I am confident that God works all things together according to His plan and purpose. This undoubtedly benefits those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Such is the message of Romans 8:28-29. In Ephesians 2:10, Paul also writes that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared beforehand so that we should walk in them. Imagine, for a moment, that you are on a winding path. As you take each step, the next stone is revealed to you. As you take that step, the next stone is revealed. The stones have already been placed for our feet to travel. In fact, they have been thoughtfully prepared by God. With each step, we get to walk by the faith that God has entrusted to us for our stewardship.
When I was a child, we had these things on the school playground called balance-beams. I’m not sure what adult thought that it was a good idea to place such a long, winding, narrow beam in front of an elementary school and challenge undeveloped school children to play chicken with one another, but I am certain that each step was difficult for my little feet.
The God of the universe has thought about us in such a way that He has prepared stones for our feet, a path in the good way that we should walk. God supplies the measure of faith that we need to take the next step. He has prepared us for each new stone. Will we, by faith, walk the path marked out for us, or will we get lost in the wilderness? What sort of resolve must we have to walk the godly path?
Joshua 1:1-9 HCSB
After the death of Moses the Lord’s servant, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, who had served Moses: “Moses My servant is dead. Now you and all the people prepare to cross over the Jordan to the land I am giving the Israelites. I have given you every place where the sole of your foot treads, just as I promised Moses. Your territory will be from the wilderness and Lebanon to the great Euphrates River — all the land of the Hittites — and west to the Mediterranean Sea. No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. I will be with you, just as I was with Moses. I will not leave you or forsake you.
“Be strong and courageous, for you will distribute the land I swore to their fathers to give them as an inheritance. Above all, be strong and very courageous to carefully observe the whole instruction My servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you will have success wherever you go. This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do. Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
The next step
In this part of God’s story, the people of Israel, particularly this generation, had been in the wilderness for forty years because their parents chose not to follow God’s direction. Now, God was bringing this generation to the land of Canaan, the land He promised to give to Abraham’s decedents, and He is challenging this people to take the next step by faith and according to His instruction. The whole community was challenged to take the next step on the path that God had laid out for them.
There are a couple revelations that really stand out to me as I think about God’s direction and as I think about what it means to walk on the path that God has thoughtfully laid down. First of all, God is the one who completes His own work and brings His own promises to fruition. He does not need us. This means that we are stewards of the opportunities that God gives us with each new step. Second, it is by the instruction of Scripture that we are equipped to stay on this path. God has not only thoughtfully prepared the next step for us, but has given us an instruction by which we take the next step.
What does it mean, then, that we are stewards of the opportunities that God gives us with each new step on the path that He has thoughtfully prepared? First of all, it means that we, mere people, do not and cannot know better than God. It also means that it is not our responsibility to create the next step or to try and hold on to the way that we like to do things. Our responsibility is to steward the path that God has placed in front of us. God receives all glory and we get to abide in Him! This leads us to ask why God sets the path that He does for our lives and for our local church. Does He thoughtfully set the stones for our path so that we can be comfortable? Does the law them so that we might experience worldly success? Does the God of the universe, who receives all glory, place a path at our feet so that we might achieve something great? We might look ahead in the story to see the purpose of the path that God places before the feet of His people. In Joshua 4:24, we read that God does the work that He does, calling His people to walk along a path that He has laid, so that “all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord’s hand is mighty, and so that [we] may always fear the Lord [our] God.”
God sets our path that we would decrease and He would increase. We have this amazing tendency to as God, “What do you have for me?” We expect that God’s plan is to exalt us in some way and increase the impact that we have on this earth. God’s reason is opposite of this. He sets our path that we might be humbled. When He exalts a people or a human leader, He raises them from a humble place. Israel was small and unrighteous, yet God chose them to represent Him. Moses had to be humbled and made a shepherd before God exalted Him. Joshua was part of this generation of promise and witnessed God’s punishment against his parents’ generation and was humbled as a result. God has arranged our path that we would decrease and He would increase; that all the people of the earth would know that God’s hand is mighty and that we would fear God. Instead of asking, “What does God have for me?” perhaps it is better for us to focus on where we are at, honoring God in our current circumstance and faithfully serving Him here and now. In His own timing, He will exalt us or not for His own glory and for our good. As we walk this path, Scripture is the authority that God has given for our lives and actually convicts us and equips us so that we are prepared to continue on the path that God has laid out for us.
