Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
Fortitude is courage in pain or adversity.
It’s easy to be courageous when everything is going well. When the road is smooth and wide, we can lift our heads high and march on with the confidence of a lion. But when the journey begins to take a turn for the worse, the road narrows, the path becomes rocky and hard to navigate, and the difficulty seems to increase with the risk….it is in those moments where we find what we are really made of.
One individual who rose above the fear and threat of personal loss was Private First Class Desmond Thomas Doss, US Army: On October 12, 1945, US Army medic Desmond Doss became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
For those of you not familiar with the term, a conscientious objector is one who objects to serving in the military or in some cases bearing arms, usually on the basis of religious beliefs. The one who is given this designation is typically relegated to a role as chaplain or medic.
For his bravery in treating wounded men under fire during the fighting in Guam, Doss was awarded a Bronze Star for valor. After Guam, the 307th fought at Leyte. Again, Doss showed his dedication to his comrades and bravery in combat and was awarded a second Bronze Star. By the time the 307th landed in Okinawa, Doss had garnered the respect of the men he served with. During the battle at Hacksaw ridge, the unit was told to retreat while many had been left behind, trapped by gunfire and constant threat, Doss saved 75 men by lowering soldiers one by one down a cliff to safety.
The bravery and courage Doss exemplified under fire was eventually retold in books, a documentary and major motion picture.
A man that is willing to stand for what he believes while showing unparalleled courage is rare, especially for someone who is looked down upon as a coward. Many would disagree with the position he took and yet to do what he did while under such scrutiny and public shaming is the very depiction of Fortitude.
Was Private Doss scared when he ran into the battle field over and over again to rescue those men? Of course he was! The tribute to his bravery isn’t exclusive to the act but the fact that even though he feared for his own life, he regarded the lives of his fellow soldiers as more valuable than the threat of death.
Consequently…Private Doss was a man of God. He gained strength through his conviction. What the military didn’t understand was the fortitude he showed in standing on his conviction. The sergeants who belittled him for being cowardice didn’t understand how the conviction was the very strength that carried him through the battle.
Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid or terrified of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”
The children of Israel faced a daunting task as they entered the land promised to them by the Lord. Full of giants, high walled cities, and fierce people, the opportunity to be fearful was ever present. Having failed the fear test 40 years earlier, it took the next generation to believe that God was fully able to lead them in conquering the land. Because it took great courage to embark on such a perilous journey, the Lord continually reminded them to be ‘strong and courageous‘, for He was with them wherever they would go.
The Hebrew term for strong is ‘Chazak’. The implication is not that you start out strong but that you grow in strength…as a process. The stronger you grow, the more established you become. Your conviction becomes paramount, regardless of the odds or the scrutiny.
Where did Israel get the strength to tackle seemingly impossible odds? When the previous generation surveyed the land, all they could see was an enemy that looked too imposing to approach. Because of the lack of trust exhibited on the first survey, Israel wandered in the desert for a generation before they approached once again. It was during those 40 years of searching for food, water, and constant threat from enemies that formed strength into a generation necessary for the resolve to move forward into the land promised so long before.
Psalm 18:2 “The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer. My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
When we place our trust in the Lord, our strength is placed in His ability, not our own. The ability to trust in God comes about by how He reveals His strength. The more you trust Him, the more you realize He is faithful. The more He takes you through difficulty and trial, the more you realize His promises are true…He doesn’t leave when life gets tough.
What does it take to be considered courageous? Do we need to show ourselves approved on the battlefield to gain this prestigious title?
The reason I broached this subject of fortitude wasn’t just because it is a word seldom used anymore, but rather it is an ideal that is being lost in society today.
Courage can be displayed in a multitude of ways. Spending time with a sick neighbor who needs help or traveling into isolated villages to share the gospel when there is no one else to fulfill this role takes a tremendous amount of courage…I know people doing this today. There are so many people who have sacrificed time, resources, and energy for others and have gained this badge of honor, there are just too many to count.
True courage is found among the Faithful.
Isaiah 53:3 “He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”
Jesus epitomized fortitude. From the moment Jesus entered our world in the flesh, He took on our shame. He gave up more than anyone could ever imagine. The glory of heaven’s Throne, the bright and morning star came into our darkness and made Himself vulnerable.
Isaiah 53:7 “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.”
The strength required to sustain the suffering that Christ endured was a revelation of His love for us. From the manger to the cross, humility was His emblem of honor. Having all of the power of the godhead at His fingertips and choosing not to use it against His enemies required supernatural strength and fortitude. Continuing to be patient and longsuffering with us today reveals the love that Jesus demonstrated on earth has not subsided.
Have you been given reminders of God’s love? Does He show you in small ways that He is still there—that He is ever present?
I know He gives me reminders of His love. They encourage me to press on in the midst of adversity, in the midst of weakness He establishes strength. Like Desmond Doss, God’s people can run into the battle with the courage of a lion and know that the Lion of Judah is there with them.