The Call to Courage

Desiring God 2008 Conference for Pastors

The Pastor as Father & Son

I am going to ask you all to stand please in honor of reading the word of God. If you have a copy of the sacred text, I want you to turn with me to Joshua 1:1–9. I’m going to be speaking this morning on a call to courage. The passage says:

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’s assistant, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory.

No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

The Leader of the Band

I do want to get buried in the text here, but I want to tell you a story. On July the 4th, 1995 at 2:10 p.m. in the afternoon, the greatest man that I’ve ever known went home to be with Jesus. He was my dad. The year prior to him passing away, his health just spiraled down. He died of complications related to congestive heart failure, but there were a number of issues. I spent a lot of time traveling from Atlanta up to Roanoke, Virginia where he and mom retired. I went back and forth. If you’ve ever had sick parents, every time the phone rings you sort of shake a little bit. I had plenty of shaky moments.

But that entire year, I could not get the lyrics of a secular song out of my mind. It’s the words of the song that Dan Fogelberg wrote. He passed away as the leader of the band. And to this very day, I have to tell you, probably at least once a week those words come rushing to my mind. The song says:

The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my father. I think about him often. What an incredible gift. You see, I’m the great grandson of a slave. My great grandfather’s name was Peter Loritts. There’s a German Reformed pastor that migrated around the turn of the century in the early 1800s from Germany to western North Carolina around the Asheville area. He was a godly man. In fact, his great-great-great granddaughter served on staff with Campus crusade for Christ, and that’s how we filled in the gaps. But this man had three sons who became very prosperous landowners there in North Carolina. His youngest son owned my grandfather, Peter. Peter was fairly young when slavery was over and he got married and had some kids. My dad, believe it or not, remembered Peter. Peter lived to be an old man. He remembered the stories. You might say, “Well, Crawford, don’t you mean he was your great-grandfather?”

Well, my father was the youngest boy of 14 kids, and he was 81 when he died in 1995. So it was his grandfather. My dad and my uncles used to tell me these stories about Peter, that Peter was a singing and a praying man. My father says he had vivid memories when he was five, six, or seven years old, watching Peter sit on the front porch in a rocking chair there on Second Street in Conover, North Carolina, the old homestead. He said he would sit there for hours and just rock back and forth, singing and praying.

Peter had memorized passages of Scripture, but he was illiterate. He had memorized huge passages. My dad and my uncles used to say what he used to make his kids and his grandkids do was to read familiar passages to him over and over and over and over and over again, and he had committed them to memory. My dad said Peter loved Jesus. Peter had three children. My great-uncle HP, my great-aunt Georgia, and then my grandfather Milton. He impressed on them a passion for the Lord Jesus.

A Hero Worth Imitating

Milton acquired some land and he loved preachers and helped to start Thomas Chapel AME Zion Church. In fact, he gave them the acreage across the street from the old homestead to build the church on. My dad and uncles used to tell these crazy stories about preachers coming to the house. In those days the kids waited to eat and my dad would be on the chicken watch. Sometimes the last piece of chicken would be eaten and he would get a spanking for screaming out, “He took the last piece of chicken.” But my grandfather, Milton, loved the Lord. He loved his church. He took what he learned from an illiterate slave who loved the Lord Jesus with all his heart and somehow or another the signature of God was impressed on his heart. He raised these 14 kids to love the Lord Jesus.

My dad played baseball in the old Negro Leagues. When he was about 28 or 29 years old, he was playing for the Memphis Cardinals. They didn’t make the money back then. In the off season he worked in the coal mines. There in Dante, Virginia there was a natural gas explosion and he lost his right eye. So mom and pop, during World War II, moved up to New Jersey. And there all of us kids were born. I was born in Newark, New Jersey. I’m the youngest of three kids. But next to Jesus Christ, as I said, my dad has always been my hero. My father never read one book on the family and I’m convinced the only articles he read on the family were by accident. If it was close the sports page, he probably read it. But he loved the Lord Jesus.

My father would finagle his schedule around. He worked for over 30 years for A&P warehouse. He worked from four to 12 at night. I’m going somewhere with this, bear with me. He worked from four to 12 at night, and he would finagle his schedule around so that he could be at my little league baseball games in the afternoons up at the boys club on Littleton Avenue. Every Saturday was family day. He led his family by his quiet strength and eloquence. He was particularly concerned about me as I grew up. He knew intuitively that I had a legacy to keep, that I needed to show up in my life, and that I couldn’t walk away from responsibility.

