Today’s Old Testament lesson (Joshua 3:14 – 4:7) isn’t one of the Bible’s best-known stories, but it offers a lesson that both encourages and challenges me. After 4o years of wandering in the wilderness, it’s finally time for God’s people to enter the Promised Land. Behind them lies the bondage of Egypt, the liberation of the Exodus, and the repeated demonstration of God’s grace and faithfulness. Ahead of them lies the hope of a new land that flows with milk and honey and a new relationship with the God who will bless them so that they can be a blessing. But first, they have to cross the Jordan River.
There’s one problem, however. As our scripture lesson reveals, “the Jordan is at flood stage all during the harvest” (3:15). How are the people going to get across? Of course, the LORD has parted the waters before, so there’s reason to trust that this obstacle, too, will be overcome. But here’s the wrinkle: “as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the LORD—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan (emphasis added), its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap” (3:13). The waters will be parted, but the people will have to trust the LORD enough to step into them first.
If I’m honest, that’s not the way that I’d like things to work. I’d like to see clear evidence that everything is going to work out before I move forward. But if that’s the way things worked, the journey wouldn’t require faith, would it? In fact, one article that I read this week puts it like this: “The reason that we seem to lack faith in our time is that we are not doing anything that requires it.”
What are some of the ways in which God is calling us to step out — to “put our best faith forward” — so that He can lead us through our challenges and into promise? What are the difficult conversations we need to have? Who are the spiritually-seeking friends with whom we need to share our faith? What “challenging rapids” of compassion and ministry and service is God just waiting for us to step into so that He can part the waters?
In the second half of this lesson, God tells His people to take stones from the Jordan River before the waters return to their normal flow. These stones are to become a memorial to this decisive moment in which the Lord promised, His people trusted, and He made good on His word. What “memorials” do we look back on to remind us of God’s faithfulness? And what “new memorials” will we create today as we continue to “put our best faith forward”?