Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lacking Courage?

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you heard the term "gutless"? Or possibly any number of other phrases that refer to a lack of "guts"? It certainly isn't something many of us would care to hear, yet with a background in athletics, I heard it rather often. Most often it was used in the context of someone not willing to put forth the effort required to achieve success in whatever task they were attempting to perform. The dictionary defines it this way;

gut·less: Pronunciation: \ˈgət-ləs\ Function: adjective Date: 1900
1 : lacking courage : cowardly
2 : lacking significance or vitality — gut·less·ness, noun
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

The thing that struck me about this definition is the reference to courage, or lack of it. I suppose I was thinking more along the lines of effort, and not considering the mindset that produces a lack of effort. As I thought of this, God led me to what I believe is a beautiful passage that explains this predicament very well, and it occurs in the Old Testament story of Joshua.

Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:7-9 NKJV

Now this passage surprised me because like many of you, my impression of Joshua has always been of a very courageous warrior for God. Yet here at his commissioning we find God giving him some very pointed advice concerning courage. In a way, I read this and thought to myself that God was in essence telling Joshua to "suck it up and get some guts" much like my old coaches did. Of course, the difference here between my old coaches and God is that my coaches were simply telling me to put forth more effort, where in this passage God gives Joshua a blueprint for success. So let me share briefly what I see here as God's "Three Steps To Victory".

First of all, God reminds Joshua that the objective is "strength and courage". Now at first I thought this was two separate words, but when I looked it up I found that it is a phrase in the Hebrew, and the definition is a little more complicated than I expected. In the Hebrew it is one word, 'amats, which is actually a phrase which means to be "strong, alert, courageous, brave, stout, bold, solid, hard". It is also a verb, which if I remember correctly from my High School English class means action. Now I learned a long time ago that in order to get stronger you need to exercise, so if I'm right, God is telling Joshua that first of all there are things he has to DO, not just wish for. So I think that what God is telling Joshua, and we as believers, is that we are going to be required to put forth effort if we want to be "strong and courageous".

Once we are willing to do that, God gives us His three requirements regarding His Word. The first is;

Speak It. Have you ever heard the phrase "put up or shut up"? I know in athletics, we were always encouraged to not only set goals, but share them with our teammates. I suppose it was a way to put the pressure on ourselves to live up to what we said we were going to accomplish. As believers,, when we share the fact we have chosen to accept Christ into our lives, it puts pressure on us to live according to His guidelines. Knowing people are watching our behavior is wonderful motivation. When God told Joshua to not let the Word depart from his mouth, He was telling him to be bold enough to tell all that he had chosen to live according to the law, and in essence proclaim his choice for all to see.

Study It. Now you might say that this one is no surprise, but I would challenge you to look at exactly what God said. He said meditate on it "day and night". Oops. In todays vernacular that would be 24/7 right? How many of us are content to give God five or ten minutes a day and then call it good? As you may have noticed by now, I enjoy looking up the definitions of many of the words in the Bible simply because they tend to mean much more in the original Hebrew and Greek. The word for meditate is no exception.
Hagah (meditate): 1) to moan, growl, utter, muse, mutter, meditate, devise, plot, speak
Now the first thing I thought when I read this was a lion. Why? I guess when I think of a lion I see an animal that walks around always thinking about where his next meal is coming from. They moan, growl, mutter, devise, plot, always thinking of just one thing; dinner. Is that how you approach God's Word? Even if you aren't reading it, do you think about what you read, repeat it, memorize it, consider how to use it, all 24/7? That is what I believe God is saying here.

Live It. I'm sure that I am not alone in finding it difficult at times to live as a believer should. Yet God says that step two actually results in step three being easy! It follows then that if you meditate day and night, living the life and observing or obeying God's laws becomes easier. I know my coaches were always asking what my "game plan" was for winning my race. After I had "meditated" on my tactics, it was easy to put them in motion because I had mentally memorized exactly what I was going to do. If we as believers study and meditate on God's Word, it becomes easier to observe them because we have an intimate knowledge of what God expects from us. I'm always encouraged to read the account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness because His knowledge of scripture was all the defense He needed to repel Satan's temptations. Living the life God expects from us is always easier if we know and understand what His expectations are.

God then tells us that the result of obeying these three steps is exactly what most of us are looking for; "then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success". Will it be easy to do these things? Of course not, yet God not only tells us that they work, and what the result will be ahead of time, He also gives us a final word of encouragement.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9 NKJV

What I see in this final verse is that God asks a question. Did you notice that He asks "Have I"? He is not making a statement, rather He is reminding us that these words are coming from Him, the God of the universe. God wants us to know our strength and courage come from Him, and not from our own efforts. Most of all we can know we have God's promise that He is with us wherever we go. We are never alone, and there is nowhere we can go where God is not with us. Just like Joshua, we can be strong and have courage if we follow God's three steps to victory.

Keep watching.