By: Jenni Walker
“And Jesus immediately said to them, ‘Take courage. It is I! Don’t be afraid.’” (Matthew 14:27)
“And, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
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I recently was reminded of a book that was a childhood favorite. As I lingered over portions of it, this particular excerpt resonated in my heart. (I’m sure most of you will quickly recall this beloved book from your own childhoods!)
A little railroad engine was employed about a station yard for such work as it was built for, pulling a few cars on and off the switches. One morning it was waiting for the next call when a long train of freight-cars asked a large engine in the roundhouse to take it over the hill. “I can’t; that is too much a pull for me,” said the great engine built for hard work. Then the train asked another engine, and another, only to hear excuses and be refused. In desperation, the train asked the little switch engine to draw it up the grade and down on the other side. “I think I can”, puffed the little locomotive, and put itself in front of the great heavy train. As it went on, the little engine kept bravely puffing faster and faster, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
As it neared the top of the grade, which had so discouraged the larger engines, it went more slowly. However, it still kept saying, “I—think—I—can, I—think—I—can.” It reached the top by drawing on bravery and then went on down the grade, congratulating itself by saying, “I thought I could, I thought I could.”
(From an older version of The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper.)
Near the end of this excerpt, the top of the hill is described as one that “had so discouraged the larger engines.” I recall the illustrations at this point of the book showing a determined look on the face of the little engine’s bright blue smokestack as she began to ascend the hill. It goes on to say of the “Little Engine” that she “reached the top by drawing on bravery.”
As I read this, I began to wonder how this “Little Engine” came to a point of readily accepting a task bigger than herself? What was her inner dialogue before this? Who had she learned from? What words did she regularly speak to herself and others? What other experiences had she had that, perhaps unknowingly to her at the time, prepared her to respond to a task turned down by so many with the words, “I think I can”?
Courage begins in the heart. The bravery that the “Little Engine that Could” experienced had, I’m sure, been cultivated over time. And when a mission that was bigger than herself was asked of her, she accepted it humbly yet confidently. Unlike the larger engines, she did not let herself become discouraged.
As followers of Christ, we are called to cultivate courageous hearts. A courageous heart finds strength in its Savior; it is a tended heart, a willing heart, and an anchored heart that also leads to action! This is the second essential element of being a wholehearted follower of Christ: learning to be a woman with a courageous heart! (Read about the first element from our last post here.) Let’s take a look at two critical elements to cultivating a courageous heart God’s way!
Do you know your God?
A woman with a courageous heart KNOWS WHO HER GOD is! As we looked at in our previous article, one of the primary ways we learn about God is through His Word.
In Psalm 138:1-3, David prays, “I will praise You with my whole heart; before the gods I will sing praises to You. I will worship toward Your holy temple, and praise Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth; for You have magnified Your word above all Your name. In the day when I cried out, You answered me, and made me bold with strength in my soul.” Another version says that all God’s promises are backed by the honor of His name. His Word and His promises reveal to us the state of our hearts and also His will, His character, and His ways. They are what help us know who HE is!
From there, as we are anchored in knowing our Lord through His Word and an intimate love relationship, we also become more like Christ and experience truly how our Lord “[makes] me bold with strength in my soul.” Ladies, we are empowered and equipped by our God to make an eternal difference.
Do your words speak of who God is, what He does, and what He promises He will do? Let’s be careful to grow in the knowledge of our Lord daily and to put our confidence in Him in the big and little things. Our God is a big God, and yet He is “acquainted with all of our ways.” (Check out Psalm 139 to read more!) Like the disciples, many of whom were fishermen, there may be times when we put our boats out for a catch and nothing particularly significant seems to happen. There are other times when our boat is being tossed in a storm like a rag doll. What will we do on that regular day? In the middle of the night watches of that storm? The answer is clear: Look to Jesus. He is our Emmanuel – God WITH us! Anchor your heart in the truth of His Word, and listen as He speaks to you as He did to His disciples, “Take courage! It is I; don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27)
Tend to the Heart
A friend of mine shared awhile back how she wanted to grow deeper in her walk with the Lord and to do great things for God, but she kept feeling like she couldn’t get below the surface. Recently, she began to let God take her below the exterior of her heart to address some very real rejection, wounds, sinful choices, and difficult experiences from her childhood and young adulthood. He began to show her that she had been avoiding them, and it was inhibiting her depth of relationship with Him. God’s Word has come alive in fresh ways to her, and she is experiencing a new intimacy with the Lord as she has given Him full access to her heart.
Now she has had dreams and desires inside of her being stirred all the more, and she has begun taking action steps about some ministry-related things she had been talking about doing for a while but just didn’t seem to be following through with. She has received courage from the Lord as she has let HIM tend her heart!
A wholehearted woman with a courageous heart combats doubt, disappointment, and discouragement not by white-knuckling it or ignoring it, but by letting her Heavenly Father minister His love, truth, and authority directly to her heart.
Are there lies that you have believed? Are there doubts, distractions, and disappointments that have taken over parts of your heart like weeds whose roots grow deeper and more entangled? Know God through His Word; remind your heart of His promises. And then listen and respond as He supernaturally ministers to your heart. Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and HE shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!” Unlike the “Little Engine that Could,” we don’t have to say, “I think I can…” Rather, we can say, “My God is the strength of my heart.” Dear sisters in Christ, let HIM tend to and strengthen your heart!
