Authored by T.M.
I remember memorizing Hebrews 11 as a child, which detailed quite a few gruesome ways to die: “They were stoned; they were [sawn] in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and [in] mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.”1
It made me wonder how much it hurt to die. I knew that I was quite a pansy when it came to pain, so I tried to figure out, if one had to die, what would be the least painful way to go—as I’d opt for that. You see, I really didn’t want to disgrace God by being a total wimp.
Today I can look back at my childhood worries with amusement. I realize now that the real issue was that I’ve always felt lacking in courage. The other day, however, I happened to look up the definition of courage when working on an article. “Courage” originated from the French word coeur for heart. One etymology site says that the original French word meant “‘heart, innermost feelings, temper.’ In middle English [it was] used broadly for ‘what is [on] one’s mind or thoughts,’ hence ‘bravery,’ but also [meaning] ‘wrath, pride, confidence, lustiness,’ or any sort of inclination.”2 Today, courage is defined as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”3
In the Bible there are countless stories of men who did courageous things. Open to almost any book and you read of brave deeds galore. Again, Hebrews 11 lists many of these courageous folk. “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.”4
Looking at the brave men listed in this chapter, the origins of the word “courage” take on greater meaning—their hearts were in the right place. These men who did such courageous things had something wonderful in common—which was the source of their courage. In Psalm 37:31 King David says this about a righteous man, “The law of his God is in his heart; his feet do not slip.”5
There’s the famous Bible account of three Hebrew boys who were told to either worship a golden image or be thrown into a furnace. But, no, these boys stand there and they say they’re not going to bow down. This is what they probably thought were their last words in response to an angry king:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold[en] statue you have set up.”6
I read this account in the safety of my house, separated from this scene by thousands of years—but still the strength of their belief is loud in their words; there isn’t any faltering or trying to negotiate something less mortally dangerous for themselves. But to have the courage to face an experience like this, I think you have to go back a bit. You see, I don’t think their parents ever told them, “You know, one day you’re going to be brought before a scary king, and there’s going to be a furnace, and you’re going to choose between your life or worshipping an idol—when that happens, remember to choose the furnace.”
Instead, I think they told these boys something more along the lines of, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.”7 And, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”8
I doubt that the parents of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew what lay in store for them, or when and how they might be faced with needing to act courageously. But there is one thing they knew they could control—what was stored up in their children’s hearts. Proverbs 4:23 explains this concept well: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”9 The New Living Translation has translated this same verse into these words: “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”
You see, even if you are not surrounded by physical danger or difficulty today, I’m guessing that there will be times in your life that will be emotionally or mentally difficult that will require moral courage—the will to do what you know to be right. And I think that what you do in such a time can be traced to something very simple: I think it will be what you have stored up in your heart that will determine the color of your courage.
Everyone loves a good hero story; the ones with the good guys in capes and tights are a particular favorite of mine. The thing is, in real life, you don’t get to decide whether you will have the opportunity for a huge heroic moment—if you get to rescue someone, or somehow or another save the day—but what you do have control over is what you put in your heart. That’s how you can be prepared for these larger-than-life moments, as well as those everyday moments that require courage.
So, question of the day: What are you storing in your heart?
1 Hebrews 11:35–38.
4 Hebrews 11:32–34.
5 New International Version.
6 Daniel 3:16–18 NLT.
7 Deuteronomy 6:5 NIV.
8 Proverbs 18:10.
9 New International Version.
Read by Stephen Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright © 2011 by The Family International