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Our utmost for his highest

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Joshua 1:1-9

A young nun who worked for a local home health care agency was out making her rounds when she ran out of gas. Fortunately, there was a gas station just a block away. She walked to the station, only to learn that their one gas can had been loaned out. So she returned to her car to look for something she could fill with gas, and spotted a bedpan she was taking to the patient.

The resourceful nun carried it to the station, filled it with gas, and carried it to her car. As she was pouring the gas into the tank, two men watched her from across the street. One of them turned to the other and said, “I know that the Lord turned water into wine, but if that car starts, I’m going to church every Sunday for the rest of my life.”

We’re beginning 2007 by learning to follow the God who still works miracles today, if only we’ll have courage enough to conquer the promised land he intends for us this year.

The key to God’s purpose and power is captured best by the title of Oswald Chambers’ classic devotional, My Utmost For His Highest. I’ve been reading from it each day for 15 years, and have found it to be the most essential book in my spiritual life next to Scripture. Its title motivates me constantly: find and give my “utmost” gifts and service to God’s “highest” purpose for my life and work.

What is your “utmost”? What is your “highest” purpose in the will of God? What is the greatest dream you can envision for this new year? Some of us would rather avoid the question. We’ve settled comfortably in the Land of Good Enough where we’re safe and secure. We know life could be more, that God has higher plans for us, but we also know that we are fallen and failed people, that we’re not sufficient for more than this. We’re exactly where some of Joshua’s people were, camped safely on the eastern side of the Jordan River, wondering whether they should risk the Promised Land.

Others of us are ready to charge into battle. The problem is, we’re not sure where to go, or if we are sufficient to defeat the flooded rivers and fortified citadels ahead. There are giants in the land, and they’re waiting to kill us. If we march to war in our strength, we won’t survive the contest. The good news is that there’s a third option. There’s a promised land which is God’s intention for your life in this new year. Let’s learn how to find it and claim it today.

Seek the purpose of God

Moses has died. This is Joshua’s chance at greatness. He had led the people to their first military victory 40 years earlier (Exodus 17:8-16). He had been Moses’ “assistant” (v. 1) for these four decades, his right-hand man on Mt Sinai when he received the Ten Commandments (Exodus 24:9-13) and in the tabernacle when he met face to face with God (Exodus 33:7-11).

Only he and Caleb had urged the people to take the land 40 years earlier. He was the one person in perfect position to seize Moses’ mantle and carry it forward. If anyone could lead the nation out of his own preparation, experience, and pedigree, it was Joshua. If anyone could defeat the giants in the land, it was him.

You and I face the same temptation today. What giants are living in the land before you this year?

We worry about the insurgency and civil war in Iraq, terrorism around the world, and economic uncertainties. One investment analyst I read this week thinks there’s a 50-50 chance of a recession in 2007, though others are more optimistic. No one knows if the housing market will improve, or how things will go in Washington under Democratic control for the first time in 12 years with a Republican in the White House.

Closer to home, if I were reading the newspaper of your mind today, what headlines would I find? What giants are stalking your land? What flooded rivers are you afraid to cross? What fortified citadels are you afraid to attack?

Isn’t it a temptation to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and charge ahead? That’s our cultural mantra: you can do it. The entrepreneurial spirit reigns here. From childhood we learn to be self-starting and self-reliant. We can defeat our giants if we just fight hard enough.

That’s what’s gotten us where we are. That’s the spirit which has led us to this place on the journey. But it can take us no further. God’s will requires God’s help. His plans for our lives require his power. You and I will never know the abundant, joy-filled promised land of God if we are trying to get there in our strength. If you’re trying to get to Hawaii, you’d best not swim. If you need life-saving surgery, you’d best not treat yourself. If your house is burning down, you’d best call the fire department.

If Joshua had yielded to our temptations to self-reliance, the Bible would have ended at Deuteronomy. He and the people would have drowned in the flooded Jordan River or been massacred at Jericho. The few who survived would have retreated back across the river to safety, where they would have been assimilated into the ancient Canaanite world. Instead, by God’s grace he trusted in God’s grace. And God gave him all he would need. He still does the same for his people today.

Trust the plan of God

God gives the “who”: “You and all these people” (v. 2a). Not just the leaders, or the army, or the priests–the entire nation was part of God’s purpose and call. He has a specific purpose for you and those you love and influence.

God gives the “where”: “proceed to cross the Jordan.” The Jordan is typically only 80 to 100 feet wide, and not deep. I baptized a large group there, and had no difficulty wading out into the middle of the slow-moving current. But when the spring rains come, the river can flood its larger bed. Where Joshua and his people would be crossing, the river would be more than a mile wide and a raging torrent.

