Text: Joshua 1:5-9
Not long ago I flew to a northern city for a speaking engagement. A man I had never seen was to meet me at the airport. But when I
entered the terminal, no one approached me. Many people were waiting to meet arriving passengers, but none headed in my direction. After a while I was paged over the loudspeaker and asked to meet my party at the airline desk. When I got there I immediately recognized the man waiting for me as one of those in the waiting room. I had walked right by him and he had failed to recognize me. He apologized profusely and said, “I had your picture, but you don’t look anything like it.” That has happened so many times, I just answer, “Well, that picture was made when I was much older.”
Have you ever noticed the disturbing difference between what the Bible says we are and what we really are? It would be difficult to recognize most Christians from the description of them given in the Bible. I wonder if people would be surprised to discover that we’re Christians. Might they say, “I had your picture in my Bible but you don’t look anything like it”?
Let’s take a quick look at our photograph. In I John 5:4 we read, “. . .And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith.” I used to read that and say, “Aha, that’s why I’m not overcoming the world. I don’t have enough faith. If God would give me more faith, I could be victorious.” Then one day I read the next verse and it blasted that excuse into limbo. “And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (v. 5). It’s not special or super faith that overcomes the world. It’s not how much faith you have, but what you have faith in. The statement is unmistakably clear. If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, you are overcoming the world. I believed, but I wasn’t overcoming the world!
Take another look at yourself. “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). The words translated “overwhelmingly conquer” are difficult to translate adequately. The Greek word conveys the idea of super- and supra-conquerors. The Christian doesn’t merely conquer–he overwhelmingly conquers. Most Christians believe we’ll win in the end. The Lord is going to be victorious finally. But it’s going to be close! It’s like a football game and in the last three seconds the Christians will kick a field goal and beat the devil 17 to 14! No, that’s not what Paul says–it’s not the Christians 17 and the devil 14; it’s the Christians 100 and the devil 0. By the way, that is not a promise; it is a statement of fact.
One more glance ought to be enough. “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst” (John 4:14). Jesus used a double negative for emphasis; “shall not never thirst.” That’s poor English but great theology. Just one drink of the water of eternal life will put a reservoir of contentment and satisfaction within the believer.
I see your name under the picture, but is that really you? That’s sufficient to show the terrible discrepancy between portrait and practice.
So the real question is this: how do we cross the gulf between what we ought to be and what we are? How do we bridge the experience gap?
The key is the word response. We experience what God says of us when we respond to what God says to us. As a matter of fact, all Christian living is simply a matter of response. We were saved by responding to God’s offer of grace. We sought Him because He sought us. We love Him because He first loved us (I John 4:19). “You shall be holy, for I am holy,” He says (I Peter 1:16). And John tells us we are to walk in the light because He is in the light. (I John 1:7).
We live the Christian life the same way we received it. “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6) The Israelites got into Canaan the same way they got out of Egypt–by crossing a river. Interesting, isn’t it? God’s method was the same in both instances. That reveals a significant spiritual principle–God’s methods never really change. We were saved by grace through faith, and we live by the same grace through the same faith. We entered the Christian life by responding in faith to Jesus Christ, and we go on in the Christian life by continuing to respond in faith to Jesus. Our response becomes the ink with which we write the history of our lives.
The Gospels provide a good example of response that led to success. One morning after Simon Peter and the other disciples had fished unsuccessfully all night, Jesus appeared and asked, “Have you caught anything?” “No,” they replied. “We have labored all night and have taken nothing.” Then Jesus told them, “Case your nets down on the other side of the boat.” Simon could have said, “Now, Master, you stick to preaching and leave the fishing to us. After all, we’re professionals.” Or they could have said, “We’ve already tried that spot,” or, “Our fathers fished this spot for years and taught us every trick. The fish just aren’t here.” Instead, Simon responded, “We have toiled all the night…. nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net” (Luke 5:5, KJV). And their obedient response produced a bulging net.
In the first chapter of Joshua we find a threefold response to the Word of God that guaranteed victory, If Joshua would make these three responses, the land that God had already given to them in promise would become theirs in experience.
ACCEPT GOD’S PROMISES.
Someone may say, “Well, I’ve done that already. I accept every word in the Bible as the true, inspired Word of God.” I’m sure you do, but that’s not what I mean. I mean you should accept God’s promises for yourself, as your very own promises, as though you were the first and only person to whom God ever spoke them.
God’s promises are not limited to past saints. In God’s commission to Joshua He tells him that the promises He made to Moses were now promises to him.
“Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you.. .you shall give this people possession of the land which I
swore to their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:5,6).
The promises didn’t die with Moses. God renews them with every generation. You must look at them and exclaim, “These are my promises. God promised them to me–not just to Joshua or Paul or Peter or the early church.” In Jesus Christ all the promises of God are “Yes” and “Amen”. 2 Corinthians 1:20).
God’s promises are not altered by time. Joshua was standing at the end of forty years of failure. Think of it, an entire generation had died since God had made His promise. But the years had failed to erode the promises of a God who speaks with eternity in His words.
“Forever, 0 Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness continues throughout
all generations” (Psalm 119:89, 90).
Don’t let a mere 2,000 years separate you from God’s promises!
God’s promises are not affected by circumstances. Like a clap of thunder, God announced, “Moses, my servant is dead.” Exit Moses; faithful and familiar leader, a man with a face-to-face relationship with God, a trusted friend who stuck with them through every bad time.
Enter Joshua, a rookie! If the mighty Moses was unable to bring them into Canaan, who could? Surely Joshua couldn’t expect to succeed where Moses failed. It was not a very encouraging situation. But God made it clear that circumstances hadn’t changed His plans. How could they? He had created the circumstances! God planned Moses’ death, brought it about, and was in charge of the funeral Himself. Rest assured that God will never create a circumstance that conflicts with His plans, regardless of how it appears. Every circumstance, under the control of our sovereign Lord, only serves to further His redemptive purposes.
