Be Strong And Courageous
The following is edited from a message given at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference in April 2008 at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina U.S.A.
Bible reading: Joshua 1:1-18
What is it that God has spoken to you about that you need to do? Write down the major thing God has spoken to you about. One of the things that I have learned in life is that when God has shown us something to do, nothing happens apart from prayer, leadership and courage. The difference between great intentions, good ideas and wonderful initiative Ė and those things coming into reality Ė hinges on the word courage.
In fact, you find that nothing in life happens apart from courage. You have to confront your children, to resolve conflict, to make choices and decisions Ė all such things require courage in varying degrees. And the ability to sustain what you decide to do takes courage. The ability to look at opposition and resistance and to turn away from what the group thinks takes courage. Sometimes in leadership there are lonely choices. The leader may stand by himself. To make an impact or a transformation implies someone has to pay a price in order for this to happen. That is courage.
Biblical Call to Courage
Joshua chapter one is perhaps the greatest biblical text on courage. Thereís a four-fold descriptive definition of courage in this passage. To get the most from this story enter into it with your heart as well as your mind. Moses the great lawgiver had died. He was a great man who had intimate communion with God. In a remarkable way God had used Moses to deliver the children of Israel from Egypt, but furthermore, in an outstanding way God had revealed Himself to Moses.
Think aside here for a moment. Moses was not allowed to go into the Promised Land because instead of speaking to the rock as God instructed, he struck the rock (Num. 20:1-13). You might think God was harsh with Moses in light of all that Moses had to deal with. He was leading perhaps as many as two and a half million Israelites who on any given day were going in different directions rather than Godís. Any of us would be upset with that on our hands. But God told Moses he could not go into the land. There is an important point to pay attention to here: with great disclosure comes greater accountability. When God greatly reveals Himself to you thereís something that you cannot do that other people can get away with. God was not being harsh, because God had showed Moses things about Himself that no one else knew. God showed Moses His glory. He met with him in the tent of meeting. He revealed Himself to him. God did not act with a double standard; it is a deeper standard. So when there is great disclosure, a greater degree of accountability and responsibility comes with that.
Now, the great leader Moses had died. The Israelites had a time of mourning and memorial. Then in a very moving way, God comes to Joshua. Put yourself in Joshuaís shoes. Joshua had been in Mosesí shadow. He had seen God do great things through Moses. Now Joshua had been given the task of leading what may have been two and a half million Israelites into the land of Canaan to consummate Godís plan. How fearful do you think Joshua felt? In Joshua chapter one we read of the personal conversation God had with Joshua. The theme of this conversation is one word Ė courage!
A Clear Assignment from God
The first pillar upon which courage rests is a clear assignment from God. In Joshua 1:1-2, we read: "After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Mosesí assistant, ĎMoses My servant is dead.í" When a man of God dies, nothing of God dies. As great as Moses was, Godís purposes go on. Itís like putting your finger into a bucket of water. When you pull it out, it doesnít make any difference. When a man of God as great as Moses dies, nothing of God dies.
So God said to Joshua, "Moses My servant is dead." God isnít being cruel but the time of mourning is over and Joshua must move ahead. "Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon, as far as the great river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory" (vv. 2-4).
Note carefully that there is no such thing as courage apart from assignment. Youíre not courageous for courageí sake. The assignment gives definition to courage in much the same way that faith has no meaning apart from our position. You have faith for some particular thing. You have courage because God said to do something.
What God does is to reiterate the assignment. God doesnít tell Joshua everything, but He tells him enough to get him moving. The difference between mediocrity and impact is the ability to move. Sometimes revival is delayed, not because of flagrant sin or because God doesnít want it to happen, but because of our inability to do what God told us to do. If He gave you the dream, why arenít you acting on it? How long is He going to have to wait for you to move? God says in effect, "This land is yours. Get up, go over and get it." Some of you need to do that. Donít sit back waiting, saying, "Lord, please do this for us." God says, "No, you move and Iíll do it." We may say, "God, please make this happen." His reply is, "I told you what I wanted you to do; you make it happen."
Thereís a side of us that weíve got to be careful of. The enemy exploits superficial spirituality. We sound very holy and spiritual saying weíre "waiting on God" but that may be nothing more than just nice sounding language for fear. Yes, you pray as you strap the weapon on. Seek Godís face as you confront your enemy. But get up and get it. You may need to confront some person, to address an issue, to take steps to solve a problem. Otherwise you are spiritually lazy.
The Assurance of Godís Presence
Secondly, courage rests upon the assurance of Godís presence. God says in verse five, "No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you." Continue reading in verse nine: "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
A fascinating study in the Bible is a study of all the callings of God. One of the things youíll discover in the immediate context in each one of those callings is that God never calls someone to do anything without assuring them that He is with them. God gives assignments to people and with the assignment is the assumption that part of the manifest presence of God goes with translating that assignment to reality. "Just as I was with Moses," God said, "so I will be with you." In Exodus 33 we read that Joshua was with Moses at the tent of meeting. He didnít know all that went on inside there, but he saw Moses come out and he knew that he had been with God. Now God promises Joshua that He will be with him because he was doing what God told him to do.
