“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.” (Joshua 1:9)
“But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.’” (Luke 1:13)
Every hour of every day I have a choice to make. If I do what is necessary to heal, I will have to do many painful knee stretches, over one hundred. If I neglect my exercises over the next five days, I will be giving into physical limitations that will be even harder to overcome, if they are overcome at all. I will find no peace in avoiding the stretches, because the consequence will be severe, involving another medical procedure. There is no peace in pretending that life is without pain or difficulties. When we think we are calm, benignly and casually ignoring a need to promote our health, relationships, or ministry, we are forfeiting peace with ourselves, God, and others. God placed Joshua and Zechariah where they couldn’t escape their callings. The advantage to urgent ministries and contractual commitments is that they are hard to avoid, like a serious illness or injury. It’s as if Joshua and Zechariah had no choice. God was going to do what he promised, and they would either lead the way or watch on the sidelines, missing out on many blessings.
“Confidence based on the promises of God is the essence of biblical faith.” (1) “Joshua needed strength and courage…to make the Lord’s instructions…integral to who he is and what he does, meditating on them constantly so as to do them. Given Joshua’s leadership responsibilities, this charge to be strong and courageous would be daunting were it not for the framing promises: I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you; and the Lord your God is with you wherever you go…Fortified by these assurances of the Lord’s abiding presence, Joshua is empowered to receive his commission with courage.” (2)
Believers either participate in God’s plans or lose blessings, being left on the sidelines. Every time we give up to discouragement and fear, being disheartened and disappointed, we miss what God is doing that leads to blessing. Recently, in one of my Bible study groups, we discussed the power of thanksgiving to lift our spirits and enter into the joy of the Lord, knowing that the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). God commanded Joshua to not be fearful, discouraged, or dismayed—which is almost the opposite of joy and peace. (Joshua 1:9, 18; 8:1; 10:8, 25; 11:6.)
We can either choose to go with God’s plan or give into fear and apprehension. The former may be painful, challenging, and tiresome, but will lead to peace whereas the latter will lead only to more fear, discouragement, and anxiety. I am not usually a crier, but I think I have cried more in the last month than I did all of last year. Venting my fear, discouragement, and anxiety in tears with my loving Father has relieved me of stress, lightened my spirit, enabled me to press on with my exercises, and do what is necessary to make practical arrangements for myself. My physical weakness is my place of peace right now, and it is in my helplessness that I am meeting with the Lord most sincerely. Proactively engaging with our struggles sounds like the opposite of peace, but the truth is that whatever draws us closer to the Lord will result in more shalom since God is the source of our peace.
“Real, sturdy, lasting peace, peace that doesn’t rise and fall with circumstances, isn’t to be found in picking apart your life until you have understood all of the components. You will never understand it all because God, for your good and his glory, keeps some of it shrouded in mystery. So peace is found only in trust, trust of the One who is in careful control of all things that tend to rob you of your peace. He knows, he understands, he is in control of what appears to be chaos, he is never surprised, he is never confused, he never worries or loses a night’s sleep, he never walks off the job to take a rest, he never gets so busy with one thing that he neglects another, and he never plays favorites.” (3) Joshua needed to experience God’s presence with him and hear God’s reassurances to do what was required to lead Israel to conquer Canaan. His confidence in God resulted in obedience and innumerable blessings for Israel, not to mention his personal wellbeing. On the other hand, Zechariah’s lack of faith in God’s promise initially silenced him and seemed to have caused quite a commotion in his community. Then he came to a place of peace, and named his son John, as commanded by God. “And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, ‘What then will this child be?’ For the hand of the Lord was with him.” (Luke 1:64-66)
Our peace with God, or lack of it, affects those around us. What begins as a very personal and sometimes very private journey often (and hopefully) ends with celebration among our Christian brothers and sisters, our families, friends, and communities. Our prayers are the beginning of our walk with the Lord and are the way that we can safely engage with Him to find the way to peace. However, we should know that prayer, like all communication, is the means by which we engage with the Lord, not in itself the answer to our problems. “Prayer is sometimes immediately heard, and answered; and sometimes an answer is deferred a long time, to try the faith and patience of the saints, and to discover the more the wisdom, power, and goodness of God.” (4) Every time I stretch my knee I am reminded of my problem and the possible outcomes. But it also becomes a little less painful and more effective every time I do it. The exercises may not lead to the resolution I seek; only God knows if it will or won’t. But my peace is found in doing the work, engaging with God and trusting Him just as praying for peace will sometimes lead us further into our difficulties, but closer to our source of true shalom.
How might you draw closer to the Lord? Have you been avoiding or dodging a particular difficulty or problem rather than meeting with God about it and confronting your discomfort or confusion? What will it take for you to sit with the Lord and share your discouragement, fears, or anxieties with Him, who cares for you?
- The Reformation Study Bible, Joshua 1:9, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015.
- ESV Study Bible Notes, Joshua 1:8-9, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
- Tripp, Paul David, “New Morning Mercies,” January 14, Crossway, Wheaton, IL, 2014.
- John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Luke 1:14, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/luke-1.html
January 17, 2019