Scripture speaks into our lives. The words we read, in Old Testament and in New, penetrate our hearts and our souls, addressing the dynamics of our own lives. As we place ourselves before scripture, allowing the Word to address us, we find that the words of scripture open up new perspectives in our life of faith. Stories and events of scripture highlight the idiosyncrasies of our own lives. Looking at how the faithful before us have tackled some of life’s difficulties gives us opportunity to uncover new ways of living our lives of faith. Sometimes, the detail in which scripture unfolds implications for our lives can be startling; Consider this reading from Joshua chapter 3 (the Lectionary reading for last Sunday)
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.Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’”
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. Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 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.”
So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of them. 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, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.
So what implications can we draw from this passage? What truth does is speak into our lives? I offer three reflections.
1: Naming the Obstacles
Joshua, and the people of Israel faced a huge task. At this point in Scripture, they stand before the Promised Land. The people of Israel had wandered in the desert for 40 years under the leadership and the guidance of Moses. Now, Moses had died and the mantle of leadership had passed to Joshua, a young and inexperienced leader. There were probably some questions as to whether Joshua was ready for the task. After all, claiming the Promised Land wouldn’t be the simplest of jobs. Additionally, Israel stands on the wrong side of the Jordon. The river separates the people from the land of promise. As scripture records, the Jordon is at flood stage during the harvest season. The picture is of a deep, violent and rushing river that stands between Israel and their new home. Crossing it would be easy.
To top everything off, (if you remember the story), the spies of had returned from their mission declaring that those who inhabited the land were giants (Numbers 13). The spies had returned convinced of that moving into the land would be impossible. New leadership. Raging waters. Gigantic barriers. The hurdles seem insurmountable.
What hurdles are you facing? What obstacles do you feel are too big for you to overcome? Do you feel that your life is butting up against an immovable barrier at work, at home, among friends? Life is not always easy or strait forward. There are times we can feel that we are moving confidently toward our goals only to find that we turn a corner and find ourselves face to face with something that stops us in our tracks.
2: Claiming the Promise
Amidst the obstacles that Israel faces, as they stand on the precipice of completing their desert journey, God issues words of power and deliverance. “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.” God declares to Joshua, and to the whole company of Israel, that His power would be shown. God would prove faithful to the promise he spoke to them at the beginning of their journey. The nations would be driven out and God would fight for His chosen. God declares that the river would be parted – the obstacles would be removed – and His power would be revealed.
These words sound good. Better yet, they are true! In the times when we come up against our own insurmountable hurdles, we must claim the promise of God’s presence being for us. Like Israel, we journey through our lives accompanied by a God who is not only powerful, but is also faithful to all His promises. God’s power will be revealed. God will deliver, protect, and guide us. If we do not claim this truth, we will never be able to move forward in our life of faith. Faith demands that we dare to believe that the obstacles we face do not constitute God’s abandonment. Could it be that overcoming our hurdles are just the opportunity we need to live from the standpoint of faith, and experience the wonder of God’s magnificent presence?
3: Getting our feet wet.
The declaration of God’s power for His people is a wonderful affirmation. Yet such an affirmation is essentially empty if Israel did not choose to live out that reality. They had to embody a faith that radically took God’s declaration of presence and power to heart. In the midst of obstacles and fright, Israel had to step into that reality . . . literally. Yes God declared that the waters of the Jordon would part, but notice what comes first. “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.” The people had to get their feet wet.
Just as Israel wasn’t called to be passive in their faith, neither are we. We don’t simply sit back, facing our hurdles, waiting for a miraculous display of divine power. No, we walk ahead. We proceed in faith. We trust that God, in God’s time, will prove faithful. And so we step into our own River, whatever that may be; we journey toward the future that God is leading us toward.
Where are you called to get your feet wet? After you have named your obstacles, and taken the proclamation of God’s loving power for you, where could God possibly be calling you to step forward? It doesn’t have to be the biggest of steps – a step is still a step. Yet by doing so, you may just be participating in the dismantling of the very obstacle that you faced in the first place.
Israel did step into the waters. The river did part, and they did enter the Promised Land. God did prove faithful and power and trustworthy. True, things after that didn’t always go the way they wanted, but life never does. But time after time, Israel was able to experience the miraculous provision of God, when they allowed themselves to move ahead in a spirit of bold and radical faith.
So look squarely at the obstacle you face, claim the promises of God, and go get your feet wet.