The book of Joshua is one of the most difficult books to swallow for some. It is a graphic tale of war, trial, tribulation, and conquering. It is a tale many a pastor has struggled to preach, or worse, has preached as a means to justify colonization, oppression, or the wrath of God. But hidden in the layers of important contextual meanings, is a God who keeps promises. In Joshua chapter four, God’s people finally cross over—or rather through—the Jordan River, after forty years of wandering in the desert.
The crossing of the Jordan has never seemed like that big of a deal in my mind, until I stop and consider what it means for entire generations of desert-dwellers to enter a body of moving water collectively (women and men, young and old) and cross into the promised land. Could you imagine, having seen only small flourishes of water your entire life, the feat of strength it would take to cross a flowing river with your multi-generational family and all of your belongings in tow?
After the ark reached the edge of the water, the flow of water stopped so that the Israelites could pass through. Then Joshua told twelve men to take up stones from the river as symbols of God’s faithfulness and promise fulfilled.
Sometimes in life it takes a pretty grand gesture to believe that things will work out okay, to believe that God will come through in the midst of trial. When we find our lives in the in-between moments, maybe having crossed over our figurative rivers, but not yet in the “promised land,” it is important to remember our stones—the ways God has already fulfilled promises.
The second thing we must do is to remember what God has promised. Many a person has taken the Bible out of context, or read their very personal lives into scripture. That’s not the way it works! God has promised eternal life, and life abundantly when we walk with Jesus. But Jesus also promises that when we follow him, this life will have suffering and trials. The Bible is filled with God’s good promises, but nowhere does it say that we will never face hardship. It was after the Israelites entered the promised land that they faced some of their most difficult trials.
However, the overarching narrative of scripture does promise that in the midst of the challenges of this life, we do not walk alone. Jesus, later on, gives the gift of the Holy Spirit, that we may know the presence of God in our everyday lives. This is the ultimate promise fulfilled.
Remember what God has brought you through already. Remember the ways God has been faithful and kept God’s promises in the midst of the trials. Many times we pray for things to come through or work out in a certain way; but when they do, we don’t take the time to write them down or pass on the stories of faithfulness to the next generation. This is an important spiritual practice.
What are your twelve stones? Write them down, or share them with the next generation.