‘You guys are so brave and courageous’.
My shoes shift uncomfortably from side to side as a mumbled thank you fumbles out. One more person lovingly telling us how brave we are. I don’t feel brave anymore.
I feel afraid. I feel unsure. I feel like going back to bed.
From the outside looking in, it seems like we have spent a lifetime crafting deep wells of courage and fortitude to be drawn upon in times of trial and sorrow. The reality is that the well has become dry. Attempts to find a hidden vault of valour hardwired into our nature have only found it emptied months ago.
Yet, we still have hope.
In the weeks before Sarah’s diagnosis of cancer, I stood in front of thirty teenagers that we have spent the last four years of our lives investing everything we have into. We challenged them with a familiar refrain of treasuring Christ above all other things. We boast that everything compared to knowing Christ and being known by Christ is worthless. Then we opened up Philippians 3:8:
‘Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ’
Now, as I sit poring over my Bible with tears rolling down my face, I’m reminded of the years of searching and suffering that lead to boasting in the supremacy of Christ in all things. Jesus has continually been a sweet release in torrid times before, but Lord, even in this?
Are you enough? If my deepest fears are realized, will you be sufficient?
I know what I believe about these questions. I’ve had my intellectual appetite satiated in the weightiness of the scriptures, and I know what I would say to someone who came to me with similar questions. Yet, when you are in the belly of the beast the nature of the fight becomes far messier. Sure footing becomes slippery in the bloodshed that follows from convictions facing off with reality.
If Sarah’s health spirals downward, and she never recovers, will God continue to be enough for me? If we never see the purposes of God’s hand in all of this, will Jesus be enough? If this extends past four months of treatment, will we still be able to trust in your plans?
I Am Personally Inadequate
I’ve never been a natural athlete. That seems like a strange confession. Yet, it is true.
Whenever athletic carnivals would roll around there was always someone who was quicker and stronger for the task, who possessed more endurance and trained harder than me. My body was too stout to be much use in feats of athleticism, too slow to be of use in races and too small to lift heavy things. It was always too something.
I could have trained harder and paid more attention to what I ate, but the gap that existed between me and the best athletes at our school was so great that it led to a lack of confidence. How often that has been the case. Even now, it seems like what is required for the task at hand is so far beyond me.
The kind of person required to remain optimistic and buoyant in the belly of the beast feels so far removed from the powers I still possess. Cancer has shone a torch onto my character and found a chink in the armour that was really a chasm all along. It is a terrible task to discover your own inadequacies when you need them the least.
Although I deeply appreciate the words of encouragement, often what it does is remind me that it was never really true. It wasn’t true before cancer, and it isn’t true now. Cancer has highlighted the poverty of my own courage in the most horrible of ways.
This is not to say that we have not been brave. Sarah has been brave beyond measure. She is an Amazonian warrior born from the pits of adversity who inspires me daily to be more. The issue is that the kind of bravery that really matters in matters like this is a very different kind of courage than that found in resolute inner steadfastness and stoicism in the face of great distress.
This is the kind of courage that finds its power in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It’s not a bravery that we possess in our bones, it’s a bravery that has been given to us.
One of my all time favourite lines comes from the pen of John Owen, a 17th-century Puritan. He writes:
‘The duties that God, in an ordinary way, requires at our hands are not proportioned to what strength we have in ourselves, but to what help and relief is laid up for us in Christ; and we are to address ourselves to the greatest performances with a settled persuasion that we have not ability in the least’.
This describes perfectly how I feel. When I consider the strength and vigour that I possess when faced with the enormousness of the task at hand, it is easy to become discouraged and despondent. There is simply not enough strength left within me to continually muster more courage up from out of thin air.
I am wholly and completely inadequate for the task at hand. I hold no encouragement left in myself and there is no hope left to hold in my hands outside of the help and relief laid up for me in Christ.
What then allows us to face tomorrow? What then possesses us to push forward in hope?
It’s still Jesus.
It’s always been Jesus.
It’s only when I consider the supremacy of Christ in all things and the abundant treasures laid up in Him, I find my courage not only restored but bolstered for the battle ahead. He doesn’t cure my lack of courage but instead, gives me his very own.
It’s when I am reminded of a sovereign God who brings the dead back to life that I find my feet upon solid ground once more. He will not forfeit his hold on his promises. He will see us through this.
It’s when I dwell on the grace that has saved me, and the goodness of a God who dies for his enemies that I can rest at night knowing that he will never leave me or forsake me. He hasn’t yet.
It’s when I contemplate that he knows what it is like to bear these burdens, that suffering is not foreign to Him that I can trust that he not only knows my fears and anxieties but that he will take care of me, even in this.
So please, continue to encourage us.
But know that the most comforting words are those that speak of Jesus and in Him, we continue to be courageous and comforted beyond measure.
Jimmy founded Stirring our Affections in 2016 | Married to Sarah, Pastor in Melbourne and eternally loved and satisfied by Christ