The quickest route to defeat is to concentrate on your circumstances. Thank God, victory never depends upon circumstances. Even if everyone about us fails, God is still faithful. Every adverse situation is a fresh call to believe God. Each difficulty is a new opportunity for God to demonstrate His faithfulness.
ABIDE IN GOD’S PROMISES
The heart of God’s commission to Joshua dealt with the leader’s relationship to the law of God. You can’t read the first chapter of Joshua without seeing how important this was. God made it clear that the only way Joshua would succeed in his task was by knowing God’s words thoroughly and keeping them faithfully.
“Be careful to do according to all the law.. .do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success
wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night so that
you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will
have success” (Joshua 1:7,8)
The word “prosperous” carries the idea of making right and wise decisions. The word of God would give Joshua the ability to make the right and wise decision in every situation and thus insure success in his appointed task. We must learn this truth. Regardless of natural talent or ability, only disciplined devotion to God’s Word can equip us to do God’s will.
The Word of God must be placed first. In the daily life of the believer the Bible is to occupy the place of supremacy; it is to be the law of his life. Notice that the law was set above Joshua; although he was the successor of Moses, the God-chosen leader of the people, he was to give undeviating obedience to God’s command. There could not be the slightest neglect or compromise: “Do not turn from it to the right or to the left.”
Our relationship to God’s Word is stated by Jesus in John 14:21:
“He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and
I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.”
The key word “keep” means “to be vigilant, to keep a watchful eye upon” something. It was used of ancient mariners who kept their ships on course by vigilantly watching the stars and navigating by them. We navigate our cars the same way, keeping our eyes on the highway markers and speed limit signs and driving accordingly. Especially do we keep a watchful eye on the rear-view mirror! Jesus is telling us to keep a watchful eye on His commandments and conform to them. They are to regulate our walk just as the highway signs regulate our driving.
The Word of God is to be practiced fully. First, it is to be the source of our speaking. God said to Joshua, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth” (Joshua1:8). The law was to direct his speech and predominate his conversation. Peter said, “Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God” (I Peter 4:11). Writing to the Ephesians, Paul said; “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
And to the Colossians he wrote: “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6). John Bunyan was converted as a result of overhearing a conversation among several women. If someone eavesdropped on you, would your conversation point him to Christ?
Second, the Word of God is to be the subject of our thinking. “You shall meditate on it day and night,” God commanded Joshua (Joshua I :8a). And significantly, it was this meditating on the Word of God that would enable him to obey all that was written in it (see verse 8b). This is the same word that appears in Psalm 1:2. “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” Verse 3 reveals the result of such delightful meditations:
“And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither;
and in whatever he does, he prospers.”
That’s exactly what God said to Joshua. Almost gives you the idea God is trying to tell us something, doesn’t it? Well, He is. He is trying to tell us that meditating on the Word of God is the secret of spiritual prosperity!
The Hebrew word translated “meditate” has the overtones of “humming.” A famous popular signer was asked why he was always humming. He answered that humming kept his vocal cords warmed up and ready to perform at a moment’s notice. And our constant humming of the Word, meditating on it day and night, will keep us warmed up and ready to obey at a moment’s notice. The Word of God is to be like a tune you can’t get out of your head; it is to permeate your life and be absorbed into your system. Then and only then will you be able to act wisely. When you encounter a situation you don’t know how to handle, God will be able to give you unbelievable wisdom, because you have been abiding in His Word.
ACT ON GOD’S PROMISES.
I met a man recently who said he had been having a regular time of Bible study and prayer, and had even been memorizing Scripture. “But,” he complained, “it hasn’t made any difference.” After talking with him awhile, I discovered he lacked one thing: he had not been acting on what he learned. It’s not enough to read your Bible regularly, memorize it, and meditate on it; you must obey it. The purpose of the meditation, as we have seen, is obedience: “. . . meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for them… .you will have success.” (Joshua 1:8)
Reading the Bible will give you knowledge about God; obeying the Bible will give you knowledge of God. Many Christians know a lot about God but do not know God Himself in a personal and intimate fellowship. It i when you begin doing what you have been reading that your life begins changing. God doesn’t give us scriptural knowledge for information’s sake; He isn’t interested in satisfying our curiosity or scratching our intellectual itch God is interested in our obedience. And that’s the purpose of all revelation. “Thy word have I hid in my mind that I may amaze my friends” is the attitude of many who aren’t the least bit interested in hiding it in their hearts that they might not sign against God.
Obedience is cooperation with God. God had already given the and, but Joshua had to walk across it before he received it. And he was given only as much as he walked across. The same is true for us. God gives you only as much as you are willing to walk across in obedience.
Obedience is confidence in God. It is confidence in His promise. “I have given it to you,” God said. I have made a marvelous discovery. God never asks you to do something without giving you the power to do it. Our obedience is simply saying “Amen” to God’s promise. Joshua could take the land because God had already given it to him. This means that disobedience is an assault on the character of God; it is saying, “God, You can’t be trusted.” On the other hand, obedience is saying, “God, I trust You, and to prove my trust, I’m going to do everything You tell me.”
But more than this, obedience is confidence in His presence. Listen to verse 9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” It is His presence that gives you the courage to obey, even when faced with unbelievable problems and insurmountable obstacles. And He will go with you even more closely than He went with Joshua, because He actually lives within you through His Holy Spirit.
You hold the key to the door of victory. THE KEY IS YOUR RESPONSE TO THE PROMISES OF GOD. USE IT AND YOU WILL UNLOCK THE VAULT TO ALL OF HEAVEN’S RESOURCES.
©Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2002