Years ago, when our kids were much younger than they are now, we were at Dillberry Lake in eastern Alberta with Susan’s family. I was standing in the water visiting with a couple of my brothers-in-law, when my nephew, Jason, who was a toddler at the time, walked over towards us and began to cling to what he thought was his dad’s leg, but it turned out to be my leg. Everything was fine until he looked up and, instead of seeing the face of his Dad, which he expected to see, he saw the face of his uncle, me. His face started to contort and he began to cry. Fortunately, his Dad, my brother-in-law, Bob, was right there with us. Bob picked up Jason who very quickly calmed down because he knew that he was with his dad and his dad was with him.
It is amazing how much of a difference the presence of certain people can make in our lives. When I was little, I remember being anxious when my Mom and Dad were out for the evening. I would frequently ask our babysitter, “When are they going to be home?” And I felt a sense of relief when they would walk in through the door. Everything was once again as I thought it should be. I was with my parents and my parents were with me.
When we grow up the challenges of life become greater and we may not have our parents around to comfort and guide us. In those times, What gives us the comfort, clarity and courage we need to move forward in times of great change? Change always results in stress and each of us has a patterned way of dealing with stress. Maybe we avoid stressful situations and step back from doing or saying what needs to be done and said. Or perhaps we get aggressive and attack someone else, dragging them down so that we can be lifted up. There is a lot of this kind of thing that happens on social media. Gossip is a way of attacking someone else. Or maybe we freeze, not knowing what to say or do in times of great stress. These are all fear-based responses and they are natural. But they prevent us from responding with the wisdom and courage we need to receive and embrace whatever good things God is going to bring to us through these stress-filled struggles.
To help us have courage in times of great change, we are starting a new series called Faith Over Fear where we are reflecting on key events in the book of Joshua so that we can have faith as the driving force in our life and not fear. The passage that we are looking at today is one of my favorites: Joshua 1:1-9. If you have a Bible or a Bible app, I invite you to turn there now.
As you do that, here is some background that will help you to understand what is going on in our passage. Joshua was one of only two Israelites that lived as a slave in Egypt, survived through the entire 40 year journey through the wilderness, and entered and lived in the Promised Land. His name originally was Hoshea, which means “salvation”. But Moses changed his name to Joshua which means “the Lord saves.” This is the same name that Mary, at God’s direction, would later on give to her son Jesus. And Jesus and Joshua share more than a name, for both of them were faithful, loving leaders of God’s people.
Throughout the journey through the wilderness, Joshua was Moses’ assistant, even accompanying him up Mount Sinai when Moses went to receive the tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were engraved. Joshua was also the Israelites’ chief military leader and he led them in battle against the Amalekites shortly after the departure from Egypt. Joshua was also one of the 12 Spies that were sent into the promised land, yet only he and Caleb came back with an honest and faithful report that encouraged the Israelites to go in and conquer the Promised Land as God had called them to do. The other 10 spies let the anxiety in their hearts become a defining feature in their reports. This led the entire Isarelite nation to become anxious and rebel against God. As a result of their rebellion, God declared that the Israelites would have to wander in the desert for 40 years until everyone 20 years old or older had died. The only exceptions were Joshua and Caleb, the two faithful spies.
Letting our anxiety overrule our faith has consequences, especially when we are leaders. We can be leaders of an organization, a family or a friend group. The anxiety of a leader can cause the people they lead to become anxious and step out of God’s plan for them. The Israelites tried to overturn their consequences by trying to enter the Promised Land on their own. But that didn’t work for them and it never works for us either. You can’t accomplish God’s projects by working against his will and trying to move forward without his power. Only with faith can we step into the brighter future that God wants to give to us.
In his graciousness, God always tries to bring us back onto the path of faith by giving us consequences that make us stop and think about what we are doing. Those consequences may be painful, but their purpose is to get us back on the right track. So when consequences for our actions or inactions come upon us, it is important for us to sit and soak in them for a while until we learn the truth that God has for us.
Through those forty years, Moses, Joshua and the rest of the Israelites continued their journey with God through the desert. Eventually, they arrived at a location on the east side of the Jordan River, across from the promised land which they were about to enter. That’s when big changes began to happen for Joshua.
Change usually begins with some kind of an incident, often unplanned and uninvited, which makes everything different. For Joshua, that inciting incident was the death of Moses. For 30 days, the Israelites wept and grieved over the death of Moses, but then it was time for God’s people to move into the Promised Land and Joshua was the one chosen by God to lead them.
Can you imagine how intimidating this moment was for Joshua? Moses was the greatest leader God’s people had ever had up to that point and Joshua had to try to fill his shoes. Not only that, Joshua was going to have to do things that Moses never did. As the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Joshua was going to have to lead them in battle against the Canaanites who already live there, and then lead the challenging process of dividing up the land after the battles were complete. Joshua must have been very anxious.
However, God addressed the tumultuous emotions in Joshua’s heart and called him to move forward with faith instead of turning away in fear from the good future God had for him and the rest of God’s people. The way God brought comfort, direction and encouragement to Joshua is very important and there is a pattern here that we should identify. For God brings comfort, direction and encouragement to us in times of great change and stress in exactly the same way.
First, God helps us to acknowledge reality. He said to Joshua “Moses my servant is dead.” (Joshua 1:2). Sitting with God and acknowledging what he shows us to be true is very, very important. Any plan that is not based on true reality, even if that truth is harsh will never succeed. We need to face the truth.
Second, God gives us a calling, that is, a vocation, a role to fulfill, a job that we are to do.
