In the realm of sports, we often hear courage discussed and applied to athletes in high-pressure game situations. But I wonder about that. Is that really the best way to think about those things? Courage, it would seem, should be reserved for soldiers on the frontlines, firefighters entering a burning building, or police officers facing a potentially deadly standoff with a dangerous criminal. Surely, that is courage at its best, right? I think most of us would agree with that.
But is there a way in which we can legitimately think of courage applied to lesser situations (like sports)? Perhaps, but in this way: Mark Twain wisely said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.” In that sense, courage is absolutely not limited to the more heroic folks in our generation. All of us face fears, and that is what provides the opportunity for courage. In sports, it might be the running back who throws his body into harm’s way, fighting fear of injury in order to succeed. In golf, it might be the player who goes for the low-percentage shot because she has mastered her fear of failure. In soccer, it might be the goalie who dives for the ball, knowing he will be kicked and possibly injured, resisting the fear that would prompt a safer response. Twain was right—courage is not the absence of fear, but resisting it and overcoming it to accomplish our very best.
For the follower of Christ, however, this needs to be understood in an even more precise way. Our natural tendencies and bents are toward self-preservation, self-protection, and self-advancement. When those natural tendencies are threatened, a very real (though different) kind of fear can result—and that fear is clearly not God’s purpose for us. The psalmist said in Psalm 118:6, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Jesus repeatedly told His followers, “Fear not.” Why? Because He is with us.
What is the key? The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Look at what our God has provided for us: Spiritual power. Love. Right thinking. These are gifts from God to equip us for facing the fears of life. Twain was right. Courage is resisting and mastering our fears, but that does not happen in our own strength. It is through the power, love, and clear thinking made available to us by the God who Himself is the greatest answer for everything we might fear in this life.
Bill Crowder, Sports Spectrum Chaplain