Sumter Pastor Clay Smith: Courage is...


Whatever happened to courage?

Today, we make decisions based on what the insurance company might think. We stand silent while people speak authoritatively about things they know nothing about. We prefer the simple 30-second sound bite over complex reality. We are ruled by fear of disapproval. We are frozen into inaction.

Why do we lack courage? Somewhere in our recent past, we became risk-averse. We were told too often that if we lived a certain way, bought certain products and voted for certain candidates, our lives would be comfortable and no longer threatened by fear. So, we stopped risking, confronting and facing the uncomfortable. Instead of believing our child was capable of meanness, it was easier to believe the teacher was unfair. We listened only to the news that agreed with our view of the world. It was more comfortable to see ourselves as victims instead of taking responsibility for ourselves, our communities and our country.

Whatever happened to courage?

Courage is doing the work to find the truth. It requires engagement, not checking out. It means measuring what you hear and see by an objective standard. Courage is having enough detachment to see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. Courage requires us to know our own limitations to accept we might be wrong in some of our views and assumptions.

Because courage seeks the truth, it requires curiosity. It is courageous to listen to someone else's story. I have only lived my life. My perspective is limited. When another person's journey is different than mine, I want to listen courageously so I can understand why they have their views. One therapist has a sign in her office: "More curiosity, less judgment."

Courage requires speaking the truth. This requires knowing the truth. I have heard infinite variations of this story: "My professor in college said the Bible was a myth. It made sense to me. So, I stopped believing in God." My response is the same: "Do your own work. Why did your professor say that? Have you investigated scripture yourself? Have you read books defending the Bible? Have you read books critiquing the Bible?" Courage dies in laziness.

If we are to be courageous, we must speak the truth. This does not mean being the loud, obnoxious individual who interrupts every conversation. Sometimes, the better part of wisdom is to keep your mouth shut. Speaking truth means we do not silently stand by when we see injustice. We do not let lies go unchallenged. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."

Following Jesus requires courage. It is a courageous act to love your enemies and to do good to those who persecute you. It is a courageous act to pray in the name of Jesus and expect God to hear you. It is a courageous act to say, "This is sin, and it is destructive to the human soul." Too many of us preachers rail against sin and forget to say why sin is a bad thing. Sin destroys the human soul. It is a cancer that invades human beings, infests human culture and incinerates the image of God placed in each of us.

Courage requires movement. It requires leaving the comfort of life's present rut. God calls Abraham to leave his dad and go to a promised land. God calls Moses to leave his sheep and go to Egypt to tell Pharoh, "Let my people go." God calls David to leave his father's house and go kill a giant. Jesus calls Peter to leave his boat, Matthew to leave his toll booth, Zaccheaus to leave his wealth and the woman caught in the act of adultery to leave her sin. Jesus calls Paul to leave his success and his religion. If you are not courageously moving in faith, are you even following Jesus?

The first followers of Jesus were courageous. They faced crucifixion, torture, imprisonment and expulsion for the cause of Jesus. When people abandoned cities because of plagues, Jesus followers courageously stayed to care for the sick. When told to worship the emperor, they refused, boldly declaring, "Jesus is Lord." Funny, isn't it? When Jesus followers acquired status and property, their courage dried up. They became more interested in protecting what they had instead of asking, "Lord, what do you require of me today?"

What would happen if Jesus followers were courageous? Would we stop seeing ourselves as victims and see ourselves as people on a mission? Would we face the giants and declare that we have nothing to fear because we come in the name of the Lord? Would we finally believe having God's power is better than having political power?

These are times that require great courage. Listen again to God's words to Joshua: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."

Courage, my friends.

The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter. Email him at