Marching Orders

Marching Orders


Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: God calls us to fulfill his highest purposes by faith.

Goal: Identify and embrace God’s highest calling for your life.

Oswald Chambers lived one of the most extraordinary Christian pilgrimages of the 20th century. A native of Scotland, his ministry of preaching and teaching took him to the United States and Japan. He founded a Bible Training College in London, then served as chaplain to British troops in Egypt during World War I. His death at age 43 was a tragedy to the troops he served and the family he loved. But his ministry has touched millions of souls he had no opportunity to know, myself included.

Oswald’s wife Biddy made his life motto the title of the devotional book she created from his various sermons and talks: “My Utmost For His Highest.” I’ve been reading daily from this guide for twelve years now, and have found it to be the most essential book in my spiritual life next to Scripture. Its title motivates me constantly: find and give my “utmost” gifts and service to God’s “highest” purpose for my life and work.

What is your “utmost”? What is its “highest” purpose in the will of God? How can you help your class find and fulfill God’s greatest plan for their lives? These were the issues facing Joshua as our text unfolds. The answers given to Joshua are precisely God’s guidance for us this week.

Listen for the call of God (vs. 1-5)

Alexander the Great led his armies by the strength of his single focus and indomitable will. After his death, his generals met to plan their future. To their dismay, they discovered that they had marched off their maps. They were in an unknown location, facing an unknown future. They were not the first, or the last.

Listen in the hard places

So it was for Israel as the book of Joshua opened. Moses had died. This was easily the most traumatic event in the young life of the nation of Israel. He had been the “servant of the Lord” (v. 1), an exalted title given only to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Caleb to this point in Jewish history (Joshua would be added to the list at the end of his life and work; cf. 24:29). Now their mentor, guide, and hero was gone, and the future was uncertain at best.

The book of Joshua connects its narrative directly to this crisis. Its first word, translated “After” in the NIV, is “and” in the Hebrew. The narrative continues directly from the end of Deuteronomy and the death of Moses. Perhaps the thirty days of mourning for Moses had now ended (Deut 34:8). But the crisis facing the nation had not.

God often calls us to his highest purposes in the midst of personal and corporate crisis. Isaiah heard the word of the Lord “in the year that King Uzziah died” (Isaiah 6:1), as the prophet mourned the death of his king and relative. God began to use Elisha immediately after his mentor Elijah had been assumed to heaven (2 Kings 2:19ff).

It has been calculated that the typical adult faces six crises in his or her life. Not just the routine problems of daily living, but major issues such as death, divorce, and serious disease. If a person graduates from adolescence without trusting personally in Christ, he or she is typically open to the gospel only during such times of crises. It is then that Christians who have built relationship with the person can show God’s love in theirs.

It is also in such periods of crisis that we can hear the Lord most clearly. He speaks far more than we are willing to stop and listen. But when we know that we need his word and help, that we have come to the end of our own wisdom, we will listen for his voice with desperation and faith. And we will always hear him speak. So, whatever your circumstances may be, ask God to use them to bring his word to your heart. And he will.

Expect God to speak to you

In the immediate context of Moses’ death, “the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide….” (v. 1b). Theologian and apologist Francis Schaeffer was right: he is there and he is not silent. God speaks far more than we hear his voice. Just as the room where you are reading these words is filled with radio and television waves you are not hearing, so the Spirit is speaking constantly to his people. But we must “tune in” to his frequency.

God spoke the universe into being. He spoke to and through the prophets, so that their most common refrain was “Thus says the Lord….” Jesus spoke constantly to the disciples and the crowds during his incarnational ministry. His Spirit spoke to those he inspired to record the rest of his written revelation. He speaks now through this word to and through preachers and teachers of his truth. He speaks when we are willing to hear him in silent prayer. He speaks to us through the words and music we use in worship. All truth is his truth, so that every word we hear or read which contains truth comes ultimately from him.

Joyce Huggett has written a marvelous book titled The Joy of Listening to God. She’s right—whenever we are still enough to hear God’s Spirit speak to us, the result is joy. Whenever we are yielded to the truth of Scripture, to the words of a sermon or Bible study, to the truth contained in a worship song, to the truth of God revealed through human agents and means, there is joy.

So it was for Joshua, even in the crisis of the moment. So it will be for you. But you must expect God to speak to you, if only you will listen. You must tune the frequency of your spirit to his voice.

Seek his will for the now