Most unreality starts with the leadership not accepting change. The auto industry is a good example. RIM/Blackberry is another. They thought they had the corporate market sewed up and discounted the personal smartphone market. They have lost 70% of their value. What we are doing is based on the way things used to be and we have not accepted new reality.
Personal reality changes. We age. We get sick. We lose a spouse. We face a new reality and instead of accepting it we freeze up.
God begins with reality and states the obvious.. “Moses is dead. Get moving.” The Message.
2. This is not sudden. He has been prepared for it and anointed. Still, leading people who are wandering and disagreeable is different from leading those same people in a task that requires them to be focused and obedient. Moses dealt with anger all his life. Joshua, we would think, deals with fear and discouragement but there is no evidence of that. It takes a different leadership style to lead people out of bondage to the old than it does to lead them into the new. The situations were different and a different style was needed.
Even though Moses tells Joshua his experience with the people and that they will be corrupt in time, none of that happens in Joshua’s lifetime. Remember what Moses said to Joshua in the Wilderness? “For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn away from the way I have commanded. In days to come, disaster will fall upon you because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord and provoke him to anger by what your hands have made.”
It reminds me of Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus as he is leaving them for the last time. “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”
However, the people never rebel like they did with Moses. In some ways, Joshua was the ideal leader for Israel even though he was in the shadow of Moses.
I had a chance to read the job description of Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton when they were looking for a successor to Chuck Swindoll. “Someone who can honor the legacy of Chuck Swindoll but drive a stake in the heart of his ghost.” Decades after Chuck left the church they were still comparing everyone to him. That is what Joshua needed to do. He needed to honor the legacy of Moses but not try to be Moses.
3. I will never leave you or forsake you.
It’s essentially a marriage vow between God and Joshua. We hear it first in Deuteronomy 31:8 when Moses tells him the Lord will never leave him or forsake him. This is different. Here God is saying it directly to Joshua. No matter what, I will never abandon you.
He does not promise the people that. In fact, in Deuteronomy God says the people will at one point become so corrupt that he will forsake them – but that is many years away. But he will never forsake or abandon Joshua.
(The irony of the prediction of Moses is it is his own grandson, Jonathan, who is the first to introduce apostasy to Israel when he hires out to become a personal priest for a wealthy man named Micah. We’ll learn more about him when we study the book of Judges.)
Joshua’s work is not to make the people perfect but to lead them into the gift God is making them. Making them perfect would be impossible in this life but getting them to take possession of the gift is his calling.
In so many ways (starting with his name) Joshua is a foreshadowing of Christ. Salvation is a gift we must struggle to possess. It is costly – not cheap. It requires obedience, fidelity, discipline, courage, sacrifice and trust to possess it. We cannot earn it but once we have it we cannot take it for granted. We must struggle to possess it.
I like the title of the book about Brother Andrew – Practicing the Presence of God. It is taking what God has said about being with us always and making that a part of our daily life. It was not just during the high moments when he knew God was present. It was cleaning the pots and pans and the doing the most menial tasks that he was aware of the presence of God. We think about God being with us in the dramatic times but we do not practice the presence of the God in the everyday – so we panic when under pressure.
Of course, there is another place in Scripture where we are told God will never forsake us and that is in Hebrews 13:5: “5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’”
This is a far more practical battle for me than moments of terror in the face of an enemy. I want something tangible I can trust. Besides, isn’t there something almost un-American about being content with what we have?
The basis of all courage and all trust and all genuine contentment is the knowledge that God is with us and will never leave or forsake us. I like what Andrew MacLaren said. “Courage that does not rest on Christ’s presence is audacity rather than courage, and is sure to collapse.” Momentary courage can come from many sources – anger, desperation, hatred, ignorance or even fear but the only courage that matters and that lasts is built on the knowledge that God is with us and with that we are content.
“Character is not created in crisis. It is revealed in crisis.”
We do not have a battery back up in our spiritual lives. Unless we are directly plugged into the presence of God as the source of courage we may appear to be strong but it is not real. We have no independent power supply in our lives.
4. Do not let this book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night.
Meditate here does not mean what we normally think of as meditation. What is your image of someone meditating? Same as mine probably. Quiet contemplation. If someone does a meditation it is normally a short and thoughtful presentation that gives us a particular insight.
The actual word here is not about quiet pondering or mindfulness– it literally means groaning or murmuring. When Paul says we do not know what to pray but the Spirit intercedes and groans with mutterings we do not understand that is what this passage is saying about meditation.
Remember Hannah’s prayer? Eli thought she was drunk because she was muttering. She was praying the way God instructs Joshua to pray. Christ in Gethsemane is praying earnestly. Same image. God is saying to Joshua, “Pray until you are groaning. That is your struggle as a leader because that is the kind of prayer you will need to obey me in the land to which you are going – a land filled with evil, idols, perversion, corruption and deceit.” The biggest danger for Israel was not being defeated by the enemy in battle but becoming like the enemy afterwards.
But there is something else about not being silent. We are told to talk about it with our children. We have talked about this before – about telling our children our experiences with God when He brought us through a wilderness or defeated an enemy. Several times in Scripture it says, “When your children ask be sure to tell them.” We should not always wait until they ask.
A friend asked a number of us to write up the core values of our life in a few paragraphs. I had never done that and I tried to be as honest as possible. I sent it to the girls as I want them to have it.
I was with a family yesterday whose parents wrote up their life stories and made a video for their descendants to talk about what they believed so they could remember over time..
5. Be careful to obey. In other words, it is not just prayer or courage or trust but obedience. Oswald Chambers talks time and again about the importance of obedience in the small things that we know to be true and not waiting until it makes more sense or is more convenient.
I am good on study and yet there are areas of my life that are parched because I hold back on obedience. What is one thing in your life right now in which you have been putting off obedience? You know it’s there and you know you cannot grow around it like the bicycle in the tree but you avoid doing it. Be careful about nothing Scripture says but God also says about be careful about obedience.
6. Then you will be prosperous and successful. There are two words for prosperous in the Old Testament. One means to be fat. That is how we normally think of prosperous. That is not the word here. The word here is “sakal” and it means wise, having insight, comprehension and understanding of life. That is how we should understand success instead of the way we are taught. “Wisdom is supreme, therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Proverbs 4:7.
This is the mark of a successful life and the evidence of prosperity. Here is how Andrew MacLaren puts it. “The success here is the carrying out of conscientious convictions of God’s will into practice. This is the only success that is worth talking about or looking for. The man that succeeds in obeying and translating God’s will into conduct is the victor, whatever be the outward fruits of his life. He may go out of the field beaten, according to the estimate of men that can see no higher than their own height, and little further than their own finger tips can reach; he may himself feel that the world has gone past him, and that he has not made much of it; he may have to lie down at last unknown, poor, with all his bright hopes that danced before him in childhood gone, and sore beaten by the enemies; but if he is able to say in the strength that Christ gives, ‘I have finished my course; I have kept the faith,’ his ‘way has prospered,’ and he has had’ good success.’
Wisdom is not just personal. It is the mark of a life that has been shaped by obedience and discipline into a means of blessing other people.
So, what are the marks of a successful life as God defines it? First, trusting in the presence of God that enables us to rely on Him and be content no matter our circumstances. Second, prayer that is not merely quiet meditation but that is laborious. Third, obedience to the will of God.
“Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”