This is a message from pastor and teacher Bill Serjak from the Joshua series “New Beginnings”
Strength From the Lord
I often complain about all the work I had to do while growing up on a farm. Every evening, I would feed livestock for a couple of hours each and in the summer I would work in the fields pretty much all day. As I see it from an adult perspective, my growing up years prepared me well for what I would do in my adult life. I never went to church while growing up but my farm work helped in many ways to prepare me for my ministry years. When I was eight years old, my father bought a tractor on which I could reach the peddles. He did not think I was too young to drive but was careful to teach me what I needed to know to drive the tractor. After he taught me the basics, he turned me loose in a large field to practice my driving skills. For several days, I drove around the field and was able to drive the tractor pretty well.
When summer approached, I put my newly-acquired skills to use. In those days, the wheat harvest began by using a McCormick grain binder that tied the wheat into sheaths. We then stacked the sheaths in little bundles where they dried further before threshing. My first tractor job was to drive the tractor that pulled the binder. My grandfather rode the binder so he could release the sheaths in groups to make them easier to stack. That also made it possible for him to keep an eye on how I was driving. If the binder became plugged with grain, he could also make sure I didn’t put my hand where it wasn’t supposed to be.
Gradually, I learned to run more and more equipment. Each time, my father was very careful to teach me how to operate the equipment, where the danger lurked, and how to avoid it. He was also very trusting and would turn me loose to run the equipment on my own, despite the danger and the danger was real. When I was about ten or eleven years old, I started running a forage harvester, which cut green hay into about inch-long pieces and blew it into a wagon that was pulled behind the harvester. When the wagon was full, the cut hay was taken and blown into a silo. The forage harvester was obviously dangerous because it had a large wheel with very heavy blades that spun and cut the hay into little pieces. The danger was obvious so there was little temptation to get your hand too close. However, it would clog fairly often, which meant that I needed to stop the tractor, shut down the machinery, and go back to unclog it. The more times I had to do that, the more tempted I became to take a short cut and not turn everything off. I also needed to make sure the power takeoff drive was not turning before I got off the tractor. It constantly turned while the equipment was running and if you got too close, it could catch any loose clothing, pull you into it and break an arm or a leg. My father was very careful to teach me all of those dangerous places, but then he trusted me not to put myself in that danger.
It was not hard to remember the danger with the forage harvester because it looked scary and you were not as likely to put your hand where it could easily be cut off. Corn pickers were much more dangerous and many more farmers lost their hands in them. That happened to one of our neighbors and he was an adult with three children. Corn pickers had two rollers that popped the ears of corn off the stock. They would clog also. It was more tempting to leave the corn picker running because it didn’t look as dangerous. Since the corn stocks remained attached to the ground, it was easier to remove the clog while the picker was running. I also had to learn to operate corn pickers from the time I was about eleven years old.
All the way through my childhood, I was running dangerous farm equipment. I had to learn to deal well with dangerous situations. I had to learn to respect the danger but not run away from it. Had I grown up afraid of the equipment, I would have developed a fear of all dangerous situations instead of learning to deal with them. I think it is a very helpful for kids to learn to deal with dangerous situations because when they grow up, there are many fearful situations they will need to face. If kids learn how to face them while growing up, they might be less likely to run away from dangerous situations.
A businessman needs to be willing to take reasonable risks in order to profit in business ventures. A doctor is often put in difficult situations where he could endanger his patient’s life or cripple him if he makes a mistake. Despite the danger, a doctor must go ahead and do his best work. He must trust himself to do well and not be fearful, despite the obvious danger. Some might think that a pastor doesn’t work under that pressure but if I depended on just me to accurately teach the gospel, I would be under great pressure. If I taught the wrong thing, I could be responsible for sending someone to hell. The position as a teacher of God’s Word can present its own kind of danger. The Bible says harsh things about teachers who lead God’s people astray. Even though God overrides what we do, pastors still have the responsibility to teach accurately the Word of God.
