Take Courage, Said Jesus

The world is moving through the month of August.

It has been a mid-summer filled with an unusual quantity of hailstorms and the impact on my flower garden is evident:  battered leaves, prematurely lost blooms, and broken stems throughout the various planting pots.  The impact of my month-plus of nonstop in-and-out-of-town busyness has struck home as I pick out weeds, clean up dried leaves and assess the damage from the last several weeks.

Hailstorm after hailstorm – many sandwiched between mornings and evenings of warm sunshine – intruded into and savaged an otherwise peaceful corner of the world.  Not just any world, but my world.

That is very much how life’s circumstantial hailstorms unexpectedly careen into our lives when we are enjoying (even lulled by) a season of summer, warmth, easy pace.  And as I thought about the parallel of this commonplace setting and the world at large, Jesus’ words came to me:  “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

The centerpiece is His admonition to “take courage.”  In most of the teachings I have heard on this quote, that centerpiece is given secondary status to either the reality/severity of the tribulation we face, or the benefit of focusing on His victory over the world as we walk through the buffeting winds and storms.

I am not minimizing either of those.  It is because of His victory that we have a Rock of courage to stand on.  But I think there is more.

In The Message, Jesus’ encouragement is translated as “In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties.  But take heart!  I’ve conquered the world!”  The Amplified Bible translates John 16:33 as Jesus stating, “In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering; but be courageous (be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy); I have overcome the world.  (My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding)”

An abiding victory.

And in that abiding, we find our courage.  We find that His courage shoulders our cowardice, our timidity, and manifests itself in us.  It is the undergird of courage demonstrated by Paul when he said to the Philippians, “One thing I do:  forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:13-15)

The Asiatic Lilies, with their stalks knocked bare, are graciously sculpted into clusters of tall-and-small figures.  Until they are unadorned by their fluffy orange cloaks, you do not realize that each of these stalks resemble a graphed representation of a family unit, each grouping supported by a thick stem beneath.  They are all linked together.  They all support and balance one another, as the members of our spiritual and natural families offer balance and support to us.

When I look at them, I am reminded of Jesus teaching, “I am the Vine and you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit.  For apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) The Asiatic stalks remain connected to one another while steadfastly drawing nourishment and stability from a vibrant root system.   Despite wearing their hail-beaten leaves, they are strong, healthy, expanding dominion where they are planted in anticipation of a new season ahead.

What an amazing expression of God’s wisdom.   A moment in which Paul’s phrase “His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature…being understood through what has been made” springs to life through simple display.  (Rom. 1:20)

It is a statement about our intrinsic divine destiny.

To willingly shed the bruised and occasionally tattered wardrobe of a tough, punishing season emphasizes that there is a divine destiny within each of us to bloom anew.  The psalmist wrote, “Weeping may last for the night but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” (Psa 30:5)

We are born to be shouters.  Born to be courageous.  Born to call upon His courage to draw us forward from season to season in faith and trust, prepared to “be ready in season and out of season” as we walk our life’s course with Him.  (2 Tim 4:2)

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