Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Strength and Courage

Four times in Joshua chapter one Joshua is told, “Be strong and courageous” (1:6, 7, 9, 18). This follows up on his being told this twice previously (Deut. 31:7, 23). Joshua was given this command directly by God Himself (Deut. 31:23; Josh. 1:6, 7), by Moses (Deut. 31:7), and by the people he was to lead (Josh. 1:18). Not only was the leader, Joshua, given this command, the people themselves were as well (Deut. 31:6). Both leader and people are commanded by God to “Be strong and courageous.” This command would continue to be echoed down through his leadership of these people (Josh. 10:25) and at critical times in the life of the nation after them (1 Chron. 22:13; 28:20; 2 Chron. 32:7).

This same command comes down us today and with the same weight of divine demand behind it. What does it mean for us to “Be strong and courageous”?

On the face of it the command “Be strong” is not only not encouraging, but almost a mocking, taunting, demeaning imperative. What is required of us is more than is within us. The challenges that stand before us are bigger than what we can gather up from within ourselves. In the face of challenges so daunting and a personal condition so depraved, the command to “Be strong” is not only futile, but mean-spirited … unless, of course the command is accompanied by a promise. And in this case, that is exactly what we have. Accompanying this command is the thrice-given promise of God’s abiding presence (Joshua 1:5, 9, 17).

Thus, to live out the command to “Be strong” is to live out of an alien power. We must come into the experience of something more than what we can reach down and do with additional effort.

In New Testament terms this means living in the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s personal presence and power. We are not left the option of assessing our options and choosing our way based upon what is within us or what we are able to do by the power of redoubled efforts. We are to “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Eph. 6:10). If we rely upon our own ingenuity, our own wisdom, our own strength, we will achieve only what is humanly possible. But if we truly come into a fresh experience of the infilling of God’s Spirit, there won’t be enough time to tell the stories of what He will do through us.

Similarly, to be commanded “Be … courageous” is, without divine enablement, a mocking of our naturally fearful state. By itself it amounts to little more than whistling in the dark. But with the promise of His presence and the provision of His Holy Spirit, being courageous is simply living out an alien purpose. No longer are we able to make our choices out of fear, comfort or passivity. Timidity, discomfort and a shrinking spirit must give way—not to something from within ourselves, not from some dredged up daring, but from the knowledge that we have been given a divine task and resourced with divine presence and power … and so we simply step forward, confronting fear, comfort, passivity, timidity and that shrinking spirit and simply do what God calls us to do.

We are “strong and courageous” as we intentionally view our lives (and the circumstances and people and relationship that fill them) as under a purpose that is not dredged up from within us, but which is laid down upon us from above … and when we choose to live for that purpose (rather than our own desires/wishes/whims) by the strength of God’s indwelling presence within us.

So hear it from God. Hear it from me. Hear it from one another. Hear it again and again and again, until it becomes the drumbeat by which you march through life: “Be strong and courageous”!

God of Grace. God of Promises.

Here is 2 Peter 1:3-4: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (ESV)

Here is my paraphrase of the same: “Our Savior of infinite, divine power has graced us with everything with regard to possessing and living out eternal life even now in this present world. This grace has come and continues to flow to us through the channel of a growing, deeply personal and experiential knowledge of our Father, who issued His call to relationship with Himself by the display of His most magnificent glory in this salvation in Christ. It was in the exercise of this most magnificent glory in Christ that our Father graced us with promises of value beyond compare, so that as we take them up and act upon them in faith we might become partners with Him in the display of this glory in this world and that we might escape the process of dissolution that is at work in the world through the strong desires that operate in everyone.”

Preaching in Pain

In 1 Kings 18 we have the marvelous account of Elijah’s mighty encounter with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. What a victory! What a vindication of the Lord’s name!

In 1 Kings 19 we have Elijah’s breakdown. He is threatened by Jezebel and flees for his life.

On day #1 of his depressed flight, he prays, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (19:4)

On day #41 of the same distraught struggle (v.8) Elijah has reached Mt. Horeb and prays, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (v.10)

At least the prophet is no longer asking God to kill him! But he isn’t much better off—full of self-pity, myopia, and wounded pride.

So here’s my question: If Elijah had been a local church pastor what would have done on those intervening five Sundays?

What would he have preached on those Sundays? Could he have preached on those Sundays? With what spirit would he have done so?

The average senior pastor has to preach at least every seven days, if not multiple times a week. He doesn’t have the time or the freedom to process freely some of life’s harder issues without needing to stand before God’s people as “the man of God.”

How is the pastor to keep pastoring when in the way of Elijah?

Here are a few questions to continue our exploration of this difficult topic:

  • How authentic is a pastor to be in the pulpit?
    • To what degree and at what depth is a pastor to publically acknowledge or share his own struggles—be they personal, spiritual, emotional, mental, relational or otherwise?
  • What is the precise calling of the preacher/prophet?
    • When does one’s personal struggle disqualify one from fulfilling a responsibility to faithfully preach the word of God?
    • Is a pastor in the midst of a personal crisis being faithful when he chooses to forge ahead in expounding the word to his people without dragging those struggles into the pulpit? Or is he being hypocritical in failing to acknowledge his own struggles and appearing to be something that he, in that moment, is not?
  • What role do the preacher’s emotions play in his faithfulness as a preacher? What about his doubts? His depression?
    • Are they irrelevant and to be ignored so he can be faithful to God and His Word?
    • Are they signally relevant and to be at least acknowledge publicly lest he be hypocritical and phony?

Paul could say to Timothy, “Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me!” (2 Timothy 3:10)

How could Timothy have “followed” Paul’s “faith” and “patience” and “perseverance” and “persecutions and sufferings” without being witness to his struggle as well? And how could he have been witness to how “out of them all the Lord rescued” Paul?

How does the local church pastor “preach the word” and “be ready in season and out of season” to do so when those seasons include things like Elijah faced? (2 Timothy 4:2)

There are few easy answers here, but it would seem that wisdom is found somewhere in the tension of holding these two points together:

  • If I am struggling significantly, someone needs to know. That is not the same as everyone needing to know. In my struggles I need the fellowship of solid, mature believers. But the exhibitionism of “telling all, all the time, to everyone” is helpful neither to me nor my people.
  • My people need to see me struggling in faith. What I show them needs to be a model of how they too can handle honestly and authentically their challenges as those living yielded to God and under the authority of His Word.

I’m sure there is a great deal more to be said on this topic. Please feel free to weigh in and share your thoughts.

Stand Up and Be Counted!

Here’s my 2017 Christmas story: stand.up.and.be.counted.j.kitchen

Haunted by Grammar

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