People ask me today, “Crawford, where did you learn how to lead?” I didn’t learn how to lead by going to a seminar on leadership. I’ve filled in some things, obviously. I’ve read some stuff and gotten some experience of my own. But the foundational issues about life, about direction, about manhood, and particularly about courage, I learned from my dad.

My dad would look me straight in the eye and tell me this all the time in my teen years. He said, “Boy, you never walk away from responsibility. Son, you show up. There’s never any excuse for you to walk away from what you said you would do.” And then he would tell me the old stories of the hard days. He would tell me the stories of Peter. He would tell me the stories of his father who never complained. He would tell me the stories of uncles who paid the price, who would not let Jim Crow define them or take their sense of dignity and identity. He taught me that the culture and the environment does not bring definition to your soul, but the God of the universe does.

He wrote that signature over my heart and over my life. To this very day when I’m challenged with tough decisions in ministry and when there’s discouragement and things are not going well, it is amazing — I can still hear my dad look at me in the eyes and saying, “Boy, don’t walk away. Don’t walk away.”

An Epidemic of Weakness

I want to bear my soul with you guys this morning. I am terribly concerned, terribly concerned about this epidemic of weakness that has come over men in our culture. I am terribly concerned by the epidemic of weakness in our pulpits. I am not talking about being obnoxious, I’m not talking about being unkind, and I’m not talking about being some little sawed-off Caesar. But I am talking about this dastardly tendency that’s sweeping over the entire body of Christ where we don’t have the courage of our convictions. We’re creating a whole generation that’s flooding our Christian schools and flooding our seminaries with this journey mindset.

We’ve allowed our sociological constructs to dictate to us what our leadership philosophies ought to be. So what we have in our churches and in our pulpits are people who are reflecting the new norms in society rather than leading the charge. And the reason why we get discouraged is that we get sick and tired of prostituting ourselves at the shrine of acceptable behavior. There’s a direct relationship between the breakdown of the family and what we have palatably called the emergence of pulse modernity and the sanitizing of a lack of commitment.

We’re afraid to lead and afraid to make decisions. Consensus has a stranglehold around what we do. We reduce our theology so that others will agree with us. I’m concerned about that and frankly, listen to me, some of you are discouraged in your ministry not because God is not working for you and God hasn’t shown you what to do; you are discouraged because you refuse to do what he’s told you to do. I’ve learned some important lessons along those lines.

The Prophetic Statement of Leadership

I remember some time ago there was a staff member, quite frankly, whom I should have fired. But I was concerned about some fallout. I learned a hard lesson. I was concerned about some fallout, so I put up with a bunch of nonsense. Finally, I got either righteously indignant or just carnally ticked off — I don’t know what it was — and I finally reached that point where I said, “You know what? God has called you the minister elsewhere, and I don’t care.”

It was as if the Lord said to me, “I’m glad you put up with that, but I wasn’t calling you to put up with it. I was calling you to do something about it.” Courage. Nothing in life ever happens apart from courage. Do you understand me? Nothing in your ministry will ever take place apart from courage. Somebody has to pull the trigger. The very nature of leadership means the willingness to stand by yourself and be the visible, prophetic reality of what the future looks like.

That’s the very nature of leadership. That is it by its nature. Leadership is not a reflection of where things are. Leadership is the prophetic statement of where things ought to be. Inherent in leadership is a call to embrace aloneness and resilience. And that’s the message of Joshua 1.

Necessary Courage in Leadership

When you read this text, you must read it in its emotional context. What’s going on here? Here we have the children of Israel on this side of the Jordan. Depending on which scholar you read, there are about 2.0 million or 2.5 million Israelites standing on this side of the river. They are in an emotional funk. Moses, the legendary great law giver, the greatest man who ever lived, is dead. There is a twinge of guilt and pain and grief realizing that he died because he disobeyed God. He wasn’t able to fulfill the promise because instead of speaking to the rock, he allowed the pressure of those who were following to determine how he led. So he reacted and struck the rock. And you say, “That’s cold-blooded.”

