No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful 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 courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
During the next few weeks, it is going to be easy to feel isolated, not just emotionally but physically. It’s going to wear on us as human beings, especially as Christians.
We have already discussed the reasons God calls us to be courageous. But we must admit that we are not always up to the task without supernatural help and guidance. The number of occurrences of the command make it all the more daunting. God commands Joshua and the people to “be strong and courageous three times (5, 7, 9) but only promises his presence twice (5, 9). However, want I want to suggest to you is that the way God says I am with you in this passage resounds more deeply, because he says it at the beginning and he says it at the end. These are like God’s arms wrapped around us as he tells us to be strong and courageous. God has his arms around you, no matter how isolated you feel. God is holding you, saying “be strong and courageous, because I am with you and I will never leave you or forsake you.”
We don’t have to make that case on this passage alone, however, because every place where the command to be strong and courageous is repeated in the Old Testament, appended to it is the promise that God will be with the ones he is addressing (Deuteronomy 31:6, 7-8, 23; 1 Chronicles 28:20; 2 Chronicles 32:7; Joshua 10:25). In fact, the whole of the Bible teaches that each of the reasons for courage listed yesterday (and below) are only legitimate if filled out by the promise of the ministry of God’s presence.
Life is difficult
The reason you will be able to be strong and courageous in difficult times is that God promises to be with you:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2)
How can you be strong and courageous in the midst of a pandemic or while reeling from devastating financial losses? God is with you. You are not alone. We may be isolated from one another as we exercise caution out of love for one another, but God remains with us at all times. In fact, when we consider that Christ came to earth and experienced a life of many difficulties and hardships, we realize that it is precisely in times of distress that God has proven himself to be near to us.
People are difficult
The reason you will be able to be strong and courageous even when people are difficult is that God promises to be with you:
And [God] said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And [Moses] said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here” (Exodus 33:14–15).
Moses knew he could not lead the Israelites alone. He needed God’s presence at every turn. It is because of God’s gracious presence with you that you can be with people in their fear and speak words of comfort when you cannot be with them physically.
You have the Bible
The reason you will be able to be strong and courageous is that God promises to work in you by means of his Word:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3–4)
We said that Christ’s sufferings prove his presence in the midst of our sufferings. John 1 also tells us that Jesus is God’s Word in the flesh. God speaking to you in his Word means that his face is toward you. I once read of a young man who lost his wife to cancer. The night of her death, he decided to sleep with his little boy to calm his fears. As the young man stared up at the ceiling wondering how he was going to survive, a little voice pierced the darkness, “Dad.” “Yes, Son,” was the reply. “Is your face toward me?” The father rolled over and said, “Yes, my face is toward you.” “Now I can go to sleep,” his son said. You can be strong and courageous because the Bible indicates God’s face is toward you speaking promises and commands so that life will go well with you.
You will be successful
Yes, you must be strong and courageous so that you will be successful. But you will only reach your potential because God is with you. Joseph’s success was so explained:
The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed. (Genesis 39:23)
It should be obvious that Joseph did not pursue success. He didn’t have the opportunity. He pursued God. God’s presence with him explained his success and also bore witness to those around him.
God commands it
Yes, God commands it. But the command must carry with it a promise of fulfillment, because we can’t do in ourselves anything that God commands. What then must you do? The same as the disciples when commanded to feed the five thousand. Give back to him whatever instrument the command is directed toward. You have an undisciplined mind?—then give it back to him. You have a wayward tongue?—give it to him. You have a short temper?—give it to him.
And all the while you are encouraged to do so because you know the one who commands you loves you enough to desire to be with you as a father with a child.
James W. Moore tells the story of four young American soldiers who in World War II were sent back from the front lines for some R & R. They went back to a little French village where they suddenly realized it was Christmas Eve. They had forgotten! So they began to plan together how they would celebrate Christmas. One G.I. piped up and said that he had noticed an orphanage on their way into town. “Let’s go back there,” he said, “and bring some Christmas joy to those kids.” The others were excited about the idea so they set out to buy gifts. They bought toys, candy, food, books, and games. Early the next morning they showed up at the front door of the orphanage with their presents.
As you can imagine the director was pleased and the children were thrilled as they opened their gifts. That is, all except for a little girl about 5 or 6 who stood off to the side. One of the soldiers spied her and noticed she looked very sad. He asked the director about her. She explained that she only came into the orphanage the week before because both her parents were killed in an automobile accident. There were no other family members to take her in so she was sent to the orphanage. The compassionate soldier went over to her and ever so carefully said, “It is Christmas morning and we have all kinds of gifts here. Just tell me what you would like—anything. What would you like most for Christmas?” The little girl said, “All I want is for someone to hold me.”
The promise, “I will be with you,” has come to you in the very arms of the Son of God stretched out on a cross. This very moment they are uplifted in intercession to the Father on your behalf. And if you are feeling crushed with fear, they are extended to you with these words, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest . . . I will never leave you nor forsake . . . I am with you always even to the end of the age.”
Pray for those in closest proximity to you during this time – your neighbors. Ask God to show you ways you can practice the ministry of presence in a respectful but intentional way that testifies to your conviction that God is with you.
For more opportunities to pray and serve, please visit https://www.2pc.org/covid-19-response/.