Have you ever felt overwhelmed? Maybe you remember experiencing this feeling as a parent the first time you brought your baby home from the hospital. You instantly loved the little guy or gal with every molecule in your body, but as you considered the challenge of feeding, clothing, and parenting that child for the next 21 years, well let’s just say that staggering responsibility made you felt completely inadequate. You just could not conceive of how you were going to find the parental wisdom and patience and energy and money get this all-important job done. And trying to take care of his newborn needs on 4 hours sleep a night only magnified this feeling.
Maybe there have been times when your job has made you feel overwhelmed. The constant work, the late hours, the business trips, the ever-increasing demands, all this combined to make you feel like a drowning man, going down for the third time.
Maybe you’ve felt overwhelmed by your finances. No matter how carefully you budget, the bills always threaten to overwhelm your income. And it seems like only a matter of time before you will begin to lose ground.
If you’re a teen, you might have felt overwhelmed recently as you faced final exams. And, believe it or not, I’m still young enough to remember that feeling. That week-long pile of huge, make-it-or-break-it tests can feel like a tidal wave that towers over you. You don’t know how you are possibly going to cram enough information into your head and keep it there long enough to get the grade you need.
Well, I could go on and on because life is indeed full of things that can make us feel overwhelmed-parenting, career, finances, difficult relationships, health issues, weekly sermon preparation-the list is almost endless. And if you can relate, then pay close attention to this morning’s message because today we begin the study of a book of the Bible that deals with a man who I believe experienced this feeling in the incident that is recorded in today’s text.
His name is Joshua and we can learn from his example. Take your Bibles and turn to the book that bears his name, the sixth book in the Old Testament, a book we’ll be getting to in March according to our Chronological Bible reading plan. This morning we’ll be looking at the first eighteen verses of chapter one. As we read see if you can sense Joshua’s apprehensiveness and try and discern the reasons behind it.
1 – After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide:
2 – “Moses My servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them-to the Israelites.
3 – I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.
4 – Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates-all the Hittite country-to the Great Sea on the west.
5 – No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
6 – “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.
7 – Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law My servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.
8 – Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.
Then you will be prosperous and successful.
9 – Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
This is the Word of the Lord; thanks be to God.
Did you sense Joshua’s fear? In case you missed it let me point out that three-count ’em three-times God had to encourage him to, “Be strong and courageous.” Repeatedly our Lord had to in essence say, “Hang in there, Joshua, it’s going to be okay.” I think that at this moment Joshua is so overwhelmed that he feels like a frightened little boy. In fact, it seems to me that in verse 9 God speaks to him in Father-to-son terms and says, “Don’t be terrified Joshua; don’t be afraid; don’t be discouraged. All this may seem overwhelming but don’t worry, I’m going to be with you every step of the way.”
Another indication of his fear is in verse 18 after Joshua gives one of his first orders. I mean the people themselves must have seen their new leader’s knees knocking because they said, “Hey, don’t worry about it! We’ll obey you. Just be strong and courageous.”
So, it’s fairly clear that Joshua was feeling a bit overwhelmed at this point in his life. He was afraid. Reminds me of a story I heard of about a sergeant in a parachute regiment. He was a seasoned jumper and one day he found himself sitting next to a lieutenant in the plane who was fresh from jump school. The Lieutenant looked a bit pale so as they approached their jump zone the sergeant leaned over and said, “Are you scared, sir?”
The lieutenant replied, “No just a bit apprehensive.”
The sergeant asked, “Well, what’s the difference?”
And the lieutenant replied, “Apprehensive means I’m scared with a university education.”
Well whichever word you want to use, Joshua was it. And several things contributed to this fear-or apprehension-that threatened to overwhelm him.
A. First, I think it finally sank in that he had been chosen to succeed Moses himself!
Now, he’d known this would eventually happen but I don’t think it really hit him until now. And can you imagine what that felt like? Think how Joshua must have felt when he realized that he was to fill the shoes of the amazing man God had used to bring the Hebrew nation out of bondage?! Try to imagine the thoughts that must have gone through Joshua’s head when it finally sank in that he was taking the place of a man who spoke to God in the burning bush, the man God used to force mighty Pharaoh to set his entire slave population free. Think how he felt to be the successor of the man who stretched out the rod and divided the Red Sea, the man who had received the ten commandments on Mt. Sinai, the man whose face had glowed with the glory of God! He had big shoes-or rather sandals-to fill didn’t he?!