They didn’t know what the Lord already knew–that they would face an insurmountable obstacle which he would lead them across miraculously. We are called to follow God today, and leave tomorrow in his hands. He already knows every step he intends us to take.

The Lord gives the “what”: they would inherit “the land that I am giving them” (v. 2b). God had earlier promised this land to Abraham for his descendants (Genesis 15:18-19), and had renewed his promise to and through Moses (Deuteronomy 11:24-25). Now he would bring it to fulfillment.

He would give them “every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon” (v. 3). The Hebrew tense indicates that the land was already theirs, though it remained to be taken. It already belonged to God, and thus to his heirs. They just had to go and claim it.

Each Christmas some very kind friends give our family gift certificates to restaurants (the boys’ favorite) and bookstores (Janet’s and my favorite). Our possession is already purchased and belongs to us–we need only claim it. So it is always with God’s planned future for us, on earth and in heaven. He already owns all that is; we need only go and “set foot” on that which he wants us to have.

And God gives the “how.” God knew that his people would face opposition for the land he had planned for them. So he promised Joshua: “No one shall be able to stand up against you all the days of your life” (v. 5a). Why? Because “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you: I will not fail you or forsake you” (v. 5b).

To “forsake” meant to abandon, to turn loose of. Imagine a mountain climbing guide, holding the lifeline for a climber who has lost his grip on the mountain. This is precisely our condition spiritually. But our Father will never turn loose of our rope. He will always hold us up until we have climbed to his full purpose and will.

Joshua’s part was simple: “Be strong and courageous” (v. 6). “Be strong” translates a Hebrew word which means to be bound strongly together, to be put together well. “Courageous” means to be firm-footed, to take a strong stand, the opposite of shaking or quaking knees. This command was so important that God repeated it three times to Joshua. How are we to keep it in this new year? Consider this spiritual formula:

Consistent obedience (v. 7): “being careful to act in accordance with the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go.”

Plus constant communion (v. 8): “This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it.”

Equals courageous commitment (v. 9): “Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” And so he is.

Conclusion

As “the Lord spoke to Joshua,” so he wants to speak to you. Why not take some time today to listen to him? Ask him to define his promised land for your new year, the next step in journey he intends for your life. It may involve giants in the land–people you can’t forgive, temptations you can’t defeat, fears you can’t conquer, plans and money and time you can’t surrender.

Choose to be strong and courageous. Choose obedience and communion with God.

But remember this theological fact: God’s purpose always requires God’s power. He will not do for us what we try to do for ourselves. But when we submit to him as our King, committing our utmost to his highest, yielding ourselves every morning and every day to his Lordship, he will tax the last star and grain of sand to empower us in fulfilling his purpose for our year and our lives.

And rejoice in this spiritual fact: God wants a relationship with you more than he wants anything else in the universe. The closer you are to him, the stronger and more courageous your soul will be. He is the source of your personal worth. Choose obedience to his word as you know it, and daily time spent with him in prayer and worship. And you will be empowered by the God of all creation who lives in you.

Do you know your promised land today? Can you finish the sentence, “God’s purpose for my year is____? Have you asked God for his plan? Have you sought it in his word and worship and prayer? The God who called Joshua is calling you. Are you listening?

Harry Truman: “Make no little plans. Make the biggest plan you can think of.” Ask God to show it to you.

Now sell out to it. Philip Yancey: “The giants all had one thing in common: neither victory nor success, but passion.”

And settle for nothing less. Harry Emerson Fosdick: “No steam or gas drives anything until it is confined. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined.” Dwight L. Moody says it more simply: “Consecrate, then concentrate.”

Don’t leave this Sanctuary until you have surrendered this year to the purpose of God. You’ll never have this day again. This is the reason you’re here, the work God intends to do with your soul today. Pay any price to submit to your Father as your King.

I read this week a fascinating story from the early life of Billy Graham. When he was a college student, he asked a fellow student named Emily Cavanaugh to marry him. After months of deliberation, she finally accepted his proposal. But one evening at a class party she sat with him on a swing and told him she had to give back his ring: “I’m not sure we’re right for each other. I just don’t see any real purpose in your life yet.” She was interested in an older student who had goals, plans, responsibility.

Billy was crushed. “All the stars have fallen out of my sky,” he wrote to a friend. For months he was burdened, not only by the breakup of their relationship but by her words. She was right–he didn’t have a sense of purpose. He had a vague sense that God was calling him to preach, but he didn’t feel that he was equal to the task.

After months of angst, one autumn evening Billy wandered through a golf course, kneeling on the 18th green. Eyes filled with tears, he looked up at the night sky and said, “All right, Lord! If you want me, you’ve got me. No girl or anything else will come first in my life again. You can have all of me from now on. I’m going to follow you at all cost.” (Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley, The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005] 21).

Aren’t you glad he did? Who will be glad you did?