I was reading the Old Testament book of Joshua recently, and the early chapters drove home the point that things don’t happen just because it’s God’s will. A casual perusal of the Bible will confirm that many of our experiences aren’t God’s will. It sounds obvious when you look at the state of the world and your own life, but we often forget that we have a part in making God’s best a reality in our lives. It’s challenging to know God’s will for you and not experience it, and that dissonance between expectation and reality has caused many to turn their backs on God. So, it’s worth examining why we often fail to experience God’s best for us. I’ve found Joshua 5 -7 particularly instructive in that regard.
The story begins in Genesis 12 when God calls Abraham to emigrate to a foreign land. God subsequently willed that land to Abraham and his descendants alongside other promises [Genesis 12:1-7]. Later on, God told Abraham that his descendants would become slaves in a foreign nation for four hundred years, but afterwards, He’d bring them back to that land [Genesis 15:13-16]. God did bless Abraham [Genesis 25:1]. He also liberated his descendants from slavery in Egypt as He promised [Exodus 12:33-42]. About four hundred and seventy years after God made the initial promise, Joshua and Abraham’s descendants arrived in the promised land, with Jericho the first city on their path. God had covenanted the land to them [Genesis 15:17-21], so it was undeniable that God wanted them to take possession of Jericho. Surely, Joshua and the people could attack Jericho with whatever strategy they saw fit because it was God’s will for them to conquer it, right?
I believe this is where many believers often miss it: had Joshua devised his approach to conquer Jericho instead of waiting for God to give him a strategy, those walls would never have come down, and the Canaanites would’ve routed Israel. If that had happened, Joshua would’ve lost the trust of his people and possibly his life. Would that have meant it wasn’t God’s will for Joshua and the people to conquer Canaan? Furthermore, how the strategy came is illuminating. It seems there was something more important to God than Jericho when the people arrived in Canaan because the first thing God said to Joshua after they crossed the Jordan wasn’t about Jericho [Genesis 17:9-14, Joshua 5:1-8]. The generation that crossed the Jordan into Canaan, excluding Joshua and Caleb, had violated God’s covenant with them. As such, the nation wasn’t in right relationship with God [Joshua 5:9]. They needed to fix that before going any further. Interestingly, the strategy for conquering Jericho didn’t come until they addressed the violation [Joshua 5:13-6:5]. That’s another important lesson: we can’t receive God’s strategic directions while knowingly violating His ordinance.
If the triumph at Jericho showcased the value of having God’s strategy for battle, the embarrassing defeat at Ai demonstrated what happens when we choose to do things our way. At Ai, Joshua and the people did what most of us do. Essentially, they said: “God, we’ve got this, we’ll let you know if we need you.” If God cares about our hair strands [Matthew 10:30], why wouldn’t He want to be involved in our decisions? The mistake Joshua and the people made is common: They assessed the situation and thought they could handle it without God [Joshua 7:2-5]. What they did seems foolish now, but how often do we make important decisions without consulting God? Isn’t that hubris [James 4:13-17]? I’ve had a few Ai experiences, and they’re often signs that something is amiss, just as it was for Joshua and the people [Joshua 7:1]. Mercifully, Ai can become a footnote in our lives. But first, we must take every step to fix our relationship with God and then submit to His way of doing things. Repentance is always a good first step [Joshua 7:6-9].
I recently stumbled on a troubling episode in Moses’s life where God confronted him and sought his life before his mission in Egypt began [Exodus 4:24-26]. It’s a passage I don’t fully understand. However, one thing is undeniable: God takes the violation of His ordinances seriously, and those violations can impede the manifestation of His will in our lives. I’ve also realised that our triumphs in life are strategy-dependent, and God’s strategies have a 100% success rate because He’s Alpha and Omega [Isaiah 46:10, Revelation 1:8]. Consequently, if you’re wise, you’ll do whatever it takes to obtain and promptly obey His strategic directions for your life. It’s also worth highlighting that God’s strategies often look foolish until they bring victory [1 Corinthians 1:25-27]. So, we’ll need child-like faith to obey them, which implies keeping our egos in check. Who would’ve thought walking around a fortified city and shouting was a strategy to conquer it?
Mary left us a timeless piece of advice: Do whatever He tells you to do [John 2:5]. Sometimes, we don’t hear because we don’t ask. However, often, the problem is the state of our hearts. We cannot be in right relationship with God while keeping company with pride, unbelief, bitterness, hatred and desires that contend with His Spirit [Galatians 5:17-21]. I don’t know about you, but I want a life where everything I put my hand to succeeds [Psalm 1:3], and the key to such a life is obtaining God’s strategic help. As one of my mentors puts it: Don’t make a move until you hear from God [Isaiah 30:21].
Impatience and presumption have been my most significant obstacles to receiving strategic directions, but this year, after numerous Ai experiences, I’m keener than ever to learn from my mistakes. I encourage you to do the same.