I remember in my “immature” early years in ministry, when I took a church staff position, I would always secretly hope my predecessor had done a bad job; that way I’d look good. I mean it can be quite threatening to follow a successful, much-loved person can’t it!? Well imagine how Joshua felt to know that he had to succeed Moses. It was a scary thought indeed!
B. Add to that Joshua’s understanding that it was now his responsibility to claim the land that had been promised to the Hebrew people 500 years earlier.
This land that, as verse 4 says would “…extend from the desert [in the south] to Lebanon [in the north], and from the great river, the Euphrates [in the east] to the Great Sea on the west.” This chunk of land was the single-minded focus of all these millions of people who had been traveling now for four decades. We know this-we know it was and had been their focus-because the word “land” is found eighty-seven times in Joshua and nearly 200 times in Deuteronomy. It was what everyone talked about. All they cared about was finally getting to and claiming this promised land had been on every Jewish individual’s mind for centuries.
Remember? As we read in our Chronological Bibles this week, it had first been promised to Abraham and then Isaac and then Jacob and so on. For over 500 years the Hebrew people-this nation without a country-had waited to claim this land as their own.
And to fully comprehend why this would make Joshua feel overwhelmed we need to understand the importance of this real estate. The prophet Ezekiel said that this piece of property that is about the size of California was the center of the nations, the center of the entire world. And the Hebrew word that we translate “center” literally means “naval” suggesting that the land of Israel was the “lifeline” between God and this world. It was indeed a lifeline wasn’t it? It was, in the sense that God had chosen it to be the “stage” on which the drama of redemption would be presented. This is the land where prophets would preach foretelling the coming of the Messiah. It’s where He-Jesus-would be born, live, be crucified, and rise again.
Well, imagine how ole Joshua felt as he realized that it was now his job to finally lead the people to conquer and claim this vital, long-promised land! Wouldn’t that thought overwhelm you a bit?!
C. And then another factor in his apprehension at this point was the fact that Joshua knew, perhaps better than anyone, the kind of burden he now faced as leader.
I mean, he knew the kind of people it was now his job to govern and lead. He knew, by experience, that they were a group of stubborn, stiff-necked people known for their murmuring, complaining, backsliding, and wishing they were back where they came from. Now, in the past, he could always refer complaints like these to Moses, the Leader. He could say, “Let’s take that to Moses. He’ll deal with it.” But no longer! No, now the buck stopped at his tent flap!
In fact, as verse 12 tells us his second command as leader was to deal with some of this stubbornness that was so often found in the Hebrew people. He had to go and remind the tribes of Gad and Reuben and half of the tribe of Manasseh-Hebrews who had chosen NOT to live in the promised land-he had to remind them of their pledge to send troops to help conquer it. He had to in essence initiate a draft.
He had to tell them, “Hey guys, Moses said you could stay on this side of the Jordan and raise your cattle but remember, the deal was for you to send soldiers to help the rest of your people conquer this land God has given us, so all able-bodied you men get your swords. Lock and load-we’re about to go to war.”
Now, before we go any further in our study of this book, let’s remind ourselves exactly who this Joshua was. I think we need to take the time to do this because you may not be as familiar with Joshua as you should be and the fact is he’s often overlooked, as are those other leaders who follow in the footsteps of a particularly prominent individual. I mean, who remembers the president after Abraham Lincoln, or the prime minister who followed Winston Churchill? Successors are generally obscured by the famous leaders who came before them and this often happens to Joshua; we tend to forget him because he served in the huge shadow of Moses. In fact, this may be why the book is called by his name. Perhaps it is God’s way of saying, “Don’t overlook My servant Joshua? He was extraordinary. He was faithful and hardworking, wholly given to My service. You could learn a thing or two from Joshua’s story…” – and there is a great deal we can learn from Joshua’s life.
Author Philip Keller puts it this way,
“[Joshua] has seldom been given the full credit he deserves as perhaps the greatest man of faith ever to set foot on the stage of human history. In fact, his entire brilliant career was a straightforward story of simply setting down one foot after another in quiet compliance with the commands of God.”
So, let’s take a minute to review the life of this great, but somewhat unknown man.
A. When we first meet him in the Bible, Joshua is a slave.
Like hundreds of thousands of Hebrews, Joshua spent the first part of his life suffering under the cruelty of the Egyptian taskmasters. Joshua belonged to the tribe of Ephriam and the fact that he was the firstborn son of Nun, tells us two things. First, as the eldest, his life was in danger the night of the Passover. And then his survival also tells us that he obeyed God. Joshua followed His instructions and put the blood of a Lamb on the doorpost of his house so that the death angel would pass over.
