Summary: Joshua’s life reveals that success in old age is measured by faith and not sight, by what we have left for the next generation to complete, and by passing on a warning about the lessons he had learned.
And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one thing has failed of all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you; all have come to pass for you, not one of them has failed.
Not one thing has failed. It would be wonderful to come to old age and be able to say that, wouldn’t it? Not one thing has failed!
When I say, “She’s quite elderly now,” what do you picture? Do you think of a sweet little lady, or a cranky hag? Is your image Grandma baking apple pies, or is it the witch in the forest baking Hansel and Gretel? There is certainly more than one picture of old age.
Or when I say, “Look at that old man,” what do you picture? Do you think of a courtly gentleman or a grouchy coot? Is your image kindly Ossie Davis serving up sweet pearls of wisdom, or is it Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, the movie’s grumpy old men, about to kill each other for the attentions of Ann Margaret? People end up in different places as they age.
I suspect that at least we can agree on this much: that we need to know whether our lives have been successes or failures. I cannot imagine anyone coming to his senior years and not wondering, “Did I succeed? Or has my life been a failure?” I cannot envision anyone spending seventy or eighty years on this planet without measuring it and thinking, “How did I do? What was my score? Has my life been a failure?”
And I know that there are some who do feel that they are failures. I have seen and heard it men and women who show that they are filled with regrets, panicked over mistakes, anxious over lost opportunities, angry over wasted time, sick over burned up resources. There are plenty of people who arrive in their senior years feeling what the poet said, “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: it might have been.”
Has my life been a failure? Too many answer, “Yes, it has been a failure.” Too many feel nothing but emptiness as the days grow shorter. Too many wish they could do it all over again.
So this morning I want to inquire in God’s word to see if we can find out what can keep us from failure. I want to invite you to probe the Scriptures with me and discover how to make our lives succeed. In fact, I want to bring some good news this morning: and the good news that it is not too late, even yet, to succeed. It’s not too late to get past failure. In the immortal words of that esteemed theologian, Yogi Berra, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. And that means that, in the providence of God, you and I can wipe out failure and can achieve success. As long as God is in it, we have the opportunity to snatch success from the jaws of failure.
Joshua, the general of Israel’s armies, was old. He knew it, he felt it, in every bone of his body. Joshua knew that he did not have much time left. He could no longer lead Israel into rigorous battle, as he once did. As a young man he had been named by Moses to take the people into the land of promise. And Joshua had worked hard. He had rallied the people behind him. He had summoned all their energies, he had won stunning victories at Jericho, at Ai, at Gibeon, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron. Joshua had succeeded wonderfully. From north to south the land of Canaan had known the skill of General Joshua.
But now Joshua had grown old. And he was measuring the years that had gone by. He was taking stock in his own heart of what he had done. Joshua was asking, “Has my life been a failure?”
How does he answer that question? With what insights does he guide us to measure our lives and find out whether we have been failures or successes? Has my life been a failure? General Joshua will teach us!
First, when Joshua asked whether his life had been a failure, he could answer, “No,” because Joshua had learned to live by faith and not by sight. He had learned to live by vision and not by statistics. Joshua had learned that if you live by a great vision, if you find a great purpose, even if you don’t accomplish everything, you will be a success. But if you live by statistics, if you live by yardsticks like bank accounts and degrees and property and prestige, you will never have enough! And you will always be a failure. You will always be a failure if you choose to measure your life by what you have accumulated. But you can be a success if you measure your life by a vision, by the magnificence of the dream to which you have devoted yourself.