“Successful living requires courage,” wrote Norman Vincent Peale.
It takes courage for a government leader to stand for what is right and not just for what is politically expedient. It takes courage for a salesperson to be true to her word even though it will cost a sale. It takes courage for a manager to confront a subordinate about improper behavior, knowing that it will strain a friendship. It takes courage for the man or woman to be committed to their convictions even though times are hard when it would be easier to cheat and to cut corners. It takes courage to start over when life has blindsided you—through a lost job, a failed marriage, or bankrupt business.
Courage is the inner resolution to go forward in spite of obstacles and frightening situations. Courage is hanging on for five minutes longer. Someone once said that courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to walk on in spite of it. The courageous take a stand. They act bravely. They do what is right.
Perhaps you have stood in the ruins of the famed Coliseum in Rome. Until the fifth century the great Coliseum of Rome was filled to capacity with spectators, coming for the state games, watching human beings battle against wild beasts or against one another until one or both were dead. The crowd found its greatest delight in the death of a human being. When Honorius was emperor of Rome, in A.D. 404, when the vast crowd was watching the contest, a Syrian monk by the name of Telemachus leaped onto the floor of the Coliseum. Telemachus was torn by the utter disregard for the value of human life that he cried out, “This thing is not right! This thing must stop.”
The spectators became enraged at this courageous man. They mocked him and threw objects at him. Caught up in the excitement, the gladiators attacked him; and a sword pierced him. The gentle monk fell to the ground dead.
Suddenly, the entire Coliseum fell silent. For the first time the people whose blood thirst had been insatiable recognized the horror of what they had once called entertainment. Telemachus kindled a flame in the hearts and consciences of thinking persons. History records that because of his courageous act within a few months the gladiatorial combats began to decline and very shortly passed from the scene. Why? Because one man dared to speak out for what he felt was right.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, the Catholic priest, stood at the door of the Castle Chapel in Wittenberg, Germany, nailing his ninety-five theses, exposing the heresy and hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church was selling indulgences to fund their effort. Luther pointed to the Bible that stated that salvation was by faith in Jesus Christ alone. As Luther nailed his document to the church door, standing alone against the mighty and powerful church, he made the bold statement: “Here I stand. I can do no other.”
Ernest Hemingway defined courage as “Grace under pressure.” Those three words were never more appropriate to describe the heroics of Abraham Lincoln during his presidency. Lincoln survived numerous setbacks and defeats (such as the Illinois senate election of 1858 and early Civil War battles). He took enormous risks. He made bold stands. He did not waver in his belief regarding the freedom of all people and the preservation of the union. Lincoln was slandered, criticized, attacked, and hated perhaps more intensely than any man to hold the office of president. Lincoln said, “Let us have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.” Here was a man of great courage.
A seamstress and member of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, on a morning in December of 1955, was told by a bus driver that she must vacate her seat and move to the back of the bus because she was an African American and a white person needed the seat. It was the law. In one of the most courageous choices of the twentieth century, Rosa Parks did not move. And she started a revolution. Her action and the corresponding boycott changed the conscience of a nation. All because a mild-mannered, soft-spoken, Christ-following seamstress dared to act.
At a national sales convention, a heralded entertainer delivered his comedy routine. His presentation was punctuated with many swear words, taking God’s name in vain, and lewd comments. Finally, a Christian businessman in the audience could not remain silent any longer. He rose from his seat and stood on his chair and shouted to the performer, “Please leave God out of it.” The performance was cleaned up. Following its conclusion more people lined up to shake the Christian’s hand than the lewd performer’s hand.
Is it easy to do right? No. Is it easy to take a stand? No. Is it easy to move forward in faith? No.
The movie Braveheart recounts the story of the Scottish leader William Wallace. After routing the opposing force of 50,000 in the first battle of Sterling, the newly-knighted Wallace appeared before the Scottish King, Robert the Bruce. The King desired to move the country to a new prosperity. Wallace boldly proclaimed to the King: “What does it mean to be noble? Your title gives you claim to the throne of our country. But men don’t follow titles. They follow courage! Just lead them to freedom, and they will follow you.”
Living courageously is to face our fears, take our stands, and act bravely. Let’s be men and women who live courageously this day and every day.
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