Well, the way we look at things it may seem cold-blooded, but biblically, with great disclosure comes greater responsibility. When God reveals his heart to us, there’s greater accountability. And guys, we need to get over this piece. If you’re a leader, God does hold you to a higher standard. Don’t let perverted grace language cause you to reduce the high standard that God holds you to. There are some things that you cannot do and I cannot do because God has disclosed his heart.

So they have this funeral. But before they have the funeral, Moses calls in Joshua and in essence he says, “Don’t wimp out on God.” It’s like my dad. I’ll never forget this. A few months before he passed away, we thought he was going to die already. I’ll never forget this. It was one of the most powerful moments in my life. We thought my dad was going to die. He was a tough old sucker. I mean he just defied the odds that I thought this was over. He’s looking at me and he says to me, “Boy, you take care of your mama and those girls. Do you understand me?” It was a commissioning. And that’s the feel of Moses bringing Joshua and saying, “Listen, listen, listen to me, boy. Don’t you cave in. Don’t you put it in neutral. Don’t back off the accelerator. I’m going to die, but God’s work continues on.”

It’s one of the most moving scenes in the Bible. I love Joshua 1. God does not send Joshua a dream. He comes to him personally. He says this to him personally. He gives him an exposition on courage. This is the best leadership text in the Bible. This is not for the fainthearted. God shows up, and it’s almost as if you read the text he reaches out and grabs him by the lapels. I’ve had to do this as a dad. I have two sons in ministry. They would’ve been here, but crazy things happen to their schedules. God is using them in a great way. But you know what? I have a rule with my boys. I don’t give you unsolicited advice, but if you ask me, I’m going to give it to you strong and straight.

I have permission to share this. Just the other day youngest son was struggling with some issues and he called me. He thought I was going to just give him some emotional Kleenexes and say, “Oh, boy, boy, boy.” But I said to him, “Son, put on your jock strap. This is leadership. This is manhood time here. Okay?” Sorry ladies. I forgot temporarily that there are ladies here. I said, “Listen to me. This is no playground.” And that’s what God does to Joshua. He says, “Listen, listen, listen, listen, listen.” And then he gives him a fourfold, descriptive definition of courage. I want to walk through this and I’ll be done.

A Clear Assignment from God

God says to Joshua, “Listen to me. Number one, courage rests upon a clear assignment from God.” There is no such thing as courage apart from a mission, just as there is no such thing as faith apart from challenge. Faith is defined by challenge. Courage is defined by mission. You are not just courageous for the sake of being courageous. Now, I’m writing a book on leadership and one of the main things that I’m driving through this whole book is that leadership is not a location; eadership is a for what. You lead for something. You’re courageous for something. So what does God do here? He comes to Joshua and he says here in Joshua 1:1–2:

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’s assistant, “Moses my servant is dead.”

An old saying says, “When a man of God dies, nothing of God dies.” That’s the reason why you should not take yourself too seriously. God’s purposes are far beyond your moment in history. You are just one link in a long chain of events. That’s the reason why you should not worship at the shrine of the human instrument. It is just one little snapshot. Don’t be too obsessed with this whole significance thing because the significance of your life cannot be truly determined when you try to evaluate it at any given point in life. The jury is still out. God is blessing my life, not so much because of me, but probably because of a slave who sang and prayed for a generation he could not see. My grandfather picked up the mantle and my dad picked up the mantle. Jim Crow got dismantled and God said, “I’m going to answer the prayer at least in your life and maybe in your sons, and maybe in your grandsons, and maybe in your great grandsons.” When a man of God dies, nothing of God dies.

God Doesn’t Need His Leaders

So don’t look in the mirror and sing, “How great thou art,” when they give you a standing ovation. And in light of this, God reiterates the assignment. Listen to what he says: “Moses my servant is dead.” He continues:

Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory (Joshua 1:2–4).

I’m not going to surgically walk through that. Basically, it’s a reiteration. It’s a reiteration of what he told Moses to do. Oh, I didn’t plan on saying this, but this is another reason why. Don’t ever think that the cause of Christ is going to go belly up if some of his great leaders die or fall into sin. God is not up in heaven going, “What are we going to do? John Piper went to heaven. DA Carson, well, he’s not there. What’s going to happen to the cause? Billy Graham is dead. What’s going to happen?” God ain’t up there doing that. He’s just going, “Next.” Those of us who lean toward the Reformed position need to start believing what we lean toward.

