As 2020 winds to a close, we can all use a little encouragement, and perhaps, a little courage. It has been a hard year, wrought with disappointments, rife with plans shifting underfoot, fear of sickness, job loss, isolation, loneliness, chaos, and confusion. For many, this year has been what C.S. Lewis describes as “looking into the mouth of a railway tunnel—a tunnel either so long or so twisty that you cannot see the light at the far end.” 
While it’s not wrong for Christians to feel scared of or disheartened by darkness, I have discovered that I have been, at times, ill-prepared for the troubles of 2020. I have scrambled around and not always found a flashlight immediately at hand. While there are no quick fixes or easy remedies, the Bible does shine light on how we may proceed. The book of Joshua opens in a time not unlike our present circumstances—a time of loss for Joshua and the people of God. Moses has died, but God’s people must proceed in obedience to possess the land that God is giving them (Josh. 1:1-4).
We meet God’s man, Joshua, in a lonely and challenging place. He is called to lead God’s people to face giants in the promised land, and to do so with strength and courage. Within the span of just three verses, the Lord calls Joshua three times to be “strong and courageous” (Josh. 1:6-9), echoing Joshua’s earlier commissioning by Moses (Deut. 31:6-8, 23).
Where do we find strength and courage today? All we need to do is look within and believe in ourselves, so say the sages of our day. But when we find ourselves facing genuine giants, this advice comes up short. God does not ask Joshua to find in himself the strength to obey God’s commands and take possession of the land. Rather, God instructs him to look to the Lord.
The source of Joshua’s strength and courage lies in the knowledge that God is with him. Joshua 1:5, says, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.” The truth is that the Lord is always with us as believers, but we often forget that he is there.
When a small child cries out in the middle of the night after a bad dream, Mom or Dad is likely close at hand, in the very next room. But it is only when Mom or Dad enters the child’s room that the child can calm down and drift back to sleep. We are often like that child when we face hard circumstances. We become scared and assume we are all alone. We act as if the Lord is far away. Is it not a great comfort when we remember that he is always with us and will never leave us? God’s presence is able to steel our resolve in troubled times, just as it encouraged Joshua.
The task that lies ahead for Joshua and God’s people is daunting but not foolhardy. The land God had promised to give is extensive and currently inhabited by people that are undefeatable but for the promises of God. God promises to Joshua that “[e]very place that the sole of your foot will tread upon, I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses” (Josh. 1:3).
As believers, to advance the work of Christ in a world that rejects him can feel like an impossible command. We can feel weak and powerless in the face of our own giants: our battle with sin and temptation, the brokenness of our world, the hostility of unbelieving people, and the powers and principalities in the spiritual realm.
In hard times, we can claim God’s promises and obey him with the confidence of Galatians 5:16: If we “walk by the Spirit, [we] will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” May we say to the Lord, “Your word promises that if we ‘resist the devil…he will flee’ and if we ‘draw near to [you], [you] will draw near to [us]’ (James 4:7-8).” Scripture is teeming with the promises of God, and they can give us courage to rightly respond to each day’s trials.
While God’s plans and promises are sure, he chooses human beings to carry out his work in this world, entrusting them with his wisdom and law. God tells Joshua to be “careful to do according to the law that Moses…commanded… Do not turn from [God’s precepts] to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Josh. 1:7).
Joshua’s strength and courage come from knowing the word of God and following its precepts. This does not guarantee an easy life for Joshua or God’s people, but they could count on experiencing the prosperity that God had promised—that they would take possession of the land flowing with milk and honey.
When we face discouragement and trouble on every side, it’s easy to shrink back, take short cuts, and cower in fear. But if we, like Joshua, meditate on God’s Word, we will know the way of wisdom and confidently walk in it (Josh. 1:8). The Lord tells us there will be much trouble in this life. But he also promises that our obedience to his word can produce joy and peace, even in darkness.
A Better Joshua
Though Joshua obediently crossed the Jordan, confronted giants, and took possession of the land, there is a better example for us to follow. Our Lord Jesus Christ was called to leave heaven and die on a cross. He did this to make us his own possession. No one has ever exhibited greater strength and courage than Jesus Christ. He knew the suffering, rejection, and type of death he would face (Lk. 9:22), and yet he courageously chose to lay down his life on our behalf.
In Hebrews 12:2, we see that Jesus exhibited this type of courage because his eyes were fixed—not on the suffering he must endure—but on the joy set before him. He looked beyond the cross. May we, too, look beyond the hardships of our present circumstances and behold Jesus in his majesty and might, knowing that one day we will enter into his rest forever.
In C.S. Lewis’ beloved novel, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, it is when young Lucy finds herself in utter darkness that she hears Aslan whisper, “Courage, dear heart” and finds his voice to be “a delicious smell breathed in her face.” As this dark year 2020 draws to an end, may we know God’s ever-present voice through his word, giving our hearts courage from his promises and precepts.
1. C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (New York: Harper Collins, 1952), 135.