face of danger, emotional invincibility. But this is not a biblical model of courage. The Bible shows courage as a willingness to make oneself vulnerable in serving God. Jesus is our example, both in His incarnation and His crucifixion. He had the courage to make Himself completely vulnerable in a world that was violently hostile to Him and His mission of obedience to the heavenly Father. He calls us now to follow Him.
It is a difficult call to answer because most of us would rather not make ourselves vulnerable, Jews for Jesus included. It is uncomfortable and sometimes painful to be vulnerable and most people avoid discomfort and fear pain. But the Bible tells us, “Listen to Me, you who know righteousness, You people in whose heart is My law: Do not fear the reproach of men, Nor be afraid of their insults” (Isaiah 51:7). Yet that is exactly our natural inclination, isn’t it? It is so easy to succumb to fear, to seek to avoid the reproach and insults of others.
I don’t believe that God calls us all to show courage in exactly the same way. You don’t need to put on a T-shirt that says you’re for Jesus and stand out on a street corner handing out tracts (though we certainly do invite you to join us). But I hope that knowing those of us who find the strength from God to do just that will in some way inspire and encourage you in your own devotion to the Lord.
God asks each of us to show courage and resolve to stand for Him in different ways, in ways that will require a measure of vulnerability. Sometimes it is actually easier to stand out on a street corner and make yourself vulnerable to strangers than it is to go to a neighbor, a co-worker, a classmate or even a family member and tell them about Jesus.
Think of the courage it takes for a teenager to resist the pressure to conform to the behavior of her peers in school. She knows that the Lord wants her to be an example of godliness, to reflect the image of Jesus, even if it causes her to be less popular with her friends.
Recently I met an automobile salesman who gave up his seniority and the perks of his position because he knew that the kind of sales practices the owners expected of him were displeasing to God. This man responded to God’s convictions by moving on to another dealership. It cost him something, but he told me he sleeps better at night. That kind of decision takes real courage, too.
God can give us the courage to do all kinds of things if we ask Him. What if you made a list of people in your life with whom you haven’t yet shared the gospel? As you pray over that list of names, you can ask God both for courage and for opportunities to speak about the Lord with each one. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a list like that grow smaller and smaller as your God-given courage grows greater and greater?
Look around and you will see many examples of courage and godly commitment to inspire and encourage you. God calls us all to have courage as we represent and serve Him in this world. Let’s be alert to the opportunities He gives each and every day to show that kind of courage, knowing that as we look to Him for the strength we need, He will provide it.
What kind of courage is God asking from you today? Don’t doubt for one minute that He will provide the resources to strengthen you and give you exactly what you need to meet your particular challenge. He has enough courage for everyone. “Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24).