Apparently, the times of greatest stress are those times when you undergo change. A bereavement creates a change in the family’s norm. A house-move creates not just a geographical shift, but an inner sense of upheaval that takes a while to adjust.
As Mary Shelley said (in Frankenstein!): “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
Yet we should be used to it. The entire rhythm of life, with its pattern of day and night, work and sleep, winter and spring, birth and death is built upon the concept of change. So where does that stress come from?
Someone said to me “Life can change a person the way a parent can change a baby- awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess.”
A few years back, I wrote a whole book on the idea. It was based on the experience of Joshua, who was summoned to the task of leading Israel through a period of momentous change.
Israel had become thoroughly used to one way of living, and Joshua was tasked with superintending a radical shift.It started with a bereavement (“Moses my servant is dead“) and quickly developed into a house-move (“Now go over this Jordan...”). Imagine the stress!
And Joshua was proposing a change that had already been voted down by a massive majority, remember.
But God was insistent: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
This is an important verse, because it tells us several things about change.
First, there’s a question.“Have I not commanded you?” Now there was no doubt that God had indeed commanded Israel to go into Canaan. It had been the subject of prophetic proclamation for over five hundred years (since the time of Abraham).
But how about you? What has God laid on your heart? What has to happen, as a matter of necessity? God might be calling you out of a sinful habit. In fact, I’m pretty sure he is! He calls us into holiness.
He might be calling you into some kind of ministry or service, and you may contemplate that change with trepidation.
God might be calling your church into a new season of change, out of the comfort zone of wilderness living, into the battle zone that awaited Joshua just over the river.
But first, you must ask the question: What is it that God has commanded of me/ us?
It’s good to know, in the second place, that when God calls, he also equips. Where God’s finger points, his hand makes the way. And this is where God challenges that typical nerviness that we all experience when anticipating change. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed.”
Strength means the ability to do something, but courage means the guts to decide to do it. Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it. There’s a marvellous passage in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which picks up this business of gutsiness: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
The character, Atticus Finch, hears the question (“Have I not commanded you?“) as a moral imperative to do the right thing, but he is also “frightened ” by the opposition that rises up against him and “dismayed” by their voices. And yet he finds the courage to do it anyway.
The third point is the kicker. “For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” This is the principle that enabled Moses to stand up to both Israel and to Pharoah himself: “Tell them ‘I AM’ sent you.” And it was the word that Jesus left with his disciples: “Lo, I am with you always…”
In fact, it is worth saying that this discussion of change is only the human perspective of life. God sees things differently. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer 29:11) God charts our way, and is not flustered by what we call change! Indeed, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8) There is a solidness about God that is very reassuring. As I said, our worry about things changing is only our side of the coin. God knows what he is doing, and he is sure and unchanging both in his love and in his intentionality.
So get ready! Change is imminent and it begins just there, at the very edge of your comfort zone. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”