February 7, 2023
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“Have I not commanded you, ‘Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go‘.” (Joshua 1.9)
So, “good” courage is that which is of God, inspired in us by God and empowered by the spirit of God to accomplish the purposes of God for which we are created. It also leads us in the direction of seeing the “good” which God can do in us and through us for His glory and the spiritual welfare of others. Of course, there may be other benefits in the lives of others which are a result of their increased spiritual welfare. But, those benefits are the fruit of such increase and not the substitute for what is the true benefit: life in the midst of God’s mercy and grace. So we know what we are commanded to be [strong and of good courage], but God goes on to outline what we are not commanded to be:
Do not be afraid. Having authentic strength (which is not the same as being physically strong) and good courage inspires confidence and surety in the most troubling situations. If we are intended to have those attributes in the most difficult of times, and it reaps benefits, imagine what benefits shall result when the times we are in are not so troubling and difficult. How many times have we longed for and prayed for “easier times.” It seems that the desire for “peace and tranquility” is actually a call to live without conflict to do whatever we want to do that pleases us. Perhaps what we are afraid of is conflict, trouble, difficult times and great challenges for which we believe we are not prepared. Jesus said to His disciples, “Do not be afraid. You will have trouble in this world. But, trouble is not the end of your life because I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33) Jesus would even include the encouragement to “be of good cheer.” Have you considered what “good” cheer might sound like if “good” courage reflects the strength of God’s will in us to accomplish the good we are intended? I wonder if “good” cheer might sound like the worship and praise of God from whom all blessings flow? I wonder if “good” cheer might sound like the members of the relay team who run to the finish line to bring their team mate home? We rally for victory not only in times when we are behind but in times when we recognize that battle is the Lord’s! The greatest threat of fear is “the end.” But, in our faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God who is the same yesterday, today and forever, we are given the insight to what the “end” of us looks like. That “good” end is the resurrection of the believer into a newness of life which cannot be stolen, broken or worn down. When we abide by what God desires for us to do, the same God who has promised to be with us always, then what do we have to fear? Faith is the victory that overcomes the world’s “fear.” Faith that Jesus is the Christ, our Lord and Savior, is strength and good courage to live in these days regardless of the challenges before us which strike fear in the hearts of those whose faith shrinks instead of grows.
Do not be discouraged. If we stop to think about it, pressing into is not the same as pushing away. Though Abraham is called “the Father of Faith,” we can read of many times when he pushed away instead of pressing into. He pretended his wife was his sister and surrendered her into the hands of a confronting king with the hope of not being taken over by that king. What he was taken over by was not the king but fear. He had the promise of God with him but the challenge before him discouraged him. He was not encouraged by God’s promise. When God declared he would be the father of many nations but he and Sarah were far past the age bringing children into the world together, he pushed God and Sarah away and accepted a relationship with Hagar as the means of accomplishing what God had declared. He allowed his current situation to discourage him instead of being encouraged by the promise of God before him. When God challenged him to prove his faithfulness by offering the son born to him and Sarah, he pushed Sarah away by not keeping her in the loop. I have no idea what excuse he may have given but instead of pressing into the promise of God and in his relationship with his wife, he pushed her away and pushed forward on his own. His actions struck fear in Isaac who realized nearly “too late” that he was the sacrifice to be offered. We are called to be of “good” courage and not to be “discouraged.” Not only did Jesus declare there would be difficult times ahead but He exposed Himself to the difficult times at hand. In truth, He invited the inevitable to become reality right before their very eyes. But, He encouraged them to hold fast to their faith by declaring His promise not only to be with them all the while but that He was preparing a place for them all to be together forever. Being discouraged or becoming discouraged is generally the result of when we feel separated out and alone. We desire to be independent and “on our own” but we find ourselves desiring some sense of dependence and togetherness when the truth is finally revealed. That truth may well be that “valley of the shadow of death.” Notice that David does not speak of circumventing the valley. He doesn’t sing about going over it, under it, around it or by it. He sings that he will go through it but never alone. He presses into the promise of “the rod and the staff” of the Good Shepherd. They are a comfort or encouragement. We have the cross of Jesus to turn our eyes toward and see that death has no hold on us. Not only do we have nothing to fear (because resurrection is a promise fulfilled) but that we have no reason to be discouraged (because we have seen the person of Jesus in the works of faith and that is enough.)
God is with us wherever we go. This truth is implicitly implied in both “don’t be afraid” and “don’t be discouraged.” It is included in the words to Joshua as a distinct element of truth because Joshua is called “to go.” Joshua is never asked to stay anywhere except in the Promised Land of God. Even then, in the life of Joshua, he is on the move expanding the realm of God’s people. He is challenged by the current population which is hostile toward the people of Jacob Israel who are under his leadership and care. He is challenged by the discouragement of his own people who fail to see the greatness of God and the vitality of His promises and prefer to still “press into the good old days of bondage in Egypt” by pushing away “the better days which are ahead.” That falling back instead of falling forward indicates a true lack of trust. Either they do not believe in themselves, Joshua or God or they do. It is a black and white issue in which there is no gray. Regardless of the thinking of the people, God’s presence remains constant. I read a reflection on God’s words which said that “fire,” as in the burning bush presented to Moses, was a sign of God’s presence to purify and strengthen. It was a symbol that God was not only with him but in him. That presence of God was tangible to the Hebrews liberated from four hundred years of slavery in Egypt as a pillar of fire and a pillar of smoke (where there is smoke there is fire) which went before them. Fast forward to hear the words of the two from Emmaus after Jesus vanished from their sight following the breaking of bread. Their words were ‘Did we know feel a burning in our hearts as He spoke the Word to us?” We can go a step further to experience the “baptism by fire” which is the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and beyond. We may find ourselves living today in the midst of a fiery furnace by which the children of God are being threatened. Yet, as they pressed into the fire and did not push away from the presence of God, so too should we. If there was to be death, it would be a death by faith and not by fear, a death of encouragement and not discouragement, a death of self pressing into Christ instead of a life of self pushing away from Christ. Yes, that same Christ who promises “I AM with you always to the close of the age.” It doesn’t mean He is gone after that but that He has not left us to deal with today on our own.
This is what is means to “be strong and of good courage.” It serves the purpose of sharing the living word of God so that others might have life and have it abundantly in the prosperity of faith (do not be afraid), hope (do not be discouraged) and love (I AM with you wherever you go.)
Father, You are with us always. We know we are never alone left to our fear and discouragements. You have placed in the midst of us the elements of truth which guide us and encourage us to press into and through the challenges which this broken world presents. It is Your will to be done that we will do just as we have been created and made for in Jesus’ name. Amen.