We know why God has prepared the path that He has for us and which authority we abide in as we walk this path. Can we know what the next step on this path is? For Joshua and this generation of Israelites, God made it apparent. They knew that they would go into the land of Canaan. They had their mission as God prepared the world to receive her Messiah: Jesus Christ. Our mission is not to take the land of Canaan. God will not give us the land if we go to Jerusalem and begin demolishing buildings. The Messiah has come, and so there is no need for God to establish a national people through whom the Messiah will come. Since God does not change, though, He is still building His kingdom. We can deduce from this that our mission is to somehow participate as the people of God as God builds His kingdom. We don’t even have to deduce this. God gives the New Testament church her mission explicitly in Matthew 28:18-20,
Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The goal for the Israelites was that they would advance God’s kingdom in hearts by preparing for the Messiah. Our goal is to advance God’s kingdom in hearts by teaching others (all nations) about the Messiah. We will forever abide as disciples of Christ. God’s glory is always the goal and it works out for our good. God has given us a mission and a goal in the Old Testament, the New and forever. We glorify Him and glory in Him. In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus fortifies this mission by stating that all of the Law and the Prophets hinge on two commands: Love God and love people as He quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. The path we are on, then, causes us to decreases and leads us to make disciples of all nations as we love God and love people.
So, instead of wondering and wishing for whatever God has next (this is called worry), we can trust God with the path that He has set before us as He works all things together. Furthermore, we ask ourselves, “Are we loving God and how? Are we loving people and how? Are we making disciples and how?” As we pursue the mission that God has for us in our current time in such a way that we are loving God and loving all people, we will find ourselves walking the path that God has prepared for us. He will give us a heart to reach people. He will give us ideas, passions, gifts, and desires to walk the path that He is working together. Our responsibility is to steward what He has given. If He calls us to change, we change. If He calls us to reach a certain demographic, we do it. If we feel as though God wants us to go overseas or plant a church where one is needed, our “yes” is already on the table because it is God who directs us and He has prepared our path thoughtfully and has given us His word, in which we get to abide daily. In March and April, we will be walking through the book of Acts and discovering exactly what it means for the church to proactively make disciples of all nations and what sort of steps we might find on this path as we, by the faith supplied to us, follow hard after Christ. The fact of the matter is this, though: We don’t have to worry too much about each step. We pursue the goal, we follow Christ now, and He will lead us. Jesus even taught about worrying:
“This is why I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add a single cubit to his height by worrying? And why do you worry about clothes? Learn how the wildflowers of the field grow: they don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these! If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t He do much more for you — you of little faith? So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:25-34 HCSB).
Is worrying about what God has for our future not the same? We cannot worry about whether or not God will do one thing or another. We cannot worry about how God will provide for our ministries. We are too, by the faith abundantly supplied to us, abide in Him and follow His direction, no matter the cost. God always provides as He accomplishes His plan. After all, this thing is for His glory, not ours.
We could also do a brief exegesis of Romans 12:1-2
Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
In order to discern the will of God, we must be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds as we present our bodies as living sacrifices by the mercies of God. We present ourselves to God today. We are renewed today. We can discern today what God’s will is for today. We do not remain in our current state as God’s will comes about; He transforms us, cultivates us, and produces much fruit through us. Will we follow hard after Jesus, both now and forevermore?
God is the goal, we can trust Him with our steps.
The next obstacle
As this generation of Israel is walking on the path that God has prepared for them, with His glory as the goal, He warns the people of Israel to be strong and courageous three times in these first nine verses (v. 6, 7, and 9). Why does God have to challenge Joshua and the people of Israel to be strong and courageous? Before my son was born, my wife bought me some tactical baby gear. So, when I am about to change a diaper, I can ready for war! What strikes me about these verses, though, is that God is not telling Joshua, and effectively the rest of Israel, to be strong and courageous because their enemies are strong. He promises to give them the land (v. 3-4) and that no enemy will be able to stand against them (v. 5). Our God is bigger than our enemies! Our God is bigger than the task ahead!
