Practical Steps for Empowered Living - Joshua 3:1-4:24
No one grows up hoping to be mediocre. Few go through school dreaming of the day when they can be average like everyone else. We all want to live lives that make a difference. We want to score the winning touchdown, achieve the highest grade, and make the life changing discovery. We want to make a difference in the world.
It is the same in the Christian Life. A true follower of Christ wants to be used by God. They want to have an intimate relationship with the Lord. They want to be able to stand before the King of Kings and hear Him say, “Well Done!”
The question is: how do we find this empowered life? How do we tap into the power of God? How do we become people that God uses? This morning we are going to get some clues from the life of Joshua and the people of Israel. The Hebrews were standing on the east side of the Jordan River. The River was at flood stage which made crossing it impossible. They were facing a moment of decision. They could give up or trust God and go forward. We know from history that they moved forward. What I hope you discover this morning are some simple and timeless principles for how to live an empowered life.
FOLLOW THE LORD’S LEAD (3:4)
The people were given some simple instructions in Joshua 3:3-4,
“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. 4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between you and the ark; do not go near it.”
The first thing they are asked to do is follow the Lord’s lead. They were not to move until the Ark (the symbol of God’s presence) moved first. They were to keep a large distance between them and the Ark so everyone could see the Ark and no one could rush ahead of the Ark. This is an important (and often overlooked) principle.
In the best-seller, Experiencing God, author Henry Blackaby counseled that the best way to live according to God’s will is to “watch to see what God is doing, and then join Him.” In other words, we must let God take the lead. Some might say, we need to wait for an open door. Many of the problems of the church are not that we do the wrong things, but that we are doing good things at the wrong time. Timing is everything.
Suppose you met someone and asked them out on a first date. Suppose on that first date you had dinner and things were going well. At the conclusion of the date you ask the person to marry you. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Proposals are good things. Proposals when you barely know someone is a bad thing. Timing makes the difference.
God’s timing is perfect but ours is often flawed. Too often in our eagerness to serve God we barge ahead. We rush things. We seem to think that as long as we are energetic and mean well, that’s all that matters. That’s not true. God is honored when we do what He calls us to do WHEN He calls us to do it. Sometimes God wants us to wait. God had the Hebrews wander in the wilderness for 40 years. Joseph was in jail for many years before God used him in Egypt. Daniel was exiled to Babylon. Jesus was led out into the desert to be tempted. Paul went into Arabia for three years before he went to Jerusalem to meet the leaders of the church. Jesus frequently said, “My time has not yet come.”
I love the story of Queen Esther. Esther was a Jewish girl who won a Persian Beauty Pageant and became the new Queen. While she was Queen, one of the members of the Persian cabinet sought to destroy all the Jewish people because he hated the man who was really Esther’s uncle, a man by the name of Mordecai. Uncle Mordi urged Esther to use her influence with the King to save the Jewish people. Esther asked her friends to pray. In those days a wife didn’t just walk into the office of the King, she had to be invited. To show up uninvited could cost you your life. Esther took a chance and came to the throne room. Her husband welcomed her. She invited her husband and the angry cabinet member to lunch. At this lunch she said NOTHING about Mordecai or the Jews, she simply served lunch. The King asked what he could do for her and she said, “Come and have lunch again tomorrow”.
During that night the King couldn’t sleep so he started to read the record of his Kingship (I’m sure he was thinking it would make him tired) and he was reminded about an assassination attempt that Mordecai had foiled. He discovered that nothing had ever been done to thank Mordecai for saving the King’s life. So, the next morning, the King commanded the disgruntled cabinet member to honor Mordecai. At lunch, hearing what had happened, Esther realized that God was working, so she exposed the plot of the cabinet member. He was executed and the people of Israel were saved from destruction. Esther was successful because she waited on the Lord.
