The whole world stands on the edge of the unknown. We are all facing unprecedented challenges and adjusting to a way of life few have ever experienced. For Christians we are needing to leave our buildings and our programmes and rediscover what it means to BE the church, the people of God. We are inventing new ways of being the community of faith in a world where we cannot gather physically. As we venture into untouched territory, our experience is in many ways similar to that of the Israelites as they stood about to enter the Promised Land, a land which appeared full of terrifying giants but was actually flowing with milk and honey. Standing at the edge of the unknown, we can be encouraged by God’s word to the Israelites and to their leader Joshua.
Joshua 1:2 Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them- to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates- all the Hittite country- to the Great Sea on the west. 5 No-one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life.
For 2000 years Christian preachers have been preaching about the wonderful story of the Israelites entering the Promised Land – and they have interpreted it as a picture of Victorious Christian living. God’s wonderful events of salvation in the Exodus give us a picture of escape from slavery to sin. The parting of the Red Sea was the beginning of Israel’s salvation. Then their wanderings in the wilderness give a picture of our Christian pilgrimage and growth in grace. The Israelites taking possession of the Promised Land in the Book of Joshua give us a picture of victory in our Christian lives.
Of course we do well to remember that that we will ever fully enter the Promised Land while we are still living in this world. We will never be perfect this side of heaven. We will still experience suffering and pain. We will still be tempted and sometimes we will still fall. To be in Christ means not only riches but also suffering. But the book of Joshua describes how the Israelites entered the promised land and took possession of it., And that story gives us pointers to things we should be doing if we want to live victorious Christian lives as we enter the new strange world which is opening up before us. God’s words to Joshua in Chapter 1 give us THREE secrets of Christian victory to encourage us as we face the challenges and opportunities ahead. These will help us in the challenging and for many people very difficult times which are coming.
Secrets of Christian victory: 1. God’s presence – God is with you!
Joshua 1:5 As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Joshua 1:9 Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.
Of course, we know that God is always with us. God is everywhere. And for Christians, God is with us in a very special way. God is not only with us, God is in us! Remember the wonderful message of Colossians: “Christ in you – the Hope of glory.” Christ lives in me! Christ the image of God lives in us. Christ the firstborn of God lives in us. Christ the fullness of God lives in us!! God’s gift of the Holy Spirit lives in us, and gives us the first instalment of heaven.
Our God is with us wherever we go. He never leaves us or forsakes us. God is with us in church. God is with us in Home Group. God is with us in our daily times of prayer and Bible Study. But we need to remember that God is with us everywhere! So God is with us when we are at home doing housework, or enjoying our hobbies, or watching television. God is with us when we are in our workplace, or doing the shopping, or driving the car or walking down the street. God is with us in the good times but He is even closer to us in the hard times, the sad times, the painful times. In times of sickness or grief or anxiety or fear God is always there. This promise is for you and for me as much as for the Israelites. God says “I will never fail you or forsake you.”
God is with us wherever we go. But many Christians do not experience this continuous presence of God. It is not that we are deliberately rejecting Him or ignoring Him. It is just that we keep on forgetting that God is there! So how can we know and experience the reality of God’s presence with us more? Well it’s all about prayer. Since God is with us, we can acknowledge His presence everywhere by praying to Him everywhere. Praying without ceasing!
Let me remind me of some words about prayer from a 17th century monk called Brother Lawrence in his little book. The Practice of the Presence of God
Brother Lawrence teaches us to cultivate – `a habitual sense of God’s presence’ – `to be always with God’. The way to know that God is with us always is to make a point of fixing our mind on Him and turning to Him all the time. And we can do that by taking every opportunity to pray, wherever we are, whatever we are doing!
“Our biggest mistake is to think that a time of prayer is different from any other time. It is all one. … It is not needful always to be in church to be with God. We make a chapel of our heart, to which we can from time to time withdraw to have gentle, humble, loving communion with Him. Everyone is able to have these familiar conversations with God. Some more, some less – He knows our capabilities. Let us make a start. Perhaps He only waits for us to make one whole-hearted resolve. Courage!”
“Think often on God, by day, by night, in your business, and even in your diversions. He is always near you and with you; leave him not alone. You would think it rude to leave a friend alone who came to visit you; why, then, must God be neglected?”
“You need not cry very loud. He is nearer to us than we think.”
“The time of business does not differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees.”
Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
FILL THOU MY LIFE, O Lord my God, In every part with praise,
That my whole being may proclaim Thy being and Thy ways.
Not for the lip of praise alone, Nor e’en the praising heart
I ask, but for a life made up Of praise in every part:
Praise in the common things of life, Its goings out and in;
Praise in each duty and each deed, However small and mean.
So shall no part of day or night Unblessed or common be;
But all my life, in every step, Be fellowship with Thee. (Horatius Bonar)
“We can do little things for God: I turn the cake that is frying on the pan, for love of him; and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. When I can do nothing else, it is enough to have picked up a straw for the love of God. People look for ways of learning how to love God. They hope to attain it by I know not how many different practices. They take much trouble to abide in His presence by varied means. Is it not a shorter and more direct way to do everything for the love of God, to make use of all the tasks one’s lot in life demands to show him that love, and to maintain his presence within by the communion of our heart with his? There is nothing complicated about it. One has only to turn to it honestly and simply.”
