Trust, But Still Do Your Homework
By Steven Simala Grant
There is an old Persian proverb, which says: “Trust in God, but tie your camel.” It acknowledges the tension we often come up against when we talk about trust – what is God’s part and what is our part? When does trust mean that we do nothing except let go and sit and wait for God? When does trust mean that we get active and make some plans and start to do things and allow God to empower and guide while we are in motion? I can tell convincing stories from both perspectives:
“Let Go”: A tourist came too close to the edge of the Grand Canyon, lost his footing and plunged over the side, clawing and scratching to save himself. After he went out of sight and just before he fell into space, he encountered a scrubby bush which he desperately grabbed with both hands. Filled with terror, he called out toward heaven, “Is there anyone up there?” A calm, powerful voice came out of the sky, “Yes, there is.” The tourist pleaded, “Can you help me? Can you help me?” The calm voice replied, “Yes, I probably can. What is your problem?” “I fell over the cliff and am dangling in space holding to a bush that is about to let go. Please help me.” “The voice from above said, “I’ll try. Do you believe?” “Yes, yes, I believe.”‘ “Do you have faith?” “Yes, yes. I have strong faith.” The calm voice said, “Well, in that case, simply let loose of the bush and everything will turn out fine.” There was a tense pause, then the tourist yelled, “Is there anyone else up there?”
“Get Going”: “A church member was having trouble with the concept of tithing. One day he revealed his doubts to his minister: “Pastor, I just don’t see how I can give 10 percent of my income to the church when I can’t even keep on top of our bills.”
The pastor replied, “John, if I promise to make up the difference in your bills if you should fall short, do you think you could try tithing for just one month?”
After a moment’s pause, John responded, “Sure, if you promise to make up any shortage, I guess I could try tithing for one month.”
“Now, what do you think of that,” mused the pastor. “You say you’d be willing to put your trust in a mere man like myself’ who possesses so little materially, but you couldn’t trust your Heavenly Father who owns the whole universe!” The next Sunday, John gave his tithe, and has been doing so faithfully ever since.
In the first story, trust meant letting go. In the second, it meant doing something and trusting God to take care of the rest. On the one hand, you’ve heard the saying, “You can’t steer a boat that isn’t moving.” On the other hand, “Let go and Let God.” Do you see the tension? Does trusting mean that we do nothing and wait on God, or does it mean that we seek God actively as we get moving along?
Last week we looked at Joshua 1, and we recognized God’s promises of Victory and of His Presence with us. We saw that as we obey, and as we meditate on God’s Word, we come to experience the fulfillment of those promises. I see so much of the theme of trust in Joshua – last week discovering that the basis of our trust is in the promise of God’s presence and victory. That is what we rest on, that is why we let go and let God be in Control, that is the source of our strength and courage. This week, as we look at chapter 2, we see that letting go and letting God be in control does NOT mean that we sit around and do nothing, but rather that we act on the promises of God, that we live them out – in fact I could go further and say that we only really experience the depth of God’s promises – in dangerous, uncomfortable, unsafe situations.
Let’s read the story of Joshua 2.
1. Living the Promises:
I love what we see happening in this story. In the previous chapter, God has promised Joshua and the Israelites the land – He promised them victory “everywhere you set your foot.” (1:3). So now, in this next chapter, Joshua gets busy. He secretly sends a couple of people to spy out the land, and especially the city of Jericho. Let’s pause there for a second – my Bible doesn’t say anything about God telling Joshua to send in the spies. And if you remember back to Moses time, he sent in some spies and it all didn’t turn out to well. Didn’t God just promise to give Joshua the whole land? – then why the need to send in the spies? Does that display a lack of trust on Joshua’s part – a sort of taking-matters-into-his-own-hands kind of thing? Why didn’t he just trust God, rest on the promises, and march across the river and claim the land?
The questions become even more relevant if we sneak a peak ahead into chapters 5-6, where we have the story of the fall of Jericho. Remember how the city falls into the hands of the Israelites? They take the city simply by marching around it for seven days, and then God miraculously tears down the walls at the shout (yes, simply the shout) of the Israelite army. God had a plan for the fall of Jericho, He knew how it was going to happen. So why bother with this whole spy thing? They obviously weren’t going to need detailed reconnaissance on the military readiness of the people of Jericho. Why send the spies if God was going to do a miracle? Even worse, isn’t this whole spy thing contrary to the very nature of what it means to trust God – isn’t it an example of Joshua acting in his strength rather than in God’s?