As we grow up, we need to learn to deal well with danger. I had to learn to think before I took action or I could have lost a hand or even my life. We need to learn to do our best in difficult circumstances. After we do that, we all need to learn to live within our limitations. There are times, even when we do our very best, that things still go wrong. We need to learn to grow beyond ourselves and trust God. God has said that even when things go wrong, He has the power to make things work out well. If you are a businessman and lose a great deal of money, God can make that work our for good. He may make you into a better person through your failure. God can even do that for doctors who make a mistake, God can make things work out for good when we love Him and are called according to His purpose. If you are a pastor, you can depend on the Lord to have the ultimate authority over heaven and hell. When we become Christians, we need to go to another level of dealing with danger by knowing that God has the power to make things work out for good. God can take tragedy and make it work out well in our lives when we love Him and are called according to His purpose. On our own, we need to learn to trust what we can do to work within danger. We also have to bring the reality of God into all we do and into everything that happens to us. We need to learn to trust God to work His ultimate good.
As we read the book of Joshua, we can see Joshua going through the maturing process of learning how to use his best wisdom and then trusting in God. In the beginning of his leadership of God’s people, Joshua made many mistakes as God was teaching him how to deal well with God’s power. Jericho may have been the first time Joshua saw the power of God at work before his eyes. All Joshua needed to do was to have his people walk around the walls seven times, then blow a trumpet and the walls fell down. From that experience, Joshua likely got the idea that the whole conquest of the Promised Land would be easy. He merely needed to let God fight all the battles and he would not have to do very much. Then came the city of Ai. Joshua didn’t think he needed to do much, so he didn’t bother to cleanse his people and consider what God wanted. They were badly defeated and Joshua had to learn more about what was involved in working with God’s power. God doesn’t just do everything and let us to do whatever we want to do. We are involved and need to learn to do things wisely and according to God’s ways.
When Jesus was taken to the top of the Temple and Satan told Him to throw Himself off the Temple and trust the angels to rescue Him, Jesus said, “It is written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” Jesus not only had God’s power, but He had also learned how to use it. God was teaching Joshua how to use God’s power in battle. Joshua was also duped by the people of Gibeon. Through that experience, he learned to take the time to bring all things before God and know all the facts before he acted. Joshua was slowly learning to use God’s power.
In today’s lesson, we see that all the kings of the area banded together to fight against Joshua and the Jews. They bound together because they saw they could not conquer the Israelites while acting as individual nations. When we are depending on our own strength, banding with others is all we can do. However, Joshua had learned to depend on God and to follow God’s ways. He bound himself to God and trusted in Him. He had learned God’s ways so that he could better use God’s power. In this incident, we see a more mature Joshua doing things well. He is learning to work as God’s man leading God’s people.
The kings who had banded together decided to attack Gibeon, defeat them and make them an example of those who would dare to make a treaty with the Israelites. The Gibeonites sent word to Joshua of their danger. Joshua then marched his troops all night to get there quickly and surprise the alliance of kings. Joshua did not just think that God had things under control and therefore he did not need to use the strength and the wisdom he had gained for the battle. Joshua did not just sit back and let God do everything; Joshua participated in God’s plan.
Joshua entered into battle against the alliance of kings. They fought and the Israelites were winning. It was not like God completely protected His people so that not a hair on their head was hurt. Israelites died and were wounded in battle but God was giving them the victory. Joshua had learned to work with God’s power and to use it wisely. However, they needed a longer day to totally defeat the enemy, so Joshua prayed to God to make the sun stand still. By that time, Joshua had become so in tune with God’s power that the sun did stand still. The day went on and on until the alliance of kings was completely defeated. God even brought hailstone to help in the battle. God didn’t do everything; they still had to fight and win the battle.
God works the same way with us. We need to learn how to work with God’s power much like an eleven-year-old kid learns to handle dangerous farm equipment, with respect and forethought. I don’t think God entrusts us with any more of His power than we have learned to use. Joshua went through a great learning process to learn to live and work with God’s power. Had he not known better, he could have thought that whenever he asked God to stop the sun, God would do it. Joshua knew better. He had learned how to operate within God’s power and not use it for his own glorification.