“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 1:9
The beginning of Joshua’s journey as the brand new leader of the Israelite people has been fascinating and encouraging to me lately. For the better part of a month now the words spoken to Joshua from God have been pouring into my heart, but I didn’t know how to put into context what it is that I was feeling. On top of everything else, as we are all aware by now, there has been a very real world event that has made the words God spoke to Joshua all the more relevant to each and every one of us today. So what does it mean to be strong and courageous in extreme times of uncertainty?
God wanted Joshua to hear the message loud and clear. Strong and courageous! Between Moses and God, Joshua had heard this command five times, presumably, within a year. Specifically from God he heard it three times in a single message. So why was God so bent on making sure Joshua would be strong and courageous? Because he was about to go through a massive time of uncertainty. Not only uncertainty, but seemingly impossible events were about to take place, and Joshua needed to know that in all things God was at work in his life. Joshua needed to hear that no matter how impossible the events that were about to unfold might have seemed, God was going to make all things possible. Joshua needed to hear that God is in charge and nothing that may appear to control the situation has authority over God.
The first time God speaks the words of strength and courage it is about leadership. “…you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give to them.” (1:7) Note that God didn’t say, “If all goes well.” He didn’t say, “If they listen to you.” He said, “You will.” He was speaking to Joshua in a critical time of new leadership. There was no denying it. Even though Joshua was groomed for the position He was not the son of Moses. He did not take over command by birth right, election, or by force. He was the aide of Moses who got handed over the reigns. This may not seem significant to a lot of people, but it would be roughly the equivalent of the CEO of a fortune 500 handing over the company to his secretary. The president, vice president, and board members were just going to have to accept that they were now being ordered around by the guy who was answering calls and setting up appointments before the CEO stepped down. It’s not an exact example, but hopefully it drives the point home a little more. In this moment where the charge of leadership was handed over to a seemingly unqualified leader; God was telling Joshua, “These people will listen to you. You will lead them, and they will obey.”
In times like we are in today, where uncertainty is all over the place we need our leaders to hear this command. Though churches are closed, and it appears the body of Christ is scattered we need our leaders to truly be the good shepherds that they were called to be. When our pastors and priests took to their call of leadership they knew that they would be herding the flock. The wolves have come into the pen and scattered the flock. It would be foolish of anyone to not see that this is a time where the enemy can have a hay day wreaking havoc on lives, families, and relationships at a whole. We are in a time where isolation is the name of the game, and non of us know how much longer this will last. We are in a time when the slightest sniffle or dry cough can make everyone uncertain of those around them. However, even though physical isolation is almost a requirement today, we were not left without tools. The internet has been brimming with all the tools necessary to keep the flock together far before this time ever came. Social media, video chat, and even shared document programs are all available to make sure that the people of the body of Christ can still stay connected when the world is telling everyone to stay apart. Utilize the tools, keep the flock together, and make sure that all of the flock stays committed to the one certain promise; that we are all going to the promise land.
The second time God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous is in regard to staying disciplined. “…Be careful to obey all the laws my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (7;8) This was a very personal command of strength and courage. The strength to stay disciplined in all of his actions would have been a very easy thing for a new leader to be distracted away from. We have all seen it before. The manager who is on a power trip, the manager who thinks that they can sit back and relax and have others do the work now, or the manager who doesn’t think the rules apply to them. They aren’t generally people that others want to work with or for. They usually lead their team down an unsuccessful path. They usually don’t last very long as a leader. God was telling Joshua that he didn’t get to sit back and eat grapes all day commanding others on what to do. No, just the opposite. God was asking him to be more diligent than ever. God was asking Joshua to be a focused and disciplined leader, so that he could stay in His favor, and the favor of the people he was leading. He was asking Joshua to lead by example.
Lets face it. If it hasn’t hit you yet, it will soon. Boredom. There is a reason that God only gave us one day of rest in the week. He knows that when we go too long without doing something productive, we start to lose focus. We start to get complacent, and we start to sway our eyes to the right or to the left. Working dutifully and diligently is one of the ways that we make sure that we are staying focused. So what happens when so many people are being called to work from home, or not at all? We can start to lose focus. What happens when we don’t have church to recenter us at least once a week? We lose focus. What happens when we are placed in a room with computer games, movies, and memes all over social media? We can start to lose focus. What happens when the world outside is completely uncertain and fear has been able to plant its seed in our heart? We absolutely start to lose focus. Now more than ever, we need to listen to the words spoken to Joshua on a personal level. We need to stay disciplined. We need to use our time to draw ourselves closer to the Lord. We need to dive into his Word and instill it into our hearts so that the seeds of boredom and fear can wither away.
