We all know challenges are a part of life. The Bible is full of stories of people facing seemingly impossible challenges, whether it’s David going up against Goliath; the trials that Job or Joseph faced; the apostles going into the world and preaching about Jesus; or as our Tuesday night men’s Bible study recently discussed, the Israelites crossing the Jordan River.
It would have been a lost cause to rely on human thinking and effort to battle the above challenges. But the above weren’t alone in their battles—as neither are we. As Christ followers, we know that truth in our minds, but what does that look like lived out?
Joshua 3 gives us an idea. Joshua knew the Israelites couldn’t move forward in their own strength and cross the Jordan River, so he laid out a three-step approach to dealing with the challenge before them. An approach that also works well for us:
Joshua 3 opens with the officers directing the people to wait until they see the “ark of the covenant of the Lord your God” before moving out. Why? “Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.” (Joshua 3:4)
Rather than become anxious or worried about how they’d get across the river, or just start taking the next steps, the people had to wait for the ark—and then follow it. The ark is mentioned often in this chapter and it serves as a symbol of the presence of God. It pointed to the fact that as the people of Israel set out to cross the Jordan, invade and possess the land—even though all of this was promised by God—they were to do so in God’s timing and strength.
Stepping out and following God puts us on a new path. The word repentance, after all, means a change of mind and heart that includes turning away from sin—our old path—and turning to God—our new path.
If we’re impatient and strike out on our own, especially during our challenges, our instinct takes over and we may make rash decisions. Moving out on our strength and not waiting for God can result is us being lost; we end up wandering; we end up tracking over a path we’ve already taken.
Of course, following God doesn’t mean the challenges, anxiety or uncertainty disappear. It might be a piece of cake; that's up to God. The key is letting God lead. He knows what lies ahead and, as it says in Proverbs 3: “in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
As they wait, Joshua 3:5 provides the Israelites’ second step: “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”
The Hebrew word for consecrate means to prepare, to dedicate, to be hallowed, to be holy or to be separate/set apart. In other words, God was telling His people that if they were going to cross what seemed to be an impassable river and follow His will, they must be set apart to Him. They must be holy. They must be all in.
It’s the need to deal with sin in our lives—anything that’s causing a barrier between us and God—because it prevents us from experiencing God fully, hearing him clearly and seeing him sharply. e need to come clean with God, not to feel defeated or guilty, but so He can work in us and restore us.
God is always about the spiritual—that our hearts be rightly related to Him before moving out.
So how do we consecrate ourselves? How can we set ourselves apart for God? Much of that centers on the time we’re spending in the word and meditating on what it says. And what our prayer life looks like.
Joshua 5:13 provides the literal and figurative last step in this process: “And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”
God didn’t say walk to the river’s shore and watch me part the waters. He didn’t say walk down to the river, raise a staff and watch me work a miracle. The priests had to step foot in the Jordan—which was at flood stage, the Bible tells us—then the waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.
After waiting on God and meditating on His word, and then preparing themselves and devoting themselves to him, the Israelites had to choose: Believe God, have faith in Him and step out in the direction He's leading—or not. It’s a decision we all have to make.
The Israelites' faith had to be strong in they were to believe God would do what He said He would—and the patience they showed and the preparation they took provided that faith. They obeyed. They trusted. God delivered.
Looking at three steps, all are needed. Skipping a step or doing them apart from each other would keep us from fully experiencing what God desires for us.
If we just wait for God with out feet up, expecting a delivery from Him with all our instructions, but we don’t prepare ourselves, we don’t prepare our hearts or we don’t seek Him in prayer or in the Word, then it’s going to be tough to get direction as to where to proceed.
Similarly, if we prepare and spend time reading the Bible, go to Bible studies, attend church, pray and serve, then just act on our own or put God on a timeline to move, we’re not getting the best that He wants to give us.
And if we just bull forward and proceed, not waiting for God’s direction and not preparing ourselves to hear Him, who knows where we’ll end up.
It’s only when we patiently wait for God, spend that time preparing our minds and our hearts to get right with Him and get clear on the word and prayer, that we’ll then know—in God’s timing and direction—when and where to move. And we can move in confidence.