“Be strong and of good courage . . . Only be strong and very courageous, . . . Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid or dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (from Joshua 1)
Through the decades, I’ve carried on arguments with myself in my wide-margin Bible. I correct myself, I rebuke myself, I express aghast-ness at my spiritual nearsightedness.
These days my Bible notes are on the computer, but the arguments continue. This is from my note on Joshua 1:7-9 written in May, 1996:
Joshua is commanded to be bold. He is commanded to be strong. Whether he feels like it or not. This has been a challenge to me and a great rebuke. This reminded me of Ephesians 6:10—“Be strong in the Lord.” To keep focusing on your own weakness is sin. Once you’ve confessed, then turn your focus from yourself to Jesus Christ. If I am in Him, I am strong (not just “I can be strong”). I must act on this knowledge as if I really believed it. (How I wish I really did!) This, at least in some small measure, is faith. I think it will help move this knowledge from my head to my heart.
I don’t know how you felt when you read that, but when I read it I was aghast. So here on my blog I’m expressing my aghast-ness.
Do you see the error in thinking? For one thing, I clearly indicated in that note that Joshua’s feelings didn’t matter, that somehow he could be bold without feeling bold. But how can that be? It can’t, because acting bold without a feeling of boldness is just pretending. It’s like that song from The King and I that a friend challenged me with a few years ago: “Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune, and no one will suspect I’m afraid.” She claimed that it seemed that this is what Christians taught. At that time, I vigorously denied it. But isn’t that exactly what I was saying that Joshua should have done—that I should do?
To be strong without feeling strong—this is ludicrous. If a person is strong, he’ll know it, and then he’ll feel like he is. In other words, it will be true not just in theory, but in his experience, in his understanding. When he says “I’m strong,” he won’t be whistling in the dark.
How was Joshua supposed to be strong? Was he going to be strong by developing some “disciplines,” like reading his Bible a half hour a day or being sure to say something about his faith to five people a day, or spend at least fifteen minutes a day in prayer?
Though those things may be good, none of them are the way to be bold and strong. The only way is by faith in the power and strength of God. Joshua was made strong—and I am made strong—through faith. It’s because, in the spiritual realm, there’s no way to stand against the enemy without the strength of the Lord. That’s why Ephesians says “Be strong IN THE LORD.”
I said in 1996, “I must act on this knowledge as if I really believed it. (How I wish I really did!)” I claimed that in some small measure this was faith.
I couldn’t see that THIS WAS NOT FAITH. The very definition of faith is about what you truly believe, and if I didn’t truly believe it, I really wasn’t acting in faith, but pretending.
I said that acting as if I believed it (pretending) would help move the knowledge from my head to my heart. I don’t fault myself alone—this kind of teaching permeates churches—but it doesn’t square with the Bible. This is not sanctifying obedience. This is the kind of “obedience” that sets a person up for Hypocrisy, Apathy, Rebellion, and Depression.
The kind of obedience that works to sanctify a soul—my soul—is the obedience of faith alone in Christ alone. He is the one who makes me strong. Joshua was trusting for God to work through him in the taking of the land of Canaan. I’m trusting for God, through Jesus Christ, in this New Covenant, to work through me in the conquering of souls for His Kingdom of Love.
“Be strong in the Lord,” God commanded Joshua, God commands me. “Trust Me and watch Me work. I will do something glorious. And I delight in allowing you to participate.”
By the way, though I had a lot wrong in 1996, in my muddledness I believe I still had one thing right. Though I wouldn’t say now that focus on my own weakness is categorically and necessarily sin, I still believe that I should confess it and “then turn [my] focus from [myself] to Jesus Christ.”
It’s always the right thing to do.
My only claim on Christ for years was “help my unbelief”, because I was only going through the motions. I could only read the Bible if I was pleasantly buzzed, otherwise the triggers overwhelmed me and I would be lost in flashbacks. I tried but eventually I just stopped reading the Bible and stayed zoned out in church. I went for my children and because my husband insisted. The cry of my heart was only ‘help my unbelief’.
I couldn’t pretend to myself anymore, no matter what front I put on for others. Anytime my mask slipped and someone saw the realness of me then the knife of betrayal found me again. It was safer to not be a real person anymore. Eventually I stopped crying out to God but He still heard me and has brought me to a place of safety and to some people that I can be known by.
I can call to Him in my distress and I know He hears me. I don’t feel like I have to act just right in order for Him to help me. He helps me where I am, to get closer to where He wants me. I don’t have a Bible verse for it. If I looked for it I would be too triggered in the search. But this is what I’ve been learning in the last two years and is my own phrasing of what I have absorbed.
I am trying to trust God and watch Him work. It is extremely difficult at times to even actively wait on the Lord.
Thank you so much, Shelly. God is at work, even when we can’t see it. Keep trusting, and don’t give up hope! I’m praying for you.
[…] made references to my Bible journaling in a few of my posts through the years, primarily here and here and here. But recently I came across this story written in March of […]
The lifting of shame by correcting long held false teaching is life /breath giving ! Such good thoughts for me to ponder this morning as icy roads have me home on a sunday morning ❤️ Thank you Rebecca for sharing this!!!!
Thank you, Quietrunner. I pray that our loving God will lift all your shame and give you great joy strength in Him.