I’ve never been comfortable when people say, “God told me . . .”
Apparently, God talks to some of my friends quite a bit. They frequently report on their latest conversation with God. God tells them whether or not to use salt on their food and if they should have ketchup with their fries.
Hearing God has never come easy for me. I try hard to hear that “still, small voice.’ Sometimes I’ll muster all my concentration in one spot, remove all distractions and quiet my thoughts, determined not to leave my place of prayer until I’ve heard from Him.
The next thing I know, I’m waking up from an unplanned nap.
While God is telling my friends what to order off the menu, I can’t seem to get God to tell me if I should change careers or move my family.
I’ve expressed my frustration to the Lord a time or two, but that doesn’t seem to persuade him to become more vocal.
A while back I came across a Bible story that helped give me some perspective.
Joshua 13:1 reads, “Now Joshua was old and advanced in years when the Lord said to him, ‘You are old and advanced in years.”
This is one of the strangest verses in the Bible.
Imagine Joshua praying one day, and God shows up and gives him this message, “You’re old and advanced in years, Joshua.” Joshua looks at his body and then back to the Lord and says, “Uhhh, thanks for bringing that to my attention, Lord. I hadn’t noticed.”
It seems to be a case of stating the obvious. But maybe God is up to something here. Maybe I can learn something about how God speaks to me.
Here are some thoughts I glean from Joshua’s experience.
First, God often speaks the obvious. This is somewhat disappointing, because I want God to tell me something sensational like sure-fire formulas to get rich or to solve all my problems.
But God seems to focus on more basic, fundamental issues.
When God shows up and says, “You’re old,” he wasn’t kidding. The description of Joshua’s age, “You are old and advanced in years,” speaks to a specific stage of life for Joshua.
Jews divided old age into three periods. The first period was between 60 and 70, and marked the onset of old age.
The second period was between 70 and 80. It was known as the gray- or white-haired stage of life In Jewish tradition it represented the age of respect.
The final stage went from 80 until death. People in this stage were said to be “old and advanced in years.” It was considered as the closing period of life and the final preparation for death. This is the stage of life we find Joshua in this story.
Joshua’s age was clear to everyone. But we need to be careful we don’t dismiss God’s message just because it seems to be stating the obvious.
One of the dangers in our contemporary Christians culture is our love-affair with information. We have more information available now than in any time in history. Collectively we know more than any other generation of Christians. Yet no one would mistake us for being the most spiritually mature and Christ-like generation.
Knowledge by itself doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s the practice of truth that counts. So God often has to bring us back to the obvious, the basics. As one author reminds us, what we really need to succeed in life we learned in kindergarten—how to play nice, how to share, and the need for naps.
Joshua apparently needed to be reminded of the obvious. “You’re old and advanced in years.” We need to listen for the obvious from God as well.
Second, God speaks to shake us out of denial and lethargy. One of the great thing about stories is that we can look at them from a variety of angles. A little history helps us here.
Joshua was called to succeed Moses. God assigned him to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. This area wasn’t vacant. It was inhabited by a variety of tribes. Moving in required going to war.
The first 12 chapters of Joshua tell about those battles. By chapter 13, the job is pretty much completed. Joshua and the Jews are resting and enjoying their victories. Perhaps they thought the mission was accomplished.
But God had a different idea. There was plenty left to do. There were several tribes to conquer. Joshua still had to assign territories where each Jewish clan would live.
Joshua was getting old. Time was short. Joshua didn’t have the luxury to kick back and rest on his laurels. So God speaks.
In this context the words are a blunt wake up call. “You’re old and not getting any younger. You’re advanced in years and your body is giving out. It’s time to get moving and get the job done. There’s more to do.”
From time to time we need God to give us a wake-up call, to snap us out of our denial. He can be quite blunt:
- “You’re being selfish.”
- “You’re letting work become more important than family.”
- “You’re eating habits are out of control and are killing you.”
The third thing I notice here is that God speaks words of affirmation. Entering into this phase of life, it would be natural for Joshua to think that he’s washed up, his productive life is over and he’s not of much use or good anymore. Perhaps he thinks he no longer has what it takes. The job requires someone more skilled and energetic than he.
But God is having none of it.
God speaks words of affirmation to Joshua. “You are old and advanced in years, but I’m not done with you yet. I still have plans for you. You’re still productive. You still have what it takes. There is still purpose for you.”
God speaks similarly to us. It may be our age. It may be our sin and failure. It may be our perception of being unskilled, ungifted or under qualified. Whatever it is, we put ourselves on the sideline, believing we’re not worthy, able or adequate for the purposes God has for us.
God comes and speaks to us, “There’s a job for you. Yes, you may be old and advanced in years, but you can get it done. With me, there is still hope and a future.”
These words sound strangely familiar to me. Maybe I’ve been hearing God more than I thought.