Be Strong and Courageous

May 24, 2017

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31.7-8

Change is hard.

I know from personal experience. In early 2014, I said goodbye to family and friends and moved around the world to serve in a church in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Food, language, housing, friends, culture, weather, work—everything changed with a one-way plane ticket.

Even though I believed I was following a call from God, the changes weren’t easy. Some days the stressors were almost too much, and I struggled to cope. In my first few months, I ate Oreos for dinner—yes, just Oreos—more often than I care to admit. On the really tough days, I dipped them in frosting. I’m three years in now, and I’m still adjusting. Changes keep coming, and just a few nights ago, I found myself with Oreos in one hand and a can of frosting in the other.

The changes I experienced in 2014 are maybe a bit extreme, but we don’t have to move around the world to know that change is hard. Graduation season is upon us; summer weddings are coming soon; jobs change; friends move; loved ones pass away. Change is constant.

Even with just a hint of change, our anxiety rises. Rumors of change can cause sleepless nights as we lie there pondering all the​ “What if’s” that our little minds can muster.

Indeed, change is hard, so “Be strong and courageous.” We need those words. God knows that, so God gave them to us several times in Scripture. We need to hear these words because the road is often difficult and scary. Change requires strength and courage.

Moses’ words to Joshua and Israel in Deuteronomy 31 are more than a pep talk. They are more than a basketball coach huddling up his players and pumping them up before a big game. Moses is not a motivational speaker telling Israelites to dig deep into themselves to find their inner strength and courage.

Moses is a preacher, and he’s preaching his final sermon. At 120 years old, his time as a leader is ending. He knows he will die soon, and maybe it’s this impending reality that adds a sharpness and clarity to his words. He has looked back on his entire life and the life of the people of Israel, and he knows that they—that we—have real reason to be strong and courageous.

Because God will be there. Every single time. In every place. Familiar. Foreign. God will always be there. Never, ever, ever would God leave or forsake his people.

Though everything else changes, God will not change. God will keep showing up. In fact, God will go before, not after, his people. God doesn’t trail behind; God makes the way.

Even if the road is difficult and scary, God has proven again and again that he is even more committed to the mission of his people than his people are. If anyone is going to falter, it most certainly won’t be God.

For us, our faith is often stronger in hindsight. When we see how the broken pieces fit together, when morning dawns on our dark nights, when our roller coaster comes to a stop—maybe then we see how God was at work through all of those changes. However, we don’t need to wait for the resolution to know that God is right there in the midst of it. God has promised to be there, so be strong and courageous. You are not alone.

The road is not easy. For me, I suppose I will probably keep on eating Oreos on the hard days. Somehow the chocolate helps. At the same time though, I know I have a much better companion than a sugar rush. God has promised, and he is right there with me.

Be strong and courageous…The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

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