Our Utmost for His Highest
James C. Denison
A young nun who worked for a local home health care agency was out making her rounds when she ran out of gas. Fortunately, there was a gas station just a block away. She walked to the station, only to learn that their one gas can had been loaned out. So she returned to her car to look for something she could fill with gas, and spotted a bedpan she was taking to the patient.
The resourceful nun carried it to the station, filled it with gas, and carried it to her car. As she was pouring the gas into the tank, two men watched her from across the street. One of them turned to the other and said, “I know that the Lord turned water into wine, but if that car starts, I’m going to church every Sunday for the rest of my life.”
We’re beginning 2007 by learning to follow the God who still works miracles today, if only we’ll have courage enough to conquer the promised land he intends for us this year.
The key to God’s purpose and power is captured best by the title of Oswald Chambers’ classic devotional, My Utmost For His Highest. I’ve been reading from it each day for 15 years, 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 your “highest” purpose in the will of God? What is the greatest dream you can envision for this new year? Some of us would rather avoid the question. We’ve settled comfortably in the Land of Good Enough where we’re safe and secure. We know life could be more, that God has higher plans for us, but we also know that we are fallen and failed people, that we’re not sufficient for more than this. We’re exactly where some of Joshua’s people were, camped safely on the eastern side of the Jordan River, wondering whether they should risk the Promised Land.
Others of us are ready to charge into battle. The problem is, we’re not sure where to go, or if we are sufficient to defeat the flooded rivers and fortified citadels ahead. There are giants in the land, and they’re waiting to kill us. If we march to war in our strength, we won’t survive the contest. The good news is that there’s a third option. There’s a promised land which is God’s intention for your life in this new year. Let’s learn how to find it and claim it today.
Seek the purpose of God
Moses has died. This is Joshua’s chance at greatness. He had led the people to their first military victory 40 years earlier (Exodus 17:8-16). He had been Moses’ “assistant” (v. 1) for these four decades, his right-hand man on Mt Sinai when he received the Ten Commandments (Exodus 24:9-13) and in the tabernacle when he met face to face with God (Exodus 33:7-11).
Only he and Caleb had urged the people to take the land 40 years earlier. He was the one person in perfect position to seize Moses’ mantle and carry it forward. If anyone could lead the nation out of his own preparation, experience, and pedigree, it was Joshua. If anyone could defeat the giants in the land, it was him.
You and I face the same temptation today. What giants are living in the land before you this year?
We worry about the insurgency and civil war in Iraq, terrorism around the world, and economic uncertainties. One investment analyst I read this week thinks there’s a 50-50 chance of a recession in 2007, though others are more optimistic. No one knows if the housing market will improve, or how things will go in Washington under Democratic control for the first time in 12 years with a Republican in the White House.
Closer to home, if I were reading the newspaper of your mind today, what headlines would I find? What giants are stalking your land? What flooded rivers are you afraid to cross? What fortified citadels are you afraid to attack?
Isn’t it a temptation to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and charge ahead? That’s our cultural mantra: you can do it. The entrepreneurial spirit reigns here. From childhood we learn to be self-starting and self-reliant. We can defeat our giants if we just fight hard enough.
That’s what’s gotten us where we are. That’s the spirit which has led us to this place on the journey. But it can take us no further. God’s will requires God’s help. His plans for our lives require his power. You and I will never know the abundant, joy-filled promised land of God if we are trying to get there in our strength. If you’re trying to get to Hawaii, you’d best not swim. If you need life-saving surgery, you’d best not treat yourself. If your house is burning down, you’d best call the fire department.
If Joshua had yielded to our temptations to self-reliance, the Bible would have ended at Deuteronomy. He and the people would have drowned in the flooded Jordan River or been massacred at Jericho. The few who survived would have retreated back across the river to safety, where they would have been assimilated into the ancient Canaanite world. Instead, by God’s grace he trusted in God’s grace. And God gave him all he would need. He still does the same for his people today.
Trust the plan of God
God gives the “who”: “You and all these people” (v. 2a). Not just the leaders, or the army, or the priests–the entire nation was part of God’s purpose and call. He has a specific purpose for you and those you love and influence.
God gives the “where”: “proceed to cross the Jordan.” The Jordan is typically only 80 to 100 feet wide, and not deep. I baptized a large group there, and had no difficulty wading out into the middle of the slow-moving current. But when the spring rains come, the river can flood its larger bed. Where Joshua and his people would be crossing, the river would be more than a mile wide and a raging torrent.