BE SPIRITUALLY PREPARED (3:5)
Verse 5 gives us our second principle:
5 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”
We don’t use the word “consecrate” much any more. When something was consecrated it meant that it was purified and set apart for a sacred use. Today I would say that it means to be “spiritually prepared”. God will not use us unless we are ready to be used. Being consecrated before the Lord involves several things,
Turning away from sinful behaviors. It is not only recognizing when we are doing what is wrong, it is being truly repentant (that is more than being simply “sorry”). It means we make the changes necessary to stop wrong behavior.
Adopting a Godly attitude. We must be soft, teachable, humble before the Lord.
Living an obedient life. The person set apart for God does what God has commanded. They start by being obedient in the little things of life such as: honesty, integrity, humility, love, respect, and reverence.
It’s like anything else in life. The musician will never play with the orchestra until they have first mastered their scales. The athlete will never be a star until they have mastered the fundamentals. The student will never be a Doctor until they are able to grasp anatomy. You will never be a renowned Chemist until you have mastered the periodic table. It is the same thing in the Christian life. You cannot do great things for God until you have first consecrated your life; until you have become serious about following Christ.
The church is filled with spurious believers. They are people who know the lingo, have participated in the various rites and have become “churchified” but they are not serious about following Christ. As a result, it is difficult for these people to know when God is directing them to stop or to wait or whether He is telling them to move ahead. The person who is greatly used by God is the one who is serious about their commitment to the Lord. Their faith is not a compartment of their life, their relationship with Christ is what feeds and drives the rest of their life.
TAKE A STEP OF FAITH (3:14,15)
The first two steps to living a life empowered by God is to: 1) follow the Lord or to wait on His timing and 2) to maintain a state of spiritual readiness. The third step is found in verses 13 and 14,
14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing.
Imagine being the priests who carried the Ark of God. They were entrusted with the most precious object in Israel: The Ark of God. The Ark contained the Ten Commandments, a jar of manna, and the rod of Aaron. The Ark of God represented the presence of God. These men were told to go to the flooded Jordan River and step into the edge of the River.
This was a time of faith for these men. It would have been easy to say, “That’s a dumb thing to do” or “Let’s not risk endangering the Ark”. There is a place for caution in the life of the believer, however, once the will of God is known we must move forward.
We are told that the waters of the Jordan were stopped and the river bed became as dry ground. This was a repeat of the parting of the Red Sea. The priests were to go and stand in the middle of the river and wait while all the people crossed. Do you think that took a little faith?
As you look at the lives of the people who lived empowered or extraordinary lives you see that they all had to take a step of faith.
Noah built a boat
Abraham left home to a place “God would show him”
Joseph shared a dream he had
Moses went before Pharaoh
Esther went to the King
David took on Goliath
Shadrack, Meschach and Abednego refused to worship the idol even though they were threatened with the fiery furnace
Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water
Paul went to the Gentiles
There are times to wait and times to take a step of faith. Too often we know what God wants us to do but we drag our feet. We are overly cautious. We refuse to move until we feel comfortable. In this case we are still putting our trust in OUR timing! We want God to follow us rather than the other way around. We are called to take a step of faith. God leads us one step at a time. He calls us to take the first step of faith before He will extend His blessing.
Nothing has changed in God’s thinking. We can never be greatly used by God if we are always trying to “play it safe”. God calls us to prayerfully, take a step of faith. As a church, 25 years ago the church took the step of daring to hire a full-time Pastor even though it stretched the church budget. Ten years ago we took a step of faith to add on to our existing building. We began a radio ministry not knowing how we would pay for it. Last year we took a step of faith in hiring an Associate Minister that stretched our budget again.
Taking a step of faith is not just about the budget of a church; or hiring people, it applies to many different areas. We wait for God, prepare our heart and then when we see God leading or opening a door we take that step. That step could take many forms,
Initiate a conversation about eternal life with a non-believer when there is an opening
Give a sacrificial financial gift
Apply for the job
Try out for the play
Run in the election
Sign up for a mission trip
Reach out to someone who is hurting even though you don’t know what to say
Write that book
Accept that invitation
God does not give us the entire roadmap before we begin the journey, He reveals what we must do right now and asks us to obey. When we take the first step, He will give you the next.