Boredom in itself isn’t evil. I mean its not good, but it isn’t evil. If anything boredom is much like a stomach pang for your brain. It is your brain craving engagement. However, just like when we have a stomach pang, we have a choice of what we are going to put into our body when the craving hits. Are you going for the cream puff or the salad? Sure the cream puff is sweet and it will send a quick feel good to your senses, but in return it will also put all kinds of things into your body that really aren’t good for it. The salad, however, may not seem as appetizing at the time, but it will nourish you and actually has many elements that will help revitalize and heal your body – as long as you don’t use too much ranch. Also the more you eat the salad, the less appetizing the cream puff begins to sound. This is the same thing that happens with what we choose to fill our brain with when boredom hits. Are you going to fill it with music and singing that is inspiring and can lift your spirit to God, or are you going to fill it with music that feeds whatever emotion you are currently feeling? Are you going to read books that draw you to God, or books with shirtless pirates embracing an unbuttoned mistress? Are you going to watch videos on the internet that help explain some of the questions you’ve had about God and what it means to have a relationship with him, or are you going to visit a pornography site to find a quick release? Are you going to have conversations with your loved ones to help strengthen your relationships with them, or are you going to turn to a messenger app to make connections with people that would hurt the relationships in your home? Are you going to eat the salad and be nourished, or eat the cream puff for quick satisfaction that leads to negative side effects? In this time where the pangs of boredom are abundant, it is time to stay disciplined and nourish our mind and spirit with the Word of God, and our relationship with God, so that the cream puff of sin doesn’t seem all that appetizing anymore.
The last charge spoken in this context was specifically about Joshua’s relationship with God. “…Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (9) The Israelite people had a knack for calling God “The God of Moses.” I guess it made it easier to live their lives in whatever way they saw fit if they could put a separation between them and God through an emissary. However, God was making it clear to Joshua that not only will He be with Joshua wherever he goes, but that He is Joshua’s God. He was making it clear to Joshua that there is no separation between the two of them. God was calling him to know that he has a personal relationship with Him. On top of that Joshua needed to be strong and courageous because He needed to understand that no matter what uncertainty may be at foot, whatever impossible situation may be at hand; that God is with him.
This is always a big one, because life is never certain. There is always uncertainty, but when uncertainty makes itself the forefront and not the backdrop we tend to lose our focus quickly. We can start to forget that God is our God and nothing can separate us from Him. We start to forget that we have a promise from God that nothing that can happen on this earth can ever take away from us. We are in a time where uncertainty is for sure at the forefront of our lives. Every day the fog of uncertainty is getting denser and denser, and its as though the reality that was just a couple of weeks ago, for most of us, is gone for good. This, however, is just a fog and reality will come back to focus once again when the fog is lifted. In the mean time, though, we have to know that even if we can’t see what the next day will bring (at all right now) that we have the hand of God reaching out to us asking us to take grip and let Him lead us. We have the voice of God calling out to us in comfort, telling us that He is all that we need to get through this time. Just as every person before us, and every person to come, we have a choice. We can get lost in the uncertainty or take comfort in the Word of God. For the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. Even if in this time we get lost in the fear of uncertainty, which most of us will at least a time or two throughout all of this. All we have to do is call out to our Lord and He will place His hand on us to let us know that he is there. Even if we get sick; the Lord is with us. Even if we are hungry; the Lord is with us. Even if we feel alone; the Lord is with us. Even if we die; the Lord is with us. You see, as I said before. We have a promise that this world can not take away from us. Not sickness or death can take us away from the Lord, our God. We can rest assured knowing that no matter what struggles we face, not matter what hardships we endure, that the end game is not the end game. Rather, it is the beginning of our life with God physically. How awesome is that? I would encourage you to draw closer to God in these times, and not separate yourself away. You will find comfort when you embrace the fact that God is with you in all things.
All of these things can be applied any day of the year. They are valuable to us even when there isn’t a pandemic at foot. However, it is times like this when we need to deliberately apply them, and stay disciplined so that we don’t give the enemy a playground to play in.
There is one last thing that I want to say to everyone. If you are feeling alone right now, and alone is a dangerous place for you I beg for you to reach out to me or someone. This time will pass, and we need you on the other side of it. So please, if you are alone, and you are feeling like hurting yourself or worse, do know that we are all here for you. Even if I don’t know you yet, know that I love you and that I would do anything to make sure that we see you again on the other side of isolation. I know that is a bit off topic of the writing of the day, but in times like this it is more important than ever to say this. If you know someone is depressed, or was having a hard time before all of this began I ask you to check in on them daily. Not to the point of annoying anyone, but to the point of people knowing that they are loved.
Stay safe out there people, stay focused, and keep your hand reached out to the Lord. We will all get through this.