Joshua calmly walked among the soldiers, gathered in their fifties and hundreds. He checked that the captains understood the strategy. He even took time to pray with a timid man here and there. Others followed his example, and the quiet murmur of blessings and requests joined the purposeful creak of leather and jangling of metal as men checked and tightened equipment.
When he reached Judah the commander embraced Caleb, arm around his shoulder, as they prayed together. Caleb and his men would move to intercept the brunt of the Amalekite charge when battle was joined, and Joshua was sure the shock of their assault would break against the rock-solid courage of his old friend.
And then it was time. Israel heard the shouted war-cries as their enemy’s advance turned into a charge. Shields braced as they began their counter charge.
Joshua’s skill, experience, training, courage, even his faithfulness & his prayers made no difference to the outcome.
Maybe that is how it happened at Rephidim when the Amalekites attacked Israel. Maybe the tactics that Israel used were conventional, or maybe they were new and clever. Maybe the men fought with unusual courage, or with quiet desperation. We don’t know. We don’t know because Moses didn’t tell us and we don’t know because it doesn’t matter.
Joshua led the army, but his skill, experience, training, courage, even his faithfulness and his prayers made no difference at all to the outcome. Moses recorded the battle in Exodus 17:8-16, and verses 10-13 tell us how Joshua won:
So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. (Exodus 17:10-13)
The point is wonderfully obvious. It was Joshua who fought the battle, and Joshua who overcame the Amalekite army by the sword, but he did so only because Moses kept his hands up. Joshua fought, but he only won because Moses raised his hands before the Lord in prayer.
This does not diminish Joshua’s role – his courage, planning, experience or strategy. It simply tells us that none of this was crucial. The key part was played by Moses.
Not about me
When we plant churches, we are required to plan, strategise and execute. We must draw on our all our training and experience. We need courage in many different ways. The ongoing challenge is to think that these necessary things are what make all the difference. The sin I fall into when things go well is the same sin I fall into when things fail. The sin I committed when I led my first church plant in 2004 is the same sin I committed as BroadGrace celebrated 5 years in May 2015. I think it is all about me. I think that it depends on me. I think that I am crucial. And I am wrong.
It is never about me. It is about the man on the hill with his arms stretched out against the setting of the sun.
It is not my planning, my time-management, my leadership that makes the difference. It is not my preaching, my praying or even my holiness – although I am more convinced than ever that Robert Murray M’Cheyne was right in saying this was the greatest need of his people . I take it that he meant what they needed from him. For he surely held out to them a holiness even more beautiful than was seen in his life. The key to survival, health and success (as Christ sees it) in church planting, in ministry, in life, is to remember that it is not about me. It is never about me. It is about the man on the hill with his arms stretched out against the setting of the sun.
The victory does not depend on anything I do. It depends on the man who held out his arms until the light had gone, until it was finished. Christ has won the great battle. On the cross he suffered our judgment, our hell, our death. He took our guilt and shame. He battered down Satan and he choked death to death. He conquered all our enemies. He won the final battle. Even now he is praying on for us as we fight (Hebrews 7:25). He will not stop his prayers until he comes again for us. He is ours, he is full of love for us and delight in us. He is the most attentive Husband, the truest Brother, the most mighty Lord and holiest King.
The hardest lesson I am learning is also the most important. It is all about Christ. The victory is entirely his. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He is all in all. He is the way, the truth and the life. In a fleeting and beautiful moment, every part of me cries, ‘for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain’ (Philippians 1:21), and I wish that every moment I felt the wonder of those words and knew their truth.
It is good to be a foot soldier in the army of Jesus. It is good because our battle is won, our fighting is not in vain, and we will make it home, brought in by Christ, the great Lord of armies who never left anyone bleeding on the field. No, he bled and we will make it home.
I think that this sin of thinking that our service of Christ is the heart of the battle is rife in the church as it is in my heart. I have seen it nearly destroy me and do great harm to others, and so I have written a book to re-orientate our hearts to Christ as our great Servant. If you would like to read more on this then see Serving without Sinking (published by www.thegoodbook.com / www.thegoodbook.co.uk). “The greatest need of my people is my own holiness.” Robert Murray McCheyne