He’s no taking Maalox because there is an empty box on the org chart. He grabs someone. It could be Balaam’s ass temporarily. He grabs somebody and he says, “Look, the train is still moving. Get on board. Get up, go over there, and get it.” Nah, this is not a stretch from the text, but some of you are sitting here and the Holy Spirit has been beating you up for months because there’s dreams and vision he has placed on your heart. You know he has, but you have been wimping out on him. He’s telling you, “Stop looking at the land. Stop looking at the blueprints. Stop talking about what you’re going to do. Get your back side in gear, get up, get over there, and get it. Go after it. Go after it.”

Confidence in the Call

This is reiterated by the apostle Paul in that great text. Ephesians 2:8–10 says:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (but we slip past this last phrase) for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

That implies obligation. There are good works that God has prepared ahead of time and right at the right time, your moment in history, those good works for you intersect, but you should (obligation) walk in them. Secondly, it implies choice. You don’t have to, but you’ll miss your moment.

Guys, let me beg with you. Don’t lay your head down when it’s all over with a bunch of regrets. You rather die surging ahead than drown in a crowded sea of apathy and complacency. Stop reflecting the norm of evangelicalism and be passionate about the assignment. My assignment for you while you’re here listening to us is to sit down and figure out what are the things that God has laid his hand on you to do? What are they? When was the last time you examined your call? When was the last time you took a breath of fresh air and you stood back and you said, “What makes me pound the table and weep? What are the things that I know the signature of God is over my soul to do?” Find it. Your courage will rise when you have confidence in the call. More folks get burned out in ministry and leave ministry because of confusion and a lack of confidence that causes them to get discouraged, disappointed, and get set up for sin.

The Assurance of God’s Presence

Courage, first of all, rests upon a clear assignment from God. Second, right here in the text, courage rests upon the assurance of God’s presence. I didn’t want to give you too much mental clutter here this morning, but it is an interesting study if you study the callings of God throughout the Bible. One of the fascinating things you’ll come up with almost with every calling in the Scriptures is that in the immediate context, there is the assurance of God’s presence. God never calls us to do anything apart from him. Listen to me, guys. Every assignment that God gives his people is his primary means of sanctifying his leader.

Now, I might get into trouble here, but listen to me. Some of us are getting burnt out because we’re separating the sanctification process from our ministry. I understand boundaries, I understand it’s important to get rest, and I understand it’s important to have variety in your life. I understand all of that. But the very thing that God is using to draw you to himself is the calling that he’s given to you. And the calling is a statement of his presence. You’re looking at me strangely. The calling is a statement of its presence. This assignment is not just a job for you. This is not some evangelical corporate structure here where you pick and choose — “Let’s see my career path in ministry.” God’s assignments come with a special sense of God’s manifest present. You can call it unction and you can call it anointing, but whatever you call it, it’s real. Notice what he says here:

No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life (why?). Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you (Joshua 1:5).

Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9).

Whenever I read this text I think of one of my earliest memories. I was about four or so. I sometimes would be afraid of the dark, and if it was one of those evenings that pop was home, sometimes he would come and lay down in the bed with me. I remember as a kid riding the Hudson Tube. My dad was an avid baseball fan. Sometimes we would go to see the New York Yankees play. Just me and Pop. And I can recall falling asleep on his lap. I was five, six, or seven years old on the subway smelling his Old Spice deodorant and his cologne. I was safe because I was with him. It’s as if God says, “Joshua, listen to me. Do you think I’m going to leave you high and dry? Do you believe that? Do you think God has left you? Do you think God wants a mess over you?”

Replaying God’s Faithfulness

I can imagine as soon as God said that to him, the rewind button was playing — “The one who was with Moses with that staff standing before the Red Sea. He’ll be with me. The one who brought about the defeat of Amalek, when Aaron and Hur held up Moses’s arms — he’ll be with me.” Moses had all that stuff going on there in Exodus 32–34, the messed up stuff with the folks. Moses was interceding for them and calling out to God. You talk about a leadership mess and chaos and all this stuff, and yet he watched Moses take his tent outside the city, outside of the camp, pitch his tent there in the tent of meeting. The text says that Joshua was standing right there. He didn’t want to leave because God met him.

