I love to play tennis but I have a big problem with my follow-through. When I hit the ball, instead of bringing the racket on through to complete the swing, I stop–and the ball sails out of bounds. I just can’t remember to follow through, That’s why I gave up golf. In every sport, following through seems to be necessary. A few days ago I was watching a Little League baseball game. The pitcher, who looked to be about seven or eight years old, was having a tough time getting the ball across. After a bad pitch, his mother yelled from the bleachers, “Follow through, Greg! Follow through!” I keep hoping I’ll find a sport that doesn’t require follow-through.
I spent a lot of time looking for a spiritual experience like that, too–you know, one that didn’t require any follow-through. I prefer to be borne along effortlessly in my Christian walk. But that’s not the way it works, and some great spiritual experiences faded into nothingness because I failed to follow through. For many, the Christian life is like a soap box derby. Someone gives you a big shove down a steep hill and you’re sailing. The wind whistles in your ears, the people sweep by, and everything’s great. Then suddenly you begin to slow down; you get slower and slower until finally you stop. You’re stalled until you find another hill and someone to give you another push.
A lot of folks are stalled in the wilderness, hoping God will come along and give them a big push that will propel them into a big, beautiful experience. The roadside is littered with countless Christians who used to be “really turned on” for the Lord. Most of them are there because they didn’t follow through.
The Bible has a lot to say about this. Paul, for instance, emphasized the walk of the Christian: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6). Most of us in our public testimonies stress our “crisis experience” but Paul talks about the walk As the old preachers used to say. “It’s not how loud you shout or high you jump, but how you walk when you hit the ground.” Amen, brother.
The importance of follow-through is also seen in the fact that only four chapters in Joshua deal with the actual entering of the land. The other twenty relate what happened after the entrance. And a very strange thing happened first. Because they were crossing at one of the most strongly fortified areas of Canaan, about 40,000 of the Israelites entered the land dressed for battle–but fighting was not their first act. Though they were vulnerable at that location and ready to fight, God ordered them to stop in that exposed area and worship Him by erecting a memorial. Each tribe was directed to take a stone from the middle of the river, one for each of the twelve tribes, and set them up in their encampment. This place became known as Gilgal–the place of passage. The stones probably placed carefully in a circle, stood as a memorial to what God had done for His people that day.
The Israelites had had a great crisis experience, and the strange circle of stones was their follow-through–and the guarantee that the experience would last. Investigating the meaning of these stones will provide some profitable help for our own program of follow-through. “what mean these stones?” (Joshua 4:21b, KJV)
THE STONES WERE THE EVIDENCE OF A LASTING EXPERIENCE.
The monument of stones was there “so that you may fear the Lord your God forever” (Joshua 4:24). The miracle of Jordan was to have a permanent effect on Israel. There was no doubt that the mighty display of divine power produced instant reverence for the Lord; but that experience was to be so deep, so intense, that such reverence would last forever. And, I must add that reverence was to be independent of His miracles. In other words, if God had to keep performing miracles to sustain their reverence, the experience was defective
It is impossible to have a genuine encounter with God and remain the same. Look at Moses. Meeting God at the burning bush revolutionized and reversed his whole life. Jacob’s experience at Bethel wrought such a change in him, God gave him a new name. The Damascus road confrontation turned Saul of Tarsus into Paul the apostle–a change so extraordinary that the Christians could not believe it at first. Those twelve stones proclaimed the beginning of a new era for Israel. But it was only a beginning. That first stop had to lengthen into a walk.
This aspect of Christian experience is a major thrust of the New testament. Paul warned the Corinthians that any religious experience which didn’t result in holy living was receiving the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1-4). The Galatians made a good start but were in danger of returning to their former religious rut. Staying free was as much part of their salvation as being set free (Galatians 3:1-3; 5:1)
One of the most sobering statements of the Bible occurs in Philippians 2:16. Having admonished the Philippians to go on to maturity. Paul says, ‘..so that in the day of Christ I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.” What an astonishing thing to say. The fact that they had been converted wasn’t sufficient to cause Paul to glory when he stood before Christ. As far as he was concerned (and remember, he was writing under the inspiration of the Spirit) if they failed to follow through to maturity, his labor would be in vain. All his efforts would be meaningless. How could this be? Even if they didn’t grow and develop, at least they would go to heaven. Surely that meant something. Not much, Paul said. He felt that if his ministry to them achieved only their entrance into heaven, he might as well have stayed home. Of what use is a talent in the ground, a fig tree without fruit, a light under a basket?: We desperately need to rid ourselves of the false idea that Christ shed His blood simply to buy our way into heaven.
The gospel is frequently described as dynamite, because we get the word “gospel” from the Greek word dunam is, translated “power” in Romans 1:16. Unfortunately, some of our experiences are exactly like a stick of dynamite: a loud noise, a lot of dust stired up, over in a second and not a trace left! We get another word from dunamis which I think better described salvation. It is “dynamo.” a continual source of energy. When God saved us He placed within us a dynamo, the Holy Spirit, who provides an unceasing flow of divine energy, a permanent power supply that enables us to become all God saved us to be.
THE STONES WERE TO BECOME THE CENTER OF THEIR LIVES.
From the very spot in the river where the priests had stood with the ark from the heart of their experience, they took twelve stones and placed them I their camp. What God had done for them was to be an integral part of their daily lives. Gilgal, the site of the memorial, became the base of all their activities. From there they went out to fight, and whether victorious or defeated, they always returned to that sacred spot. It was the center of their life.
In the following-through we need a Gilgal, a p/ace of remembering. The stones, like our experience, reminded the people of the faithfulness of their covenant God. It’s frightening to realize how easily we forget spiritual matters. We can remember a sordid joke we heard years ago but can’t recall last Sunday’s sermon text.
