If you jump into the book of Joshua, after all the battles, after Jericho and after the sun standing still; it gets kinda boring. I mean, Joshua goes from being a celebrated general to being a kind of “manager.” He’s passing out land assignments and helping settlers find their new homes. He’s supervising. Joshua is prescribing to each tribe the land that is to be their inheritance. Each group gets a parcel of land to settle and to call their own. It’s like the nation of Israel is being divided down into states.
But the tribes of Joseph – Ephraim and Manasseh – complain. They complain because they don’t have enough. They want more. Their arguments is that they are too many for such a small piece of land. They are not being totally faithless as they attribute the blessing of their numbers to God. But that old fear, that old inadequacy creeps in and makes them upset. And so they fall back into the old wilderness behavior … when in doubt, complain!
We are really good at complaining aren’t we? We excel at it. We can always find something wrong with everything. There is always another this or another that which we are sure would make everything so much better. The grass is truly always greener.
We want more. We want to expand. And so we come to God and say, “Why haven’t you given us more?” We want out church to thrive and grow. We want a large facility and great programs. We want to be important and make a difference in our community. We want to be looked at and called upon. We want to matter. And when we feel that we don’t, when we feel inadequate or inferior to those around us … we complain.
And God replies to us much like Joshua replies to these tribes in Joshua 17. If you want more, you need to get busy. Get out and get busy.
15 “If you are so numerous,” Joshua answered, “and if the hill country of Ephraim is too small for you, go up into the forest and clear land for yourselves there in the land of the Perizzites and Rephaites.”
Get to work! If the land you have is not enough, go get some more! If your church is not what you think it should be, get to work! If you want a great facility, increase the tithe and call on others to join you in casting that vision. If you want great programs, get to work. Create some programs that provide what you see as a need within your body. That’s Joshua’s advice to these complaining tribes and I believe it would be his advice to our complaining tribes today.
So let’s look at what was hindering the tribes of Joseph from having the inheritance they wanted.
The first thing that hindered the vision of the tribes of Joseph was a Lack of Faith. This is the overarching problem with everything that they are saying. They want more, but they want it without working for it. They want more land, they want more territory, but they want it given to them. When Joshua offers them the forested hill country, they immediately begin making excuses. And those excuses come back to a lack of faith.
When we trust God and truly believe that God has given us the very desires of our heart we are able to step out in faith. Faith unlocks the door of opportunity. When we are trusting God there is nothing that is beyond out grasp. That’s not just power, that’s gospel!
Unfortunately, another component of that lack of faith is a lack of ambition. Or maybe it’s just being willing to settle for “good enough.” When we embark on a new program or work at our church we have striven to banish the phrase “good enough.” I believe “good enough” is the sworn enemy of greatness. It’s the difference between a carnival in a WalMart parking lot and Disney World. Carnivals shoot for “good enough.” Meanwhile the most miniscule details are thought through and worked out to make Disney World what it is. Now, does that mean being content to be a carnival is sinful? Of course not! Being content with what has been given you is a blessing. But, if God is placing a desire for greater things on your heart, complaining and excuses are not the answer.
The tribes of Joseph live in a place of fear. They want their territory expanded yet they are afraid to do what it takes to accomplish that. They want to expand their borders yet they are unwilling to completely drive out the Canaanites. They are afraid of the Canaanites. This corresponds with a lack of faith because they are not trusting in God to overcome but fear is still one of the heart problems facing these tribes.
So as we apply these to our churches or even our own lives today, how can we see the same hindrances playing out? We want to expand our territory, we want growth, yet we run up against some of the same attitudes and problems that the tribes of Joseph faced.
In his book The Colors of Hope, Richard Dahlstrom describes what he calls “the safety first mentality.” According to this perspective, “the key to living well is living safely.” So Dahlstrom writes:
Lock your doors at night. Get an alarm system. Save 10 percent and make sure your investment is insured …. Take your vitamins, minerals, omega-3s, ginko bilboa, and St. John’s Wort. Eat lots of soluble fibers. Exercise. Get eight hours of sleep …. Go to church regularly, being certain to drive carefully both on the way there and on the way home (it’s best if your car’s the biggest, because then you’re the safest). Don’t go on mission trips to places where you might contract staph infection, malaria, intestinal parasites, or face a terrorist plot. Risky hobbies? Forget it. Read books instead …. Eat organic. Get a colonoscopy.
There, that should do it. Now you’re safe, right? Well, not really. Pistol Pete Maravich, extraordinary athlete and specimen of fine health, died at the age of forty, while shooting hoops. He didn’t smoke or drink. Meanwhile, the oldest woman on record, Jeanne Calment, who died at the age of 122, stopped smoking at 117 because her eyesight was so bad she could no longer see clearly enough to light her cigarettes ….
[The safety-first posture] is wrong on several levels. First, and most significantly, the good life is never defined by Jesus in terms of either length or comfort. To the contrary, Jesus says that those who seek to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their lives, spilling them out generously in service to others because of love for God and humanity, will find them.
Safety-first may make us safe, but it may also deprive us of the very things we want from life. We complain about this or that but I believe that many times God is saying the same thing to us now that Joshua said to these tribes. “How long are you going to wait?”
The whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The country was brought under their control, 2 but there were still seven Israelite tribes who had not yet received their inheritance.
3 So Joshua said to the Israelites: “How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you?
How long will you wait? How long will you sit around when God has given the land to you? I think the same is being said to us today.
So what about us? What dreams, visions or ambitions has God put on your heart? Is He calling you to expand your territory? Do you feel led to grow your business or your church? Then what is holding you back?
If we are honest with ourselves we see fear and complacency which is limiting our ability to follow our God-given vision. Both of those are rooted in distrust. We have to trust God. We have to believe that He has already given us what we are seeking. That belief helps us to step out in faith.
Until then, we must look ourselves in the mirror and ask, “How long will you wait?”
- excerpted from “Choose Whom You Will Serve” – by Jeff Dunn