I shared a message from Joshua 1:1-9 with the York New Wine Leaders last week. Here’s the gist of it.
The story begins with the death of Moses. The death of his old friend and mentor is a strategic moment for Joshua, because it’s his cue to step up and lead. He’s been in preparation for a long time. And now is his time. Moses, the leader of God’s people has died. Someone has to lead. And Joshua is called.
‘Someone has to lead’ is an interesting phase … because it’s true! If there’s a leadership vacuum, someone will always fill it. If it’s not you, someone else will. They may not be the named officially recognised leader, but they will fill the space. Someone will. Who will? God has called Joshua to lead. So now it’s his job to step up and do it.
Roger Simpson left us a few weeks ago, to go full-time working for the Archbishop of York. On his leaving day he said some fascinating things, including this. He said that on many occasions he’d felt inadequate. Weak. Not very good. But in the end of day, he had to remind himself that God had called him to do lead this community, not somebody else. Somebody else might do it much better than him. But God hadn’t called them. ‘God had called me’ he said. That’s a helpful reminder to leaders, that we need to step up and lead. Not just in the good times but in the tough times too.
Leadership is not always easy, which is why three times in this story, God says to the leader Joshua: ‘be strong and courageous’.
The first time God speaks to Joshua in this way, he speaks about his purpose. God tells him why he needs to be strong and courageous. The answer is simple: in order to lead. ‘Be strong and courageous’ Joshua is told (in v6), ‘because you will lead these people.’ God is saying, ‘I’ve called you. You will lead them. So lead them. Now.’
And God says the same to leaders today. Consider the people God has given you. The community. ‘You will lead these people’, God says. ‘You will. I’m calling you to do it. It’s your job. Your responsibility. Your call.’
‘So that they inherit the land.’ That reminds us that we don’t lead so we look good. We lead so our people thrive. That’s the purpose. So the people of God receive their inheritance. And prosper. And for that to happen, someone has to lead. And God calls you.
The second time God says ‘be strong and courageous’ is in verses 7 and 8: ‘Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you… Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips.’ On this occasion the call is linked to a precept. A precept is an authoritative command telling you to do something. And here Joshua is clearly told that he must keep The law / the Book of Law close by. God is talking here about the Scriptures – his written Word – which we now have in full form in the bible.
So God’s Word is going to be important for Joshua, enabling him to be strong and courageous. In fact, five different words or phrases are used in these two verses to make it patently clear what Joshua – and indeed all leaders – should do with God’s Word. They are i) to obey it; ii) not to turn from it; iii) to keep it on their lips; iv) to meditate on it day and night; v) to do everything written in it. That’s a pretty high standard! It reminds us that Christian leaders are to be people of The Book.
John Stott used to say that we should have the bible in one hand, and a newspaper in other. So that the word of God is rooted in the world of God. That’s why the bible needs to remain close to us. Dear to us. So we live it. Breath it. Teach it. Model it.
If that happens, what does God promise to Joshua? Joshua is told (v8): ‘then you will be prosperous and successful’. So if the people are to prosper, they need to be well led – by you. If leaders are to prosper, they need to be well read – in the Word of God.
So if you are a leader, do you read the bible? Are you in the Word every day? Are you devoted to the Word? Feeding on the Word of God will equip us to lead strongly and courageously.
The third time God says ‘be strong and courageous’ is in v.9: ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.‘
This is a wonderful promise of the presence of God going with Joshua. So he need not be alone.
Leadership can be isolating at times. Sometimes it can feel like you’re on your own. But God promises he will never leave or forsake us. So however isolated we might feel sometimes, we are never by ourselves. The Spirit of God is with us.
The effect of knowing that for Joshua, and for leaders today is that we need not fear, or be discouraged. Because God is present. He knows. He understands. And is guiding and helping. The words ‘Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged’ are wonderfully comforting and reassuring!
But why does God need to say such words? Why does Joshua need to hear that he doesn’t have to fear? The obvious answer is that the task before him is immense and he is scared silly about leading these people into battle! Otherwise, why does God need to say, ‘be strong and courageous?’ Joshua knows he’s called, but he feels weak. Scared. Inadequate. He looks at the size of the task and thinks: ‘I can’t do this’. And out of that place of honesty and vulnerability, God speaks three times about being strong and courageous. God does this to build him up. Because Joshua feels fearful.
I feel like that sometimes. Sometimes fear comes. Discouragement knocks on my door. God knows that. And the Lord often has to remind me that he’s called me to lead and that I don’t have to be afraid. He is with me.
In many ways, those words ‘do not be afraid‘ are the most revealing part of this story. They show us how Joshua felt. And they show us how God recognises Joshua’s fragility, names the fear that is within and speaks words of life and hope and truth by telling him: ‘Joshua – be strong and courageous.’
And the wonderful news for leaders today is that the Lord says the same to us. To you. You do not have to fear. You do not have to be constrained by discouragement. Because God himself is with you.
So leaders: be strong and courageous! For the purpose of leading your people. That’s what you’re called to. With the precept of God’s word. Keeping it close to heart. And knowing the presence of God with you. Encouraging you. Supporting you. Empowering you.