On April 3 1968 Martin Luther King delivered what is now known as one of the most famous speeches of the civil rights movement. It is known as the “I’ve Been To the Mountaintop” speech and in it he says,
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”
As most everyone knows, the day after he gave that speech, he was assassinated.
There is something inside of the human heart that keeps good men from becoming great, that keeps soldiers from becoming heroes, that keeps leaders from becoming history makers, and that even keeps couples from becoming raw, vulnerable lovers. That thing is fear: fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of pain and the fear of rejection. It is at the very core of human emotion. Where many of us go wrong is thinking that some men are born brave and that others are born cowards. It is easy to look at the lives of men like Martin Luther King Jr. and assume that he must have been born brave or that somehow he didn’t experience fear. We rarely acknowledge that fear isn’t a choice for any man…but courage is. As Nelson Mandela so famously said, “I learned that courage is not the absence of fear but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel fear, but he who conquers that fear.” And that is why I am inspired today. I am inspired because, in Martin Luther King, I see a mere man who experienced the same fear that lives inside of every one of us. I am inspired because I acknowledge that courage is a choice… and that each of us has been given the courage and opportunity to rise above our fears and live our lives courageously.
Fear looks different for us all. Thankfully most of us don’t have to fear for our lives and that of our family on a daily basis to the extent that Martin Luther King had to. But there are plenty more fears that exist in the human heart that both control and paralyze the call that God has on our lives. Often our greatest fear boils down to a fear of man and a fear of vulnerability. It is stepping out into the unknown; a new job, a new relationship, a new opportunity, a new community, a new city or country. It is standing up for a cause, for injustice, or for our beliefs. It is going against the grain of culture and being motivated by truth and love alone. That is a scary thing until we realize that there is no fear in Love (1 John 4:18). Just as King declares so clearly in his final speech, “I’m not fearing any man because mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” I am reminded here of one of my favorite quotes from the movie Braveheart. In it William Wallace says, “Every man dies, but not every man really lives”.
I love that quote because it speaks so clearly to the call that God has placed, not only on MLK’s life, but on each and every one of our lives; the call to “really live”. Not simply for our own sake but ultimately for His sake. As John Piper says so beautifully, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” True satisfaction comes not from pursuing our own dreams and desires but instead through knowing God’s heartbeat and following His call before our own. He is glorified through our faithfulness and our obedience. He is glorified when we acknowledge our fears and face them head on. When we don’t know what the end result is going to be but we step out anyway. When we find contentment and fulfillment in the process of trust, in being forced to our knees in ultimate surrender to Him. When we give up our preferences, our comforts, our desires, our hopes and even our dreams for His. When in fact His dreams become our dreams and at the beginning of each day we find ourselves on our knees telling Him, “God, not my will but yours be done”. That is my prayer for not only myself but for everyone reading this. That you would have the courage to cultivate bravery in your own life. And that in your process of triumphing over your fears, God would be made known through your life.
God doesn’t call us to the impossible because he wants to see us fail but because He knows we won’t. We just need to remember that success in His eyes may look different than it does in ours. Our job is merely to have courage, trust, and obey.