The Battle of Obedience: Following God When You Cannot See the Way
Who likes to follow orders? Nobody! If you had the choice of getting to do what you say or having to do whatever someone else says, which would you choose? You would choose what you want to do every time. You don’t know what they are going to tell you to do. They may make you look foolish and do something silly. You desire control. You want to know what the future holds and not leave it up to someone else.
But what about when it comes to God? Do you seek control in the same sort of way? You know, often we do. If you are here listening to me right now, there’s a good chance that you desire to follow God. We all want to follow God yet struggle at some point in living out the details of his plan. Sometimes his plans are difficult. Sometimes they seem silly. Sometimes they don’t add up on paper. Sometimes we don’t know the plans at all but are still called to follow.
That’s how it was with Joshua in the Old Testament. There’s a lot we can learn from him. He followed Moses for a long time. He trusted God early on, even when others didn’t. He was faithful and patient as God’s people wandered the wilderness for 40 years. Then there came a day when he was called to lead…but he was called to lead by following God. He was to lead God’s people in the Promised Land. But as they entered the land flowing with milk and honey, a land that signifies abundance of life, they were entering a warzone. There are battles in the Promised Land.
And we’re going to see one of the first battles that Joshua had to face before the great battles later. It’s a battle each one of us have to face daily. It’s the battle of obedience.
We are called to obedience no matter what. Right at the beginning of this passage in Joshua 1, we see a command from God. Verse 2 says, “Arise, go.” Talking to Joshua, God is saying, your past is behind you. Moses is dead. There’s a future ahead of you. “Arise, go.” We know God calls us to walk in obedience to him. But often we get distracted by other things and miss the mark. We think that in order to be obedient, we must know God’s will and every detail of it first. Well, what is His will? What is His plan? Why doesn’t He just tell us what to do in an audible voice like he did with Joshua and Moses? Well, you know, he has specifically told us his will. We can read them every day.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” And 1 Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” 1 Peter 2:15 states, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” According to these verses, you know what God’s will is? It’s sanctification and purity and justice and gratitude.
We often think, surely God’s will for my life includes more than this! What about where I’m supposed to go to school? What about who I’m supposed to marry? What job am I supposed to pursue? Which direction do I go for this big decision? What is your will, God?! It’s sanctification and purity and justice and gratitude. God’s will for your life is that you live for him right now. And here’s the outcome of that. The outcome of our obedience is our good and God’s glory.
God tells Joshua to “Arise, go.” But he also tells him something else. He tells him that he is giving the land to him and all these people he is leading. The land that was long ago promised to Abraham when he packed up his family and followed God in obedience even though he didn’t know where he was going. It was the land promised to Moses and God’s people as they were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. God tells Joshua to follow him in obedience, but he also tells him the outcome. It’s for his good and God’s glory. They will receive the land, and the people will see that God comes through on his promises.
It’s the same with you. Following God is always worth it. It is costly, but it is always worth it. It doesn’t always make sense, but it is always worth it. It is often difficult, but it is always worth it. You may not know the way, but it is always worth it. It is for your good, even though it doesn’t always feel good in the moment, and it is for God’s glory, not your own.
Even if we as Christians can stay focused on God’s will as outlined in the scriptures we read a minute ago, we often still ask the question when seeking whom to marry, whether to take that job, what city to raise our family in, etc.…is this God’s will for my life? It’s the most common question Christians tend to ask when seeking guidance for their future. That is the question that haunts us in the stillness of the night. That is the question we study and pour over and ask for a sign for until we find an answer. That is the question that has been screamed amidst much fervent prayer. But I believe it is the wrong question. It actually doesn’t even have to be asked at all. You don’t have to know God’s plan in order to follow God’s plan. Sometimes we get so caught up in knowing God’s will and plan for our lives that we often fail to actually live for Him on a daily basis.
Three times in God’s initial charge to Joshua, He says the words, “Be strong and courageous.” At no point does God tell Joshua the details of His plan. He tells him the outcome of His plan. He tells Him he can trust His plan. He tells him He will be with him in that plan. But He never tells him how the plan will unfold. Yet God gave Joshua exactly what he needed to hear in that moment—to be strong and courageous with whatever may come because the Lord would be with him. If Joshua knew all the details of the plan—the battles, death, and destruction the Israelites would soon face in the Promised Land—he might have got lost in them. He might have even been tempted to turn around and go back to the desert right then, missing out on all the blessings that were also to come.
