Most of us would probably like to be bolder. We read the biblical stories of David and Goliath, or of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, or of the apostles in Acts, and we think, “It’s great that they had such boldness, but how can I get that kind of fearless heart?”
One of the common strategies for boldness in our society is to visualize frightening situations, imagining them without all of the possible negative outcomes. I found this on a website about overcoming fear: “Imagine your fear as something very large: a monster, an animal, whatever. Have your fear say some of the things that go through your head when you start to feel afraid. As your fear is talking, shrink it down into something smaller than you. Then get back at your fear: yell at it; make faces at it; kick it around; put it in a cage. Do whatever it takes to make your fear seem small and less threatening.”
So is that it? Do we just re-cast our fears so that they don’t seem as threatening? This can work for some folks, but it has a limit—because no matter how much we imagine our fears as small and cuddly, there always is a possibility that our fears might come true. So for visualization to be successful, this kind of courage needs to be slightly delusional.
There has to be a better way. And in fact, the believers in Acts 4 show us five secrets to a bolder life:
1. They believed in God’s sovereignty in their trial.
In Acts 4:24, in the midst of intense opposition, the believers prayed, “Sovereign Lord . . . truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus [Pilate and the religious leaders] . . . to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:24, 28). They recognized that what evil men had intended to work against God’s plan actually worked for God’s plan. So even though their persecution may have felt overwhelming, they trusted that God was working through it.
What if we believed that God had the same sort of purpose in our pain? What if our first thought in a problem was, “God, you are going to use this problem to accomplish your purposes”? Wouldn’t that change our perspective? If we saw things the way the first believers did, we would recognize that faith in God during our problems is more important than God fixing our problems.
2. They knew the Scriptures.
Check out the prayer in Acts 4:24–30: the first thing out their mouths was a reference to an Old Testament Scripture (Psalm 2). They knew what to pray in that situation because they were claiming one of God’s promises. The Bible is a book full of promises, and I want to know them so well that when life cuts me, I bleed the promises of God’s Word.
As Eugene Peterson says, “True prayer is not just talking to God; it is answering God. God has already spoken in his Word. Prayer is just a response to what he has said.”
3. They were in awe of the greatest hero.
In Acts 5, Peter stands up before the rulers once again, saying, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus . . . God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:30–31). The word for “leader” there (archegos) is a rare one in Scripture, but it’s the same term that the Greeks used for Hercules. An archegos was a champion, a hero.
Peter calls Jesus a hero, but he’s a completely different hero than Hercules. Jesus is the sort of hero who uses his power not to defeat enemies, but to die in weakness to save them. And that view of Jesus fundamentally changed how the believers saw themselves. If Jesus not only risked his life, but actually gave it to save them, shouldn’t they at least risk their lives so that others could be saved?
4. They possessed a generous spirit.
Believing the gospel makes you both generous and bold. In fact, the boldness of the believers in Acts 4 is really just an extension of their generosity of life (cf. Acts 4:32–37). They gave of their possessions freely because they saw their inheritance in Christ as their most valuable gift.
So when being faithful to the message meant physical suffering, they were willing to do it, because they had grown used to being radically generous. If we are willing to be generous in certain areas (with finances) but not in others (by sharing the gospel), we do not understand the gospel and we do not possess a truly generous spirit.
5. They were filled repeatedly by the Holy Spirit.
In response to the believers’ prayer, God filled them with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit actually came in so powerfully that he shook the place where they were meeting. Because God’s Spirit came on them with power instead of judgment, the more the place was shaken, the less the Christians were. The more they were shaken by the Holy Spirit, the less they were shaken by the power of their enemies.
These apostles needed fillings of the Spirit like this often. And if the apostles—guys like Peter and John, who had seen the resurrected Jesus—needed frequent fillings with the Holy Spirit, don’t you think we need them too? This is where life-giving courage comes from, but so many of us have never even asked for God’s Spirit to move in our lives.