In verse 6, God encouraged Joshua to be strong and courageous because the land would be distributed and the people of Israel would receive an inheritance. It takes both strength and courage to be a good and godly steward of what God has given. So, God gives a measure of faith, He gives material and monetary blessings to be used for His glory, He gives gifts, talents, passions, dreams, and vision. Will we have the strength and the courage, which are also supplied by God’s grace, to steward all that God has richly supplied for His glory? The obstacle that God warned about implicitly was not the Canaanites. It was first the pride of the Israelite nation.
In verse 7, God encourages Joshua, and effectively all of Israel, again to be strong and very courageous. This time so that they might observe the whole instruction of the Law. God did not command strength and courage because there was a barrier in the way that might not be overcome. He exhorted the people so that they might remain in His own instruction. We are the ones who have a tendency to stray and we are responsible for our own actions as we steward what God has given. It requires strength and courage, which is supplied by God, to remain in God’s instruction. In Deuteronomy 31:21-23, it is recorded:
And when many troubles and afflictions come to them, this song will testify against them, because their descendants will not have forgotten it. For I know what they are prone to do, even before I bring them into the land I swore to give them.” So Moses wrote down this song on that day and taught it to the Israelites.
The Lord commissioned Joshua son of Nun, “Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I swore to them, and I will be with you.”
Depraved people are prone to sinfulness, God has grace, strength and courage are supplied so that God’s people may rest in God’s instruction, walk on God’s path, and resist sin.
In verse 9, Joshua is challenged again to be strong and courageous, not being afraid or discouraged because of human pride or human depravity. As we follow hard after Christ on this earth, we will undoubtedly face both our own sinful pride and the sinful pride of others. Our depravity and the depravity of every other person will bear down on us. Discerning God’s will is no easy task. Humility is no easy achievement. We cannot overcome our depravity (our holistic insufficiency) unless salvation is gifted to us by grace through faith. Life in the context of a sinful world is toil (Genesis 3:17). It is difficult. To expect comfort or easiness in this life is to not realize what sin has done. It has made life impossible for us. It has made work impossible for us. It has made peace impossible for us. It has made walking the path that God has thoughtfully prepared impossible for us. This is why we need Jesus, who was without sin and still suffered the consequence that was due us. Jesus is the only one who can shepherd us along the path. The good news is that He saves and shepherds all those who have believed (John 3:16-17)!
This is why life on the path God thoughtfully prepared requires strength and courage that is itself provided by God. We take God’s warning seriously because He made that warning for a reason: “Do not stray to the right or to the left.”
I am prone to wander, by grace God’s path I walk.
The next victory
Finally, we see that there is a great promise for those who fix their eyes on God’s glory and walk the path that He has thoughtfully laid before them, abiding in Scripture and not turning to the right or to the left. In verse 7, God tells Joshua that he would have success wherever he went. In verse 8, God repeats Himself, telling Joshua to carefully observe everything written, for then h would prosper and succeed wherever he went. With what would Joshua be successful? He would lead the people to carry out the plan that God had and that God already promised to accomplish. This is not a prosperity Gospel, it’s a story of human depravity and the sufficiency of the perfect God! God will accomplish precisely what He has set forth to accomplish. He is always successful, but we are not. If we walk the path that God has thoughtfully placed and abide in His word, we will experience godly success (being able to see God’s work done). When we remember everything that has proceeded Joshua, particularly Numbers 14, we know that even Joshua was able to follow God and obey Him completely like Caleb because he had been given a different spirit. The Lord shepherds His people! If we have been regenerated, we can walk with God, abide in His word, and experience success as measured by God.
As we walk by faith, according to God’s instruction, we experience victory, meaning God’s purpose, which He will accomplish with or without us, is accomplished through us (this works out for our good).
So, what is God’s plan for us? He will make the steps evident in His own timing. Let us fix our eyes on His glory and pursue the goal. He is working all things together according to His purpose and for our good.
God is the goal, we can trust Him with our steps.
I am prone to wander, by grace God’s path I walk.
God always succeeds, so I find my success in His plan.