Thursday, December 9, 2021

Courage as a Spiritual Practice

In response to my previous post “Civil Courage,” a long-time minister friend replied, “How is the ordinary citizen or Christian to act with courage? Tell us how and when and where. We want to be courageous…but how?” Here’s my answer. Once again I will look to Dietrich Bonhoeffer for my inspiration. Courage is a spiritual discipline to be exercised like any other spiritual practice. So how do we practice courage?

First, Pay the Price. There is a cost for courage. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This does not necessarily mean martyrdom like Bonhoeffer suffered. It can be enduring the verbal assaults so common these days. “Blessed are you when they insult you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake,” proclaimed Jesus. He said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

This practice of laying down one’s self is a core spiritual discipline. Ultimately the spiritual life is all about selflessness. It is dying to self and living to God. Being willing to surrender the ego to the crucible of criticism is a great boon to this process. It purifies our motives. Our enemies are our greatest allies in this spiritual process. 

Being willing to suffer for God’s sake is the price of courage. Being willing to stand with those who suffer is the price of spiritual liberation.  "Our God is a suffering God," wrote Bonhoeffer. "Man is summoned to share in God's suffering at the hands of a godless world."

Second, Speak Out! Prophesy! Bonhoeffer wrote: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Two days into Hitler's reign Bonhoeffer delivered a radio address critical of the new chancellor. He warned Germans that this personality cult would lead to the eradication of their freedoms. He labeled the strutting Fuhrer a Verfuhrer – “misleader.” His microphone was cut off before he finished.

Third, Act. Courageous action is always inconvenient, but it is absolutely necessary that courage be expressed in deeds and not just in words. “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God,” Bonhoeffer wrote. He served as a member of the Abwehr, the German Military Intelligence Office, where he acted as a double agent for those opposing the Nazi regime. He taught at the underground seminary of Finkenwalde. He acted. He said, “One act of obedience is better than one hundred sermons.”

He agonized over his decision to be part of the plot to assassinate Hitler. He reasoned, “If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can't, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.” He said, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

Fourth, Give. In our society, funding causes is an effective form of action. Use “unrighteous mammon” for good, as Jesus advised. There are many causes to choose from: courageous journalism, supporting refugees, and contributing to brave politicians who are paying the price for courage. Among others I am donating to Faithful America, an online Christian community that is “organizing the faithful to challenge Christian nationalism and white supremacy and to renew the church's prophetic role in building a more free and just society.” Jesus said, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.”

Fifth, Love. In The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer wrote: “The will of God, to which the law gives expression, is that men should defeat their enemies by loving them.” “Christian love draws no distinction between one enemy and another, except that the more bitter our enemy’s hatred, the greater his need of love. Be his enmity political or religious, he has nothing to expect from a follower of Jesus but unqualified love. In such love there is no inner discord between private person and official capacity. In both we are disciples of Christ, or we are not Christians at all.”

In our angry, hate-filled political environment, it is most important that the heart of spiritual courage be love. Love for those who suffer. Love for neighbor. Love for enemy. Without love we might win a political battle, but we lose the spiritual war. It is of no use to win an election and lose one’s soul. When our critics spew venom, we are to respond with the grace of Christ. This is the most difficult, but the most important part of the spiritual discipline of courage. 


  1. Hard truths for a hard time. Thank you.

  2. I’m new to your blog and must say, I’m deeply moved by your insight and courage. Thank you 🙏🏾


I welcome comments, as long as they are signed. I review all comments before they appear online. Anonymous or inappropriate material will not be posted. Thanks for the feedback!