Newton’s First Law of Motion tells us that an object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest, unless what? Unless an outside force acts on the object. A book rests on the table until you give it a push (the outside force). Then it will slide across the table until another outside force, friction, causes it to slow down and stop. If you push it too hard, it will fly off the edge of the table, where the force of gravity will take over, and it ends up on the floor.
As believers in Jesus and pilgrims on the path to the Celestial City, we are, in a sense, objects in motion; not books sliding across a table, but travelers in an upward climb, fighting against gravity and friction to reach our final destination.
And just as gravity and friction will act on an object to slow it down and eventually bring it to a complete stop, so we are often acted upon by forces that slow or stop our progress: fear, exhaustion, feelings of loneliness or isolation, resentment or bitterness, even hopelessness or despair. These can become overwhelming forces that slow us down, and sometimes bring us to a complete stop, or (perhaps worst of all) turn us around entirely.
What outside force can counteract these others, and enable us to keep moving along the path of the will of God? What can motivate us to keep going in spite of the fear or exhaustion or other forces acting against us?
Well, what motivated Jesus to keep going till He got to (and through) the Crucifixion? The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured the Cross “for the joy set before Him.” Looking past the pain to something positive beyond it gave Jesus the courage He needed to get through the most painful and difficult series of experiences of His life, from Gethsemane to the Crucifixion. And looking ahead to a positive future can give us courage as well. If we believe the pain or anxiety or distressing circumstances we are currently experiencing are going to be permanent, it’s difficult to keep moving. But if we have hope that there will be joy on the other side of the pain, that will infuse our hearts with the courage we need to keep going. Courage is the force that overcomes the inertia caused by fear or dread that might otherwise immobilize us.
As I recently read in Streams in the Desert, the disciples were caught in the storm on Galilee, but Jesus had said, “Let us cross over to the other side.” He had not said, “Let us go out to the middle of the lake and sink.” And He doesn’t say that to us, either. So what is the joy set before us? What is the relief that will be waiting for us on the other side of our pain? Jesus. He is our ultimate source of joy, and considering Him is our greatest source of courage. That’s why we are told, also in the book of Hebrews, to run our race with patience, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” Looking to Jesus, and to His Word, both the histories and the prophecies, both the poems and the promises, results in a fresh infusion of courage for our souls.
Some months ago I was in a particularly vulnerable situation, and my days (and nights) felt like a constant struggle with fear. One way I combated the fears was to surround myself with the promises in the Bible. I had verses all over the dresser in my bedroom that I would see each morning, along with reading my daily Bible reading, and I would periodically speak favorite verses to myself throughout the day. Instead of obsessing over all the possible negative outcomes I could imagine (possibly deluding myself that I was “problem-solving”), again and again I deliberately looked away and fixed my eyes on Jesus by reminding myself of truths such as, “He who began a good work will be faithful to complete it,” and, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” This mental exercise helped to cultivate courage in my heart, and although it took effort to turn my thoughts away from the problems and towards Him, it enabled me to go on with my day instead of being paralyzed by anxiety.
Another way I combated the fears was to ask for prayer from a trusted group of people after church one Sunday. Their faith resulted in a fresh wave of courage that put me back on the path again. (There’s a reason we are told not to neglect getting together with other believers, and the value of a weekly habit of corporate worship should not be underestimated as a source of encouragement, besides a host of other benefits.)
It’s one thing to fear the future because of the many unknowns, but it’s another thing to dread an outcome that we think is likely. Tolkien wrote that “Despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt,” and I confess I have sometimes found myself uncomfortably close to despair, absolutely sure of some terrible future outcome, only to be both relieved and chagrined when my fears are not realized, and God’s mercy and power win the day yet again. Unfortunately, at times like that it’s all too easy for me to almost immediately forget the deliverance and look ahead anxiously to the next problem on the horizon. And that’s why God tells us to remember what He has done for us in the past: He helped me through, He will help me through again.
It finally dawned on me sometime this past year that He’s done a pretty good job of taking care of me so far in my life. Although there have been many painful and difficult seasons (some of them longer than others, and all of them longer than I wanted), He has brought me through each one. And it’s good for me to remember that, and allow those experiences to strengthen my faith and renew my courage to keep moving when the next challenge arises.
Sometimes the inertia is not caused by fear and anxiety, but rather fatigue. A friend of mine who had recently broken her ankle shared with me that during her recovery it was so exhausting to get around the house that some days she had to pray for courage just to get out of bed in the morning. Whether the fatigue and pain are physical or emotional, there are times when we all need courage just to get out of bed and take a single step.
When we feel overwhelmed or exhausted by circumstances surrounding us, we can look away and look to Him. Whether it’s reading or reminding ourselves of His promises, remembering how He has delivered us and others so many times before, or gathering with others on the journey and worshiping Him together, we all need courage—and courage is available.
“When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” David wrote, “I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” He did not write, “When I sit down alone forever in the valley of the shadow of death.” God never leaves us alone, and He won’t leave us in the valley forever. “Forever” is the word applied to dwelling in the house of the Lord, with Him, the “happily ever after” that is waiting for all believers in Jesus at the end of our journey. He is with us now, He’ll be with us then. Let’s keep going. Courage, friends! ■