When Joshua takes over for Moses, God gives him the Bible’s greatest halftime speech. It’s got everything: Tactical instruction mixed with a lot of “strong and courageous” talk to really get you fired up.
That’s the part that originally drew me to the passage years ago. As a young man, the “strong and courageous” phrase (it’s repeated 3 times in Joshua 1 alone) really motivated me. I got a mental image of myself doing daring things for God. Oddly enough though, God hasn’t yet called me to stand on top of a mountain, wind in my hair (wouldn’t it be nice if I had hair), chest out, looking heroic. He hasn’t even called me to courageously lead his people in a game of football.
That’s because I was missing the point of Joshua 1. God’s instructions to Joshua begin like this:
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law 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.”
God was calling Joshua to lead by following. He needed Joshua to courageously trust that God was in control. He was asking for obedience, not heroic posturing or even personal sacrifice in Joshua’s own strength.
When I read this passage years ago, I was like a tiny barking dog, tugging at God’s leash to get into fights I couldn’t win. I had ideas for how to change the world, how to develop the perfect ministry.
Meanwhile, God didn’t need my ideas or my pride. He just needed me to stop tugging at the leash, and courageously obey him by following him wherever he took me. Every once in a while God’s plan has included my ideas, but constantly it has required me to love my neighbor, be honest, and consider others better than myself. He’s taken me places that require strength and courage, but most of all they’ve required obedience.
God doesn’t leave us at a loss for His instructions either. His charge to Joshua continues like this: “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.”
One of my mentors has always described discipleship this way: “Read God’s word and do what it says.” That’s God’s charge to Joshua, and it’s His call for us too. The Israelites in Joshua’s time revered the Word of God as imbued with His own immense power. They memorized it, held it in the highest regard, and recognized that rebellion against it meant a separation from the only thing keeping them alive in the wilderness: God and his plan.
God created the world with a word. He instructed Joshua with powerful words, and His Word is available to us more readily than it’s been to any people group before. With that in mind, let’s stop pulling at God’s leash. Let’s lead by following.
When was the last time you memorized a scripture verse? God doesn’t ask us to keep a searchable copy of the Bible in our iPhone, but he does ask us to keep his word on our lips. It takes discipline to keep God’s word on our minds and in our mouths, but it comes with great benefits.
When we constantly remind ourselves of the content of God’s word, we’re exposing ourselves over and over again to the transformative power of Christ. That’s a lot more than just committing to do the right thing or be a good person. It’s a step toward knowing God.
Immersion in and obedience to God’s word means that we’re aligning ourselves with God and his plans. Now that’s a position of strength, from which we can act courageously. God’s next words to Joshua sum it up. After calling for him to immerse himself in the Word, God says this:
“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.”
God regularly took Joshua into life threatening situations. Joshua had to be strong and courageous. Most of all though, he had to obey and act with the knowledge that God’s work done God’s way does not fail. In faith and obedience he assaulted Jericho with only trumpets and clay pottery. He won, because God won. With God’s words on our lips and in our hearts, may our footsteps follow in his, where we’ll never loose our way.