B. So Joshua began as a slave but he went on to become a great soldier.
In fact the first official recorded act of Joshua in the Bible is his leading the Hebrew army to defeat the Amalekites when they attacked Israel about two months after their exodus from Egypt. Do you remember that story from Exodus 17? Moses stood on a hill overlooking the battlefield and raised his hands as a sign of God’s blessing. As long as his hands were raised, the Israelites were winning, but when he grew tired and lowered them, the Amalekites would begin to prevail.
Aaron and Hur, who were with Moses, saw this and realized what was happening so they had him sit on a large rock while they stood on either side and supported his arms. They did this until sunset, by which time the armies of the Amalekites were overcome. This experience on the battlefield was part of Joshua’s preparation for leadership. It taught him that it is God Who blesses us with victory in the battles of life.
By the way, as we study this book that bears his name we’ll see that Joshua was not only a soldier but was apparently a general with exceptional military skills. I mean, he knew how to lead an army into battle. Perhaps, like Moses, Joshua received his education in the form of military training from the Egyptians. Maybe his assignment as a Hebrew slave was to be the military aid to one of their generals. In any case he was indeed a exceptional soldier. In fact, General Douglas MacArthur once listed Joshua among the truly great generals of world history. So Joshua was a slave, a soldier…
C. …and then, as I have already said, Joshua is also known as the assistant of Moses.
As the number two man in the Hebrew nation, he accompanied Moses up to Mt. Sinai to receive the ten commandments. Then Joshua went with him when he judged the people for making the golden calf. (Exodus 32:17) During Israel’s wilderness journey, Moses had a special tent set up outside the camp where he could meet with God. It was Joshua’s responsibility to stay at the tent and guard it. Joshua was in essence Moses’ side-kick; he served his every need, learning from this great leader firsthand.
So Joshua was a slave, a soldier, an assistant to Moses…
D. …and you may remember that the Bible also says that Joshua was a spy.
When Israel first arrived at the border of the Promised Land at a place called Kadesh Barnea, God commanded Moses to appoint twelve men to spy out the land of Canaan and Joshua was among them. After forty days of investigating the land, the spies returned to Moses and reported that the land was a wonderful place. Just as God promised, it was a land flowing with milk and honey.
But that was the good news. The bad news was that ten of the spies discouraged the people by saying that Israel wasn’t strong enough to overcome the residents of this promised land. Only two of the spies-Caleb and Joshua-encouraged the people to trust God and move in. Tragically the people listened to the faithless ten spies and their act of unbelief and rebellion delayed the conquest of the land for forty years. Only Caleb and Joshua survived that four decade march, empowered to do so by God as a reward for their faith in Him.
Okay now that we’ve been formally “introduced” to Joshua let’s get back to our text. Remember, at this point He faces an overwhelming task. Well how was he to do it? How was he to accomplish the job God had given him? How did he go from feeling overwhelmed to becoming the great man of God we read about? How was he to be strong and courageous under the burden of all that now lay on his shoulders? The answer to these questions is in verse 8 where God says to Joshua,
“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
In other words, Joshua’s strength for the task he faced would come from the written Word of God. He would get the power and the courage and the guidance necessary for dealing with the overwhelming responsibilities that faced him every morning by reading, studying, and believing its promises. The precepts and principles found in “The Book of Law” would give him the wisdom he needed to get this job done.
Now, of course Joshua didn’t have our Bible-most of it had not been written yet-but he did have the first five books of the Old Testament. Most Biblical scholars believe the entire five Books of Moses-Genesis through Deuteronomy-comprised this the “book of Law” that is referenced in verse 8. You see, during the years of his leadership, Moses had kept a written record of God’s words and acts. Deuteronomy 31:9 tells us he had committed this record to the care of the priests.
And please note it wasn’t enough for the priests to carry and guard this precious book. No, Joshua was to take time to read it daily and make it a part of his inner person by meditating on it. And to deal with our own times of fear we need to do the same thing.
As Psalm 1:1-3 says,
“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the Law of the Lord and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by the water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”
This meditating on Scripture is what Paul was talking about when he told the Ephesians that their minds needed to be “washed with water through the Word [of God.]” (Ephesians 5:26) You see, meditation cleanses false beliefs and attitudes and misguided plans and hopes, things that combine to make us afraid and overwhelmed. It cleanses our minds of these things.
So, to face life unafraid we must learn to meditate on Scripture. In order to do the things God calls us to do we must “let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly.” (Colossians 3:16)
Well, how do we meditate on Scripture? What does this spiritual discipline involve? In his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg gives us five tips. Let’s review them quickly.
