Strength and Courage
Fear is a powerful force. When we first went to the Soviet Union, I encountered fear first-hand: given the opportunity to preach the gospel to a lecture hall filled with students in the English department at the University of Ivano Franco, fear lurked in the shadows and tried to intimidate me.
Fear is incredibly creative in its efforts to knock us off track, and in my case, fear began playing a film in my mind. This is what I saw: as soon as I mentioned Jesus or the gospel or the Bible, secret doors in the back of the hall would open, KGB agents would rush in, I would be arrested and shipped over to Sibert and never see my fiance or family ever again.
Joshua faced a similar situation as he stood on the edge of the promised land: he had giants in front of him, a river to cross, and an unruly congregation that was not easy to lead. They had actually wanted to stone the previous pastor! It was in this moment that God met Joshua with words of encouragement (Joshua 1:1-9). Here are four key lessons:
1. Change Happens
Note God's first words to Joshua: 'Moses my servant is dead'. Moses was a great leader, but Moses was gone. God was letting Joshua know that the future would be different from the past.
Regardless of great the past was - or wasn't - it's over. We can't change it or fix it, and we shouldn't let it define us. The only thing we can do is act today and move forward.
2. Stay on Target
Even though Moses was dead, Joshua's job was to stay on target. God reminded him of the mission: 'Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel'.
There are many things that try to knock us off course; there are many distractions competing for our attention, and most of them are good things. But Jesus constantly reminds us of his mission: 'Go into all the world and make disciples of every nation'. Whatever else we do, we must stay on target.
3. Patterns of Promise
God was not originating a new modus operandi with Joshua; rather, he reminded him about the promsies he had made to Moses: 'Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses'. Joshua was able to live in the promises that God had already made to Moses - and to Abraham.
According to Paul in Galatians 3:14, in Christ, we become partakers of the blessing of Abraham. And what was that blessing? 'In you, all the world shall be blessed' (Galatians 3:8, Genesis 12:3). We have confidence in going forward with the mission of Jesus to make disciples of the nations because we live in the promises God has made.
4. Action Points
God understood where Joshua was. Not just geographically (on the edge of the Promised Land), but in his soul - on the edge of quitting. Joshua was gripped by fear and intimidation and had to fill the shoes of a larger than life leader.
What did God do? Rather than leaving Joshua with a vague 'you can make it, champ!' encouragement, God gave Joshua three specific action points:
- v. 6: Be strong and courageous
- v. 7: Only be strong and very courageous
- v. 9: Be strong and courageous.
You might notice there's a pattern to this. God tells Joshua three times to be strong and courageous. But here's the deal: some of us might hear this and think, 'That's the problem! I'm not bold and courageous!'.
We have to understand that this is not a 'pull yourself up by your bootstaps' message. This is a 'trust in the greatness of God' message. Paul wrote a similar thing to the Ephesians:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might (Ephesians 6:10).
We're not going to win in our own strength, but in God's.
5. The Promise of Presence
God's final word of encouragement to Joshua may be the most important: 'Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go' (Joshua 1:9). The primary reason Joshua could be strong and courageous is because God would be with him wherever he went. Perfect love casts out fear, and the presence of God torpedoes the darknes that tries to encompass us and gives us strength and courage for the mission.
Jesus said the same thing to his disciples. After giving them the daunting mission to go and make disciples in every nation, he made this beautiful promise: 'I am with you always, to the end of the age' (Matthew 28:20). The apostles didn't live until 'the end of the age', so that promise still pertains to us.
God has give us a mission (go and make disciples) and a promise (I'm with you always). Our job is to let the Holy Spirit fill us afresh so that fear and intimidation might flee from our hearts, so that we can be marked by strength and courage. Moses is dead - the future is going to be different. But as long as we stay on target and walk in God's strength, the future is going to be good.