Often God’s plans for us don’t add up on paper. If He told us His plans for our lives and certain situations up front, many times we wouldn’t take the path. Think about the battle plan that God had for Joshua. God was giving them the land, but it wasn’t like He was handing them a present and all they had to do was open it. No, they had to fight and wage war, but they had to do it God’s way (vss 7-8). The first battle they faced was at Jericho. A big fortified city. And God’s battle plan was to put the musicians up front and march around the city. And shout really loud. To Joshua and the other Israelites, this battle plan didn’t make sense. It probably wasn’t one they had practiced and prepared years for. And to the people of Jericho they probably looked pretty stupid and felt pretty stupid. Likewise, from the world’s perspective, obeying the Biblical instructions God gives us may not make sense, even to us sometimes. But it doesn’t have to. All God is asking is for you to trust Him and be obedient to what He says.
I think of the song “The Next Right Thing” that Anna sings in the movie Frozen II, which I’ve watched with my kids many times…and alone a few times (don’t judge me). Anna is struggling with how to move on when the grief of losing her sister has overwhelmed her. And I think it’s applicable to how we should look at following Christ and His will daily. Listen to part of these lyrics:
“Just do the next right thing.
Take a step, step again.
It’s all that I can
To do the next right thing.
I won’t look too far ahead.
It’s too much for me to take.
But break it down to this next breath, this next step.
This next choice is one that I can make.
So I’ll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing
And, with it done, what comes then?
When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again
Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice
And do the next right thing.”
For some of you, the step you need to make is coming to Jesus and surrendering your will and way to him. (make further application) What is your faith in? Is it in a plan, or is it in the Planner?
Knowing God, not his plan, is what fuels our obedience.
Proverbs 3:5-6 – 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
So many people place their faith in a plan, sometimes even God’s plan. But the object of our faith should not be in a plan. It should be in the Planner. When your faith is in a plan and the details of that plan go awry, faith deteriorates. Nights become long. Worry and fear weaken your resolve to go on, let alone stick to the plan. And when something happens that supposedly doesn’t line up with our expectations of this plan, we are left disappointed. We begin to question our faith, we blame God, and often we stop obeying Him altogether, assuming we misinterpreted His direction from the start. But when our faith is in the Planner, it doesn’t matter what the plan is. It doesn’t matter where you go or which route you take. It doesn’t matter how many twists and turns there are or what happens to you or around you. You trust the One who is in charge and in control to guide you through each step. Joshua knew he could trust whatever God’s plan was because of these words, “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (vs. 9). It didn’t matter where they went or what they did. God was on their side. Joshua trusted Him, and so can you.
So, how can you follow God’s will, even when you cannot see the way? Here is how I would answer based on Joshua’s obedience. Remembering God’s past faithfulness fuels our present and future obedience. Remember God’s past faithfulness. Look at what God says to Joshua in verse 5. “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.”
Joshua was able to walk in obedience wherever it was that God would lead because He remembered God’s past faithfulness. He had followed God for forty years in the desert before God’s promise was ever fulfilled. He saw Him part the Red Sea, provide water from a rock and manna from Heaven, protect them with a cloud by day and fire by night. Joshua believed God would give them the Promised Land when he first went to spy it out, even though the others cowered back in fear. When you remember God’s past faithfulness, you can trust Him in the present and have hope for the future.
When the Israelites finally crossed into the Promised Land, the first thing they did is set up 12 memorial stones, one for each tribe of Israel. Before they fought their battles. Before they began walking into God’s plans and purposes for them, they set up memorial stones to remember and look back. I want you to hear the reason why. As they walked through with the ark of the covenant, God parted the waters of the Jordan River just like He did the Red Sea. Remember, God had just got done telling Joshua that He would be with him just like He was with Moses. God was showing Himself to be with them now just like He was then.
Joshua 4:21-24 – “21 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
Sometimes we need to set up memorials in our life to help us remember. Hindsight is 20/20. It’s good to look back and see how far God has brought you. We sometimes get so focused on what’s ahead that we tend to forget what God has done before. Are you tired? Remember! Are you grieving? Remember! Are you fearful or doubting or anxious or worried? Remember! Remember who God is! Remember what God has done! All the times He’s carried you. All the times He’s come through. All the times He’s sustained you. He’ll do it again. He’ll do it now. He’ll do it tomorrow. And the next day. Remember God’s past faithfulness. And walk in obedience even when you can’t see the way right now. And remember, it is God who is guiding you.