Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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Courage to Fearlessly Follow

June 17, 2024

Mary Miller

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” Psalm 56:3–4 ESV

How do you face harsh conditions and potential persecution when what God is calling you to undertake goes counterculture to everything around you? Are you courageous or merely brave? Where does the source of your strength come from? 

When I was in my second year of college, I had the opportunity to travel to Kiev, Ukraine, and teach English at the Kiev Pedagogical Institute for a semester. During the previous spring, I had already studied in Cambridge and later, Rutersburg, Germany. I fearlessly jumped on the opportunity to see the world. My mother had been a missionary in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s with the Lutheran Mission Society. Her tales from the field had cultivated a desire to see foreign lands. Was I courageous? Not really, as I faced no potential fears or threats. Hardships were present but minimal. Some referred to me as brave, but even here, travel was essentially in my DNA so, no, “brave” didn’t define my adventures.

My daughter graduates from public high school in a few weeks where she has bravely defended truth in her English class which no longer teaches literature; her English teacher reads aloud from modern progressive novels which shame Christianity and race relations. She has demonstrated wisdom in knowing when to be quiet and when to defend the truth. 

In June, Julianna fearlessly embarks on her first foreign mission trip—traveling with a team from our church to Colombia to serve for two weeks with several churches and a Bible school we support. Yes, there are possible dangers, but in general she’s relatively safe and she doesn’t risk persecution. In January, she’s flying to Hawaii for a semester with YWAM (Youth with a Mission). She’s confident and hopeful, brave for seventeen and expectant with opportunity. Neither trip faces persecution or imminent danger. 

But what if they did? Where does the source of our strength originate? I maintain that she is brave taking on these challenges, but if she were to knowingly step into potential danger which necessitates finding strength beyond herself, she is courageous. When a person is called to foreign lands where he or she may face persecution and possible death for Christ, but perseveres regardless of fear, he or she must have courage. Daniel fearlessly entered the lion’s den knowing that he would be rescued[1]. There was not a single thing in his humanity he could do to rescue himself. 

I was raised on the biographies of missionaries—the stories of toil, laborious language acquisition and Bible translations, dangers and persecutions including torture and death—such as Hudson Taylor, Bruce Olson, Adoniram Judson, Gladys Aylward, and Amy Carmichael. Their fears were very real and justified; yet, they leaned in on God’s promises:

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”[2]

Gladys Aylward was certain God had called her to go to China. Despite her minimal education in London, and unsuccessful attempt in Bible school, she hired herself out as a housemaid to save week by week for the trip to China. Just getting to China was a courageous leap of faith. Knowing that she was called, and in the face of great fear, she risked her life to take the rail through Siberia to arrive in northern China in 1930. I am inspired by her faith each time I read her biography. On one occasion when she had returned to The Inn of Eighth Happinesses from her regular ventures to unbind Chinese girls’ feet, she was begged by the governor of the area to break up a deadly prison riot. He replied to her concerns that they would kill her. “No they won’t. You’re always telling everyone you have the living God inside of you. So how could they kill you?” They didn’t. In fact, she broke up the riot and initiated sweeping reformation of the prison system.[3] To her last breath, Gladys lived courageously.

Amy Carmichael journeyed from Ireland in 1895 to serve in India where she rescued children from the underbelly of Hinduism. Children were dedicated to the gods and spent their lives in temple prostitution. An injury in 1931 left her virtually confined to her bed for the remaining twenty years of her life, time which she invested in writing and prayer. Courageous to move beyond self-pity and invest in these destitute Indian children despite her circumstances, she reflected how being inspired and motivated by love was her foundation for what I regard as courageous living. In If, she writes, “If I have not compassion on my fellow-servant, even as my Lord had pity on me, then I know nothing of Calvary’s love.” [4]

True courage necessitates a foundation—love.

Do I love the people to whom I am ministering to the degree I lay aside all comfort for a greater good? Can I move in the joy of the Lord despite inconvenience or discomfort? 

I’m a leader, a confident first-born daughter whose father and mother empowered her to fearlessly move forward. And yet, how often have I been brave in myself but not courageous in relying on Christ alone to give me love, to equip and strengthen me? The apostle Paul tells us that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.[5] If I was called to bring the gospel today into certain locations in the Middle East, I would be deeply concerned—circumstances are daunting. Uncovered women can be beheaded. Christians are crucified. Do they “deserve” the gospel? Would I go and invest my life in people for whom there seems to be no redeeming hope? Even more, what about here at home; what about America? Am I ready to lovingly defend the truth in particular communities, to be shamed for the gospel? 

My heart’s desire is to follow the men and women who have faced fear and have courageously gone before us in the sufficiency of Christ. My foundation is the Word of God. Jesus is inside me. I am to be the love of God, witness to the truth, and fearlessly and joyfully follow as the Spirit leads and empowers.

Meta Description: Choosing Christ-centered adventure in the power of the Spirit despite fear, defines courageousness.

[1] Daniel 6, ESV.

[2] Isaiah 41:10.

[3] Janet and Geoff Benge, Gladys Aylward, The Adventure of a Lifetime (YWAM Publishing, 1998).

[4] Amy Carmichael, If (1938; repr., Fort Washington, PA: CLC Publications, 2021), 13.

[5] Philippians 4:13.

The featured image, “Courageous-in-bud,” is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and is used with her glad permission for Cultivating.


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