(1) First, ask God to meet you in Scripture.
Before you begin reading, take a moment to pray and ask God to speak to you. Then as you read expect Him to answer that prayer. Begin your time of meditation by echoing the words of the Psalmist: pray to God saying, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” (Psalm 119:18)
Remember, in John 16:13 Jesus promised that His Holy Spirit would, “guide us into all truth” so begin your meditation by claiming that promise. Ask God’s to meet you and speak to you in your study of His Word.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said,
“Often we are so burdened and overwhelmed with other thoughts, images, and concerns .that it may take a long time before God’s Word has swept all else aside and come through. This is the very reason why we begin our meditation with the prayer that God may send His Holy Spirit to us through His Word and reveal His Word to us and enlighten us.”
Bonhoeffer is right-God will answer this prayer. As you read the Bible in this way He may point out certain things that you need to hear, things you would miss otherwise. Remember as Hebrews 4:12 says, the Bible is different from any other book in that it is a “living” Word. And one place we meet our living God is within its pages.
Floyd Schneider tells of a Christian university student that shared a room with a Muslim. As they became friends, their conversation often turned to their beliefs. The believer asked the Muslim if he’d ever read the Bible. He said, “No,” but then asked if the Christian had ever read the Koran.
The believer responded, “No, I haven’t, but I’m sure it would be interesting. Why don’t we read both together, once a week, alternating books?” His young friend accepted the challenge, their friendship deepened, and during the second term the young Muslim became a believer in Jesus.
One evening, late in the term, he burst into the room and shouted at the longtime believer, “You deceived me!”
“What are you talking about?” the believer asked.
The new believer opened his Bible and said, “I’ve been reading it through, like you told me, and just read that the Word is living and active!”
He grinned, “You knew all along that the Bible contained God’s presence and power and that the Koran is a book like any other. I never had a chance!”
“And now you’ll hate me for life?” asked the believer.
“No,” he answered, “but it was an unfair contest.”
And I guess it was, because our living God will indeed speak to us through this living book.
(2) A second principle of meditation is to read the Bible with a repentant spirit.
Read its pages with a vulnerable heart, not for information but for transformation. Ask God to use His Word to show you your short-comings and how you need to change in order to be more like Jesus. Pray with the Psalmist and say, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)
Remember as 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” So, resolve beforehand that you will be obedient to the Scriptures’ correction, that you will change your life such that it lines up with the Bible’s teachings.
Do you remember God’s instruction to Joshua in verse 7? He said, “Be careful to obey all the law My servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.” Well, meditation involves reading the Bible with the understanding that you may need to change your life, you may need to make a right or a left turn to stay on the straight and narrow road.
In a Peanuts cartoon strip, Linus shared with Charlie Brown his dreams for the future.
“When I get big,” Linus says, “I’m going to be a real fanatic.”
Charlie responded, “What are you going to be fanatical about”
With an uncertain look on his face, Linus replied, “Oh, I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter. I’ll be sort of a wishy-washy fanatic.”
Well, the sad truth is many believers are wishy-washy when it comes to the teachings of God’s Word. They follow it only when it is convenient to do so. Meditation-when done with the right attitude-helps us to correct this flawed way of thinking and line ourselves up such that we stay in the center of God’s will.
(3) Ortberg’s third tip is to meditate on a fairly brief passage or narrative.
Now, it is indeed important for us to be familiar with all of the Bible. That’s one of the benefits of our “read the Bible through in a year” plan; it gives us a good overview. But to read the Bible for transformation, we need to go slowly.
Madame Guyon wrote,
“If you read it quickly, it will benefit you little. You will be like a bee that merely skims the surface of a flower. Instead, in this new way of reading with prayer, you must become as the bee who penetrates into the depths of the flower. You plunge deeply within to remove its deepest nectar.”
So take a short passage-perhaps a few verses every day-and immerse yourself in it. Read it slowly, over and over again, the way you would a letter you received from your wife or husband while one of you is stationed thousands of miles away from home, in a place so remote there was no phone or e-mail. Try to absorb each word of the verse, wringing every ounce of spiritual nourishment from it.
This leads to the fourth tip that Ortberg suggests.
(4) Take one verse with you through the day.
Remember Psalm 1 says that our lives begin to yield Spiritual fruit when we meditate on the Bible, “day and night” – in other words, all day long. Do this because meditation is never a quick thing. There’s no such thing as an Evelyn Wood speed meditation course.