To answer those questions, we need to know what the response of God was to Joshua’s actions. Was Joshua rebuked? Punished for not believing? Chastised for not simply trusting? No, not at all. In fact, and this is fascinating, God says nothing in this chapter. He has lots to say in chapter 1, and more to say in chapter 3 and 4 and 5 and 6. In all those places, we read “And the Lord said to Joshua…”; but here it just says “Joshua secretly sent two spies…” Obviously God was not upset at Joshua, or there definitely would have been consequences (as we will see in chapter 7). And in fact, there is a wonderful result to this spy story – meeting Rahab and having her become a celebrated woman of faith – seeing all her family saved. So obviously God blessed Joshua’s actions, obviously God worked through Joshua’s actions, even though God had a different plan for taking the city.
Here is the lesson I see here for you and me. Sometimes it is ok for us to get busy and do the things that make the most sense. Let me repeat that: sometimes it is ok for us to get busy and do the things that make the most sense. I have known people who wanted to walk with God and be so dependent on Him that they would literally wake up in the morning and pray about which pair of socks to put on. Honestly! They wanted to be obedient to God, they wanted God to be in control, and so would even pray about things like that and attempt to discern “God’s Will” for which pair of socks to put on.
I believe that God gave us the ability to make decisions. We often take that and run with it and try to make all the decisions ourselves, without involving God in our daily lives, and that is wrong. But it is also wrong to never make decisions. That leads to disobedience: for example, if God tells us to go one direction, and we sit around waiting for Him to tell us whether to walk or run or take a bus, and end up staying in the same place, we have disobeyed God’s call to go. Sometimes all He tells us is to go, and He leaves the method of travel up to us to decide.
Here is what I am trying to say: trusting God means BOTH that we wait on Him for guidance and direction and leadership – AND it also means that we get going in the direction He points us in. Let me give you an example: whenever I sit down at my computer to work on a sermon, I first read the Scripture passage again – even if I am just coming back from a 15 minute break. Then I pray. I ask God to speak to me, to show me what He wants to reveal to me and to us through His Word. Sometimes I sit there in prayer waiting for all these great revelations to come flooding into my mind. But most of the time that doesn’t happen! (Some of you are agreeing a little too quickly there…). Most of the time, the ideas and revelations start to flow as I write. See the process? God speaks as I move, as I act. He often just brings it point by point. So you see that trusting in God means waiting for His direction, and then starting to head in that direction trusting Him for the power and abilities to get there.
That is what I see here in Joshua 2. Even though God had a different plan for taking Jericho, Joshua was not wrong in sending in the spies. That wasn’t an indication of a lack of trust or a lack of faith – it was the right thing to do! God surprised them with a different ending, but God also honored Joshua for doing the smart thing by sending in the spies to get a handle on what was happening in Jericho at that time.
Sometimes in life we get stuck. We get in a rut, we feel like we’re spinning our wheels, we’re discouraged and down and going nowhere. Maybe that is how you feel about your life today – like you are kind of stuck. If so, think about this – are you stuck because you don’t know where to go, or are you stuck because you do know where to go but are waiting for something else to happen before heading that direction? If you don’t know where to go, then you need to pray and seek God for guidance, and wait – and let go – and listen. And on the other hand, if you are stuck but you do know which way you should be headed, get going. Make the necessary decisions, stop waiting for each piece of the puzzle to fall into place before taking the first step, and just get moving. God will lead.
The Israelites had been stuck at this place before, 40 years earlier. They knew which way to go under Moses, but got scared and retreated. This time around, they still know which way to go (and by the way, it is the same direction…), but this time they get a little extra encouragement from the report of the spies: “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” (vs. 24). That was the added bit of confidence that they needed.
And maybe that is the added bit of encouragement that you need today. God has it under control. He knows the hurdles and the pitfalls and the obstacles, and He is bigger than all of them. If you are going in the direction He wants you to go in, trust Him to take care of the journey. You will find Him sufficient; You will find Him abundantly able to meet the needs along the road.
