Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD. (Psalm 31:24)
It takes courage to live a life open and vulnerable to God, especially in times of suffering, hostility, or crisis. Courage usually does not come all at once. It can grow within us even before outward deliverance from our distress – if we keep turning our hearts toward God despite our brokenness or even despair.
That’s the thing about heart: it means more than just the faithfully beating organ within our bodies. Several phrases in English show its character. For example, “Take heart” engenders courage; “Have a heart” prompts someone’s compassion. In biblical Hebrew, “heart” comes from the word for “side,” literally the side of one’s body, or rib. By extension, the heart is the direction in which we lean, the way we tend to follow in our attitude and habitual practice.
When people gain courage, they usually have the mental or emotional strength to persevere, despite fear, danger, or calamity. Whatever the hazards they face, courageous souls work to keep a firm grip on a mind and will to keep them moving forward, giving hope to others alongside them, as well.
Psalm 31 is an apt example. It is the public prayer of lament and thanksgiving by someone who has suffered greatly and is led to find refuge in God. Having suffered from illness for many years, s/he has been shunned by friends and persecuted by haughty adversaries. Nevertheless, God has allowed the pray-er to enter into God’s presence and be guided by prayer to move from fear to courage, as s/he surrenders to God’s hidden goodness.
So now this worshiper bears witness to the certainty of God’s deliverance, to console others in the congregation with the same comfort with which s/he has been comforted by God.
Circumstances don’t make people courageous. But when in crisis, sometimes people find greater courage within themselves than they knew they had. Not all challenges are instant or dramatic. They can also be those subtle, long-term situations that deliver toxic messages saying that we have no worth, that other forces are stronger than we are, and either that God doesn’t exist, or God doesn’t matter.
Whatever the suffering, a courageous heart can prompt us to reaffirm God’s presence, comfort and love as the only foundation on which we can stand. By sharing our struggles and discoveries, we can spread hope to others alongside us in the process.