Joshua 1: 1-9
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the River Jordan into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates – all the Hittite country – to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
‘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. 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. 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 speaks and tells Joshua: 'Moses is dead. Now Joshua, it’s time for YOU to step up and lead. It’s time for a new role, an increased authority, a greater responsibility.'
For 40 years Joshua has been Moses' assistant. He’s been number 2, the apprentice. He has lived in the shadow of the great leader. When you’re number 2 you have some authority and some responsibility, but ultimately the buck stopped with Moses. You don’t carry the full weight. But now God says: 'Moses is dead. Joshua, it’s your turn. The apprenticeship is over, the responsibility is now yours.'
Can you imagine how Joshua felt? The sense of inadequacy, inferiority, insecurity: 'I’m not ready. What will everyone think? Maybe no one will follow me the way they followed Moses.' Joshua would have to think differently, act differently, lead differently.
That’s why 3 times God says: "Be strong and courageous". (vv. 6, 7 and 9) God knew how Joshua was feeling.
I know a little of how he felt. When I was ordained into the ministry almost 11 years ago, I went to Lurgan to one of the largest Church of Ireland parishes in Ireland: 1300 families, 4 services on a Sunday, 2-3 funerals a week, maybe 20 people in hospital at any one time. I went there as number 3. There was a Senior Pastor and an Assistant Pastor. I could relax, I didn’t have a whole lot of responsibility. However, within 18 months, both other pastors had moved on, and I went from being number 3 to assuming full responsibility. That’s how it remained for the next year and a half. I remember how totally inadequate and unqualified I felt. How terrified I was about making a complete hash of things. The overwhelming sense of responsibility I experienced.
I didn’t think I was ready, but God thought I was. I’m sure I made many mistakes, but God was so faithful and in that year and a half that I led the church, I grew more as a person and as a leader than I would in 10 years as an assistant or number 2.
The truth is that we all like to stay in areas and roles we are comfortable in. Often the only way we grow and change is when we are forced to, when are stretched. When we have no choice but to change and adapt. Otherwise we just plateau and stagnate.
At the beginning of 2017, I believe God’s Word to some of us is this: It’s time to step up. It’s time to take responsibility. It’s time to take ownership and lead. Stop being passive, stop messing around, and get committed. It’s time to grow up.
In 1 Cor 13: 11 Paul says this:
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
Put away childish things. The hard truth is that some of us don’t want to grow up. We want to float through life as if we’re still 10 or 18, or still a student at Uni. We don’t commit, we avoid all responsibility, we mess about in relationships, we’re half-hearted, we don’t take ownership, we want to put of adulthood until we’re 40 if we can help it.
God would to some of us today: 'It’s time to grow up, and growing up means stepping up. Stop hiding in the shadows. Stop avoiding difficult things. Stop playing it safe. Stop keeping your options open. Go all in.'