Teach me my God and King, in all things Thee to see.
And what I do in anything, to do it as for Thee. ….
A servant with this clause, makes drudgery divine.
Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws, Makes that and the action fine.
“The depths of our spirituality does not depend upon changing the things we do, but in doing for God what we ordinarily do for ourselves. … A little lifting of the heart suffices; a little remembrance of God, one act of inward worship, are prayers which however short are acceptable to God.”
So here’s an invitation as we enter this strange new world in 2020. Let us learn to draw on God’s strength by acknowledging God’s presence all the time! Praying without ceasing. God will keep his promises. He IS with us wherever we may go. He will never fail us or forsake us. So let us learn to live in God’s presence!
Secrets of Christian victory: 2. God’s Word
Joshua 1:7 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. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; 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.
If there is any glimmer of a silver lining in the days ahead, it will be that many of us will have more time to give to God’s Word the Bible. We will be able to spend time reading the Bible, ideally every day. We can give time to studying the Bible and reading Christian books. If you want a place to start with that, you could try my blog with ten years worth of sermons and guides for hundreds of Bible Studies on it. Go to www.pbthomas.com/blog.
But beyond reading and studying the Bible, we would all know more of God’s strength and God’s presence if we could only hear more clearly what He is saying to us by learning to recognise His voice as he speaks to us through His word. We are accustomed to studying the Bible. We are good at learning what the Bible teaches! We are not so good at hearing God speaking directly to us through his word. That’s why we need times of Retreat! That is why we need to learn what is means to MEDITATE on the Word of God, and actually spend time in meditation, so that God’s word gets through deeper than our minds and into our hearts.
DAVID WATSON wrote: “Today, the majority of Christians find it extremely hard – almost impossibly so – to hear the voice of God. The problem is that we have forgotten how to be still before him, and we give little time (if any) for Christian meditation.
We need to use God’s word to bring us consciously into God’s presence. Let God’s word speak to us, drawing us to the Father and glorifying the Son. By letting our whole mind and being dwell on one of the names of God or on one aspect of his character, the Spirit will help us to ‘see God’. Words, phrases or even whole passages of scripture are invaluable for this fresh encounter with God. …
The purpose is not to empty the mind of everything, but to detach the mind from worldly cares in order to attach them to Jesus and his word. This aspect is often neglected because in many circles it is assumed that the most important thing about the Bible is its “teaching”. However, much of its poetry, its psalms, its parables, its humour and irony, is lost when it is reduced conceptually to “teaching”. It confronts us not just with information, but with verdicts. In one direction the evangelical approach may be criticised for being too cerebral. The question: “What can I learn from all this?” is not always the right one to ask. Some parts of Scripture serve not to speak about joy, but to give joy; some serve not to instruct us about reconciliation but to reconcile us. The Bible not only tells us about Christ, but also brings Christ to us.
To begin with, start with five or ten minutes in silent meditation. As you continue, you will be able slowly to increase the length of time, and, more important, you will begin to hear God speak to you through his written word or by his Spirit in your heart. Soon you will be able to enjoy an increasing sense of the presence of the living God, and better able to hear him as he speaks to you each day.”
8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.
In the weeks and months ahead it is likely that many of us will find we have more time than ever before available to spend in meditation. How good it would be if we can all learn to listen to God better in this time.
Secrets of Christian victory: 3. Trust and Obey
At all times God calls us to step out in faith, putting out trust in him. This is more true than ever in these uncertain times. We need to simply trust and obey. That obedience begins by obeying everything He has revealed to us in His Word the Bible.
Joshua 1:7 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.
8 … 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.
But then we also need to find out from God what He wants us to do, day by day, minute by minute. Just as God had specific plans and instructions for the Israelites for them to take possession of the Promised Land, so God has plans for each of our lives and we need to be obedient to His plans.
Joshua 1:10 ¶ So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: “Go through the camp and tell the people, `Get your supplies ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you for your own.’
Joshua 1:16 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you.
We need to find out what God wants us to do, as individual Christians and also as a church, and then we need to step out in faith and obey. It’s no use knowing what we OUGHT to be doing – if we don’t do it. There is no point in talking about what we should be doing unless we actually do it! The church has no need of non-playing commentators. The Kingdom of God needs players – not spectators! We need action! We need a continuing commitment to obedience.
There are many areas of life I could suggest where we could be trusting and obeying God, from sharing the gospel to loving our neighbours. For this week, think about the things we have already been talking about. Practising the presence of God in prayer. Don’t just think about it – as Nike’s famous slogan tells us, JUST DO IT. Make lots of little spaces in your day to think about God and acknowledge His presence by praying. Then there is meditating on God’s Word. Letting God speak straight to our hearts. Set aside some time and space over the next few days for meditation too.
We have the same command from God THREE TIMES in FOUR verses!
6 “Be strong and courageous, 7 Be strong and very courageous. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged,
So step out in faith! Open your life anew to God the Holy Spirit. Be bold, be strong! Trust and obey!