No, meditation is a slow as the process by which a tree’s roots draw moisture from a flowing river. It means allowing the message of the Bible to truly sink in so it can begin to affect the way we think and act. Remember, the goal is not to get through the Scriptures but rather to get the Scriptures through us. So, read it slowly. Don’t hurry through it.
Success in meditation is not measured by the number of pages you read. It’s an understanding that we don’t read the Bible daily just to check that spiritual chore off our “to do” list.
Now don’t misunderstand me here. Our commitment to read through the entire Bible in a year is wonderful! It may be one of the greatest things we do as a church. And I know we’ve told you that it only takes 12 minutes per day to do this, but I encourage you to take more than 12 minutes. Read as long as it takes for you to get a handle on what you’ve read. And then take it a step further and pick one of the verses and think about it all day! I mean, hurrying through Bible reading just to say we did it, well it’s is like taking a bite of your favorite food and swallowing it without chewing, thereby missing most of the taste.
Whenever I have a headache I take a couple Tylenol and I lie down for a while to let it kick in. I do this because I know it takes time for the pain reliever to enter my bloodstream and get to the place where it hurts. Well, the same thing is true of Scripture reading. We need to give it time to sink in. We need to give our spirit’s time to absorb its truth.
I’ve found I can’t rush sermon prep. I can put in about two hours straight-max-and then I need to stop and think about what I’ve studied. I go for a run or a walk or something, but I give my brain time to let the content of my message sink in. If I do, I begin to see new insights and applications and it’s the same in meditation.
Part of this aspect of meditation involves taking one or two verses with you all day to dwell on them and one of the best ways to do that is to say them out loud to yourself. In fact, the Old Testament word for meditation meant to “read aloud” and Joshua was to do this. Remember? Verse 8 says he was not to let the words of Scripture depart from his mouth.
Reading the Bible out loud like this is good because it gives the reader focused, sustained attention. It is built around the principle that says, “What the mind repeats, it retains.” Warren Weirsbe puts it this way. He says, “If you don’t talk to your Bible your Bible isn’t likely to talk to you.”
I’m sure one verse that was meaningful to Joshua-one he repeatedly said aloud, perhaps before every battle or Hebrew board meeting-was Joshua 1:9 where God said,
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
I know there have been days when I carried that verse on a 3 by 5 card in my pocket and repeated it over and over and over again until I actually believed it and acted like I believed it!
(5) And then one final aspect of meditation is allowing scripture to become part of your memory.
In fact, memorizing Scripture is one of the most powerful means of transforming our minds. As Psalm 119 says, “I have hidden Your Word in my hear .that I may not sin against You.”
As we memorize it, the Bible’s principles and precepts become part of us, part of our perspective on life, part of our thinking and reasoning and acting. I mean, the more Scripture we “put up here” the more we become like its Author.
My computer has all kinds of programs that help it to function. It can do word processing and data base management. It can send and receive e-mail. It can protect itself against viruses. It even has a program that will shut the computer down after it has been left unused for a certain amount of time. It automatically re-sets itself for daylight savings time. It has a screen saver to keep the monitor from burning out. It has all kinds of programs and they all combine to make my computer run better.
Well, Scripture memory does the same for us. It changes our mental programming; it makes us “run better.” It changes the way we respond to life’s fears and stresses by changing the way we perceive and think. For example, if pride is a problem, we can “download” Philippians 2:3 by memorizing it’s guidance to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others better than yourselves.”
If lust is a problem, we can download verses like Colossians 3:5 where it says, “Put to death therefore whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”
If you’re a Christian and you are afraid of death you can deal with your fear by memorizing-internalizing-the words of Jesus in John 5:24 where He said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him Who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
Now, I’d like us to close our service this morning by meditating on verse 9 of our text.
If you have your Bibles open, take a few moments to read and re-read it’s words where God talks to Joshua, and to us. Let’s begin by asking God to speak to us, ask Him to use these Words to address some area in your own life where you feel overwhelmed.
Now, as you read, do so with a repentant spirit, saying, “God forgive me for the times I have been afraid when You called me to be bold. Forgive me for the times I lived as if I forgot that You are always with me. Use this verse to change me and make me stronger and more courageous.”
Okay, now let’s read and let’s do so out-loud. Let me hear a lot of scriptural murmuring. If you don’t have your Bibles, the words are on the screen.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Take a few moments now to continue to meditate on this verse…
Now, I invite you to respond to what God has told you, privately or publicly. As we stand and sing, let’s respond in ways that will get each of us in the center of God’s will.