Pursuing God in Seasons of Change
Life is composed of seasons, with the shift between seasons – whether the shedding of leaves between summer and fall, or the explosion of colors between winter and spring – marked by changes and transitions in our lives. Last semester, I experienced one of these transitions of my own when I left home to travel halfway across the globe for college. As I sat alone through my 24-hour flight, straitjacketed by a paralyzing sense of uncertainty and doubt over my future, I remember God leading me to turn to the book of Joshua. As it turned out, it was a strikingly appropriate text for this shift of seasons in my life, simply because this book, too, is a story of major transitions and new beginnings for a group of people who loved God.
For forty years, the Israelites had been on an arduous, aimless journey of wandering in the wilderness. 1 Waking up, trekking for long stretches across endless sand dunes, never quite seeing the landscape change, pitching camp for the night, repeating this daily routine for four decades – this was probably all they ever knew of life. But now, God was finally telling the new generation of Israelites that their old life was over. That they were to get up and go to a land flowing with milk and honey. That he had a wonderful mission for them to accomplish there. And Joshua was the one chosen to lead the Israelites to cross the Jordan River from the parched desert into the Promised Land.
We’re all, in our own ways, also constantly on new wanderings, new transitions, new beginnings of our own. Summer makes way for the crisp promise of fall; winter parts to let through the warm hope of spring. God calls us into one season, only to call us out of it once he deems it fit to direct us elsewhere. And this “elsewhere” could mean anything (especially now in the light of this new spring semester at Columbia): new academic and career pursuits, new developments within friendships and relationships, new hopes and ambitions. And with this “elsewhere” comes a fresh mission in the larger scheme of God’s plans, a new part of our life story.
With this in mind, I find myself particularly compelled by the way in which Joshua prepared the Israelites to commence this new chapter of their lives. In the final speeches 2 before his death, he made a great effort to gather the Israelites and refocus their devotion and attention upon God. And I believe – even as we cross our respective Jordans to uncharted territories – it’s worth setting aside some time to turn our hearts towards God, in the same way that Joshua and the Israelites did. This can manifest in three practical ways:
1. Remember your God
In one of Joshua’s speeches, he recounts what God had done for the Israelites from the time of Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Moses, right up to present time:
“This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors… lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau… Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I afflicted the Egyptians by what I did there… Then you lived in the wilderness for a long time. I brought you to the land of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan. They fought against you, but I gave them into your hands… Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands. You did not do it with your own sword and bow.” 3
By tracing a constant arc of divine intervention throughout time, Joshua and the Israelites were able to discern an evident pattern of God’s faithfulness in the past. Then, recognizing that God’s promises had never failed gave them the courage to forge on ahead into the unknown future. If we took time to recall, reflect and chew over the events of our lives, we would see God’s hand at work right from day one. What greater encouragement than to remember that the God, who’s been faithful to us all these years, will continue to be faithful? As Joshua said: “… You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.” 4 Not one has failed. This is surely something worth remembering.
2. Choose your God
Nearing the end of his life, Joshua presented a proposition to all the tribes of Israel: “… if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” 5 It’s significant how his decision to follow God is presented as a conscious choice, not just something that casually happens to people along the way. Sometimes in modern-day Christianity, the decision to serve is often misrepresented: we love emphasizing that coming to Christ is easy, that grace is free (which, surely, is true) – but we often neglect to mention that there is also a difficult choice to make, that comes at a cost. This cost is alluded to by Joshua: “… do not invoke the names of [other nations’] gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. But you are to hold fast to the LORD your God, as you have until now.” 6 If we choose God, we lay down all other gods to follow him – our gods of self, of ease, of others’ approval, of hedonism, of pride, of anything other than Himself. At the end of the day, it is one or the other.
Joshua made the Israelites declare their choice from the outset of their transition to the Promised Land. He knew that without a binding declaration to remind themselves of their covenant, the Israelites would eventually forget God. They would fall away as foreign gods were subtly introduced one by one, as pagan influences gradually crept in, as questionable choices were rationalized and justified. But, by making a conscious choice, the Israelites had a memorial stone, a spiritual marker that they could always return to someday. On the plane to New York, I knew that I too needed a spiritual marker. I told God that I was choosing to serve him and that if the day should ever arrive when I feel like worshiping my GPA or career ambitions or relationships or anything else, I hope to remember what I have chosen: “… for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” 7
3. Commit to your God
Commitment in the Bible comes often in groups of three. On various occasions, the same question is asked three times in a row, to challenge one’s genuine commitment to their answers.
Prior to the crucifixion, Peter was questioned three times about his relationship with Jesus – he persisted in denying Jesus all three times. Then, after the resurrection, Jesus asked Peter three times: “Do you love me more than these?” 8 All three times, Peter answered, “Yes, LORD, you know that I love you.” Likewise, when Joshua probed the Israelites for their commitment to God, they declared all of three times that they would serve God:
Then the people answered, “… We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God.”
Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God…”
But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the LORD.”
Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the LORD.”
“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.
“Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.”
And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the LORD our God and obey him.” 9
The questions confront us, asking: “Are you sure? Are you absolutely, irrevocably sure about committing to this? Are you sure about me?” Although Joshua tried to test the Israelites’ sincerity multiple times, they stood firmly behind their commitment to God. It may be easy for us to say that we’ll serve God while we’re still focused on Him, while we’re still fresh from our encounters with Him, while there aren’t other voices telling us where to go and what to do. But what happens when the storms of life blow fiercely, or when distractions crowd out room for God in our lives? How, then, do we truly answer the question: Are you sure about me? Can we make a point to commit ourselves to God at the beginning of every new season in life?
The final part of the book of Joshua states “Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the LORD had done for Israel.” 10 The Israelites’ tireless devotion to God began with Joshua’s intentional refocusing of their hearts in the midst of major transitions. In this season of change, let us pursue our God by remembering, choosing, and committing to Him.