THE BATTLE OF OBEDIENCE

THE BATTLE OF OBEDIENCE

Joshua 1:2-9“Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. 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.”

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“A blind man walked into a bar. [pause] Then a table. Then a chair.” I’ve told you before, unlike Brother Tim, I’m not very good at telling jokes. But I have heard that if you ever want to mess with a blind person, just rearrange the furniture. I know…I know…But how many of you ever feel like following God’s plan in your life feels like stumbling over rearranged furniture?

Today, we are honoring graduates, and while this message is geared towards them as they seek the future God has planned, I hope the rest of us who have long since walked in their shoes can look back and see how God has been faithful even through life’s mistakes and disappointments.

You’ve heard the saying, hindsight is 20/20. For those of us who are older than these graduates, I want you to think back on your life. Does it look now like you thought it would when you were their age? Did you follow God perfectly every step of the way since you graduated? Did you ever not know where God was leading? Did you walk in obedience no matter what?

If you are in church today, there’s a good indication that you want to follow God. We all do. We tell God we will follow Him and desire to do so. But deep inside, if we’re honest, we either feel like we won’t be able to follow through when it comes down to it, or we just have no clue where He is leading…like we’re walking around blind…or we’re too comfortable with where we are right now to go any further with Him. So, often we decide we just won’t go. Not in a blatant, rebellious way. But in a subtle, idle way. I know you have been there, like me, because that’s the pattern of the saints throughout the entire narrative of the Bible.

We see Abraham trust God enough to move from the comforts of his homeland, yet stumble and fall when it came to waiting for God’s promise of a son. He jumped the gun by sleeping with his maidservant to try to speed up God’s plan. Still, God’s plan prevailed. We see Jonah run from God’s plan to preach to those at Nineveh and was swallowed by a big fish. After repenting, he finally obeyed God, and the people turned from their sins and were spared. We see Moses, Elijah, David, the disciples, and just about every other person mentioned in the Bible want to follow God, yet struggle at some point in living out the details of His plan. We are no different. We all want to follow God yet struggle at some point in living out the details of His plan. We can relate to their thoughts of not being good enough or feelings of being the only one on earth who seeks God or not seeing how it all adds up on paper. We can understand why those in the Bible gave into temptation and doubt, because if we’re honest, we’ve done it too.  

Obedience is a hard to learn. Even harder to teach for those who have children, and if you have mastered it, I could use some tips especially if you have strong willed kids like mine and have survived. Just like my kids often want to be “the boss” and wish they could just watch cartoons all day and never have to do their chores, we in our pride and self-centeredness often think we can decide our own fate and future and do whatever pleases us. We want to control our world and the outcome of it. We want good things and comfort for ourselves and many of us think we know the best way to acquire them. But scripture calls us to die to our flesh and follow Christ and His will above our own.

As Christians, we are called to be obedient to God 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?

We often look past the Bible verses about God’s will such as 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “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 “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, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” We think, surely God’s will for my life includes more than this.

 “Wordsworth, in one of his poems, tells about a bird that was carried from Norway by a storm. It fought hard against the gale in its effort to win its way back to Norway, but all in vain. At last it yielded to the wind, and instead of being carried to destruction it was borne to the warm shores of England, to the green meadows and forests. So, when we try to fight against God’s will we are making efforts which will come to naught, and are doing so to our own injury and loss. But if we willingly accept God’s will, it will be for our good; we shall be borne on to blessedness and joy.”

But, what is God’s will for my life? It’s the most common question Christians tend to ask when seeking guidance for their future, especially at this age of graduation. 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. Knowing God’s plan is not a prerequisite for obedience to God. 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.

So, if we don’t have to know exactly what the will of the Lord is in order to live for Him, where do we start? Where’s the beginning of obedience? Faith. It all starts with faith.But the question is, where is your faith placed? Is it placed in God? Or is it placed in your understanding of your circumstances?

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 (vs. 7). 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 was watching with my kids yesterday morning (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’s plan does not always help our obedience. Knowing God, however, does.

Proverbs 3:5-6Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 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.

Losing my twin sister in her prime of life wasn’t a part of my plan. And many of you here today are dealing with things that wasn’t part of your plan either.

Not for one single day

Can I discern my way,

But this I surely know—

He who gives the day

Will show the way,

So I securely go.

– John Oxenham

Turn to God in humble submission. You don’t have to know God’s plan for your life right now. You may never know it fully. That’s ok. He wants you to trust Him first regardless of the plan. And you can trust Him because He has proven himself to be trustworthy in the good times and the bad.

Max Lucado writes, “Our belief in God is not blind faith. Belief is having a firm conviction something is true, not hoping it’s true.” We may not be certain of the exact plans or purposes God has for our life, but we can be certain of who God is and what He calls us to in His word.

Remembering God’s past faithfulness fuels our present and future obedience.

Joshua 1:5 “…Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake 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.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Great is Thy faithfulness

Morning by morning new mercies I see

All I have needed Thy hand hath provided

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me

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. Just like a blind man has to trust the voice of the one leading him, turn and trust Jesus. Just take one step towards His voice. Then another. And another. Until each act of obedience leads you further and further into the intricate plan and purposes God has for your life.

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