In Our Ward: Lesson 18: “Be Strong and of Good Courage”
Joshua 1-6; 23-24
Purpose: To encourage each class member to be strong and courageous in living the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Six months into my mission, our mission president completed his three-year mission and was released. Everybody loved President B. – he was a friendly, outgoing man who treated his missionaries like his own children; his young family had practically grown up in the mission field and were the little brothers and sisters of us all. Sister B. had taken a special interest in us sisters, organizing a yearly conference where we could gather together and discuss the peculiar problems and blessings of being sister missionaries in a world of elders.
The new president was largely unknown. He had served for one year as president of a nearby mission; that mission was being dissolved, and we were inheriting both the president and a large chunk of new mission territory. He and his wife were much older than our previous president and brought no children with them.
The week of their arrival was a busy one. Sister B. had us clean everything – and I mean everything – in the mission home to welcome our new mission president’s wife. Whenever we had a few minutes between office assignments, we were supposed to report to command headquarters, take an assignment from the job board, and do whatever bit of cleaning we were assigned before we went on to our next office task. That’s how I came to be on my hands and knees in a European capital, using a Q-tip to clean out any grease or dust that had dared take up residence in the electrical outlets of the mission kitchen. But we loved our president and his family, so no assignment was too ridiculous.
Our new president and his wife arrived in the afternoon, bringing with them four elders from their old office staff. In between carrying luggage and doing our normal work and doing last minute cleaning chores for Sister B., we didn’t really have a chance to say hello to anybody until after dinner. Then four of us from “our” mission and four of the elders from “their” mission gathered in the courtyard between buildings to size each other up.
I’m not sure two rival gangs could have had a more suspicious meeting. We stood shoulder to shoulder with “our” teams, staring down the other side. Body language showed how closed we were: All eight of us stood with our arms folded; some of us managed to stand with our ankles crossed, even, as we sized each other up. I’d like to think we warmed up to each other that evening as we discussed the work on both sides of the old mission border, but I’m not sure we really did.
What do you suppose it was like for that new mission president to assume his new responsibilities to lead that mission?
What times in your life can you think of that might be comparable: [In addition to promotions and new assignments at work or church where class members take over from a successful predecessor, solicit personal transitions such as a widow needing to carry on without the supported she had expected from her husband, adult children who have lost parents so they can’t go back to them for counsel, even changes in physical and economic conditions that mean adjusting to a life of new challenges.]
The challenges of each of these circumstances come largely because conditions are new, and we don’t know what to expect or how we’ll face what lies ahead. But while individual circumstances may be new, individual human beings have always had to adjust to some new circumstance. There is a pattern to handling these circumstances, and the Lord has spelled it out time and time again in the scriptures.
Today we’re going to be talking about the challenges faced by one leader who took over for a beloved, successful predecessor. Beyond the facts of his story, though, let’s try to identify the Lord’s patterns that can help us face whatever trials we each may have.
1. The Lord calls Joshua
Moses had led the children of Israel for 40 years before the Lord called him home, just as the Israelites were poised to enter their promised land. Why would it have been difficult for anyone called to lead the Israelites at this point?
The Lord knew the task would be enormous when he called Joshua to take over the leadership from Moses. Let’s read what the Lord said to Joshua when he gave the call:
The Lord told Joshua what he would do: “I will be with thee; I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” But Joshua’s part was just as important – so important that the Lord repeated it three times. What did he say? (“Be strong and be of good courage.”)
Why in Joshua’s case were strength and courage so necessary?
Few of us are going to be invading foreign lands and waging war with armed enemies – in what way are strength and courage necessary for our less physical struggles?
The Lord tells Joshua to “be” strong and courageous, as if he had a choice, as if the strength and courage were up to him rather than a gift from God. How do you feel about that? How can you find strength and courage when you’re afraid and unsure about the challenges that you face?
One way to take that strength and courage is to remember covenants and keep them. This is illustrated in part by the next verses of Joshua 1: As the Israelites had approached the promised land, before they reached the River Jordan, some of the tribes decided that they liked the land they were traveling through, and they asked Moses to assign that region to them as their inheritance. Moses agreed to that, but he made those tribes swear that when the Israelites crossed Jordan and had to fight to obtain the land for the other tribes, these first tribes would not stay comfortably at home but would lead the battle to save their brethren. Let’s read
What covenants have you made with the Lord or with anyone else that will give you strength and courage when you live up to them?
2. The Israelites cross the Jordan River on dry ground.
After sending spies into the promised land and the time had come for the Israelites to make their move. The people were told to keep their eye on the ark of the covenant; when it moved, they would, too.
What symbolic value might there have been to having the ark of the covenant go ahead of the Israelites? Thinking of some of the challenges we have mentioned this morning, what might be our equivalent of the ark of the covenant going before us as we head into little-known territory?
In the verses we’ve just read, what did the priests carrying the ark have to do in order to stoop the river? Take just one step! As soon as the soles of their feet were wet, the river would halt. But the river was at flood stage, the scripture says – how easy could it have been to take that very first step?
Can you think of times in your life when taking that first step – entirely by faith – was the hardest thing that you could have done? What happened when you did take that step?
Elder Boyd K. Packer said:
Shortly after I was called as a General Authority, I went to Elder Harold B. Lee for counsel. He listened very carefully to my problem and suggested that I see President David O. McKay. President McKay counseled me as to the direction I should go. I was very willing to be obedient but saw no way possible for me to do as he counseled me to do.
I returned to Elder Lee and told him that I saw no way to move in the direction I was counseled to go. He said, ‘The trouble with you is you want to see the end from the beginning.’ I replied that I would like to see at least a step or two ahead. Then came the lesson of a lifetime: ‘You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you’ (“The Edge of the Light,” BYU Today, Mar. 1991, 22–23).
What hymn does that remind you of? (If time permits, tell story of Jay Hess and his spoon lamp as a POW.)
Before they entered the Jordan, Joshua had given instructions to one man of each tribe to pick up a stone as they crossed and carry it to the other side. Let’s read what they did with those stones, in
Why did Joshua have the people build this memorial? Have you built memorials in your own life to remember times when the Lord has brought you through the flood? Tell us about some of those. How do those past memorials help you face new challenges?
I think it may be significant that the Lord and Joshua had that memorial built at the time the miracle occurred – not years later at, say, a centennial celebration. Why might it be important for us to stop in the midst of our challenges and acknowledge the Lord at that moment?
3. Joshua and his people covenant to serve the Lord.
And so the Israelites passed over Jordan and began the conquest of the promised land. The entire book of Joshua tells about their battles and the way they established themselves in the land which God had promised to the descendants of Abraham. Sometimes it’s a noble story – when the Israelites obey the Lord, they prosper. Sometimes it’s a whole lot less noble – even while they go through the motions of obeying God, the Israelites sometimes choose to follow their own will and disobey God, and they inevitably suffer the consequences.
Joshua grew old and he called the people together to give them counsel one last time. As we read his counsel, notice how often Joshua returns to the themes we have discussed from the beginning of his ministry: be strong and of good courage; honor and obey the Lord now, today, and not just at some future time when you’re reviewing your life. Think as we read how this counsel can help you face your own challenges.