That’s why the bible frequently warns us about the dangers of forgetfulness. Thumb through the pages of Deuteronomy, for instance, and see how many such warnings are there. Here are some from the eighth chapter:
And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you…. Beware lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments… lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied… you forget the Lord your God… But you shall remember the Lord your God… And it shall come about if you ever forget the Lord your God… .you shall surely perish (Deuteronomy 8:2, II, 12, 14, 18, l9.)
There wasn’t any danger they would forget crossing the Jordan and entering Canaan; the danger was they would forget it had been accomplished by God’s power alone. When that happened, they would take God for granted. Witness the defeat at Ai! We all have a tendency to forget our helplessness and God’s omnipotence. That leads to living in the energy of our flesh, which in turn, leads to disaster.
Jesus established the Lord’s Supper as a remembrance of His death for us. That’s why we call it the memorial supper–like the stones, it is a place of remembering. When we eat the bread and drink the cup we do it remembering that it was for our sins that His body was broken an His blood shed. Remembering the cross is a powerful deterrent to backsliding. Peter tells us that our lack of certain spiritual virtues is evidence we have forgotten our “purification from…. former sins”. (2 Peter 1:91).
We also need a p/ace of readjustment. Every Christian, sooner or later, experiences spiritual vertigo and becomes disoriented. Like Joshua, we need a place where we can realign ourselves with the purpose and will of God. D.L. Moody, famous evangelist of the last century, retreated every summer to a private place where he could be alone with God and “retune the instrument.” Even in the midst of religious activity our hearts can grow cold, and though we may excuse ourselves because we’re “working for the Lord.” the heat of activity will not take the place of the warmth of communion.
How can we know we need readjusting? The standard by which we measure our present relationship with God is His previous work in us. We examine our present spiritual status in the light of that past experience. Why not check yourself right now? You remember how it was–the fresh awareness of His presence, the ever-present joy, the love that seemed to flow from your fingertips, the irresistible desire to talk about Him. Is it still that way? Is it more so? Or is it less? You used to be patient; now you’re touchy and irritable. Moodiness has replaced joyfulness. Worry and anxiety have replaced peace and contentment. Do you find yourself trying to live up to what you were? If so, you need to return to Gilgal, the place of readjustment, the place of confession and forgiveness. William Cowper may have been speaking for you when he wrote:
Where is the blessedness 1 knew
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus and His Word?
What peaceful hours I then enjoyed!
How sweet their mem’ry still!
But they have left an aching void
The world can never /ill.
Return, 0 Ho/v Dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest;
I hate the sins that made Thee mourn
And drove Thee from my breast.
One of my closest friends is a pilot. Some time ago he flew me to a bible conference in a private plane. I’m a sort of frustrated pilot, and after we took off and were settled on course, I asked if I could take the controls. I thought I was doing pretty’ well until he tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at the compass. Without realizing it, I had drifted far off course. In the same way, if we’re not careful, we will assume we’re right on the beam spiritually, when in fact we are drifting off course.
THE STONES WERE A WITNESS TO OTHERS.
It has been said that you can’t meet God and not know it. That’s true. And others will know it too. There’s an unusual song–you see it instead of hearing it. Neither the Psalmist nor Moses had to convince people they had met God. Moses didn’t need a glow-in-the-dark bumper sticker that said, “I’m living in the SONshine.” Badges, beads, and bumper stickers are fine, but if it takes those things to show I’m a Christian, then I’m not much of one.
We have an obligation to those around us and to those who come after us. Three times in Joshua 4, the people were commanded to explain the meaning of the stones when their children asked about them.
That tells me that there ought to be something in our lives that makes people ask questions. Usually, in our witnessing efforts, the most difficult problem is how to get started, how to bring the subject up without offending. Some Christians wear curious-looking pins, hoping someone will ask them what they mean and open the door to witnessing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it ought to be our Christ like life and not a pin that causes folks to ask questions. The apostle Peter told his readers:
Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to every one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15).
If Jesus is Lord, be ready–for sooner or later someone is going to ask you about it.
While Peter was delivering his well-prepared sermon, the congregation interrupted him, crying, “What must we do?” What preacher wouldn’t like to have that kind of response! Do you know what made them do that? It was the transformed lives of the believers that attracted their attention so Peter could preach to them.
It was the same with the Philippian jailer. He had been so impressed with the way Paul and Silas reacted to their mistreatment and imprisonment that when God shook the foundations for them, he brought up the subject.
But here is the significant thing about the stones. They were the past reaching into the present, a present condition resulting from a past event. It’s all right to talk about the past if there is some evidence of that past in the present. Every once in a while someone says to me, “You should have seen this church fifteen years ago. God sent a great revival–it was really something!” When I hear that I feel like saying, “Well, I’m glad you told me; otherwise, I’d never have known it.” There’s nothing wrong with talking about the past–it’s good to remember and recite God’s past blessings., But here’s the point, there ought to be present evidence of those past blessings. That past work of God should have been the beginning of an experience that is still going on.
Before we leave this subject, notice that each tribe had a stone This says to me that every family ought to have a memorial of God’s blessings. As the head of each tribe was responsible for getting the stone the head of each family should be able to bring a stone representing his experience with the Lord as a witness to his family. There ought to be in his life something that makes his children ask about his experience with the Lord.
When the stones were properly placed, God said they would be a witness to all the world: “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty.” (Joshua 4:24)
And as we learn to follow through with our experience and go on to maturity in Christ, we will become a memorial to the mighty, saving hand of our Lord.
©Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2002