“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.” (Joshua 1:9)

Dear Adults,

Be careful when telling kids not to be scared. It’s kind of a lie.

Signed, Kids

At FMU we’re careful with what phrases we cue our kids with. When they say they’re scared to try something, we say it’s ok to be scared. That’s natural. Now get over it.

Having no fear in life is rare and not practical. Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s having the perseverance to overcome it.

Plus, I want to point out that fear is different than anxiety. True fear happens rarely. If a gun was pointed at my head, I would be truly fearful. If I’m waking up early to go to a hard, unknown training camp and I feel a rush of nerves, that’s just anxiety. Playing mind tricks and practicing positive self-talk, helps train you to get over that.

This is a fun devotional about my Top 12 Surefire Principles To Build Your Courage And Push Past Your Fears. I weaved in some really cool scripture and stories too. Enjoy and share with your kids!

12 Surefire Principles to Help Build Your Courage And Tackle Any Obstacle In Life

The prodigal son did. He left his home with hopes for a better one. Young and naive, he thought the grass was greener elsewhere. A simple life on the farm wasn’t as appealing as a wild life in the city. With a plan intact, he requested his share of his family’s estate. His father granted this outrageous demand. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.” (Parable found in Luke 15:11)

The prodigal son soon learned that the high life wasn’t such a rosy adventure. When his money was gone, he would work as a servant feeding pigs while left with nothing to feed himself. Eventually he comes back to his senses and wants to come back to his family. But he’s worried. He royally screwed up, and he knows it. Listen to his self-talk, “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” (Luke 15:18-20)

Home is where his dad’s heart is though. His dad welcomes him back with wide open arms, in celebratory fashion. People can’t believe it. It’s one of the greatest stories of a father’s love. Jesus tells it as an example of God’s unshakable love for us. God’s love never stops flowing.

You will mess up and that is ok. God will still be there for you, supporting, coaching, and encouraging. Never hold back in life because of fear of disappointing Him. As long as your heart is in the right place and you make decisions with the best of intentions, He will stay in your corner to cheer you on.

#2. EXPECT WALLS (the obstacle is the way).
I hit a wall at mile seven coming out of the Chicago Bears’ football stadium. This was my third year participating in the Men’s Health Urbanathlon, a race consisting of more than ten obstacles spread out over more than ten miles. I was sprinting as fast as I could to make the top twenty-five. As I left the stadium stairs, my body felt depleted and for an instant I almost felt defeated. But, I expected this to happen. I didn’t know when. I didn’t know exactly how it would feel. I just knew it was coming.

Walls happen in performance events and in life. Your job is to figure out how to overcome them. No one said life would be easy. Even Jesus said it would be hard: “In the world you will have trouble. (John 16:33) If you do not plan for difficulties, then when they arise they’ll catch you off guard and make you feel defeated. I like to say “anticipate, and then participate.” Anticipate that your body and mind will want to shut down after one mile of stadium stairs, and then participate in overcoming the next three and a half miles of obstacles to finish out the race.

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance.” (Romans 5:3) Struggles and trials make you a stronger person when you focus on the positives of what you can gain from them. No matter the outcome, as long as you tried, you’re going to learn, grow, and get better. Just put yourself out there and see what happens. You’ll be surprised by who and what you find.

God loves watching you when you perform at your best. He loves watching you when you play hard. He loves watching you when you get back up after you get knocked down. Of course, He would love to see you stand at the top of every podium, but His main concern will always be that you gave it everything you’ve got. If you do that, then you’re a winner in His book, regardless of what the scoreboard says.

You will be great at so many things in life, but you will also be terrible at others. If you dwell on the things that you’re not good at, you’ll miss the opportunities to harness the talents, strengths, and abilities you have been given.

Be realistic and practical. If you’re talent is to write songs, then enhance your writing skills and produce stellar lyrics. If you can’t carry a tune, don’t spend your whole life striving to be a professional singer. You’ll end up feeling like a total failure.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to enhance your weaknesses. But do not focus on them so much that you miss the opportunities to capitalize on your strengths. Dwelling on your weaknesses will only immobilize you.

We are all gifted in different ways. Romans 12:8 says, “If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.”

I have found through my training experiences that the best athletes generally do not care. They are performers. They do what they know best and forget about the rest. They don’t obsess about hitting a homerun beforehand. They don’t dwell on a strike-out after. They show up at home plate, put their feet in the batter’s box, and swing the best they can. I want you to care about exceeding your potential at each at-bat, but if you miss the ball, it is not the end of the world. Get back in and swing your hardest, and don’t let the next pitch whiz right by you. If it does, try again.

Don’t let the fear of messing up prevent you from performing at your best. Making mistakes does not make you a failure. In God’s opinion, failure doesn’t exist as long as you’re trying.