God is with you guys. He’s with you. Courage doesn’t mean that I’m not afraid; courage means that if I fear God more than I do my environment, I will always come out courageous. If I tap into divine resources more than I trust the arm of man, I will always be courageous. If I take my shaking heart and mind and weak knees to the cross, and take the tent meeting and meet with him there, he’s with me.

I love what Phillips Brooks says, the great 19th-century, New England preacher. I love this line. He says:

Don’t ask for tasks equal to your powers, but ask for powers equal to your tasks, so that doing the ministry or the work is not the miracle, but you become the miracle and the process of doing the work.

God says, “I am with you.” Courage rests upon the clear assignment from God. It’s stupid, silly, idiotic to talk about courage if you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. Courage is defined by mission. It is to be called up to something. Secondly, courage rests upon the assurance of God’s presence. What you’re called to do is part of your sanctifying process, and there are levels and depths of knowing God that you will not know apart from the assignment that God has given to you. And he wants to prove himself — “Just as I’ve been with Moses, I will be with you.”

Focused Determination

Ah, but number three, courage rests upon focused determination. Some of us are more spiritual than God wants us to be. Let me explain that. It is amazing how we can use nice-sounding spiritual language to camouflage a heart that is disobedient and frightened. It is absolutely amazing. I know a young man who constantly says — in order to sanitize the fact that he does not want to take responsibility and move down the road — “Well, I’ll tell you, pastor, I just don’t want to get ahead of the Lord.” I think, “I didn’t know you could run that fast.” He says, “I don’t want to get sideways with God.”

Well, I know what you mean by that, and it’s terrible to be presumptuous and I don’t mean that you should be impatient. The only thing worse than waiting on the Lord is wishing that you had. I do get that. But sometimes God is just saying, “No, I’m not going to give you a lot of outward confirmation. You’re mature. You know what to do. I don’t need to keep giving you signs. I told you what you were supposed to do. Stop praying and fasting about something that I told you to do. I told you to do that. I called you to do that. No, I’m not going to give you any more emotional affirmation. No, I’m not sending a bunch of people to get in your face and say, ‘Oh, you know, really can do this! I’m with you. Hey, hey, ho, ho, cheerleader. Let’s do it.’ No, you do it.

Listen to what he says here. I don’t want to insult your intelligence. This is so obvious. But I want you to look at Joshua 1:6. Listen to what he says to him. He says:

Be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:6).

Only be strong and very courageous (Joshua 1:7).

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous (John 1:9).

Now, God does not have a speech impediment. So when he repeats himself, I want you to notice that’s in the imperative. Can I say this to you? Be very, very careful of always making decisions based upon your personality profile and your style of influence. God is not held hostage to how you are wired. Now, I’m not into evangelical group-think along these lines, but I want to tell you something. We have so typecast God with all of our processes.

Personality Tests and Divine Responsibility

We tell God, “You have to understand what my DiSC test is. I’m a high D and a high I. I’m an S/C. You know what my style of influence is. And you know I do have a little bit of a timid personality, so I need to surround myself with people who are stronger so that I can lead.”

Now, I’m going to tell you something. I want to balance my steps, here. I believe that we ought to use all these things to help us, but we need to keep them out here. God never dialogues with anybody about how they’re wired before he calls them to do a job. Never. You will not find that in the Bible. In fact, you typically find the opposite. You find people who are in a broken mess, who lack self-confidence, like Moses. Don said it last night. I mean, he is one emotional mess. He has zero self-confidence. How do you like that, Dr. Phil? Zero. He’s trying to get out of this gig. God doesn’t sit down with Joshua and say, “Let’s see, Joshua. What do you like to do? How are you feeling about this now? Talk to me. Share with me. I’m listening.” Do you see how silly that is? That’s how stupid we are. Quit camouflaging doubt and a lack of faith with appropriate psychological babble.

He said to Joshua, “Courage is like a muscle. It only gets stronger when you use it. Leadership is strengthened by acts of obedience.” Fathers of sons, particularly if you have boys between the ages of 11 and 16, it is the most dangerous time in their life. Mama has to step back. Manhood is imprinted. Every 28 days, a woman is powerfully and graphically reminded of who she is. A boy only knows he’s a man when his daddy or significant male role model tells him so, and the desired destination is modeled before him, and it pulls him through impulse behavior.

