Courage—In Your Heart, Not Your Biceps
Forty-five years ago, on my 34th birthday, my pastor W.A. Criswell summoned me to his home study. In my second year of serving as Dr. Cristwell’s “Amen Charlie,” I went in with trepidation. Well, truthfully, I still did that until the day God took him home! “Lad,” he began, “I have decided that you are a rare preacher of courage. I am going to give you these Rockingham Lions, which have sat on my desk since Mrs. C and I brought them back from England. They were cast before 1850 and probably around 1780. My only request is this. Lad, before you die, find a preacher with courage to say always what God has said and pass them on to him.” Whether Dr. Criswell was correct in his judgement of me, I must leave it to others to judge.
Sunday, September 12, my pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress, will celebrate his 14th anniversary, following in the steps of Dr. Criswell. My wife Dorothy and I were talking about this a few weeks ago; and I said, “What can we give our pastor to express our love and appreciation?” My wife’s subtle reminder to the effect that I was not going to take anything with me when God calls (Job 1:21) was followed by a suggestion that I could give him the Rockingham Lions if I had found him to be a preacher of courage.
Courage? Robert Jeffress? Courage? This preacher defines the term! You will never see the cover page of one of the men’s health magazines with a photo of a shirtless pastor Jeffress impressing us all by flexing his biceps; but if such a periodical ever wanted to feature courage, the cover-page would detail an x-ray picture of Robert Jeffress’s heart. Bulging biceps are no guarantee of courage. A heart full of love for Christ and bursting with love for his congregants—ah, yes, such is the domicile of courage!
Dorothy was correct. And the Sunday School class that graciously accepted Dorothy and me as members is devoted to this pastor. They love and honor him like sheep are supposed to reverence their shepherd. So, during the Sunday School hour, I presented the Lions to my pastor from Dorothy and me and from the Presidents’ Bible Class. With the admonition of Pastor Criswell, we presented those Rockingham Lions, which have adorned the studies of two preachers for nearly 100 years, to the one who would be encouraged by them in these challenging days. Pastor Jeffress, before your transfer to Heaven, your task will be to find a young preacher with courage and pass on the Lions. In the meantime, enjoy them and be challenged by them.
A courageous heart is quite distinct from belligerence. In fact, the courageous soul is inevitably a profoundly thoughtful Christian who has grasped his own ineptitude and basks instead in the graces that are part of the provision of God. The gallant spirit of a man is an appropriate response of gratitude to God: First, for forgiveness of sin and, second, for the other manifold graces of God in life and work. This courage, due to its mooring in love for God, exceeds that exhibited by lions or by merely belligerent men.
A courageous heart is also a concoction of certainty and faith. A man who is not certain about his own regenerate nature finds it difficult to rise to a spiritual conversion. But when one’s passage from death to life remains a vivid memory, so real that it may as well have transpired an hour ago, courage is born to stand unafraid. Confidence in the truthfulness of Scripture, certainty that God’s word will not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11), and an assurance that the life to come far exceeds the priorities of present existence all make genuine courage possible.
Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel were as distinctive and interesting as each could be. They had one thing in common—courageous hearts. Finding a contemporary pastor with a heart of courage may be as rare as locating a true Alexandrite gemstone in Russia, but the search is worth the effort. Hundreds of these faithful still remain. I found one—my pastor Robert Jeffress. God bless him forever!