Take Heart, Be of Good Courage
A Twilight Musing
A while back a friend who spends part of each year in France responded to some great difficulties I was having with the French word of encouragement, “Courage” (pronounced “koorage,” as in “garage,” accent on the last syllable). Recently I found that a similar sentiment (“take heart,” or “be of good courage”) is prominent in the Bible, and I would like to consider the theological significance of the idea behind those phrases.
In the Old Testament we find exhortations to the people to “Be strong and courageous” (Deut. 31:6, Josh. 1:8) and to “take courage” (II Chron. 15:7-8) in going about what God has told them to do. In the New Testament, Jesus Himself several times encouraged those to whom He was ministering to “take heart” because He was going to meet their need for healing or for the forgiveness of sins (or both). In the case of the man let down through the roof by his friends (Matt. 9:2-3; see also Mk. 2 & Lk. 5), Jesus said, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” When blind Bartimaeus cried out for help to the Master and Jesus responded, the blind man was told by the disciples to “take heart. Get up; He is calling you” (Mark 10:49). To the woman who timidly touched His garment in order to be healed, He said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well” (Matt. 9:22). The point of a parable told by Jesus about a persistent widow asking a judge for justice is that his disciples “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).
Jesus established the principle that “taking heart” is an attitude of trust that God is willing and able to strengthen us and to meet our needs. Such encouragement (you see “courage” embedded in that word?) urges boldness to replace reticence and assurance to replace doubt. When Paul is threatened with assassination, God assures him that he will be protected: “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome" (Acts 23:11).
Paul, in turn, assures the Corinthians that we can be buoyed up even when we are experiencing bodily suffering. His own suffering is mitigated by the assurance that “he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence” (II Cor. 4:14). Consequently, “We do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (4:16). Moreover, God has “given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. . . , for we walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor. 5:5-7).
We may wonder when we suffer hardship if we are loved by God, but the writer of Hebrews tells us (quoting from Proverbs), “Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons” (Heb. 12:5-7).
We can draw some helpful conclusions from all of this for our daily living.
1. God knows and empathizes with our struggles, and He wants to encourage us not to give up, but to persevere and be strengthened by the experience.
2. God has not engineered us for failure, but for success in spiritual growth. He calls us to Himself to experience healing and forgiveness.
3. Taking heart and being of good courage consists of consciously choosing the way of faith—complete trust in the goodness of God and confidence in the future if we leave it in His hands.
So when we are under stress and feeling discouraged (again, that embedded word), we can remember that God admonished the fearful Israelites to be bold in going in to conquer the promised land: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (Josh. 1:9). And we can recall that Jesus tenderly raised a man paralyzed by his sins by saying, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matt. 9:2). Strength and healing come from the courage God gives us when we need it most.
Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)