Any group of people or a set of machines that have to work together is what would be called a system. In any given system, each part/member has its function to complete for the system to operate appropriately. I could quickly go to Paul’s encouragement in First Corinthians twelve, where Paul speaks of the body of Christ. But in the lesson for today, I am not focused on our functions in the system, rather the relationship with one another in the system. My dad is an electrical engineer and is working on one final project before he puts his tools away. The project is a multimillion-dollar investment that this particular company is making where they purchased seven robotic machines. My dad’s job is to wire the machines together so they all operate with one another to accomplish one outcome. Each machine has its own task, but at the same time, each machine must operate perfectly with the one next to it. Between each of these machines are hundreds of wires creating a perfectly designed relationship that if all the machines are working well with one another, success is found at the end of the assembly line. Putting aside the matter of function, I want us to consider relationships.
Change is tough! System change is not any easier. A system is a set of things or people who work together; they are interconnected. Examples are machines, families, businesses, governments, congregations, etc. System change is when change occurs in the system. However, systems like consistency; systems like things to simply operate as normal. Change in these systems can bring stress; relationships often need to reshape; structures redefined; new things, old things, different things. The system stresses out. Yet this stress does not have to cripple the system if handled appropriately.
This type of change is not foreign to any of us. We have seen it in many areas through each of our lives. We all probably have our victory stories—we also probably have our horror stories where the stress seemed to overcome. As a younger man, I was told many times, “Brian, the only thing consistent is change.” Only time would prove that statement over and over again. I am hoping as we walk through a few passages in Scripture that we will be given some tools to better equip us to travail through times of change.
The story in Scripture that will offer some help to us is the time when Israel was also facing a lot of change. The context of the passage below is when Israel had just spent the past forty years wandering through the wilderness. Needless to say, they are ready for a change; nonetheless, change is hardly ever easy. Moses, who was aged and about to die, was preparing to hand the leadership role over to Joshua. Joshua was being tasked with the seemingly impossible mission to lead the children of Israel into the promised land. However, on the other side of the Jordan River was not only the large clusters of grapes and flowing milk and honey, but also the walls of Jericho—and those giants. This story is about system change 101.
Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: “I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan.’ The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the Lord said. And the Lord will do to them what he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, whom he destroyed along with their land. The Lord will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deut 31:1–8)
During this time of change, Moses called the people near and made his address. They had all been there before; they were at the borders ready to cross thirty-eight years prior. Moses did not want to repeat that part of history; things had to be different this time. Moses urged them to remember what God had been doing for them in recent years. Moses knew that they were scared, but with that, he uttered the words that would frame their success—Be strong and courageous.
After finished speaking to the people, Moses called Joshua before him in the presence of the whole camp. This was no small task that Moses was handing off to Joshua. Furthermore, history had proved that Israel was not exactly an easy-to-lead type of people. When I read the text, I noticed Moses say, “for you must go with this people.” I wonder if there was any emphasis on this people. We know that Moses continually struggled during his years of leadership. Joshua, you are going to need to be strong and courageous.
After the death of Moses, the Lord came to Joshua and encouraged him with the following words:
No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Josh 1:5–9)
I suspect these words were a treasure in the hearing of Joshua. Sometime before, he was given the encouragement by Moses as we read in the text from Deuteronomy, however, that time had come. There was no more talk about a coming day when he would lead; that day was now. Joshua was in charge with a whole nation looking at him for direction. God knew this. Furthermore, I suspect God knew that Joshua needed a gentle reminder to be strong and courageous. Yet the encouragement did not end there:
So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’”
Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!” (Josh 1:10–11, 16–18)
The scene concluded with Joshua having the people stand before him. I expected to see Joshua encourage the people as Moses did, but before he got the chance, the people encourage him; Joshua, be strong and courageous. Perhaps they were doing some self-reflecting and realized that their parents had run Moses ragged. Maybe they were wanting to give Joshua hope that it would be different. I suspect the people were a little fearful, but they wanted to be strong. They needed their leader to be strong and lead the way; Joshua, we need you. We need you to be strong and courageous.
I want to look at the role of relationship dynamics in the previous passages. There was a lot of encouraging going on from all different directions. It was a time of change and uncertainty. It was a time of joy, but also fear, faith and doubt all mixed in one. But things were going to be different this time. Systems endure more and have greater success when all parts work together and complement one another. We saw the same relationship dynamics during the changes experienced in the early church. Paul’s writings are overflowing with the instruction for the Christians to encourage one another, stand together in humility and love, and to speak to one another in psalms and hymns to build one another up (Rom 12:1–2, 9–16; 15:2–3; Eph 5:15–19; Phil 2:1–5; Col 3:15–17; 1 Thess 5:11). And of course, we have the instruction from the writer of Hebrews, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Heb 10:24–25).
It is evident to me that encouragement and edification was paramount in the early church. Perhaps it was the only way they were going to survive—standing together. It also seems clear at the pivotal point of Israel getting a new leader and entering the Canaan land after forty years that they understood they had to do it together holding one another up in encouragement. Change is inevitable. But sometimes change is not easy. What history has proven is that we can do it together. My exhortation is not so much to be strong and courageous, but to seek those in your system, in your circle, and encourage them to be strong and courageous. I believe success is found within these relationships—Be strong—Be courageous.