That’s not apart from this passage. God says, “Here’s the location. Now, when you go over there, they’re not going to have a welcome wagon for you, okay? They’re not going to have Kool-Aid and cookies with a little reception.” They’re not going to say, “Oh, here come the Jews. They’re going to take our land.” You’re going to be shot at.

In the words of Elizabeth Elliott, “Jesus Christ has not called us to a playground; he’s called us to a battlefield.” There’s real warfare. Nimrod McNair, a retired colonel, was a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War. He says all the time, “Crawford, you know you’re flying over the right target when you’re being shot at.” Some of you are running because of opposition and God is saying, “Stop it. Stop it. If you keep running, you’re going to be running for the rest of your life.” I’m at a point now in ministry where I don’t even hire people any longer unless I’ve seen a perseverance ride. The ability to endure deepens your resolve, and that’s the stuff to lead.

God is saying, “You act courageously and you’re going to get more courage. I’m with you, but I only will strengthen you when you raise the leg and put it down. I’m going to lead you, but I’m only going to lead you when you tell those people to line up and say, ‘Here we go.’ I’m going to bless you, but I’m only going to bless you when you take action on what I’ve called you to do. You can’t steer a parked car. I told you to be courageous.”

Let God Define Your Calling

Guys, where are you? I hope this doesn’t come across as scolding, but listen to me, I’m a little bit too old to do recreational preaching. I really mean it. I’m telling you. I look at my flock. If I would listen to people, I wouldn’t be at our church. Our church is 95 percent white in the south. If I would’ve done the demographic thing and a little profile and had our little church consultants coming along, they would say, “Look, well, according to the principles of homogeneity, you shouldn’t be doing this and dynamics and this kind of thing.” But I listened to what my daddy taught me. He said, “If you believe God wants you to do it, boy, you go for it. And you don’t let people define your reality.” My heart just aches because although there are more people in our churches, there is this incredible lack of biblical leadership because we’re flat out scared. Do it, guys. Do it.

Now, this is an emotional meeting. I just would love to have seen a picture of this. I don’t know how this happened. The text doesn’t say it. I don’t know where it was, but can you imagine God getting in your grill? So Joshua, here’s the assignment, okay? This is what you’re courageous for. Leadership is always in the verb position. Get up, get over there, and get it. Leadership is not a plaque on your office saying, “I’m the leader. I’m the senior pastor.” No, leadership is in the verb position. Go do it. Secondly, God says, “I am with you. There’s no distance between my calling and my heart. Just as I was with Moses, I’m with you, Joshua. I’m not going to do it for you. I will do it for you, but I’m not going to do it for you. You’re going to have to do something and I will do something. The wind will only blow when you put up the sail.”

Anchored by the Word of God

Then he says, “Now, wait a minute. Before you go anywhere, I want to drop this puppy on you.” You know this. I’m talking to preachers here. You have a better message on this text than I do. But the only place in the Bible where success is definitively described is in Joshua 1:7–8. Listen to what God says to Joshua. Courage rest upon a clear assignment from God, the assurance of his presence, focused determination, and then number four: Courage is anchored by the word of God.

God is saying, “Wait, wait, wait. Joshua, don’t get cute on me, buddy. Don’t you dare leave here until you do this.” And by the way, I’ve heard some preachers misquote this verse. The verse says:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it (Joshua 1:8).

Now, notice the pronoun. Please notice the pronoun. He does not say, “Then I will make your way prosperous.” No, he says, “Then you will make your way prosperous and you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8). In other words, he says, “Wait a minute. Here’s the trump card, buddy. Success or failure of a mission is tied to your relationship to truth.” And he says that there are three primary relationships right in the verse. First, this Book of the Law shall not depart out of your mouth. Proclaim it, proclaim it, proclaim it. God is saying, “When these 2.5 million Israelites need direction and insight, Joshua, you can’t be giving them the most modern or sensational vision or view on leadership of people in the wilderness.” Proclaim truth.

The amount of biblical illiteracy in evangelical circles is appalling. Some of us have allowed our little approaches to ministry to trump the truth that ministry should be built upon. We insult people by saying, “Well, you know, just don’t give them too much Bible when you come to preach and teach because they can’t handle that.” How dare you think that you have the right to edit what God says in this Book. How dare you. Pragmatism is taking the supernatural right out of our ministry. In our culture, the body of Christ needs a word from God. That’s what he was saying to Joshua. He was saying, “Joshua, you can C minus leadership ability. In fact, you can have D minus leadership ability, but you need to honor my word, preach it, and proclaim it.” I want to encourage every pastor here. Listen to me. You protect like crazy your time alone in that Book. Make it inviolate. Don’t let it be hijacked by anything.

