Book Remarks: Courage Is Calling: Part 1

by Michael Baker

Courage Is Calling | Part 1

BookRemarks are not book reviews, but topical posts inspired by books. This post was inspired primarily by Ryan Holiday’s Courage Is Calling and Timothy Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Workweek.

In the early pages of Ryan Holiday’s book Courage Is Calling, we are introduced to a young Florence Nightingale:

On February 7, 1837, at age sixteen, she was to get what she was later to refer to as “the call.”

To what? To where? And how?

All she could feel was that it was a mysterious word from on high which imparted to her the sense that something was expected of her, that she was to be of service, to commit to something different than the life of her rich and indolent family, something different than the constraining and underwhelming roles available to women in her time. (page 3)

As we know, Florence Nightingale would go on to revolutionize the healthcare industry, in particular the nursing profession.

But for sixteen years, she resisted the urge she had to help others. At the time, it wasn’t appropriate for a woman to become a nurse, and she let the fear of what her parents or society would think stop her from pursuing her dream.

“Fear does this,” Holiday writes. “It keeps us from our destiny. It holds us back. It freezes us. It gives us a million reasons why. Or why not“ (page 7).

Like Nightingale, many of us have dreams of our own – some of these dreams might simply be personal goals, but some of them (as in Nightingale’s case) might actually be a calling from on high to be of service.

In fact, our interests can indicate what God wants us to do with our lives. In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren suggests, “Where did those interests come from? They came from God… These are clues to where you should be serving” (page 236).

Just last month we considered what God might be placing on our hearts; where might we be able to serve?

But, as with Nightingale, too often we let our fears get the better of us.

The Bible actually talks a lot about fear. Ministers often point out that the most common command in the Bible is, “Fear not.” Apparently, that command is used 365 times in the Bible – one for every day of the year.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the Bible talks about fear so much, because it can negatively impact our lives in major ways – and not only by preventing us from following our dreams. In The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware, a former palliative care worker, recounts the most common regrets she heard in her years of caring for people who were literally on their deathbeds. Two of those regrets involve fear:

1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself.”

2. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”

Too often, we allow fear to dictate our actions – or, more commonly, our inactions.

In The 4-Hour Workweek, Timothy Ferriss outlines a seven-question method for overcoming fear. This series of questions is designed to help us define our fears and to brainstorm ways to approach problems. It’s a great technique – particularly when tweaked to provide a biblical perspective.

The questions we will consider in this series of posts are largely those put forth by Ferriss, but they are rearranged and one question (specifically related to losing a job) has been replaced. The commentary, however, adds a spiritual element to the process.

Let’s see how a little intellectual exercise – supported by some biblical wisdom – can help us overcome our fears and achieve our dreams.

1.    What is it you want to do, but have been putting off because of fear?

Most of us have a dream – whether it’s writing a novel, starting a business, moving to an exotic location, or whatever. Or, we might believe we have a calling, such as to pursue a particular ministry or support a particular cause.

You might have expressed your dream in these terms: “One of these days, I’m going to…”

Unfortunately, as Rick Warren notes, “’One of these days’ is ‘none of these days.’”

Most of us never accomplish our dreams because we never really get started on them. We’re afraid that we’ll fail; that we can’t do it; that we’ll be rejected; that it won’t be good enough.

But God wants us to pursue our dreams – as Warren points out, God gave us our dreams. He created us in such a way that we have that dream, and not someone else’s.

Of course, too often we try to live out the dreams other people put on us – which is why so many dying people wish that they had lived a life true to themselves, and not the life other people expected of them.

You might ask, “How do you – or even Rick Warren – know that God wants me to pursue my dream?”

Well, let’s consider the words of David in Psalm 37: “Be delighted with the Lord. Then he will give you all your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him to help you do it, and he will” (verses 4-5, TLB).

In the Gospel of John, Jesus adds, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (15:7, EHV).

These verses shouldn’t be taken as evidence of the so-called “Prosperity Gospel.” For one thing, they are not blank checks that God has signed for us to use as we please. After all, take note of the emphasis on having a right relationship with God: “Be delighted with the Lord… Commit everything you do to the Lord… If you remain in me and my words remain in you…” There are conditions presented in these verses.

But at the same time these verses do offer a lot of hope to those who walk closely with God. Other verses in the Bible follow up on that perspective. Certainly, the Bible wants us to trust in God and not to give in to fear. In Psalm 56, for example, David wrote, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (verses 3-4, CSB).

When writing to Timothy, Paul said, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7, ISV).

As Christians, we do not need to be afraid. Often, we just need to get to the root of our fear. As Ryan Holiday notes in Courage Is Calling, “When fear is defined, it can be defeated” (30).

God wants us to trust Him, to go forth boldly, and to pursue the dreams He has placed in our hearts. After all, there can be negative consequences for not pursuing your dream (more on that later).

The first thing you need to do is to identify your dream, and the fear that is keeping you from pursuing it. Take time to write down your answer in as much detail as you can (in fact, write down your answer for each question as we go).

2.   What is it costing you – emotionally, physically, financially – to postpone action?

Regret is a terrible – yet powerful – thing.

In Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert defines regret as “an emotion we feel when we blame ourselves for unfortunate outcomes that might have been prevented had we behaved differently in the past” (page 196).

We often expect that we will regret actions that turn out poorly, but this sentiment is often wrong. “Indeed,” Gilbert writes, “in the long run, people of every age and in every walk of life seem to regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did, which is why the most popular regrets include not going to college, not grasping profitable business opportunities, and not spending enough time with family and friends” (page 197).

Remember two of the most common regrets of the dying involve inaction: not living a life true to themselves and not expressing their feelings more often. (Note: according to Bronnie Ware, another top regret is, “I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends,” a regret similar to one Gilbert mentions as well.)

“Fear always votes for hesitation,” Holiday writes, “it always has a reason for not doing and so it rarely does anything” (page 65). He also notes, “We tell ourselves we’re thinking, that we’re weighing our options, that we’re making progress. In truth, we are paralyzed by fear. Overwhelmed by options. By second guesses. By that hatred of making mistakes. So what we’re really doing is making ourselves miserable” (page 58).

The poet Langston Hughes once asked, “What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun?” (lines 1-3). At best, a dream deferred shrivels up and dies.

Too often, however, it “festers like a sore” (line 4) or “sags / like a heavy load” (lines 9-10). It might even “explode” (line 11), causing us to lash out at others.

What, then, are the consequences of inaction? Unrealized dreams weigh on us. Solomon noted this fact: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…” (Proverbs 13:12, EHV).

But as the ellipsis indicates, that’s not the end of the proverb. Solomon has a little more to say on the matter: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (13:12, EHV).

As Rick Warren has said, too many of us are praying for our ship to come in, but God is waiting for us to set sail. Don’t let regrets pile up in your life. If your dream is from God, then you need to pursue it. As Proverbs 29:18 says, “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed” (MSG).

There are numerous ways to double check whether a dream is from God or not. First, we should pray about it. Second, we should see if the dream matches up with biblical principles – God might want you to start a prison ministry, but he probably doesn’t want you to open a casino. Third, we can run the idea by other Christians, such as our church ministers and our Christian friends and family.

If the dream passes these early “sniff tests,” then it is time to look for potential open doors.

But wait, we might protest, still uncertain about whether or not we want to move forward: What if things turn out badly?

That’s the fear talking. Next time, we’ll walk through overcoming fear.

What dream have you been deferring? Start building your support team, and gain some accountability partners, by sharing it in the comments below…

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