Regardless of whether or not we’re making formal New Year’s Resolutions, January 1 tends to be a time where we all look at where we’ve been over the past year, where we are now, and where we want to go. We look at what obstacles we’ve faced and overcome and what we might have to face in the future.
Read Joshua 3.3–5.
It’s pretty easy to relate to the Israelites in this situation. They’re so ready to come out of their time in the wilderness and into the Promised Land. They’re ready to experience God’s absolute best for them. But there’s a huge obstacle in the way—the Jordan River—and they don’t know how to get around it. They feel completely stuck. Many times, we know that we’re not living out God’s best plan for our lives, but we don’t know how to cross over and step into His promise. Even though we’re not facing a tangible river, we’re all stuck in some way or another by whatever our big obstacle—our Jordan River—may be. Maybe we’re stuck in an addiction, whether it’s to drugs or alcohol or even control or an addiction to comfort. Maybe we’re not facing an addiction, but another big obstacle that’s standing in our way.
God’s plan isn’t for us to stay stuck. He wants to deliver us from our obstacles and lead us into what He’s promising us, just like He led the Israelites into the Promised Land. And we can look to what the Israelites did when they had to cross the Jordan to get a good picture of how we can respond to our own obstacles. There are three ways in which the Israelites responded to having to cross the Jordan that we can learn from.
1. Look to God’s presence as a guide.
In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant signified the presence of God. When the Israelites made space for the Ark of the Covenant to go before them as they crossed the Jordan, they were literally putting the presence of God before anything else. They put distance between the Ark and anyone else so that God’s presence was always leading them. This is counterintuitive for a lot of us. We see a problem and want to jump in head-first to solve it. When we do that, we don’t leave any room for God’s presence. When we’re facing a big decision—like buying a house, changing careers, or making a move—we ask God for His guidance and for discernment. But when we face smaller problems throughout our days, we tend to try to solve these on our own. Putting God’s presence first isn’t just some reflex, it’s a choice we need to consciously make. As we begin to do it more and more, it will become a much more natural reaction to obstacles that arise in our lives.
Question: What are some big decisions you made recently where you actively sought God’s presence first? Now think about your decisions this week. What small problems did you jump right into solving on your own? How can you make changes to your thought process to begin always putting God’s presence first?
2. Prepare for God to show up in a big way.
Joshua 3.5 talks about the Israelites consecrating themselves, which is basically a series of activities they did to prepare themselves for a miracle. In other words, they were prepared for God to work miracles and do big things in the face of their obstacle.
If we truly believe that God can show up and perform miracles in our lives, we need to get our own stuff out of the way. This doesn’t mean we need to be perfect before God will deliver us from our obstacles; that would be impossible. But we do need to recognize how much we need God in our lives and be willing to surrender our hearts, plans, and desires over to Him. We need to stop trying to fill up the empty spaces in our lives with anything other than God and His love for us. When we say “no” to these things, we’re saying “yes” to God and preparing our lives for His miracles.
Question: What are some of the hardest things—whether they’re desires or plans or fears—for you to surrender to God? Why do you think it’s so difficult to surrender these things?
3. Participate with God.
At this point, the Israelites have been wandering in the desert for 40 years. They’re tired, they’re probably restless, and they just want to see the Promised Land. And then they come upon this huge obstacle—the Jordan River at its highest and most dangerous level—and God tells them to…walk right through it. A lot of times, we want to do anything but face our obstacles. We want to avoid them, to go around them, or to simply turn around and walk away from them completely. But in order for God to deliver us from them, we need to participate when He calls us to walk right through them.
This is the deal-breaker. If we put God’s presence before us and prepare our hearts for Him to show up without being willing to follow through and directly face our obstacles, we’ll continue to find ourselves stuck over and over again. Participating is so challenging precisely because Satan knows that our participation with God is obedience to His will…and that means Victory in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
Question: What is the biggest obstacle you’re facing right now? What does participating with God look like in response to that obstacle?
We definitely learn a lot about how we can respond to obstacles from this story of Israel crossing the Jordan, but we wouldn’t get the complete picture if we stopped there. We also learn two pretty amazing things about God from this snapshot in history.
Read Joshua 4.24.
1. God wants all people to know Him.
Even though the Israelites were God’s chosen people, He extends His purpose to all people. He wants to deliver all of us. We live in a broken world full of suffering and struggle, but God sees the hard things and wants to deliver us from them while drawing us and others closer to Him.
Question: How have you seen God pull you closer to Him when He’s delivered the people around you? Have you seen God pull others closer to Him when He’s delivered you from your struggles?
2. Nothing can stop God from delivering us.
Just like God was able to cut through the waters of the Jordan River, He is able to cut through absolutely anything to deliver us today. Whether it’s raging rivers, pain, addiction, loss, or something else that seems as impossible, it’s not too big for God. He’ll cut through whatever is in our way in order for us to get to His best for us and His promise to us. He’s already cut through it by sending Jesus to die on a cross for us. When Jesus sacrificed His life for ours, He cut through all of the sin and brokenness that could separate us from God’s promises. He won the victory and gave us a way to take hold of God’s promises.