Be strong and of good courage; Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9 NKJV)
Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD. (Psalm 27:14 NKJV)
I have a confession to make. I dislike clichés. We live in a world that capitalizes on the familiar, is much too hurried to nurture the imagination, and prioritizes brevity over clarity or style in communication. So, clichés assault our eyes and minds every day, whether on our screens, or in the media, or in the marketplace. Of course, if they weren’t so popular, they would not be clichés.
The problem of clichés is not that they are trite to begin with, but rather that the significance of the language is stripped away by its overuse. There is a devolution of sorts that occurs over time with the cliché. Unfortunately, it is as easy for Scripture to become cliché as any other text, and when that occurs, the power of the language is diminished. The phrase, “be strong and courageous,” first found in the story of Moses and Joshua, has found its way onto living room walls, t-shirts, charms, keychains, and twitter feeds. It has become an inspirational catchphrase for athletes and corporate leaders. As such, I wonder if we sometimes miss the depth of meaning conveyed in these words, and forget the narratives of faith from which they emerged.
The repetition of powerful language is certainly not a bad thing. It is a wonderful and important literary technique that can and should be done with care and intentionality. The authors of Scripture knew this, which is why this phrase appears in several Bible books of different genres. It can be found in the law books (Deuteronomy), the history books (Joshua), the poetry books (Psalms), and in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Clearly these authors perceived, as our culture has discovered, that these simple words have the capacity to brush against the desires and fears of human hearts. But I hope we have not missed the significance of this text by distancing ourselves too much from the authors who penned these words on a scroll rather than an iphone.
When we return to the sacred text we are reminded that strength and courage does not come from within ourselves or from our own power. Strength and courage are the consequence of a heart that is wholly confident in the promises of the Eternal One. “He shall strengthen your heart” declares the poet . . . if you wait on the Lord. In fact, the author makes a little poetry sandwich to make sure we don’t miss it: First, wait. Then, courage. Then strength. Finally, wait. Strength and courage are the result of waiting. But this is no ordinary waiting. This is the hopeful, anticipatory, expectant waiting of those who trust that God is always up to something, that he does not break promises, that he does not abandon his children, and that he is always good!
Be of good courage, then, dear friends! For our God will strengthen our hearts as we wait together for the Eternal One to exceed our expectations and leave us speechless.