When you do what God says, you come under His protection. If opposition arises, that means theyíre not coming after you; theyíre coming after God. It is His issue. What God tells you to do, remember: "Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you."
Number three, courage rests upon focused determination. Notice these imperatives. When God repeats Himself, He really wants you to understand and obey this. He says in verse six, "Be strong and courageous." Verse seven, "Only be strong and very courageous." Verse nine, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous!" God did not negotiate with Joshua as to whether or not he was a very strong and courageous person. He didnít say, "Joshua, can you show Me your personality profile? Can you show Me your style of influence and your leadership inclination? Letís discuss this a little bit."
When God gives His assignment it is amazing how He ignores our natural makeup. God said to Joshua that he needed to be strong and courageous. If you act with courage, you get more courage. If you act on the little strength that you have, you get more strength. It is in the process of doing the work of God that God transforms our lives. Transformation often does not take place first. Development takes place during steps of obedience. Too many of us follow the worldís model. We think that we get fully developed first and then we act. No, you act and in the process of obedience you become the will of God.
There is another inference here: God is saying something like, "Joshua, these Canaanites will oppose you taking their land." Today we have this demented view of God that somehow or other Christianity ought to be everything working out right. In the words of Elisabeth Elliot, Jesus Christ has not called us to a playground, but He has called us to a battlefield. God is warning Joshua: "These people want to hurt you. They want you dead. But you need to stay after it. Persevere!"
You have to expect opposition. The devil is not idly lounging while you sense the very nearness and dearness of God, while youíve cried tears of great joy, as you may have done while at this conference. Satan is not happy. But you have to persevere. We pastors find that things can change very suddenly. The next phone call could threaten our joy. But what has God called you to? One of the great jewels that God uses in our development is success through hardship.
Courage as weíve said, rests upon a clear assignment from God. Thereís no such thing as courage apart from what you are supposed to do. Youíre courageous because of the nobility of the will of God. Courage calls up sacrifice. Secondly, courage rests upon the assurance of Godís presence. God will not tell us to do something unless He is there with us. When we do what God says, we carry with us the weight of God. Thirdly, courage rests upon focused determination. Stay on target! Once God tells you what to do, all youíre concerned about is that everything in your life is focused on that. Nothing else matters. Focus. Determination.
Rest upon the Word of God
The fourth and final one is really the most important one. Biblical courage rests upon the Word of God. "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 good success" (Josh. 1:8). That is the only verse in the Bible in which success is defined. It is almost as if God says to Joshua, "Success or failure is in your hands. And your success or failure is not related to your competency. It is not related to your background or to your experiences. Your success or failure is related to your relationship with truth. ĎThis Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouthÖ.í The implication is you need to proclaim it. The clear message that the children of Israel need to hear from you as a spiritual leader, as the leader of a nation, is not your opinions, not a report on a workshop that you attended, not the old wivesí tales. What they really need from you is Godís Word."
If you are a pastor, I want to challenge you to make sure that you protect the time in your schedule to go deep in Godís Word, and feed your people. I am so burdened that in evangelical circles weíre not leading with the Scriptures any more. We are so audience centered, so market centered, so afraid to say, "Thus saith the Lord" because the audience will not embrace it. We spend much of the time in our messages showing video clips or having dramas. Now you need to know that I use all of that, but our culture needs to hear a clear Word from God, a clear word from the pastor.
That has never changed and we must fight the assumption that pushes us toward arrogance in ministry, thinking that we know better than God what produces life change. We are horrendously arrogant when you think about that. Sometimes our strategy replaces spiritual substance. "How to" has become our primary means of life change. What has God said?
"This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouthÖ" (v. 8). You are to proclaim it. "But you shall meditate on it day and night." Youíve got to possess it. The word "meditate" here in the Hebrew is the same word translated "meditate" in Psalm 1. The assumption is that you have to know the Book. I would encourage you to become men and women of the Book. I made a commitment to the Lord when I was 14 or 15 years old that not a day would go by in my life that I would not read His Word. And I donít think in all these years that Iíve missed five days. I say that not to boast but to tell you as I get older, I find I canít live without it. Iíve discovered when Iíve gone through deep valleys and hard times and tragedies, the Spirit of God will turn up the volume of whatís already in my heart. Joshua was told not to just talk about Godís Word but get to know it.
"This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouthÖ." Proclaim it. "You shall meditate on it day and night." Possess it that you might "be careful to do according to all that is written in it." Youíve got to practice it. People need to see the reality of truth on display in your life. Biblical leadership is prophetic; itís the picture of where things ought to be. Itís not just your ability to plan, lead, organize, control or make decisions. Youíve got to be a compelling portrait, the picture of the truth that you are proclaiming. God says this is foundational. If you proclaim truth, then you will be prosperous and you will have good success.
Courage. What is it? A clear assignment from God. What did you write down that God wants you to do? Do you really believe that He wants you to do that? You have the assignment.
Number two, the assurance of Godís presence. Take a look at what you feel God wants you to do. Who is with you to do it?
Three, focused determination. Look at what you believe God wants you to do. You might want to write underneath it Ė "opposition is certain." That doesnít mean you quit.
Number four, what promises of God can you proclaim over what He has told you to do? Can you hold on to them with regard to what He has told you to do?