Authored by Marie Story
The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, tells the story of Bilbo Baggins, a comfort-loving hobbit, who is thrust into an unwanted quest for dragon treasure with a group of dwarves. He faces all manner of hardships, from orcs to hostile elves to giant spiders.
Finally the group of adventurers reaches their destination: the mountain lair of Smaug the Dragon. Bilbo enters the dragon’s lair through a secret door in the mountainside. All the dwarves are waiting outside, and Bilbo has to face the dragon alone. As he makes his way through the dark tunnel, he hears what sounds like a kettle bubbling on the stove. That sound grows into what sounds like a giant cat purring. Suddenly Bilbo realizes that he’s hearing the sound of the dragon snoring deep in the cave.
Bilbo is petrified. He wants nothing more than to turn back, and he nearly does; but then he decides to go on. Tolkien writes, “Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterward were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.”
Have you ever faced a challenge like this? A challenge that seemed so big and scary that you wanted to run away from it before you even assessed its enormity and level of difficulty? We all reach these points in our lives when we say to ourselves, “I’m too small to tackle what’s ahead.”
Dealing with dragons (or other scary challenges) isn’t easy. It takes a whole lot of courage.
These scary challenges—these “dragons”—won’t always seem like a big deal to anyone but you. Perhaps you’re struggling with a moral dilemma. Perhaps you deal with excessive shyness. Perhaps you need to forgive someone who has wronged you. These personal challenges can require just as much courage as facing down a real dragon.
C. S. Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point.” Bilbo’s testing point came in the tunnel, before he ever saw the dragon. He had to face his own fear. He had to face his own self-doubt.
To me, courage is simply this: refusing to let yourself defeat yourself. Before you can ever win great victories, before you can ever achieve great success, you first have to face down your own self.
Sometimes our success is hampered by outside circumstances; and honestly, it’s easier to blame our failings on outside stuff. If we can blame others, we can sit back and wait for them to change. The truth is that far more often we’re defeated by our own negative habits, attitudes, mindsets, or simply the fear of the unknown.
Courage is the guts to deal with whatever is holding you back. It’s realizing that you are responsible for you, and refusing to give yourself room to wiggle out of doing what’s right. That’s why courage is “every virtue at its testing point.”
If you’re anything like me, then you’re probably feeling that having this kind of courage is nearly impossible. As strong as we are, or try to be, we often lack the courage that we need. So where can we find the courage to face life’s challenges?
Joshua 1:9 tells us, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”1
Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”2
In Psalm 31:24, King David says “Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.”3
Are you starting to see the trend here? You can have courage because God is with you. He doesn’t send you out to face your dragons alone. He’s right there with you, backing you up, not only ready to give you the strength and courage that you need, but also promising to meet you there and carry you through.
In 2 Timothy 1:7 we read that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control.”4
Acts 1:8 promises that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”5 God is ready to give us the courage we need as soon as we ask Him for it.
Once you’ve asked God for courage, you have to choose to use it, even if you don’t feel courageous. It will be there for you as you step out and believe God has the answer. And to do so is an ongoing choice. It’s not a one-time thing that will last the rest of your life. Florence Nightingale said, “Courage is the common currency of all those who choose to do the right thing.” Courage begins as a decision and grows as you consistently use it.
Remember, if you don’t have a ton of courage right now, that’s okay. Often courage is simply putting one foot in front of the other, taking small, sometimes even tiny, steps forward. Every time you make a brave choice—even if it’s a little one—you’re strengthening your courage. Then, when bigger challenges come, you’ll have the courage to tackle them.
Bilbo had been building up his courage little by little throughout his journey. He fought freaky enemies and won. He tackled difficult problems and found solutions. Each time he faced a challenge bravely, it was an investment in courage; and those investments paid off when it came time to face the dragon.
The King’s Guard of ancient Greece had a motto: “All men have fears, but the brave put down their fears and go forward, sometimes to death, but always to victory.” So choose to face your dragons boldly. If you face challenges with courage, you’ll be victorious.
1 New Living Translation.
2 New International Version.
3 King James Bible.
4 New Living Translation.
5 English Standard Version.
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by Simon W. Copyright © 2012 by The Family International