When I was five-and-a-half years old, we moved from Southern California to Montana where I started the first grade. I’d made friends in kindergarten but in Montana, I now had to make new ones and it wasn’t easy. But I did well there. I even became a minor hero in my class, gaining respect among the kids. And just about the time it looked like my star was about to ascend in Montana, my family moved again, this time to Oakland, California, and once more I had to start over. I remember well my first day in second grade at the new school, where I was viewed by the kids with suspicion and reserve.
By the time I reached fifth grade, however, I was on the brink of becoming captain of the traffic patrol. (In those days, we kids held up signs for the cars to stop. Today adults do that.) It was quite an honor; we had snappy little hats and got medals for every six months that we served. I was all set to become the top-status captain…and then we moved! In my new school, as a sixth grader, I was again on the traffic patrol, but no longer in the running to become captain.
Everybody can relate to the ups and downs of childhood. As adults, many of us have also been impacted by shifting circumstances, relationships, or employment. Everyone can look back on disappointing, even heartbreaking, things we’ve faced and think that life didn’t seem to work out the way we expected it would (or should). For some people, those experiences set boundaries on their hope. Hamstrung by the past, they fear being let down in the future and shrink back whenever there’s a prospect or possibility of moving forward. Sadly there are people who never see the sunlight of tomorrow because they live in the shadow of yesterday.
After the death of Moses…. (Joshua 1:1)
Joshua lived his life in a shadow—not of disappointment or failure but of a remarkable personality—his predecessor, Moses. People from our past can also dictate our present, even people of good influence who were disposed in our interest, like parents or teachers.
In the opening chapter of the book of the Bible that bears his name, Joshua is confronted by the Lord with these words: “Moses My servant is dead” (1:2). God was saying to Joshua, “First, get hold of this: Your predecessor and anything that may have been intimidating to you in the past is dead.”
God wasn’t making a negative statement about Moses. There wasn’t anything negative Moses had done to Joshua. God was just acknowledging a fact: Moses is dead. Why? Because even for an outstanding leader like Joshua, coming behind a towering giant like Moses could be daunting and restrictive. In order for Joshua to lay hold of the tomorrow God wanted for him, he needed reinforcement: That past is over and dead.
The word of the Lord to us is the same: Whatever has shaped your life until this moment doesn’t have any claim on where He wants to take you from here on. Whatever has been intimidating, problematic, or disappointing, the Lord calls us to come to terms with this: It’s dead! That’s what the Cross was all about—the nailing not only of all our sins but also of everything that restricts us from stepping into tomorrow.
Where does “Moses” fit in your life? The starting place for laying hold of tomorrow is acknowledging the dead things of yesterday—not just the disappointing or painful, but also those things that were once glorious and good and have now served their purpose. After settling that fact, the Lord tells Joshua, “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you” (1:3). God has already provided for him; all Joshua has to do is go and possess!
When God is ready to do something new in our lives, it’s up to us to choose: Will I possess the dimensions of what God has both promised and provided, or will I be satisfied with just a corner? Will I live in the shadow of the past? Or will I open to the possibility that the Lord has greater vistas and horizons for my life? Will my tomorrows unfold…or will they fold up? That is the question we all face. And everything rides on our response to the same things that the Lord says to Joshua.
Be strong and of good courage
The Lord gives Joshua a three-fold charge, each preceded by these words: “Be strong and courageous.” In Hebrew, the words are chazaq—to lay hold of, to seize, to get a grip on something; and ammits—to keep a firm grip, not to go flabby or weak. Once you’ve laid hold of it, keep hold; steel your will and stand your ground.
Each time the Lord says that to Joshua it’s concerning a different aspect of laying hold of tomorrow. The words resonate for our lives because even though Joshua was an accomplished warrior, a leader well-trained by Moses, he was also a person like you and me who needed fortification from God to move ahead. Each time the Lord tells Joshua, “Be strong and courageous,” it bears reference to a different facet of understanding what he is to lay hold of.
Lay hold of God’s promise
“Be strong and of good courage for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.” (1:6)
First, God tells Joshua, Be strong because I promised this. It brings to mind the sixth chapter of Hebrews where the writer is discussing God’s promise concerning the blessing of His people, and he writes of two “immutable things”: that it is impossible for God to lie, and that He not only gave His Word but also sealed it with an oath. In other words, God not only said, I promise this, He also said, I promise to keep My promise. God doesn’t need to say things twice, but He understands our nature and seals His promise with an oath so that we might lay hold of it with strength and courage.
Friend, I may not know what promise of God applies to your specific situation, but I will tell you how to get the promise of God: Get on your knees before Him and ask for His Word regarding your present and your tomorrows. You may not hear a Voice in that moment, but I guarantee that the Lord will give you the promise from His Word that will fit your situation. Then you lay hold of it and don’t go “flabby”!
Lay hold of God’s pattern
“Be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to the law which Moses My servant commanded you.” (1:7)
Your pathway into tomorrow is not navigated on the basis of iron will or strength of character; it’s navigated on the basis of God fulfilling His Word in people who lay hold of it and let that bear them along. It is the power of the Holy Spirit making the Word alive in you. Lay hold of God’s pattern.
The Lord reinforces this in verses 7 and 8, telling Joshua to observe His law and that it will “make your way prosperous, and you will have good success.” The word that is translated “prosperous” means you’re going to know how to do the right thing. It’s not talking about prosperity as cash in the bank but as wisdom and knowing how to live. The fact is, life works for people with practical wisdom, no matter how much or how little they have. And success depends on our obedience to stay on the path God has ordained to fulfill His promise. We do that by laying hold of His pattern, His Word.
Lay hold of God’s Presence
“Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”(1:9)
I can just see this interchange between Joshua and the Lord. God says to Joshua, “Go and take the land I am giving you.” And Joshua asks, “How do I do that, Lord?”
“First, be strong and courageous and lay firmly hold of My promises.”
“Okay, Lord, now what?”
“Be strong and courageous. Lay hold of My patterns for life.”
“Got it, Lord. What else?”
“Be strong and of good courage, Joshua. And lay hold of…Me.”
No wonder Moses said, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here” (Ex. 33:15). Israel had miracles. They had manna. But they cried out, “Lord, we want You. If we’ve got You, all the rest of this stuff takes care of itself.” Because it’s God who gives the promise and the ability to possess it. And His purpose is that you and I lay hold of tomorrow not merely for our own gratification but also that we, like Joshua, will then help other people find what God has for them: “To this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to give them” (1:6).
For each thing I had to leave behind as a child or young man, the next place in my life was even more fulfilling and fruitful. The same holds true today. I want to be a person who is willing to acknowledge what is “dead”—both the victories and the failures. I want to be a person who lays hold of God’s promise by God’s pattern. And I want to be a person who welcomes and embraces His Presence in my life so that I can help others. I want to lay hold of tomorrow, and if that’s your desire too, join me in reaching out with courage and conviction, because the Lord your God, by His Spirit and His Word, is right now reaching out to you.