Can you imagine what Joshua must have felt like when he heard God telling him to go conquer the Promised Land?
The Israelites were former slaves who had spent a full forty years wandering in the desert. Their army looked more like a ragtag band of nomads than a group of disciplined, highly trained warriors. And these were the people Joshua was to lead into battle against territorial kings and mighty fortresses. A betting man would have given the Israelites slim chance for victory over Jericho. Yet the Israelites were victorious, and as a result, they became the most feared army in the land of Canaan.
When we look at our lives and ask questions like, “Can I really learn how to hear God’s voice? Can I really overcome my sinful desires?” and “Do I have what it takes to build God’s kingdom?” we can be easily overwhelmed. We can lose our conviction and our confidence. That’s why it’s vital to know that God is always with us, offering us his love, his power, and his protection.
When he watched Jericho fall, Joshua’s confidence must have grown a hundredfold, and it must have flowed out to every Israelite. Similarly, our confidence will grow as we begin to experience victories in our own battles against sin and temptation.
Watching a stronghold fall—perhaps in the form of a deeply entrenched pattern of deception, a seemingly unpardonable sin such as abortion, or a longstanding grudge against someone—will embolden us and convince us that God is with us. We will be amazed as we see that a power within us, but which is far greater than our human abilities, has come to our aid. This experience will give us a sense of joy and peace that can be every bit as contagious as Joshua’s confidence in battle.
“Crossing Over” in Christ
When Moses and the Israelites escaped from Egypt, God parted the waters of the Red Sea. It was a stupendous display of divine power, but in the end it wasn’t enough to save the Israelites. They still had to choose to cross over into safety. What if, after God parted the water, the people had turned around and walked toward Pharaoh’s army instead? They would have been recaptured, and their slavery would probably have been far worse than before.
Forty years after he parted the Red Sea, God parted the Jordan River so that a new generation of Israelites could cross out of the desert and enter into the Promised Land (Joshua 3:14-17). What if God had parted the river, but the people chose not to walk across? They would have remained in the desert wilderness, and the Promised Land would have remained beyond their reach.
Both the crossing of the Red Sea and the crossing of the Jordan River have come to be seen as symbols of the Sacrament of Baptism. Just as the Israelites left a life of slavery behind when they crossed the Red Sea, so do we cross over from slavery to freedom when we accept Christ. And, just as their crossing of the Jordan River brought them to the Promised Land—which they then had to conquer—so does our baptism bring us into the kingdom of God and call us to be set apart for God.
This Lent, make it a point to reaffirm and strengthen your position in Christ on a regular basis. In prayer, renew your baptismal vows. Remind yourself that in Baptism you have crossed over from slavery to freedom, from the desert of sin to the promised land of God—even from death to life.
This may seem like little more than a mental exercise, but there is much more to living in faith than learning the power of positive thinking. When we fix our eyes on Christ, we focus our attention on our new position in him, and open our hearts to the truths of what God has done for us, we give the Holy Spirit room to work miracles. He fills us with God’s truth. He showers us with divine love and grace. He convinces us that we can be holy. He responds to our simple, persistent faith by showing us the great potential we have as a new creation in Christ. With all this consolation and encouragement, we can’t help but be strong and courageous.
Keep Looking Forward!
In Scripture, some people whom God had touched looked back at the lives they were called to leave with a mixture of envy, longing, or just plain curiosity. For instance, as she fled the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife looked over her shoulder to survey the devastation—and she was turned into a pillar of salt. When they were in the midst of their desert wanderings, many of the Israelites looked back wistfully upon their old lives in Egypt. “Were we not better off there?” they asked. “Didn’t we have spices, and plenty of water, and lots of good food?” Even Jesus told his disciples to put their hands to the plow and not look back if they wanted to inherit the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).
It is critical to see that “looking back” to the fallen ways of the world will cause us to minimize the unique and all-encompassing salvation Jesus gave us on the cross. It will cause us to overlook the miraculous ways God has worked in history— both in the history of the Church and in our own personal history. Finally, and most tragically, it will cause us to take lightly God’s call to holiness and the significant ways we can work with him in spreading his kingdom in the world.
The more convinced we are that we have crossed over from death to life, the less we will be tempted to look back or return to our old lives. We won’t want to try to put the new wine of our life with Christ into old wineskins. So, when you find yourself “looking back” with longing, take a moment and pray. Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom. Ask yourself, “Will this old way really satisfy me, or will it only drive me further away from the Lord?” As you do, you just may find the Holy Spirit giving you the strength and courage you need to keep looking forward.
With Hands Uplifted
When Moses parted the Red Sea, he had to lift up his hands and hold out his staff (Exodus 14:21). At the decisive battle against the Amalekites (17:8-16), it was only when Moses held his hands up in intercession and blessing that Israel was successful. Then, at the battle of Ai, God told Joshua to lift up his javelin toward the city while the Israelites fought. As long as that javelin was held high, the Israelites were victorious (Joshua 8:18-19).
Just as Moses and Joshua did ages ago, Jesus is doing today. He is holding up his hands before the throne of God, blessing us and interceding for our protection. We have crossed over into his kingdom, and now Jesus wants us to know that he loves us passionately—far more than we love our closest friend or family member. He wants to show us the great dignity we have as children of God. He wants to convince us that there is no unpardonable sin. Forgiveness and mercy are available to everyone, regardless of the offense. He wants us to know that we can receive his comfort at any time, and especially when we are weary. He wants to assure us that together as the Church, we are his bride and that every one of our efforts to make this bride more beautiful will be rewarded.
The more we see that Jesus is with us, the more we will find ourselves rejecting the notion that we have to go it alone. Keep this image of Jesus with his hands uplifted in the forefront of your mind. It will encourage you, just as it encouraged Moses and Joshua ages ago. This simple yet profound image can fill us with confidence and convince us that even in the toughest of situations, we can do everything through Christ, who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).