Take The Step
In a remote area in the Republic of the Congo is a river where the native people have to cross over by stepping on rocks. The current is very strong and over time people got swept away when they missed a step. Twice a day – early morning and late afternoon there is a guide that goes to the point of crossing to assist people. What he does is to go right behind a person and then he says, “Just listen to me. Do exactly as I tell you and you will get to the other side.” With each rock he tells people, “Take the step”...and so it continues until they reach the other side. Some people would comment afterwards, “It's like my fear disappeared when the guide stayed behind me and got me to the other end.” When I read this story I was thinking that God does the same in our lives. He comes in behind us and says, “Take the step exactly as I tell you.” God calls us to His service, He tells us what He wants from us and then He guides us. Never would He expect of us to walk into the unknown without His guidance. David the man after God’s heart rejoiced in this comfort when he wrote in Psalm 32: 8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” Isn’t that a wonderful affirmation God gives us, especially when we face obstacles and rivers to cross just like the Israelites and their new leader, Joshua? I think we all can identify with concerns for the unknown. When we face something we're not familiar with anxiety often takes over. Can you remember the first day you went to school? Let's be honest, we all had irregular heartbeat. And what about all those exams and later on the first job interview? Even after years of experience when a new job opportunity comes, people feel anxious about the unknown. Yes, we all are familiar with the Jordan Rivers of our lives.
Right at the beginning of the book of Joshua, we see how God informed His servant that the children of Israel would soon be crossing the Jordan River to claim the inheritance He promised them years before. They were at the horizon of new blessings and possibilities. As we read the prophecies of all the prophets God called, we see the same pattern. After His children faced the consequences for their sins, a word of new beginnings and prosperity was spoken. It was again and again a new horizon for God's children. Can we affirm that it's true what we hear in the Praise song,
This is a day of new beginnings?
This is a day of new beginnings,
time to remember and move on,
time to believe what love is bringing,
laying to rest the pain that’s gone.
The life of any child of God is to begin over with what He has made new. I think we all have begun over so many times that we couldn't even keep track of the number of times. Just like the people of Israel, we stand each day at a new horizon. We have new challenges as we go forward. And as we do, we receive the same instructions from Joshua 3: 1-17, the children of Israel received.
First we are instructed – Before You Take The Step – Focus On God's Planning. Notice, the Israelites had to wait at Shittim for three extra days, before they could cross. Many times we have to wait on God. We think things are ready to move, but then we want things according to our timing and not God’s timing. There was a business man who booked a flight from New York to Boston, but he missed his flight because of car trouble. He went back home very upset because of the business deal he missed out on, but then it came over the radio. The plane he was scheduled to be on went down and all the passengers died. The man went to his study in his home and fell to his knees. He confessed to God, “Lord, You know when I have to go from one place to the next. Always be the Navigator of my life.” God is the Creator of time. He doesn’t measure time the way we do. In fact, time is not a limiting factor to God. We read in 2 Pet. 3: 8, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” The promise to Abraham concerning the Promised Land had been made over 500 years before this point in time for Joshua and the Israelites. The key to understand time is to focus on God’s schedule - notice that the command was “When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it.” My friends, we get so impatient when God puts a hold on things. It's something we always want to question – “Lord, why not now?” His answer will always be – “I prepare you for when the time is right.” Can you think of other times when God prepared people? I think that time is right now with Covid-19 restrictions. Though it wasn't God giving the pandemic to the world, He is the One Who can use a situation like this to transform people. We shouldn't get upset when things go against us, we should rejoice, knowing that God is working on us.
There is a second instruction – Before You Take The Step – Prepare Your Hearts. Verses 5-7, “Joshua told the people, 'Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.' Joshua said to the priests, 'Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.' So they took it up and went ahead of them. And the Lord said to Joshua, 'Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses.'” Joshua delivered God’s message to His people. They needed to prepare their hearts; they needed to consecrate themselves. It means to “set apart for service to God.” How many times have we missed God’s blessings, because we have failed to prepare our hearts? We just say to God, “Here I am. Take me as I am. I don't have time for preparation.” But just like Peter, Paul and the others we have to realize, we will be unproductive and fail if we haven’t allowed God to first make the necessary adjustments. Peter spoke boldly about Jesus after the Day of the Pentecost. It's so incomprehensible to think – that was the same man who ran when his Teacher was arrested. First God had to prepare his heart. Paul felt defeated and complained about a thorn in his flesh. But later he went from strength to strength. God adjusted his heart. Before we can be successful as followers of Jesus, we have to prepare our hearts. I want you as the people of Langley Presbyterian Church to think about something – God is busy preparing you and a new minister for the next chapter in the history of this church. You might get impatient that a pandemic has slowed down the call process, but let God prepare your hearts.
Lastly, we are instructed – Before You Take The Step – Remember God's Faithfulness. We read in verses 9-11, “Joshua said to the Israelites, 'Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God. This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that He will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you.'” God has always gone out before Israel. He led them through the wilderness with a specific manifestation of His presence in front – the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Again He went before them. They crossed the Jordan and they inherited the Promised Land. After that, God has gone before His people for hundreds and hundreds of years. He will go before His people until the end of the age as Jesus promised before His ascension, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." He promises us that He will always lead us. Why can we believe that? Because He never failed us before. Every single follower of God in this world has to affirm, “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father, morning by morning, new mercies I see...” Friends, we stand on the bank of the Jordan River. On the other side are blessings, prosperity, new opportunities. And we hear God say, “Are you putting your trust in me? Then Take The Step into the water. Now is the time to cross. I will bless you as you go forward.” Let's Take The Step.
Amen. __________________________________________ Rev. Willem H. van de Wall