Have you ever played the game Jenga? I don’t play it often – it is one of those games that take longer to set up and clean up than to actually play. You need to take these little blocks from the bottom and each time you pull out a block, you are making the tower less stable for your opponent. You keep going until someone cannot do it anymore because the tower comes crashing down. In the game of Jenga, you have to have a steady hand and courage. It is a little bit like playing chicken: who has what it takes to go the distance? This is what fortitude is all about. Let me explain:
Numbers 13:26-33 – The people of Israel have been set free from slavery a generation ago, and they are about to do something very hard: invade the land of Canaan. Spies from each tribe of Israel go to check out Canaan. The report they return with is discouraging. All but one of them are afraid of even the idea of invading the land. Caleb, the only dissenting voice, believes that God will give them a victory if they trust him. What Caleb has that the others do not is fortitude. The others are limited by fear and by doubt; they start whining and complaining because it seems that God is asking something of them that is hard and not easy. Beyond lacking the boldness to step out and believe God, they would inevitably lack the endurance to stick with the invasion when it got tough. This entire generation of doubters remains bound in fear on the wrong side of the Jordan River until they die. The younger generation is entrusted with the invasion.
Joshua 1:1-9 – Joshua becomes the leader of this younger generation. Over and over again in this passage, God reminds him to “be strong and courageous,” and not to be afraid.
What is Fortitude? It is “firmness of spirit, steadiness in doing good despite obstacles in the performance of our daily duty.” Fortitude is having the stomach to do hard things. This week, our middle schoolers talked out what it means to live with fortitude.
Fortitude places limits on fear. Courage is not always the absence of fear. It is controlled fear. It knows what to fear and what not to fear. This is the reason that Superman is not brave. He does amazing things, but he cannot be hurt, so there is no risk. Superman has nothing to lose, so he has nothing to fear. Fortitude is when people have something to lose, but they risk that something to do what is right anyway.
Fortitude enables us to take risks. Fortitude is sometimes called boldness. It is talked about as the balance between cowardice and rashness. It is not being crazy, but knowing when to take a risk and be bold, and when to play it safe. There is folly in both overconfidence and in cowardice. Sometimes teenagers are known for both – they can be reckless in some areas but lack the courage to stand for what is right in other areas. Recklessness is not fortitude. It takes a different kind of courage to stand up to a friend that is doing something wrong than it does to jump off a cliff into a river.
Fortitude is having what it takes to do hard things. Life in God’s Kingdom is never about taking the easy road. If you are not ready to something difficult, you are not ready to try and become a follower of Jesus. Jesus did not say that following him would be easy. In fact, he said the opposite.
Fortitude includes courage in both forms: the kind that faces danger, and the kind that sticks with it when it gets tough. Endurance is the other dimension of fortitude. It is sticking with it, staying the course, seeing it through. Imagine how hard it must have been for Joshua and Caleb when the conquest got really tough. They did not win every battle. They lost some battles horribly. Imagine how easy it would have been to give up in the face of loss. Fortitude is not just bravery, it is endurance. It is the ability to stick with something that is hard.
***Discussion questions for you and your teenager:
-Why do you think God reminded Joshua so many times to “be strong and courageous?”
-Can you think of an example of a foolish risk that a teenager might take, trying to prove something? What about a risk that could honor God and show true courage?
-Fortitude is both having the courage to take risks and face danger, and also having the will to stick with it when it gets tough. Which part of fortitude do you think is hardest?