Courage Is Like a Muscle, and Why a Trial Is Not Always a Test

“… and then, I totally failed.”

Like it or not, failure is a part of life.  In the video series The Future Starts Here, The Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain tells us in episode 6 “The Creative Process in 10 Acts“, “It took me another twelve years before I built up the courage to want to tackle another feature film, and I did a lot of smaller projects that built along the way — like, build my courage — because you know, courage is like a muscle.  Like, you need to constantly strengthen it to get to the bigger projects.”

Courage is like a muscle?  Well, I never really thought about it that way before.

How many famous people like Shlain have failed big before making it big?  Donald Trump declared bankruptcy multiple times.  Winston Churchill had to endure years of criticism before his nation called upon the statesman to lead them in time of war (and, ironically, discarded him after the fact to rub salt in the wounds).  Even Moses fell from a high position in Pharaoh’s court to become a humble shepherd for 40 years.  Let’s not forget about Joseph, innocently kidnapped, sold into slavery, wrongfully accused and imprisoned, but then made second only to Pharaoh.

If it takes courage to do great things, how much more to do great things after great failures?

It has been said that the most often repeated command in the Bible is “fear not”.  Some have claimed 365 times, one for each day of the year, although I do not know the methods they used to count them, as sometimes the exact phrase might not be “fear not” but something like “Why are ye fearful?” (Mk 4:40).  Keep in mind, the biblical authors didn’t have our contemporary calendar in mind either.

Still, one guy at Wiki Answers counted over 100 instances of the search “fear not”.  Does God really need to tell us something over 100 times in order for it to be important?

Fear of failure is a common trait among humans, but we must risk failure if we are to stretch and to grow.  We cannot fear failure as Christians, for as I’ve stated in the past few blog articles more than once that change is part of the calling.  Change means risking failure.

Also, having trials does not mean one has failed.  It simply means an opportunity to stretch, to learn and to grow.

We often thing of trials as tests.  In fact, the KJV interchanges “test” and “trial” frequently.  I submit to you that this definition may or may not have once been valid but really isn’t in our contemporary notion of “test”.

What is the purpose of a trial?  Theoretically, it is to teach us something, or so I’ve been told a lot.  We always talk about “learning” from a trial.  However, what if the thing we are to learn is not so much a conscious idea but rather a more subtle type conditioning of some sort?  What if what we are learning cannot be easily put into words, even if we at some level understand it?

We often talk about conditioning muscles by exercising them with repetitive movements and stretching them.  Trials are sometimes referred to metaphorically as ways to stretch us spiritually as well, but what if the metaphorical and the physical are not so far apart as one might think?  Even in stretching, though, once a muscle is stretched, it does not last that way forever.  Even stretching exercises must be done on a regular basis.  A good exercise routine will usually contain a combination of stretching, strength and cardiovascular exercises that are repeated at a set interval.

What do we “learn” from exercising?  Well, perhaps we don’t learn much in the traditional sense, but our muscles do learn and grow by doing these routines.  Muscle learning theory has even been applied to how “music memory” is formed where the muscles automatically take over while a musician plays a piece.

But — and this is important — not every gym workout is a test in endurance or strength.  Not every jog is a test in how far or how long we can go.  Not every stretch is a test in how limber you are.  In fact, there is value in doing simple maintenance exercises at particular points in time rather than always pushing beyond a certain point.  Pulled muscles or worse are usually the result of overdoing it and treating a new session as one in which the goal is to outdo the last one, intentionally or not.

Not convinced?  That’s OK, I wouldn’t be yet either.  So, let’s get to the heart of the matter: If a trial is a test, then how do you know you passed?  When it’s over?  If that is the case, then why do some people have trials for weeks, months and even years?  Why don’t they get better, be healed, become rich, live the life we all dream of or at least live some semblance of “normal”?  Is it their fault for the trial to be ongoing?

I submit to you that it does not work that way usually.  If someone has been spared from a trial today, they need to give thanks, for tomorrow is another day, and another trial is just around the corner.


Because it is not always simply a test to take, get graded and move on.  Sure, there are real and actual tests, but did Moses feel like he was simply taking a test 40 years while tending sheep?  Did Joseph fail the test when he was arrested and thrown into prison accused of trying to force himself on his master’s wife?  Think about that!  Joseph did the right thing and was punished for it!  How did he pass any test there?  No, it was much more than a test!  It was a form of God conditioning him!

Did Joseph know what was going on during his trials?  I don’t think so.  He pleaded with the butler to let Pharaoh know that an innocent man was in prison.  Like any one of us, he wanted out of there!  Yet, even when he thought his big break finally came, what happened?  The butler conveniently forgot about Joseph!

If you asked Joseph, “So, what are you learning from this trial?”, could he have answered?  Do any of us think he could have imagined becoming prime minister of all of Egypt?

If you asked Moses the shepherd what he learned, perhaps he could say he learned that murder solves nothing.  Perhaps he could have said that he learned that you don’t take matters into your own hands even if you believe you are the one chosen by God to do a certain task.  Yet, do we think he would have answered, “I am learning how to shepherd millions of people across a wilderness?”  Something tells me that that would have been the last thing on his mind.

Always think.  Always grow.  Always try to learn.  However, if you really don’t understand the why of a trial, then maybe that is because it is not a test or a punishment.  Maybe, just maybe, God is conditioning you for something you cannot yet imagine.

Maybe you are building courage, faith, discernment or any of a number of Fruits of the Spirit.  Maybe it is not a test but the repetitive building of a certain spiritual muscle that needs a little more work than the others.


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