Google "stupidity" and you will be rewarded with videos of people taking chances with their lives. On a dare, people will hold a lit Roman Candle. For a thrill, people will hang off a cliff, using only one hand. To prove either their womanhood or their manhood, people will do stupid stunts, like chug a gallon of beer.
Not all stupidity is recorded on video. Stupidity can be telling your wife she looks fat in that dress. Stupidity can be telling your boss he has no idea what he is talking about. Stupidity can be letting your 16-year-old son have the keys to your truck and not giving him a time to come home. Stupidity can be taunting an alligator who is immobile with a chunk of raw meat.
Stupidity can also be a failure to act. More than once someone has told me, "I was so stupid to let her go." My unspoken pastoral response is usually, "Yep." You can be stupid because you see only through your own bias. A man told me his dad could have bought land at the beach for $2 an acre in the 1930s but turned down the deal because he didn't think it was good farm land.
See the pattern? Stupidity rises from responding to someone else's agenda. Stupidity happens when you fail to consider outcomes. Stupidity is fed by passivity. Ultimately, people do stupid things because their decisions are centered on themselves.
Courage, on the other hand, is less often the subject of videos. Courage is seldom funny; maybe that's why there are few videos of it. Courage always begins with a cause. It is less about proving yourself and more about submitting yourself. The soldier who moves into the line of fire, the fireman who goes into the burning building and the policeman who moves toward the shooter are deciding to offer their lives for the protection of others. They all have a cause.
True courage rises out of a value, a belief. A mother values her child, so she stays up without sleep to rock that child when he or she is sick. A teacher values the lives of her students, so she puts herself between them and the gunman. A pastor values the truth, so he preaches a message that may offend some people who need offending.
To be courageous means if you lose, you know why you've lost and have decided it is worth it. You run for office, knowing you probably won't win, but knowing you will get to speak your convictions. You turn down a business deal, knowing your company needs the money but knowing also the deal requires you to sacrifice your integrity on the altar of profit. Courage is not about winning; it is about being grounded.
Courage is not the absence of fear; it is being controlled by something or someone greater than fear. You are afraid a conversation might lead to conflict; you push past the fear so you can speak a truth that needs to be known between you and another person. You hate snakes; you realize you are the only one in the house who can get the snake out of your child's room. Your love propels your courage past your fear.
It is tempting to say the world needs courageous people more than ever. I'm not sure that's true. What I do know is courageous people are the ones who change the world, and our world needs changing.
No wonder God says again and again, "Be strong and be of good courage." To follow Jesus means you will trust Jesus more than you trust your fears. It is being controlled by the Spirit of God who will go before you and guide you.
Speak up. Act. Live knowing that he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. You can't lose.
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church.
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