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The source of strength

September 2004

Our front page last month addressed the challenge of a new era — such as Joshua faced following the death of Moses. But how did Joshua respond? Initially, not well.

This may not be obvious, but Joshua’s state of mind is betrayed by the exhortation to ‘be strong and of good courage’ (Joshua 1:6,7,9). Why should God repeat these words three times, unless Joshua was in fact feeling vulnerable, weak and fearful?

And why should the Lord add, ‘Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed’ (1:9) unless there was real fear and dismay to be dealt with? Joshua, like many of us today, was a reluctant soldier!

Joshua’s problem

It is not difficult to see why. Joshua had served happily as Moses’ assistant for forty years but now, at 65 or thereabouts, he had reached retirement age. Here is no ambitious thirty-year-old eager for promotion, but an ageing man hoping for some peace and quiet.

Instead, God chose him to govern a turbulent nation and lead their armies in a massive military campaign. He may have relished the challenge, of course, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

Our purpose here is not to malign Joshua’s character or faithfulness, but to point out that he was ‘a man of like passions as ourselves’ — tempted by weakness, fear, dismay and weariness. What could such a ‘loser’ expect to achieve? Where could he find the strength and courage demanded of him?

Waiting on God

He found them where we shall also find them — in waiting upon God. The words of Isaiah 40:27-31 are familiar but neglected.

‘Why do you say, O Jacob … “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my just claim is passed over by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable.

‘He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might he increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall. But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.’

This passage highlights three dangers to which we are ever prone. Firstly, we fall into thinking that God has forgotten us, that ‘our way is hidden from the Lord’. Secondly, we forget who God is in his limitless power and compassion. Thirdly, we seek strength in our natural abilities (typified here by ‘youth’) rather than in God.

Christ our captain

Joshua was soon to discover that he was still a servant, and that his cause had a leader greater than himself. As he surveyed the walls of Jericho — a city that barred his progress in the promised land — he was met by ‘the Commander of the army of the Lord’, the pre-incarnate Christ (5:13-15).

Rather than lift his sword, Joshua had to loose his sandals — in an act of worship. This is where we also must start if we are to be strong. Unless we wait on God in worship we shall undertake the battle in our natural strength, with disastrous results. And the object of our worship must be Christ, ‘the Captain of our salvation’ (Hebrews 2:10, AV).

There is a tendency today to divorce ‘worship’ from everything else — from teaching, from service, from evangelism, from good works, from pastoral care. Worship at best is a self-contained package and at worst a sing-song.

Worship is strength

But true worship is the foundation of all we do as Christians, for in worship we wait upon God. We dwell on one who is ‘the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator … [who] neither faints nor is weary … [whose] understanding is unsearchable’. Needless to say, these attributes are only fully revealed in Christ, who must therefore be the focus of our worship — for ‘no one has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son … has declared him’ (John 1:18).

True worship renews our strength because it waits upon God. Only when we understand what God is really like will we be filled with courage, strength and joy.