Courage versus Confidence
When I think of a courageous heart, (a woman who KNOWS who her God is and who intentionally lets HIM tend her heart and minister to it), I think of Elisabeth Elliot. She passed away within the last few years, but her life exemplifies that courageous heart. Shortly after her first husband was speared to death trying to bring the gospel to the isolated Auca people of South America, she went with her young daughter for a time to live among those people to continue his work of reaching them with the gospel. She writes of that situation:
All of us, I suppose, have at times felt strangely displaced, wondering how on earth we landed in a situation so far removed from that of our choosing. In 1958 I was living with Auca Indians in the Ecuadorian jungle. They had provided Valerie and me with a house—“a gift of place,” bless their dear hearts! It was identical to their own houses—without walls, floor, or furniture. My hammock was swung, as theirs were, between two of the six poles that held up the roof. Valerie, who was three, slept happily in a blanket on split bamboo. Often in the intervals between sleeping and fanning the fire I found myself musing in the wee hours—what am I doing here? How am I to glorify the Lord in such a place? Remember Psalm 16:5, “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.” I realized that He was preparing me for what He was preparing for me…
People often mistake confidence for courage. Confidence in oneself is not necessary for courage. It is when our confidence is in the Lord alone that God-given courage grows. There may be times when your heart does not feel courageous. We may ask ourselves, “What am I doing here?” Even then, as Elisabeth Elliot reminded herself of who God is and let Him tend, comfort, and encourage her heart through His Word, we, too, can be wholeheartedly courageous followers of Christ. We have not been given a spirit of timidity, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). And this leads us to ACTION and courageous (even confident!) obedience to our Lord! Daniel 11:32 powerfully expresses this truth: “But the people who know their God will display strength and take action” (NASB). When we know who our God is, we will be on-mission for Him with hearts that are full of HIS courage!
Times of Trust, Supernatural Strength
I have been in an unplanned season of my life that has required a courage that I can say has only come from my Lord. My husband and I began trying to get pregnant several years ago with great anticipation for the family God would give us. But month after month turned into a year…and then another year…and then visits to a specialist with nothing but good test results for both my husband and me. On paper, we should be getting pregnant. But it has not yet come to pass.
Admittedly, many emotions have washed over my heart in this season, and my deepest desires have been tossed to and fro by winds of the unknown. And yet, this is where I have experienced the joyful courage of Christ in a way that I can only say has been supernatural. It couldn’t have been me. On my own, grief would have stayed or bitterness taken root. On my own, I would have had parts of my heart left unattended, and I would have easily begun leaning on my own understanding.
Yet in this season, God has challenged me to draw close to, and receive from, HIM. It has not been my strength but true, supernatural joy and encouragement that God Himself has ministered to my heart. His Word is living and active, and the Holy Spirit has spoken through it in many intimately loving ways directly to my heart.
I have prayed like Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:2, “No one is holy like the Lord, for there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God!”
I have received encouragement and assurance from the Lord like Mary when her cousin Elisabeth pronounced to her, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of those things spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:45)
And yet, I do not look to circumstances to believe that God has a plan in all of this. I know my God. My courage comes from HIS faithfulness, which never fades and never fails. A verse that the Lord has laid on my heart recently is found in Hebrews 11:11. It says of Abraham’s wife, “By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged HIM faithful who had promised.”
There is still some uncertainty of what the future of our family will look like. But there have been glimmers that the Lord has spoken to my heart and to my husband’s. There have been specific steps we have been led to take both in the areas of fertility and even possibly adoption. In it all, we have kept our eyes on Him and listened to His voice. We have had to stand up to doubt and discouragement. We have chosen to trust that Almighty God is at work in and through us to will and to do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13) as we draw close to HIM. In this season, we have received a supernatural strength not our own but that could only come from God. He is forming our family, and His plans always come to pass (Joshua 21:45). He knows the beginning and the end. HE is my rock, my Shepherd, my guide, my comfort, and my God who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that I could ever ask or think to HIS glory! (Ephesians 3:20-21)
“Courage, dear heart.”
As we close, I leave you with this story from one of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia called The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In it, young Lucy is in the middle of a foggy darkness on the water; she is lost as to where she is going and uncertain if she will ever get out. Like the “Little Engine that Could,” those around her on the boat are despairing, despondent, and even scornful of the journey ahead. In the middle of it all, Lucy, too, feels alone and calls out to the Messiah-like character of this story named Aslan…
Drinian’s hand shook on the tiller and a line of cold sweat ran down his face. The same idea was occurring to everyone on board. “We shall never get out, never get out,” moaned the rowers. “He’s steering us wrong. We’re going round and round in circles. We shall never get out.” The stranger, who had been lying in a huddled heap on the deck, sat up and burst out into a horrible screaming laugh.
“Never get out!” he yelled. “That’s it. Of course. We shall never get out. What a fool I was to have thought they would let me go as easily as that. No, no, we shall never get out.”
Lucy leant her head on the edge of the fighting top and whispered, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.” The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little—a very, very little—better. “After all, nothing has really happened to us yet,” she thought.
“Look!” cried Rynelf’s voice hoarsely from the bows. There was a tiny speck of light ahead, and while they watched a broad beam of light fell from it upon the ship. It did not alter the surrounding darkness, but the whole ship was lit up as if by searchlight. Caspian blinked, stared round, saw the faces of his companions all with wild, fixed expressions. Everyone was staring in the same direction: behind everyone lay his black, sharply-edged shadow.
Lucy looked along the beam and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like an aeroplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross. It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them. After that it spread its wings, rose, and began to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little to starboard. Drinian steered after it not doubting that it offered good guidance. But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.
In a few moments the darkness turned into a greyness ahead, and then, almost before they dared to begin hoping, they had shot out into the sunlight and were in the warm, blue world again. And all at once everybody realized that there was nothing to be afraid of and never had been…
In Psalm 18:28, David proclaims in prayer, “You light a lamp for me. The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.” A courageous heart matters, dear wholehearted woman. It matters because God cares deeply for your heart. It also matters because He has called you to shine His light in this world. No matter what you are facing, God is with you. He has called you, He is equipping you, and HE will make a way!
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