I recently took my two young boys, ages 7 and 9, to Eagle Point Park in Dubuque. It is a beautiful, historical park with overlooks of the Mississippi River, Lock and Dam #11, and the tri-state river valley. The nice views were not the reason for our visit this day, however, but the Fish Pond. More specifically the limestone rock walls all around that pond.
My two boys, like many others, love adventure and the feeling of accomplishment. Neither is what I would call “fearless”; they never jumped into a pool before they knew how to swim as toddlers or hopped on a bike without training wheels without first being encouraged and held up by an adult. They have a healthy fear of risk and potential injury (I am thankful for this). This being said, God still made them boys, and God made boys to be inquisitive, brave and eager for a challenge. I want to encourage this as their mother, physically and more importantly, spiritually.
So on this day at the park after shoes were tied and bug spray applied I let them loose with instructions to work on their bravery - to climb walls, jump over crevasses, and discover new trails. I watched as they started out cautiously and little by little gained courage to try something new: scaling a higher wall, jumping off a rock to a nearby tree, walking down a path that was dark and crowded with greenery. I held myself back from calling out too many reminders to “be careful” or to hold out a hand to help them do something they should do on their own. I prayed as I watched them; yes, I prayed for their safety but also so much more. I prayed that God would transfer this learning over to their walk with him and make them increasingly bold for sharing his Gospel and proclaiming Christ in their lives.
We need to do this same thing in our walk with Christ. We need to continually push ourselves to be more like him. We need to be intentional in our continued growth. This comes by giving ourselves spiritual challenges. If we do the same things over and over, year after year, like attend church, go to an occasional Bible study, attend a special event here and there, we can’t expect spiritual growth like we need. We have to push ourselves further; we need to dig deeper.
If you are a follower of Christ, this should be a fairly intense and natural internal desire. You should feel a need to learn more about Christ and to do more to bring him honor. It is a byproduct of a close relationship with your Savior.
As Christians we often pray for courage to share the message of Christ; we ask for boldness to proclaim the Good News to the lost around us. Why do we feel the need to pray this? Because we lack it in our daily lives, many times we are riddled with fear and keep our faith hidden away. Boldness is the antidote to fear and praying for boldness is Biblical. In Acts chapter 4, Peter and John had just been released from prison and joined the other believers in prayer. Verse 29, “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.” Despite the real threats all around them they desired to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. God answers their prayer just a few verses later in a powerful way.
Paul also prayed for boldness despite how “naturally” bold he seemed to be on the outside. He was often beaten, sometimes to the point of death and yet he got back up and went straight back to preaching the Gospel. Ephesians 6:19-20, “and [pray] also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” Paul needed courage and boldness just as we do today. He prayed for “words to be given to me in opening my mouth”. Many times that’s the hardest task simply opening our mouths to share Christ with someone else.
So what does it look like to give yourself “spiritual challenges” to help you grow more courageous in Christ? It will take different forms for each person depending on where you are at in your walk, but here are a number of possibilities: inviting someone to attend church with you, attending church regularly yourself, offering to pray for someone, praying out loud before a group, starting a Bible study in your home, going on a mission trip, reading a chapter of the Bible every day, reading the entire Bible in a years’ time, inviting friends from church to your home for dinner, asking another lady for coffee to talk about Jesus, witnessing to a friend or coworker, sharing your testimony, saying grace before a meal in public, praying with your spouse, or praying over you children. The list goes on and on, but to be sure it will be something that throws you out of your comfort zone and into a position of trusting God.
Someday I hope to take my sons rock climbing and repelling, but if I had led them to a steep mountain to begin their learning on the fear may have been overwhelming and the challenge too discouraging. So I introduce them to challenges that push them farther than they have gone before. It is okay to begin small in your journey of courage, but the key is to make continual progress toward Jesus.
So begin to flex your courage muscles and allow God to bring larger and larger challenges into your life to grow you. After all, it is truly God doing this work, not us, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13. Take that leap over the crevasse to get closer to Christ today.