How Can We Be Strong and Courageous? #184
Hello friends, and welcome into another marvelous Monday. Okay, I know – Mondays aren’t that awesome, but I’m in a pretty good mood this (Sunday) evening as I record the podcast, because our church had its first official gathering today since early March. Yes, we only had slightly less than half our normal crew there. Yes, we didn’t sing with a live worship band because of covid-concerns. Yes, everybody wore masks, and I preached in a face shield that my son said looked kind of cool because it looked like I was wearing a riot shield on my face. Yes, we sat in chairs that were covered in white vinyl and spaced all around the sanctuary. Yes, we shooed everybody out of the sanctuary and into the parking lot to fellowship. It was a weird Sunday, but it was also beautiful to have the band back together, so to speak – even under strange and eerie circumstances. The Body of Christ will endure and even thrive through this mess. Not because we are awesome and tough, but because the Head of the church – Jesus – is so amazingly good at shepherding His sheep. Yes, we might be in the process of being pruned, but it will be for our good and His glory, so be strong and courageous!
2 Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes, and he prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.
John 15:2 – The church is going through a pruning season!
Today’s Bible readings include Joshua 1, Psalms 120, 121, 122, Isaiah 61 and Matthew 9. In the midst of a fairly scary pandemic around the world, not to mention other tough trials, how can we – the people of God – be strong and courageous? I’m glad you asked, because today’s focus passage in Joshua 1 is going to exhort us to courageousness, and point the way forward. Here’s a bit of interesting word information from the Bible: The Word ‘courageous’ appears about 20 times in the entire Bible, and 4 of those appearances – 20% of the entire Bible’s mention of courage – appears right here in Joshua 1. The phrase ‘strong and courageous’ appears 10 times in the Bible, and 4 of those times are in this passage (and one other appears in Deuteronomy, as an exhortation to Joshua.) Does this mean that Joshua was timid, and lacked boldness? I don’t actually believe so – I see no evidence of that in his behavior as one of the two faithful spies sent out by Moses, nor in his leadership of Israel. I think that the reason God exhorts Joshua to be strong and courageous so many times is because he was following one of the greatest leaders in the history of Israel – a prophet that God spoke to ‘face to face.’ This is the very definition of a ‘tough act to follow!’ Let’s read Joshua 1 and those encouragements to strength and courage in the Lord and then discuss how they might apply to us.
I think the keystone of this passage is found in verses 7-9:
7 Above all, be strong and very courageous to observe carefully the whole instruction my servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you will have success wherever you go. 8 This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to meditate on it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do. 9 Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
I see two critically important keys to being strong and courageous here:
#1 Joshua is to be strong and courageous by carefully observing and obeying the Word of God. Joshua is also given a bit of practical spiritual wisdom as to HOW to carefully observe and obey the Word of God: by meditating on it day and night. (click here if you missed our recent episode on how important biblical meditation is!)
#2 Joshua must remember and rest in the truth that God will be with Him forever.
Do you see how similar is this to the promise of Jesus to His disciples in the Great Commission?! In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus tells His people to teach all of His teachings to the people, making disciples by the Words of Christ, and He concludes, in the midst of sending them out, that BEHOLD: He would be with them always and everywhere – to the very ends of the earth.
Let’s turn to FOTP Charles Spurgeon to exhort us to courageousness and strength by standing on the promises of God and meditating on the Word of God:
Joshua was about to invade the land of Canaan, and therefore before his arduous enterprise the Lord gave him a new promise. His faith led him to the brink of Jordan, the borders of the promise land, and then and there he by faith obtained a blessed promise, which we will read for our comfort, remembering that venturing in the path of duty upon great enterprises, we may expect like him to win new promises. “There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” One more instance may not be amiss. God sometimes gives his people fresh promises by faith just before a trial is about to come upon them. It was so with Elijah. God said to him, “Go to the brook Cherith, behold I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.” This was at the beginning of the famine. There he abode, and God fulfilled the promise, for by faith Elijah had obtained it. Acting upon faith, still dependant upon God, he abides at Cherith, and as the result of this faith, God gives him a fresh promise, “Arise, get thee to Zarephath—I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.” The faith which received the first promise obtained the honour of a second. So with you and with me. If we have had a little promise, and up till now have realised it, if we have lived upon it and made it the stay and support of our souls, surely God will give us another and a greater one, and so, from promise to promise speeding our way, we shall find the promises to be rounds of the ladder which Jacob saw, the top whereof shall reach to heaven. Doubt and be distrustful about the promise that you have, and you cannot expect God to increase his revelation to your soul. Be afraid, stagger through unbelief at that which was laid to your heart yesterday, and you shall not have a new one to-morrow. Oh, that we had power to act as Samson did, who having the promise of God that he should smite the Philistines; with the jaw-bone of an ass, laid them heaps on heaps, never reckoning the odds, but having God with him in child-like simple faith he dashed upon his foes and overcame them. We should go from strength to strength, receiving grace upon grace if we had faith to mount from promise to promise….
When the cholera was here last time, I wended my way from house to house among the sick and dying. I was one day sad at heart, and thought surely my own time was come, for I had seen many deaths and had been at many graves. Walking down the Dover Road, I saw in a window, upon a paper fastened to the glass with four wafers, this verse: “Because thou hast made the Lord, even the Most High, thy habitation, there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.” I stopped, attracted by the paper in the window, and read it; and this verse I am certain was as much a revelation to my own heart, and I as much obtained that promise, as though an angel had brought it with swift wings from on high. Your experience, brother Christians will furnish similar instances; and though we may be sneered at as fanatical by those who do not understand spiritual impressions from the Holy Ghost, yet know we, and we speak only of what we have tasted and handled of the good Word of God, that there is such a thing as still obtaining the promise afresh from heaven—money from the mint of God like new coin all unworn. Faith, and faith alone, can know the secret of obtaining promises.
C. H. Spurgeon, “Obtaining Promises,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 8 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1862), 99–102.