By Bill Wilson
The story of the Israelite’s thwarted entry into the Promised Land has always made me curious. The 12 spies cross the Jordan and reconnoiter the land before them, returning with a mixed message. Ten of the spies are convinced the giants in the land will devour those who challenge them. Caleb and Joshua, however, are confident that God’s provisions will suffice. ”Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” Their minority report falls on deaf ears, and the children of Israel turn back in fear and wander in the wilderness for decades.
Later, we hear the rest of the story. In reality, the inhabitants of the land trembled in fear of the Israelites (Joshua 1-2). ”Our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” Due to their faithfulness, Caleb and Joshua are rewarded (Joshua 14), and a lesson is taught that God’s people have been forgetting for centuries.
When the giants look most menacing, God’s people can take heart in his strength and power. “Be strong and courageous” is not just an inspiring phrase from Joshua 1; it is an invitation to a lifestyle.
Do you need convincing that there are giants in the land? Does your congregation need to be awakened to the fact that business as usual will probably lead you to extinction in a few generations?
Perhaps your fear is ignited by David Olson’s research that reveals only 17 percent of Americans attend a worship service of any sort on an average weekend. Perhaps it is David Kinnamon’s findings that two-thirds of our youth will abandon local church life during their 20s. Perhaps it is the fact that 4,000 Protestant churches will close their doors permanently this year. Perhaps it is the sense that we live in a land that no longer values our traditions and methods. Perhaps it is your own children telling you how irrelevant church seems to be to their life.
Whatever it takes to awaken you to the giants in the land, you may be tempted to come to the same conclusion as the 10 spies: “We’re in trouble, and the best way to proceed is backward!”
Instead, what would it look like to live in the spirit of Caleb and Joshua as we seek to navigate our way forward through the land of the giants?
For this journey, we need at least these items:
First, we need a map and compass to guide us. God’s people, when they have been at their best, have always been clear about their purpose and reason for being. Jesus struggled to convince the disciples that the life of faith was as simple as bringing heaven to earth in all that we say and do. Over the years we have picked up additional interests and tasks that now divert our attention from our primary goal. A fuzzy mission will prove deadly in this new landscape. In our new reality, we will need to say no to many good things in order to say yes to the very best things God has in mind for us.
Second, we will need adequate provisions. We launch out on this journey knowing that we are opting out of a life of excess, but knowing that we will need critical supplies if we are to be successful. Every congregation I know is in a conversation about what is essential to the mission and what is a luxury. We face hard choices about what to take with us on the adventure ahead. What is essential? What can we live without? What is mission critical and what is a carryover from the past?
In order to make it in this new world, we will need to jettison some of the baggage we have accumulated. Some of us will be very sad and find it hard to let go, but if we are to survive, sacrifices will have to be made.
Third, we need a strong and courageous spirit. Who will be our Caleb and Joshua? Granted, the future will be challenging and marked by struggle. It will also be inspiring and filled with great meaning. Whiners need not apply. Those accustomed to getting their own way will be disappointed. Fair-weather believers will want to scurry back to Egypt. Naysayers are not needed.
As we face our own giants, a leaner, more focused and dedicated church is emerging. Despite the challenges, I believe there has never been a better day to be God’s people living out our divine mission. The way through this land is the way of Joshua and Caleb: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).