That is the big message I see in this passage: trusting God means waiting on Him for direction, AND it also means using the minds and gifts that He has given us to head in that direction. As long as we head in that direction in His strength and not in our own, as long as we continue to trust Him along the way and even let Him make mid-course corrections, we can be confident that we are trusting Him and walking in His power and not our own.
There is one other thing I want to point out in this passage.
2. God Goes Ahead of Us
Joshua does the smart thing and sends the spies in. They go to “the house of a prostitute,” most likely because that was a place where foreigners wouldn’t arise a lot of suspicion and where they would be able to get a handle on what the people were thinking. What they find there is miraculous…
Somehow, word gets to the king and he sends in the henchmen. So much for “secret, undercover agents…” But here is where the story gets interesting – Rahab the prostitute hides them, lies for them, sends the king’s men off on a wild goose chase, protects them, gives them the information they need, and then provides their escape route. And in return, she and her family have their lives spared and Rahab takes a prominent place in the history of Israel and in Christianity because of her faith.
Here is what this tells me: God goes ahead of us. And not only does He go ahead of us, preparing the way, preparing the hearts of people, revealing His fame and His glory – but He goes ahead of us and we find Him in strange and unexpected places. These spies found God at work in a brothel, in the faith of a prostitute.
I apply this to sharing our faith. We often look at the prospect of sharing our faith with some trepidation – like we are making a furtive foray into enemy territory, crossing the lines into the “unknown,” taking a big risk. We head into those situations feeling like it is our job to take God to people who don’t know Him. There is this big, dark land, and we have the Light and we must take it into this dangerous place. This spy story reminds us that God is already there ahead of us. We aren’t going in carrying Him along with us, as if He wasn’t there already. On the contrary, we take opportunities to share our faith with the realization that the Holy Spirit is already there, already working, already prodding and pursuing. We are wisest and most effective when we recognize that God is there already, and encourage what He is doing in people’s lives. Sharing our faith isn’t only about bringing people to salvation – that is the final step in the evangelism process (though of course not the final step in that person’s growth in faith…). There are lots of steps before that, lots of contacts and words and deeds and expressions of love, and lots of things that God is doing to reveal Himself and draw people to Himself.
God is there ahead of us, and often we’ll find Him in unexpected places. Be open to those! Look for those opportunities to join God at work in establishing His Kingdom. And take the opportunities He provides.
Let me tell you a story. About a month ago, Joanne (my wife) was taking our son for a walk. She ran into a couple of elderly ladies who were also out for a walk. They said hello to Thomas, and then commented to Joanne that he sure looked like a healthy little boy. Joanne thanked them, and then smiled and said, “actually, he’s been fairly sick,” and she told them a bit about Thomas’ struggles. They chatted a bit, and then one of these ladies asked, “Would it be ok if we prayed for your son?” It turned out that these ladies were part of McKernan Baptist Church, and there on the sidewalk they ministered to both Joanne and Thomas.
See how we find God in unexpected places? Joanne was just out for a simple walk, and ended up being encouraged by two Godly women. And from the other side, I love the faith and courage of these women seizing the opportunity to share their faith with a mom they had just bumped into who obviously had a need. God goes ahead of us, He prepares the way, He has all sorts of things prepared for us, as Ephesians 2:10 reminds us: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Matthew Henry, a famous Bible commentator, wrote: “Faith in God’s promise ought not to supersede but encourage our diligence in the use of proper means. Joshua is sure he has God with him, and yet sends men before him. We do not trust God, but tempt him, if our expectations slacken our endeavors.”
Where has God been calling you to go – what has He been telling you that you need to be obedient to? If you are feeling stuck, if you are uncertain about which direction to head or how to get started, then I want to first encourage you with the fact that God goes ahead of you – He has prepared the road and He knows where the journey is going to take you. And He knows what you need to get started.
The promise of God is that He has prepared for us a great Kingdom, which He desires us to experience in this life as well as in the next. It is a Kingdom of joy, of freedom, and of power. God has invited us to experience this Kingdom through His Spirit. I encourage you to take some steps, to do the things that make sense, in pursuing a more full experience of God’s Kingdom in your life, so that you can also see God’s Kingdom come to those around you.