My sunglasses were broken. I was on holiday and the sun was shining (like it is as I write this blog during a glorious ‘Indian Summer’). It was three years ago and we were at our favourite holiday location – the island of Jersey – so I went to the El Tico surf shop at St Ouen’s Bay. I spun the carousel and a pair got my attention. I tried them on, liked them and bought them. I’ve been wearing them this week, and I wore them at the start and end of my talk to the Belfrey staff earlier this week, as I spoke about transitions.
We’re in a time of transition, moving slowly from Covid to a post-pandemic world. This time of year is also a time of transition for many, as they move to something new at school or university, at home or work. Certainly the rhythms adjust and the pace changes as daylight hours diminish and we move from summer to autumn. It’s a time of transition.
Transitions bring excitement and uncertainty. God understands this, wanting to prepare us and encourage us. The Bible describes all sorts of transitions, as people move from one place to another, from one season to another, and most importantly as people move from darkness to light as they begin the great adventure of following Jesus! One significant transition is described in Joshua 1:1-9, as Joshua takes over leadership from Moses and is called to share in God’s mission by leading the people across the Jordan into the Promised Land.
In this transition, Joshua is told to be strong. Three times, in quick succession God says this to him to get his attention, and then again at end of chapter, just to make sure he’s heard! Why does he need to be strong at this time of transition? The simple answer is that we often feel weak and wobbly as we contemplate change – especially change that is difficult and costly. Maybe that’s how you feel about this season of transition for you.
I spoke to our church family last weekend about one of main things we can do to be strong. I was preaching from 1 Peter 2, noticing Peter urging God’s people to ‘crave pure spiritual milk’ from God’s word, the Bible. Something very similar is said here, with Joshua being told with no uncertainty to ‘Keep this book of law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night.’ My father would do that. He lived a busy life as a surgeon with a large family and all sorts of responsibilities. But he made time first thing in the morning to pray and read the Bible. Often after our evening meal, he would slip upstairs, and kneel down by his bed and pray again, and read the Scriptures again, recognising he needed to live by God’s word. Sometimes I would forget he was in there and would burst in, perhaps playing a game of hide and seek with my brothers, and there he’d be, on his knees, with Bible open on the bed. He learned this from his father, my grandfather. When I visited Grandpa at his home, he’d be sitting in his chair, with a table next to him. On the table would sometimes be his paints, and perhaps a book to read. But one thing that was always there was his open Bible.
If we’re going to navigate this season of transition well, we need to learn from Joshua, from Peter, and from the saints of old, and keep God’s book – his word – close at hand. Central. It’s how we stay strong.
Joshua is also told to be courageous. Again he’s told this three times and again at the end! That’s because the Lord knows he needs to be brave, and take courage during transition. In particular he’s told not to fear, for fear paralyses us and stops us walking into God’s future. Nelson Mandela knew something of this, as he sought to lead the people of South African in a time of transition. He said: ‘I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it … The brave person is not the one who does not feel afraid, but the one who conquers that fear.’ The way we do that is to rise above our fears, moving from fear to faith for, as John Maxwell says, courage is simply ‘faith in action.’
There are many things that can make us fearful in a time of transition. That’s why we need much encouragement. We can encourage ourselves by reminding ourselves of who God us, who we are, and what we’re called to. I often find re-reading prophecies, dreams and answers to pray in my journal can be particularly helpful. But we also need to encourage each other. We are not disciples in isolation, but all part of a wider community. So let’s be looking out for each other, praying for each other and supporting each other in this season of transition. We all need much encouragement!
Presence of God
One of main ways Joshua is encouraged to be strong and courageous is by simply recognising the Lord’s presence. He’s told that ‘the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ Jesus says something very similar when he commissions his disciples at the end of Matthew 28, telling them, ‘surely I am with you to the very end of the age.’ This is very good news for us in transitions! God’s abiding presence is with us and goes with us. That means we are never alone. We can live confidently. Walk hopefully. Pray boldly. Dwell peacefully. Because of the deep, abiding presence of the Spirit of Jesus.
So let’s value God’s presence. Cherish his presence. Recognise his presence. Welcome his presence. For we worship a God who is not far away, but close. Closer than we think. Christians have always believed and known this. Catholic priest Desiderius Erasmus discovered this and coined the phrase: ‘Bidden or not bidden, God is here.’ It reminds us that God is with us. Even if you don’t call on him the Lord is near!
Sometimes the Lord surprises us with his presence. Like he did to Jacob in Genesis 28, resulting in Jacob exclaiming: ‘surely God is here and I didn’t realise!’ But even better, to call on God in prayer and to know his presence.
‘Bidden or not bidden, God is here.’ The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung liked those words of Erasmus so much that he engraved them above the door of his home, to remind him and everyone entering and leaving, that the Lord is present. What about you? What are you engraving on the door of your home? Or at least on the door of your heart? What are the words you are taking with you, into this new season?
It could be: ‘Bidden or unbidden, God is here.’ Or, more simpler: ‘I am with you.’ Or maybe: ‘Be strong and courageous.’
The thing that got my attention, by the way, when I picked up the sunglasses from the stand at El Tico, was the words engraved on them. Inside, on the left arm were four words: ‘Be strong and courageous.’ Those are the words I put on whenever I wear those sunglasses. Those are the words I’m taking with me, as I transition into this post-pandemic world. What about you?