We were a thousand feet above solid ground, and the people around me wanted to basically clip me to a clothesline, give me a push, and tell me to enjoy the ride. Oh yeah, and “Don’t forget to look down!”, they said. The problem was not that I was afraid of heights. It was that I was afraid of falling from heights. And this experience of ziplining in the rainforest of Costa Rica was terrifying.
My husband and I were celebrating our 25th anniversary on this trip, and I had, out of my love for him, agreed to give ziplining a try. I put on my brave face, did everything the guides told me to do, and zipped down the first “practice” line. And when I got to the other side, I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. I was trembling with fear. And I would have to do it 11 more times before we were back at the bottom of the mountain.
Misguided Pep Talks
What if someone had lobbed a Bible verse at me at this point? You know, a good ol’ “I can do all things through Christ” or “Be strong and courageous,” to [falsely] remind me that I am nearly invincible. We Christians have a dangerous tendency to use verses like these in isolation and for personal pep talks. But it’s important for us to remember their context–who God was originally talking to when He gave us these words and also what He said leading up to the pep-talk parts. Let’s take a look specifically at “Be strong and courageous.”
The Right Context
Here was the situation. Moses had just died, and God appointed Joshua to be Moses’ successor. He put Joshua to work right away, saying:
“…Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west” (Joshua 1:2-4).
But the Lord didn’t just give Joshua this enormous task to do and then send him on his way. He also gave him these personal words of assurance and promise:
“No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them” (Joshua 1:5-6)
But the Lord didn’t stop after making these promises to Joshua. He then gave him instructions on doing his part in the work:
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:7-8).
And THEN we get to the often-quoted verse 9:
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Do you see it? Joshua was able to “be strong and courageous” because God gave him clear instructions and because God promised to be with him wherever he went. God didn’t assure Joshua that it would be easy or free from danger, but He assured him that He would never leave him to do this thing on his own.
Trust and Obey
Back to the zipline in Costa Rica… Could I have been strong and courageous in this situation? Yes, because I had the equipment I needed; I knew the instructions and the guides were there to help me every step of the way. And I did it! I managed to zip down 11 more lines. I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but each time it got a tiny bit easier because I was able to trust both the equipment and the equippers.
You know what wouldn’t have worked? If the guides had given me zero instructions and just left it up to me to handle all the harnesses, clips, and gear myself. Or if I had heard all of their instructions but decided to ignore it all and proceed down the zipline, however, I wanted to go. Either of these scenarios would have ended very, very badly. But because they gave careful instructions and I listened, it made for a successful adventure. Working together was a requirement.
Similarly, God instructs us in life and in marriage. He promises to be with us, which is the ultimate promise, but He also requires our obedience. We work together–joining Him in the work He is already doing. The combination of being given instructions and then heeding those instructions, while fully trusting the One who is equipping us as a couple, is what makes for a successful adventure.
Equip Your Marriage
I believe we are called to “be strong and courageous” in our marriages. And there are some practical ways we can work together with God to build them up.
Do the work to increase STRENGTH in your marriage:
- Go on actual dates together.
- Put your spouse’s needs before your own.
- Make it a priority to spend undistracted time together every week. Take turns listening to each other without interrupting.
- Find even small ways to stay in communication with each other throughout each day.
- Laugh together.
- Look for ways to serve others together.
- Pray together and for each other.
Do the work to increase COURAGE in your marriage:
- Spend time dreaming and planning for the future together.
- Try something new together. (Zipline, perhaps?!)
- Challenge and encourage each other to use your unique gifts to serve others.
- Be the one to take initiative if there’s something you’ve been wanting to do, see, or talk about as a couple but keep procrastinating.
- Be quick to ask for forgiveness when you have wronged your spouse. Choose to forgive when you are the one being asked.
- Look for ways to disciple and encourage other married couples who are a few steps behind you in life.
- Pray together and for each other.
God has equipped us for marriage, and He promises to be with us through it. Therefore, we can be strong and courageous. Just like with Joshua, the path ahead of us might not be clear, easy, or free from danger, but we can trust the One who is leading us through it. He is with us. Always. When we truly remember this, how can we be anything but strong and courageous?