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.”
Like most little boys, I wanted to be more like my dad when I got big. That meant I wanted to be tall. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to be skilled at making things and fixing things. Tall, strong, “handy”–those are all fine features, fine abilities and characteristics to have. But I don’t think that we would call them “virtues.” No one may be shooting for short, weak, and clumsy, but we don’t accuse people of indecency or godlessness if they turn out that way.
What about “brave”? What about “courage”? Does that make your list of virtues? If God commands it, can it be anything else? God’s words for Joshua as he entered the Promised Land were, “Be strong and courageous.” Was Joshua afraid? The Bible never says it in so many words, but three times in four verses the Lord gives this command. The third time he adds, “Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged…” It seems something was going on inside the man.
Looking ahead, Joshua faced a mine field of big challenges and serious dangers. He was leading his nation into a foreign land as unwelcome guests. For the next 20 or 30 years he and his people were going to be at war. On Joshua’s side, the people lived in tents. They had limited weapons and military training. They were fewer in number. On the other side the people lived in walled cities and had regular armies. Joshua needed God’s encouragement for all the dangers and uncertainties that lay ahead of him.
We are standing at the border of a new year. What frightens you as you march forward? You don’t have to be a soldier anymore to be concerned about bombs and bullets. Terrorist attacks became so common this past year: Orlando, Dallas, Brussels, Nice, Berlin. Is it safe to go outside? Is it even safe to stay inside? “Be strong and courageous,” the Lord says. “Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged…”
Our financial security seems so fragile at the year’s end. The stock market may be soaring, but other headlines portend possible problems ahead: “Higher Rents Push Up US Consumer Inflation,” “US Jobless Claims Rise to Six Month High,” “US Consumer Spending Slows in November on Weak Incomes.” Some predict 2017 will bring renewed prosperity. Others believe we are primed for an economic depression. Which will it be? “Be strong and courageous,” the Lord says. “Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged…”
Why? “For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
You see, this “Be strong and courageous” issue is a moral issue and a faith issue, not just a psychological or emotional one. What are we saying about God and his promises when we trade “strong and courageous” for “weak and fearful”? Are we not, in effect, saying, “I don’t think you are really all that powerful. I don’t think you are really all that faithful about keeping your promises.”
Still God is here to bolster our strength and courage with his presence. At no time are we ever alone. Until I was three years old I dragged a little blanket with me wherever I went. One day I went to my parents and said, “Here, I’m big now. I don’t need this anymore.” Of course, the blanket never actually provided me any protections. It was just a comfortable feeling. You have more than an otherworldly security blanket or pacifier in God’s promise. Whether awake or asleep, healthy or sick, in danger or secure, we live every moment in the immediate presence of the Lord God who made our universe, gave us life, and is even now writing all the details of the story we are living. His presence provides more than a nice feeling of security. It is a real reason to be strong and courageous for whatever is waiting in the year ahead.
He is, after all, the Lord “your God.” Those are his words, not ours. He has promised himself to us in love and faithfulness. He is not going to rain his terrible judgements down on you like he did Israel’s enemies because he is the Lord your God. He gave up the life of his one and only Son to atone for the sins of the world. He has removed our every sin and cancelled all our debts to him. By giving us his word and revealing his love to you and me, he has called us to faith and adopted us as his own children. Now he is simply waiting for the day when he will bring each of his children home. “Be strong and courageous,” for the God who goes with you is on your side in every way.