Your people deserve the very best every Sunday morning. They deserve to hear from God. They deserve disciplined study. They deserve a word from heaven for their souls because they can’t make it on stories. They can’t make it on illustrations. They can’t make it on insights. He says, “Joshua, what’s up buddy? Proclaim it.”

Meditating on the Word

But then he says, you shall meditate therein day and night. Same Hebrew word using Psalm 1. It’s translated in different ways, but it’s a word which can be translated “a dull sound.” It’s a wonderful word. I’d like to think what he’s really saying here is that you proclaim it, but then he’s backing up and he’s saying, “Okay, the reason why you can’t proclaim it is because you possess it. You possess it.” It is the background noise of your life.

I teach preaching at Trinity Seminary, and one of the things I warn my students about how some things sound good, but they don’t work practically. One of these things that you have to be careful of is this whole idea of studying devotionally. You have to be careful of that. And the reason for that is this. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t, but you have to be careful. Usually, when most of us are preparing for a message, we have an audience in mind. There is a product that we’re moving toward. It’s not that it’s not a part of our hearts. That’s not true, but if you have a personality like mine, I’m thinking, “Okay, how can I communicate this?” Whatever your approach to study is, you’re thinking about delivering that word for that group on that day.

When you do it for 10, 15, 20, or 30 years, you can have a little bit of a distance between your head and your heart. I want to encourage you that apart from delivering the goods, devotionally master the word of God for your souls. Immerse yourself in the Book. Know it, love it, let it fill you, and let it be the background music of your life. When the test and trials come, all you have to do is just turn up the volume. It’s already there. It’s already there. And that’s what God was saying to Joshua. He’s saying, “Joshua, go sit down. The strategic plan group, put them over here for a while. Get this stuff in your system.”

God’s leaders always lead from the word. Do you hear me? Always lead from the Book. This Book of the Law should not depart out of your mouth. Proclaim it. You shall meditate therein day and night. Possess it.

Performing God’s Commands

And then he says, “That you might do all that is written therein.” Expanding on that, he says in Joshua 1:7:

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.

Guys, hypocrisy in ministry is an occupational hazard. It is the primary tool that the enemy uses in our lives. It is so terribly easy to become disingenuous and shorthand in ministry. The problem with any public gifting is that you learn how to say certain things to project certain realities. In this audience, there are a number of you who are struggling with pornography and hidden sin. Percentage-wise, some of you are in affairs right now. I just want to be straight with you. With an audience this size, some of you are guilty of plagiarism. You’ve gotten busy and you’ve gone online and you’ve hijacked messages. You’ve cleaned them up, dropped in a few of your illustrations, and you’ve acted as if you did the original study. Some of you have awful marriages. Some of you have neglected your relationship with your families.

The problem with this industry phase of evangelicalism that we’re living in today is that if you can do it and pull it off, nobody is going to ask you any questions. You bring in the nickels and noses, and you can say, “Hey, look, everything is cool with me.” People say, “Of course, God’s hand is on him. Boy, did you hear him preach.” But there’s not necessarily a relationship between giftedness and holiness. There is a dynamic relationship between holiness and giftedness in the sense that over time the smile in favor of God will rest and reside on you. Look guys, I want to ask you, what trade-offs are you making? How’s your soul? Are you doing this stuff?

Biblical leadership says that we aspire to be the destination at which others arrive. Follow me as I follow Christ, and that’s what God was telling Joshua. The integrity of your ministry is everything, so you have to practice the truth that you are proclaiming. You have to be the destination at which others arrive. This text is so important to me.

These are the first words that my children heard me speak when they were born. Our oldest son, Brian, pastors a church Memphis. He was born on my birthday, February 11th, 1973. I held him in my arms, and I said, “This book of the law should not part out of your mouth.” I did it with Heather and Brendan and Holly, and now I’ve done it with my five grandchildren. I say, “Quentin, this Book of the Law. shall not depart from your mouth.” Guys, we have to do that with ourselves.

serves as senior pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, Georgia.