Facing Our Fears: The Difference Between Courage and Stupidity

Nehemiah is my favorite book of the Bible because it describes how to deal with the struggles and temptations that we face.  The response of this Godly leader to challenges such as fear, failure, discouragement, and criticism includes strong action, but there is also prayer, and wisdom that comes from God.  Throughout the life of Nehemiah its his wisdom that speaks to me more than the strong leadership skills because all the confidence or talent in the world is useless without the discernment necessary to use them properly.

While rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem Nehemiah was faced by many challenges which demanded a careful (wise) confidence.  One of my favorite stories took place when he first arrived, the foreign leaders responded with fear when they heard the wall around Jerusalem would be rebuilt because they enjoyed having the Jews under their control.[1]

Knowing that hatred would lead them to stop the rebuilding process by any means necessary, Nehemiah decided to do something quite strange.  He remained in Jerusalem for three days then on the third evening went with a few servants to observe the wall.    Instead of telling everyone the calling of God to rebuild, this great leader went out of his way to keep the Lord’s mission a secret.[2]  It was only after studying the entire wall by himself that Nehemiah was prepared to share with the Jews their need to rebuild the wall [3] and motivate them to do the Lord’s work[4].

So why did Nehemiah spend three days by himself and then keep everything a secret before looking at the wall himself?  Because he knew there was a big difference between being courageous, and being foolish or stupid.  Today many people view courage as the ability to go out and take care of a problem on your own without anyone’s help.  This view is strengthened by the television heroes, action movies, and music of our culture, but courage isn’t actually about being a hero who saves the day, in fact that idea of being courageous does more harm than good in our lives.

A person who is determined to face the problem head on without thinking about it using a strong male character such as Rambo, or Jack Bauer quickly finds the “run in with guns blazing” form of dealing with fear doesn’t work in real life.  This is because our definition of courage is missing a crucial element, preparation.

Taking time to study a situation and figure out whether or not the plan will actually work before committing yourself like Nehemiah doesn’t make you a coward.  It strengthens our definition of courage to show that it’s about, “acting in a way that is calm and disciplined (controlled) in fear or danger.”  His courage was illustrated by self-control and preparation in a moment when others would be too afraid to act.

We all face challenges that fill our hearts with fear, and if we listen to the cultures voice it will tell us to deal with it right away in spirit of strength.  But there is more to courage than running on a battlefield screaming your war-cry, here are hours of strategy and planning before that moment.  And it’s the planning, thought, and preparation of those hours that give you the strength to shout on the battlefield.

Because of Who He is,

John Wilburn


[1] Nehemiah 2:9-10

[2] Nehemiah 2:11-12, 16

[3] Nehemiah 2:18

[4] Nehemiah 2:19

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John Wilburn

Church planter, teacher, and disciple-maker in Barrouallie St. Vincent

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