Happy New Year to all our readers! It has become traditional in this blog to start the year with an appeal to join us in prayer for world mission, but this year we’d like to do something different – we’re going to invade the Promised Land!
Not in a literal sense, but we’re going to start the year with some meditations in the book of Joshua, with a view to motivating us for world mission and bringing more people into the Kingdom of God.
So when the time comes for the Israelites to cross over the river Jordan after 40 years in the wilderness (and many of us mission workers can identify with that experience!), the Israelites do a number of things very differently from the way we might, and these can be a model for fruitful mission.
First they sent out some spies – and I’ve never been quite sure why they did this since 40 years earlier they’d done this and it hadn’t worked out well. But it is analogous for us to a vision trip, pre-departure research and training. In other words, know where you’re going. Don’t just jump in blindly and assume you’ll find your feet. Careful preparation helps minimise the risk of culture shock, committing cultural offences, and disorganisation which can end a mission almost before it’s started.
The next thing that they did was to consecrate themselves (Joshua 3:5). This is a technical term for making oneself ritually pure, an activity that in those days involved ritual baptism and clean clothing. The whole point was to be made clean before God – not the sort of behaviour one would expect before an invasion! We have lost much of this concept of ritual purity in the west but the purpose is so that one can be fully right with God before claiming God’s assistance in our enterprises. As we start out on a new year of mission, how are we consecrating ourselves to God?
And then they sent the priests ahead of them. They carry the holy chest which signified the presence of God with them, and all the people follow it. During the wilderness years this chest had become a totem which brought the Israelites success in battle, but the significance for us is paramount – the people follow where God is going, a lesson they had learned in the wilderness when they were led by a pillar of fire and smoke. For me, the key lesson from this for us is that so often we get on with something and ask God to bless it, rather than seeing what God is doing and asking if we can join in. How can we follow God more closely in the coming year?