Some of you have gone on those Mystery Bus trips. You board a bus with a group of people and you don’t know the destination. Most of you have enjoyed these trips. You have seen and enjoyed things you would have never experienced if you refused to get on the bus until you knew the itinerary. God has an adventure planned for your life and mine. He asks that we follow His directions.
MAKE NOTE OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS (4:5)
There is one final step in this process and it is a simple but important step. We find it in chapter 4:5,
“Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you."
A representative of each tribe was to go get a big rock and bring it to the shore. Joshua then arranged these twelve stones to make a monument that would always remind the Israelites of how God led them across the Jordan in a supernatural way.
As you read through the Bible there are many places where God established various memorials. In 1 Samuel 7 we read the story of God rescuing the Israelites from the hand of the Philistines with fierce thunder. After this, Samuel (according to the King James Version),
took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.” 13 So the Philistines were subdued and did not invade Israelite territory again. (KJV)
The Hymn “Come thou Fount of Every Blessing” used to have a second verse that referred to this passage: “Here I raise my Ebenezer; Hither by Thy help I’m come”; an Ebenezer is a memorial, a testament, a reminder, of what God had done. We raise Ebenezer’s out at the cemetery to people we love. We want to remember their lives and we want others to remember their lives as well.
We are prone to quickly forget the things that God has done. The Lord knows this and so all along in Israel’s history and worship God established “ebenezers” or “memorials” that would remind the people of God’s faithfulness. All of the feast days of Israel were designed to be reminders of events in the past (much like our Memorial Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas). Jacob set up several stone monuments commemorating experiences with God. The church was given the cross, communion and baptism as reminders or memorials. Each of these things was designed to remind God’s people of God’s faithfulness.
If we want to live empowered lives we need to some Ebenezers in our own lives to keep us “on task”. We need markers that will help us to remember our journey of faith and how God has guided us along the way. There are lots of things that can serve as a monument
A place (The sidewalk around the campus at Trinity was my sanctuary where I went to talk with God; the balcony in my childhood church reminded me of when I first understood the gospel of Jesus.)
A Special Moment (I remember an occasion when I was really down and someone unexpected gave me a hug and it meant more than words could ever communicate; you might remember the day you told Christ you would trust Him or a day when you felt His presence in a spectacular way.)
A Sacrament (your baptism or a special communion service might serve as an Ebenezer)
A Significant Person (Remember a person who impacted your life. For me it is men like Chuck Swindoll, James Boice, R.C. Sproul, Max Lucado, and a host of others who taught me to love the Word of God. My library books are an Ebenezer to me)
Mementos (I think symbols are important. In my office I have an Eagle. It is a reminder of Chuck Swindoll’s challenge in his book: “Living Above the Level of Mediocrity” to think more like an eagle than a Turkey!; I have a statue of Rodan’s “The Thinker” to remind me to sharpen my mind and to be a thinking Christian; I have a wall of Wedding pictures to remind me to pray for these couples but also to remind me of some of the cherished moments of my ministry)
Do you have any Ebenezer’s? I encourage you to write down a special day. Keep a souvenir of a special encounter with God. Make up one of those nifty scrapbooks that record your spiritual milestones. Write down key thoughts and verses in the front of your Bible. Make a monument! Raise an Ebenezer! Set up reminders of God’s faithfulness that you can look to again and again.
We may never walk across a river on dry land. We may never walk on water. We will probably not become famous for our Christian life and profession. Our deaths probably won’t be lead stories on the news. However, that doesn’t mean we are condemned to live a life that is mundane and ordinary.
Even though we may never be famous, we can still live lives empowered by God’s Spirit. We can make an impact (even if simple and quiet) for the Kingdom of God. We can serve God in great ways even if no one ever knows about it. We can serve greatly if: we are willing to follow His lead, if we will diligently live lives in readiness and preparation, if we will dare to step out in faith, and if we will establish reference points along the way to keep us from drifting. The question is: Do you want to experience the adventure of faith? Do you want to be used by God to make a real difference or are you content to be mediocre?