Promise, Challenge and Task: Three Reminders…

Posted by on Jun 30, 2024 in Blog | 1 comment

red padlocks on metal railing

I’m due to preach on Joshua as a one off message in a series exploring interesting Bible characters. It’s hard to condense such an important story into 25 minutes, and any lens selected will miss a lot, but I’ve opted to filter his story through three key ideas – what he was promised, what special challenges he faced and the tasks he had to do. I decided to steer the story in this direction because it struck me that these are three big categories that can be helpful for most people, and perhaps you are one of them.

So what was Joshua promised? Primarily, God’s presence and a conditional guarantee of success.

And his challenge? Well, in Joshua 1 he was told he needed to be strong and courageous (v6, 9) and at another time, strong and very courageous (v7). The implication is that strength and courage would be needed – which is challenging in itself! After all, how do you know you are courageous? When you show courage!

And his task? To claim the land that would house a nation that in time would bless all the nations of the world. Say that quickly and it might sound OK, but slow it down and you realise this was no every Monday task.

If this was the promise, challenge and task given to Joshua, how does it relate to our more ordinary lives?

Although Joshua was one of the superheroes of the Bible, and you look at him with admiration, you might equally conclude that his life has little to do with our own. This is especially so in our era, where a different moral lens is used to evaluate his task. While for most of human history we have listened with awe and respect to the stories of those who were victorious in war, we now listen for the voices of those who weren’t, and remember that their stories matter as well. Some critics blame Joshua for the tensions faced in the Middle East to this day, seeing this as the start of a long and complex dispute about who are the owners of this land. Many find it easier to simply side step some of the ethical issues that arise from Joshua’s story of conquest.

I imagine some of you would like me to say a lot more about this, but for today I will disappoint you – other than for adding the little note that all God’s actions in history are intended to ultimately bless, and that the promise given to Abraham that through his offspring all nations in the world would be blessed is made 7 times in the Bible – Genesis 12:3 simply being the first. Whatever we may or may not think, the actions that are part of Joshua’s time had a long term goal of widespread blessing.

But back to our more ordinary lives…

I think it can be helpful to frame our own journey in terms of promise, challenge and task

For Joshua the promise was, “I will be with you” (v5). It was repeated again in v9. I wonder if this is not the most significant promise to look for – “I will be with you.”

It can be argued that the heart of original sin is trying to do things without God. When Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit they do so after being told that if they did, they would be like God, knowing good from evil (Gen 3:1-5). Why was that significant? Simply because it unearthed a desire to be moral agents outside of any relationship with God. You see it again in Genesis 11 – when our ancestors attempt to build the Tower of Babel – but are instead scattered to the furthest parts of the planet. What was wrong with building this tower? In 21st century terms, it would have been a modest affair – perhaps 6, 7 or 8 stories high – they wouldn’t have managed more. But the intent behind it was to build a tower to reach heaven, or, put differently, to reach heaven unaided. That’s the theme of original sin – to journey without God. To be moral agents or travellers to heaven but without any relationship with God. And that always falls short of the mark because that was the key purpose of our creation – relationship with God, with one another and with God’s creation.

God’s promise to journey with us is a reminder that a key life purpose can be met. We can journey with God, and not alone. And if deep inside us we sense that we can’t invite God to accompany us on the journey we are about to embark upon, then something is profoundly wrong, and we should heed the warning.

Here’s the thing – the promise to journey with us is not limited to the spectacular and amazing. Jesus makes it even clearer, “I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). It is also a promise for life’s most difficult moments. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me” writes the Psalmist in the 4th verse of the beloved 23rd Psalm.

My question to you is this: Is there a journey you would love to take but you hold back because you are afraid you would have to do it alone? Why not make it a matter of spiritual discernment? Ask: “Is this a journey you offer to make with me Lord?” It’s a perfectly reasonable question – one which is likely to receive an answer, most probably at the level of inner quiet and calm, or perhaps you will have the experience Isa 30:21 speaks of, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way: Walk in it.'”

In my own life I have embarked upon some daring journeys, but have only been able to do so because of a deep inner sense that God was saying, “Go, and I will go with you.” You have to hold on to that in times when things don’t go exactly to plan, but I’ve discovered that God’s faithfulness is revealed in the realm of action, not theory. That doesn’t mean that things have always turned out the way I expected, but I have no regrets for what I call “journeys of obedience” – one’s taken because I sensed God was inviting me to embark upon them, rather than because they made complete sense to me.

Let me ask you the question again in just a slightly different way: “If you sense that God has promised to help you to do something, are you diving into it? If not, why?” For Joshua, the pledge of God’s presence was the assurance and reassurance that he needed.

Immediately after promising Joshua, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (v5), Joshua is given the first of three instructions to be strong and courageous (v6). The sequence is important. Put them together: I will be with you but you must be strong and courageous. Perhaps we could say that God is alerting Joshua that while the big picture is not up for negotiation, there will be a fair few perplexing moments on the way. And even though God is with Joshua, Joshua still has to be strong. Contrary to some claims, God doesn’t do everything. Joshua is not a passive traveller on this journey. He need to use his strength, and to cultivate it. There is a fine dance between God’s part and ours. Ours might be the minor role, but it is still one God wants us to play. We may never understand why, but the simply truth is this, God wants us to be participants in God’s work in the world. Would God be stuck without us? Of course not. Does God want our involvement? Absolutely yes! And because this is what God is like, the message to Joshua is essentially this: The journey is about to begin. It will be a wild ride – so buckle up and be strong and courageous. Oh, come to think of it, be strong and VERY courageous.

I think it’s rather a lovely portrait. We are never puppets on a chain. Rather we have some agency in a plan and purpose far bigger than us.

If the promise and challenge are clear, the task is to systematically get on with the job. Joshua’s role was that of a military leader. Our’s is probably different, but in the end each task needs to be broken down into its component parts and done. It’s a step at a time process. Joshua swings into action – and so must we.

The longest journey begins with the first step – and in our own travels, things start to happen when assured of the presence of God, we step up to our “strong and courageous” challenge, break the task down into the relevant parts, and gratefully begin.

Why gratefully? Because there is nothing quite like a journey with God.

Nice chatting…

Photo by Omar Ramadan on Pexels.com

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One Comment

  1. Comment *Yes! God wants me to do life with him! Love this reminder thank you Brian.

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