Change and the choices we make, from the perspective of Joshua 24.
Everyday we are inundated with the demand to decide. We are not always aware of the constant decisions we make because oftentimes they are imbedded into routine and the routine patterns of our lives help us to automatically decide what to do in given circumstances.
Do I get up in the morning? Or ignore the alarm and go back to sleep? Should I go through the routine of shaving and showering? What should I wear? Do I eat breakfast? What should I have for breakfast? Have coffee or orange juice? Do I really need to put on deodorant? Brush my teeth? Comb my hair? Look in the mirror?
When you get in the car, do you choose to follow the normal laws of traffic, i.e. stay in your lane, use your turn signal and check before changing lanes? How about traffic lights? Do you stop for a yellow light or step on the gas to rush through as the light turns red. What determines whether you go through a red light or not?
Should I greet the members of my family with a growl? or a smile? How about the people I encounter through the day?
What do I choose to focus my thoughts on? Do I focus my thoughts on positive things? Or do I focus on and look for what is wrong with the day? with my spouse? with my fiends? with my government or church or job? or me?
Do I list the tasks I need to accomplish in the day, or do I randomly go through the day and do whatever lies before me?
We can become the victims of circumstance when we choose by default to let circumstances determine who we are, what we are and what we do. In other words, when we do not make our own choices, but merely react to what is going on around us. Then our environment chooses for us.
Joshua, in our reading this morning, is an old man. He has led Israel for many years. He was cultured and schooled for leadership under Moses. When Moses died God charged Joshua with the task of leading God’s people into the Promised Land.
At the end of Joshua’s life he is concerned for the children of Israel. He is afraid for them, because he knows how dependent they have been on him and his leadership. He kept them in line. As long as he “called the shots” they were faithful to God. What happens when they do not have a strong central leader? The book of Judges shows us what happens then. “all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
Like Shakespeare Joshua knew human nature well enough to know that trouble lie in the future. The public—we are fickle and easily swayed by strong emotional appeal. Leaders who appeal to discontentment, fear and a desire to bring back the illusion of the “golden era of the past” are have found they are able to manipulate and control the crowds through emotional appeals. Mussolini and Hitler were both very successful in their leadership in that regard.
Joshua did not want the children of Israel to be vulnerable to merely following the crowd, to merely doing what came natural or instinctively. His was a spiritual appeal, but also an appeal that said in effect, grow up. Think through what you do and why you do it. Be responsible adults. Using Stephen Covey’s language, he challenges them to be proactive, not reactive.
How so? He wants them to know who they are and whose they are. So he reviews their nation’s short history. As we read through Joshua 24 you will note that he constantly speaks on God’s behalf telling the children of Israel what God has done for them. For instance, note all the action verbs God uses.
Long ago…I took your father Abraham from beyond the Jordan and led him…
I gave him Isaac…
and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau
I gave Esau the hill country…
Jacob and his family went to Egypt
I sent Moses and Aaron and I plagued Egypt…
I brought you out…
Your eyes saw what I did to Egypt…
I brought you to the land of the Amorites…
I destroyed them before you…
In verse 9 there is a reference to the story of King Balak and the prophet Balaam who together tried to curse the young Israelite nation. God says “I would not listen to Balaam” and forced him to bless you… “I rescued you out of his hand.”
I gave you a land on which you had not labored and towns that you had not built, and you liven in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant.
All of this is God centered history. A refresher course on God’s salvation—God’s activity on their behalf, leading up to verse 14:
“Now therefore revere the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and faithfulness.”
And then the clincher: “PUT AWAY THE GODS THAT YOUR ANCESTOR’S SERVED BEYOND THE RIVER AND IN EGYPT AND SERVE THE LORD.
“Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD choose this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house we will serve the LORD.”
Joshua wisely confronts their unexamined assumptions, their bottom line loyalties, their un-thought out priorities and values. And through Scripture, God, through Joshua challenges us also.
Think through the decisions we make every day. Oftentimes those decisions are made unconsciously, based on unexamined assumptions that we believe to be true. But are they?
Stephen Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People challenges us to be thoughtful and to actively cultivate our wills, to work toward emotional and spiritual health by deliberately thinking in an orderly purposeful manner.
1. BE PROACTIVE. Know who and whose you are.
Don’t let someone else determine that. Not environment, not personal stories or histories of how hard you life has been. You must choose who you are and whose you are. Read God into your history like Joshua did.
2. BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND. Use your imagination and God given conscience to picture what that means for you, for your relationships and purpose in life.
3. PUT FIRST THINGS FIRST. Exercise your will. Practice making little decisions. Deliberately think through what you do and how you do it. Pull out of the automatic mode. Something that helps me is to intentionally pay attention to my breathing. Breath thoughtfully. Breath with awareness of yourself and your surroundings. My nephew Lukas has suggested a book to me entitled, Just Breath by Daniel Brule.
Little decisions impact larger decisions. Intentionally get up at a predetermined time every day. Practice habits of cleanliness and good grooming. Choose to eat healthy food and drink healthy. Practice saying no to some of your passions and desires. Learn how to cultivate and nurture your decision making ability.
People who let their environment and circumstances choose who they are and what they do never can discover the wonder and power of God’s grace in life. Obedience to grace does not come automatically or naturally. Paul deliberately tells us to “do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit…” (Ephesians 5:18). When Paul says be filled with the Spirit he is implying that we can do something to connect with God’s Spirit within us and learn how to let that Spirit influence us.
God does not take over our wills. God does not force us or coerce us to be obedient and to walk in the Spirit. We have to learn how to live in harmony and in obedience to God’s leading. We can do that by intentionally practicing little decisions, prayerfully going through our day, purposely doing things that are good and healthy. Deliberately avoiding what is negative and unhealthy.
These three steps Covey connects with what he calls internal or private victory.
God through Joshua tells us that we can choose who we are. We must choose who and what we serve. Every day we can choose anew who we are. Every day we can and must choose who we serve and how we will conduct ourselves. We can learn how to walk in fellowship with God and each other.
God give us the courage and will to do so. In Jesus’ name. Amen.