Summary: There comes a time when you are ready to graduate, fly solo, go out and do a ministry apart from the nurturing Christian environment in which you grew. Joshua gives us some help on prospering and remaining faithful.
We had a very exciting and very emotion filled spring. My daughter Beth, my baby, graduated from college. I remember very well when she was about to start classes four years before. She openly wondered if she could actually do college level work. Well, she did indeed and now has a college diploma to prove it. But the other day she shared some equally troubling thoughts - she said "I realized that I don’t have summer anymore."
What she was saying was that there was no more school to look forward to next fall; no more protected environment in which to learn and grow and pass or fail classes. Instead of facing summer she faced the rest of her life and being on her own and it was scaring her.
Now, don’t get me wrong, she will do wonderfully. But I wonder if the two and half tribes of the nation of Israel that we see in chapter 22 didn’t have somewhat the same jitters. For years and years they had fought alongside their brothers to secure the land west of the Jordan. They had promised Moses and later Joshua that they would not return to their lands east of the Jordan until all the land had been subdued.
That time had come and now they must gather their swords and uniforms and march back to "the real world." What happens to us when after spending so many years fighting battles against the flesh, the world, and the enemy - do we find ourselves out on our own?
Sometimes we love having so many people surround us in youth group or fellowship group or Bible study or just in church. Then at some point we hear that voice of the Lord saying it is time to pack up and go to the next stage. We feel a little like someone graduating from college. We didn’t think we could do the level of work and maturity that we see in the Word, but God has done it in us and we are so much stronger for it. Now He wants to put that knowledge and experience to work - in a different place or radically different way. What do we do? Let’s get some challenge and encouragement from this chapter.
Verses 1 - 4
These two and half tribes listened to God’s Word, and obeyed it. They finished the task God had set before them, waiting until their brothers had rest. In Joshua 1 they had said: "All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us, we will go."
Doesn’t it feel great when we can say that too? I think as we mature as believers we begin to get that sense that for something God charged us with doing, we accomplished it, we stuck to it, and the work got done.
It reminds me a little of what the Apostle Paul said:
2 Timothy 4:7-8 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. ESV
It doesn’t mean we get sent out to pasture - no longer effective in ministry (quite the opposite actually), but there is freedom in knowing that you heard the voice of God and obeyed, and can now move on to something new.
So Joshua has some helpful insight for them in what to avoid and what to cling to - lessons that can help us when we feel "sent out."
Verses 5 - 6
There is so much in these two verses - great principals for leadership in ministry:
1. Your respect for the Word must be overriding ("observe the command")
2. Your relationship with God must be nurtured ("love the Lord")
3. Your reliance on God must be maintained ("keep" and "cling")
4. Your readiness to serve must be your focus ("serve him with all your heart")
Love, walk, keep, cling, and serve. Aren’t those great verbs? Every leader, in fact every Christian, should use these as guiding principals. They are especially important for the person heading out in ministry. Here’s why:
What can happen is that as we leave our support system and sometimes our accountability system, our ideas can begin to become more important than God’s ideas and our doctrine begins to slant off in a particular direction. It is slow at first, but even a 1 degree difference can make you miss your target by hundreds of miles. Again, this is why we teach verse by verse - it keeps us on track of the "whole counsel of God"
Another thing that happens is we can begin to neglect our personal relationship with God. This happens so often. You get busy in ministry, and not just full time vocational pastoral ministry either - and you don’t take the time to just love God, just spend time with Him, let Him talk to you personally. You can get bitter and tired and burned out pretty quickly unless you are personally refreshed.