Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Dare to Take the Next Step!

Joshua chapter 1 is prescription to Joshua for successful ministry. Victory is assured to him – one step at a time. It will be a process. The inheritance is defined and Joshua is commissioned to lead the people – fearlessly. But notice how he must be the one to take the first steps. He must lead by example.

The challenge however comes when we gain sufficient territory to feel ‘on top’ but not enough to say we have taken full possession. That was the temptation facing Joshua’s descendents in the book of Judges. They had taken enough land to feel secure but didn’t realise it wasn’t enough to be safe. They underestimated the power of the enemy to gain strength and in time enslave them.

This is a sobering lesson – if we can hear it. The only security they had was in continuing to fully possess their inheritance. In other words they had to take the next step – hence the title of this article. The word most repeated in this chapter to Joshua was to be strong and courageous. He had to dare to take the next step. And so do we.

Here are some observations I’ve made from this text and my own experience:

1. You have to let go of the past in order to embrace the future.
What do I mean by let go? Let’s be clear here. I don’t mean forget it. That is often an unreal expectation and highly problematic. The past has helped to shape who we are today. And if the past had had a significantly positive impact why should we forget it? So much of Joshua’ leadership was developed under the mentorship of Moses. It was good, powerful and life-changing. Joshua would do well to remember many of the lessons he had learned from Moses. Certainly he could look back with deep appreciation for all that this great hero had invested in him.

No doubt someone wants to throw Is 43.18 TNIV at me – “forget the former things...” Let’s dig a little deeper into this verse. I believe that by the phrase “forget”, God is talking about not dwelling on the past to the point of being distracted from the present moment and the future that He calls us to walk into. The King James Version of Is 43.18 says, “Do not remember the former things...” What we hold before us effects our future.

This happened to the children of Israel in the Desert. They constantly hankered back to Egypt – which was not that great, but time and distance seemed to make it look better than it really was. They became dull to what God was doing all around them. In that sense they needed to forget the past. When God forgets our sin He doesn’t literally forget them; but He does choose not to dwell on them or hold them against us. We need help to cultivate the same kind of attitude.

The past may have been great. But it is the past. What is God doing now? What is God saying now? How can we move into our future with God? These are the important questions. God reminded Joshua; Moses is dead – move on. Sometimes we draw a line between us and the past. God challenges us to. He gives us a new focus related to His purpose. This is what we must embrace.

Samuel had to do this in relationship to Saul. He had anointed him. Everything began with such promise. But Saul rebelled – on more than one occasion. In the end God rejected him from being King. Samuel was devastated. He cried and mourned for Saul. In the end God had to challenge him to move on. Why? Because God had. He had already seen and prepared the next King. And Samuel had a job to do. He needed to overcome his own disappointment and get on with God’s purpose. He had to let go of the past in order to embrace the future.

2. You have to establish a new set of priorities
Joshua now had to speak what had been the focus of his meditation while leading the people into their inheritance. He had moved from being an assistant to being a leader. His connection to Moses remained by reading what Moses had written. But he had to rely on God – not Moses. And God promised to be with Joshua in the same way He was with Moses. Re-adjusting to new priorities is never easy. We get comfortable with our routines. Yet we often can’t take the next step without some change.

I have learned that as believers we are good at adding to our schedules but not good at taking away from them. No wonder we experience burn out. For every new thing God calls us to do we need to lay down some things, re-prioritise and have sufficient energy to walk into the new. It means saying yes to some things and no to others. And God was very direct in telling Joshua that his focus must be the Word.

It is similar to the early apostles who, when under pressure to resolve the unfair distribution of food to the widows, appointed 7 other spiritual leaders. Their reasoning was simple; “It’s not right that we should serve tables but we will give ourselves to the ministry of the word and prayer”, Acts 6.1-4.

They weren’t trying to get out of serving; they were simply focused on where they should serve. And labouring in the word and prayer is hard work. What good things are you doing that you need to lay down in order to pick up what God wants to give you? What are you holding on to that someone else could do if you empowered them? Notice that the outcome of this appointment in Acts 6 was the growth of the church and the satisfaction of the people while extending the development of leaders – Philip and Stephen in particular.

3. You must learn to walk in obedience to what God has said, even when it appears foolish.
Imagine an army general being told to march around a walled city in total silence. No speaking, no fighting, no questions! Imagine building a boat hundreds of miles from land like Noah did. Imagine holding up five loaves and two fish to Heaven and blessing them. Imagine a teenage boy trying to fight a seasoned warrior that twice his size – with nothing more than a slingshot. Imagine defeating death by surrendering to it.

The list is endless. Often our greatest hurdle to success is our own embarrassment at God’s wisdom. He just doesn’t do things the way we do. And so we are required to be strong and courageous; courageous not just in the face of the enemy, but also in the face of mockery from others, if God doesn’t come through. Humility is a great partner to faith. It helps us have a ‘could care less’ attitude. And this frees us from the fear of man that Proverbs tells us is a snare.

Joshua’s first act of obedience in Canaan would require him to circumcise an entire army, rendering them powerless to defend themselves. Couldn’t that have been done the other side of the Jordan? Why here? Why now? Why me? Have you ever asked those questions? God is intentionally making them vulnerable – and He does the same with us. Who do you think they were trusting? Who do you think they were relying on? In truth it was the enemies of Israel who were afraid. They had heard the testimonies of what God had done and how He had delivered them – and they were scarred.

4. You have to engage the enemy in a fight.
At some point we have to fight for what is ours. It belongs to us by right, by inheritance, by promise; but we must possess it. We must dare to take the next step. God won’t do it for us. This is not so difficult for new enthusiastic believers but for those who are a little longer in the tooth it can be a huge difficulty. Like I said at the beginning; we often settle for less than total victory. It just seems too much like hard work at times.

Think of Moses when petitioning Pharaoh to let the people go. Three compromises were offered to Moses. How tempting to say yes. It’s not everything he wanted, but almost. The first comes in Ex 8.25 when Pharaoh says in effect, “OK worship your God but do it here in Egypt”. Then in Ex 10.11 he says, “OK but just take the men and leave the women and children”. Finally in Ex 10.24 Pharaoh says, “Leave the flocks and herds and you can all leave”. It takes someone with great clarity of what the inheritance should look like to stand and say, “No – I want more, because has promised more”.

This level of conviction comes from a clear understanding of what God has said; what He has given. It is the promise of God that should determine our resolve to hold out for all that is ours.

5. Your confession must come out of a deep meditation of God’s word.
Joshua is told to do this day and night and not to deviate to the right or the left. His instructions are precise and emphatic. Notice how God focuses on the end product – that which comes out of Joshua’s mouth. This is a product of his understanding, which is a product of the meditation of his heart, which in turn is a product of his memorisation and this is a product of his reading.

What we say often betrays the condition of our heart. This business of possessing an inheritance is serious stuff. It will require real focus from Joshua and it seems to me that the power of the promise lies in our ability to speak it with heartfelt conviction. For our lives often follow our words. When I tell someone I will meet them at a certain place more often than not I do. My body, my life, my commitments all follow my words. So God tells Joshua the importance of having the right words – His words. It is something he must give himself to and then success will follow. It is promised.

As you ponder the different challenges God is leading you into, let me encourage you to take these five principles and work through them so that you too will be an overcomer; someone who truly possess their inheritance to the full. I dare you - take the next step.