God said to Joshua, “Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites.” (Joshua 1:2). Joshua was called by God to lead his people into the promised land.
God calls us through the callings, or vocations, that he gives us.
It is very important for us to remember that God is the one calling the shots in this world. And life with God means that we are willing to let him call the shots in our own life too. In the movie that is our life, God is the director and you and I are the actors. So the question we all need to answer is: Are we going to follow God’s direction for our lives? And that brings up another question: What is God’s direction for our lives? With nothing but the Ten Commandments, we have a very clear idea of what it is that God wants us to do and not do. On top of that, the calling that God has given to each of us is part of the way that he guides us personally. If one or more of your parents are alive, then God has called you to be a child. Following God’s direction for your life means being a good child to your parents, regardless of how old you are. If you are going to school, college or university, then God has called you to be a student. Following God’s direction for your life means being a good student. If you are married, God has called you to be a good husband or wife to your spouse. If you are an employee, God has called you to be a good employee. If you are an employer, God has called you to be a good employer. When you have a friend, God has called you to be a good friend to your friend. And on and on it goes. God can give us more than one calling in life and we prioritize those callings by how close we are to the people we serve. Our spouse comes before our children, our family comes before our work, and so on. But our closest relationship is with Jesus and our first priority is to be the beloved, forgiven child of God that Jesus has redeemed us to be. With our priorities in order and a clear idea of what God has called us to do, we do God’s work by serving well in the various callings that he has given to us.
God directs us through our callings even when life gets disrupted because of a major change. When that happens, we pause, reflect and remember. We ask ourselves questions like:
- What is my current reality?
- Has God changed my calling? If He has, what calling has God given to me now?
- Knowing what my calling is, what is the best thing for someone with my calling to do in this situation?
- I then agree that that is what I need to do.
But before we move forward and do what we now know we need to do, it is important for us to turn to God’s third step, because that step makes all the difference. Three times God calls Joshua to be strong and courageous. Joshua needed to be courageous and strong so that he can fulfill the calling that God has given to him to lead God’s people well. Joshua needed to be strong and courageous so that he could fulfill the vision that God had for his life. Joshua needed to be courageous and strong to be a person that helps to bring God’s kingdom into this broken and hurting world.
But God also tells Joshua the reason why he can be strong and courageous.
As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you…. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:5, 9) Joshua could be strong and courageous because the God who brought all things into existence with a word, the God who faithfully loves the entire world, even when the people in that world have rebelled against him, the God who promised to restore and renew all things in the end, the God who chose one people group to reflect his love and character into the world, the God who heard the cries of his people and miraculously brought them out of slavery in Egypt, the God who faithfully fed his people throughout all those years in the wilderness, the God who led his people by a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night, that God had promised to always be with Joshua. That God had a purpose and a plan for Joshua’s life that was far beyond anything Joshua could ever dream up for himself. That God would faithfully supply all of Joshua’s needs. That God would calm Joshua’s fear-filled heart. That God would lead Joshua through the valley of the shadow of death.
God gives us the power of his presence.
We know that is true personally for us, just like it was for Joshua, because of Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate Joshua, for he leads us into the Promised Land of life with him forever. It is because of Jesus that we know, we know, we know that God will never leave us nor forsake us. It is because of Jesus that we can be strong and courageous. It is because of Jesus that we can feel fear, but not be afraid, it is because of Jesus that we can feel discouraged at times, but not be discouraged. Jesus is God the Son who came from another realm, step into this world and became one of us to tear down all the barriers between us and God. This Jesus did by going to the cross to suffer and die, thereby paying the full cost of forgiveness for all sins for all people for all time. As he hung on the cross, Jesus wore all of our sin, guilt and shame, a sight so abhorrent to our holy, heavenly Father that Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s how we can feel at times. But Jesuss’ reconciliation with his Father and his resurrection from the dead prove that any such feelings we may have are not based in reality. The truth is that Jesus experienced the abandonment that we deserve so that, in him, we can know that we will never, never, never, ever, ever, ever be abandoned. Jesus loves you and he is always with you. We know that is true because of the promises he gave us in our Baptism.
When we are blindsided by change and our heart and mind is filled with distress:
- We need to have clarity about our context.
- We need to discern God’s direction.
- (We need to have the power of God’s presence) But we especially need to have the power of God’s presence to move forward with faith over fear.
This is a really hard thing to do when it looks like God is not coming through for us because it feels like God is asking us to do more than we can do, or the resources we think we need are not in place before we start. But the fact of the matter is that God is not calling us to be comfortable with our own abilities or resources. If that was how God worked, then we wouldn’t really need him. No, God calls us to have faith, which means, by definition, that he is always going to call us to do more than we can possibly do on our own with the resources we have available to us. God is trying to lift you up into a greater life in a greater realm, and we live that life in that realm through faith in God. This is what life in the kingdom of God looks like. In his first letter, Peter describes that faith when he writes, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7).
We need to live with faith in God.
Imagine what your life would be like if faith instead of fear was driving the bus in your life. All of us have anxieties and fears, and please understand that I am not asking you to imagine your life without those things. I’m asking you to imagine your life where you are aware of your fears and you feel them, but they are not determining the direction of your life. You can take a cold, hard look at reality and accept it. But you also know God’s direction for your life because you know him. You have immersed yourself in the Bible, his collection of love letters to you, so you know who he is and what he is like. You know that, out of love for you and for the world, he has called you to do certain things that bless and support others.
With all that in mind, the challenge that I am setting before you today is to move forward in faith, doing what God has called you to do, trusting in his power and presence to carry you through. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9). Amen.