Standing on the platform three stories up, I freeze. I know that’s what I’ll do when I hit in the ice cold water below. There’s no turning back though. At least fifteen Tough Mudder racers line up the climbing wall behind me. It’s either jump into the water or irritate a lot of people by making them climb back down. I don’t like heights. I don’t like cold water. At my attempt to launch, fear grips me, and I retract my first step.

I think of Joshua. Perhaps he hesitated too. God called him to take his army across the Jordan River into the city of Jericho. To get to the Promised Land they had to cross through it. At ten square miles this fortress seemed unconquerable. No one came out and no one went in (Joshua 6:1). From human glance, Joshua’s army didn’t stand a chance against Jericho’s highly equipped thousands. But in God’s eyes, the job was already done. Joshua just had to enter the city with his herd of believers and follow his commands. One being, “Be strong and courageous.” He must have wanted him to hear it because He repeated it three times in these verses. A command, not recommendation. He insists. He means it. God had plans for Joshua and He wanted him to trust his lead.

Sometimes that’s hard to do. Fear is debilitating. It’s restricting. It can numb. Like when I’m standing in line at the shock therapy obstacle. It’s the part of the race when you army-crawl through water while trying to avoid the hanging, worm-like cords above you. Touch them and they’ll shock you. I believed it once I heard the jolts and screams from those in front of me. It was rather funny, but how was it going to feel? I wasn’t fond of finding out.

The Tough Mudder is loaded with these mental challenges. Over twenty obstacles are spread over thirteen miles of muddy, hilly, terrain. Part endurance event, part hiking adventure, this Navy Seal-created course puts your mind to the test. Although physically it wasn’t that demanding, it definitely wasn’t your normal run in the park. Often you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

We’re not going to magically wake up one day fearless. Fear will be there. Our job is to figure out a way to plow through it. Entering the struggle and untangling yourself from it is when true growth happens. Eventually, fear will slowly release its grip, and taking risks each day becomes a conquest, because you know it’s only going to transform you for the best. Climbing monkey bars over ice cold water, or crawling through water while being zapped, isn’t necessarily something you look forward to. But the person that you’ll become after you get through it is.

It doesn’t matter if you take a step and fall flat on your face. You’ll get back up a better person, and you’ll learn to take a different step next time. More often than not you can’t predict what’s going to happen or how it’s going to happen. That’s ok. Just enjoy the journey. Joshua was told to march around the city for seven days, quietly too, with only trumpets sounding on occasion. I can just imagine what was going through his head—how in the world is this going to result in a victory? But Joshua and his men didn’t anticipate the end result. They stayed true to the call and followed suit day by day. And throughout the process they heard and saw things they never would have, like the parting of the Jordan River:

“Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the sea of Arabah was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho.” (Joshua 3:16)

You need support and camaraderie. You need someone to lift you up when you fall. You need someone to tap into you and unleash your true potential. Courageous people have mentors. Courageous people have teammates. “A chord of three strands is not easily broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

At the Tough Mudder I came to many obstacles and said “I think I’ll just skip this one!” If I were by myself, I’m sure I would have. But I was with an awesome team. We really didn’t give each other an option. We just did it. We lined up, we encouraged each other, and we knew we were in this together.

Imagine if Joshua would have held himself back. He wouldn’t have done the unthinkable or brought his people the invaluable—a total reliance on God. Victory did happen. “By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.”(Hebrews 11:30).

You wake up every day with a choice of who you want to be. Why do you do what you do, or don’t do what you want to do? You have to play Big in life to Be Big. Take risks. You may be working hard to overcome an addiction, to pursue a new career, or to be a better leader in your household. There are no excuses; people are waiting for you to take that next step. Whether you’re scared or not, you need to take it.

That’s what my good friend told me when I was tackling my fear of heights on the fourteen foot ninja warped wall at our gym. It’s interesting how our mind will play tricks on us. Of course, part of being a contender consists of assessing risks, preparing with discernment, and then contemplating a game plan. But part of being a champion means you have to leave those stages and just GO already, and let your instincts take over.

One thing that helps us just GO is to take off any unnecessary pressure by changing our perspective and seeing the bigger picture. People care about us but they really don’t. What we do matters but in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t. And most importantly, God cares, but He definitely does not rate us on our performance.

It’s refreshing to know that you can’t fail too much to lose God’s love. You can’t win enough to earn his love either. Losses don’t diminish God’s love and championships don’t earn it. He loves you just because.

There will be many times in life when fear tries to stop you: your first sports competition, the history speech you have to present in front of the entire class, the launch of your new business idea. First remember God’s word, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9) He’ll be with you every step, and he’ll give you answers along the way. Second, remember it’s really not about you. You’ll learn something new along the way and your faith will be strengthened. And that’s only going to help you become a better person, a stronger one, for all those who need you.

Life is not about you. Be strong and courageous. It will help get your followers to the Promised Land and your teammates across the last electric shock obstacle to the finish line of the 13.1 mile obstacle race.

Don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself today. And it may just be an absolute game-changer for you and everyone in your life.

Coach Theo