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Called to be God's LeaderHow God Prepares His Servants for Spiritual Leadership
By HENRY BLACKABY RICHARD BLACKABY
Nelson BooksCopyright © 2004 Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLimitless Possibilities
His was a hard luck case. Forced to abandon his military career in disgrace, he subsequently experienced seven years of abject failure in the numerous businesses he attempted. As a farmer, real estate investor, rent collector, entertainment promoter, and entrepreneur, he grew repeatedly and intimately acquainted with bankruptcy. His applications to numerous local businesses were routinely declined. He was finally forced to sell his pocket watch, his only remaining valuable, to provide Christmas gifts for his impoverished family.
Reduced to peddling firewood on street corners, his ragged, unkempt appearance evoked pity from those who had known him in better days. When someone asked him why he was selling firewood in such humble circumstances, he replied, "I am solving the problem of poverty."
Finally, in desperation, he took a job as a clerk working for his two younger brothers in a tannery. When war broke out, his application to join the army was rejected. Several futile attempts to enlist in the army prompted this lament: "I must live, my family must live.Perhaps I could serve the army by providing bread for them."
It was an unlikely beginning for someone who would ultimately lead the Union armies to victory during the American Civil War and who, at age forty-six, would become the youngest man to be elected president of the United States. Yet such was the early life of Ulysses S. Grant.
The Bible tells of another man whose early life bore no hint of the great man he would become. Joshua's forefathers were slaves. Spanning four centuries, Joshua's ancestors had lived in Egypt, much of that time in bondage. Born with no possibility of freedom, education, or military training, the thought of a stellar military career would have seemed ludicrous to Joshua.
Yet he became a victorious general and even more importantly, a dynamic spiritual leader. The key to Joshua's astounding career was not found in his abilities or opportunities. Nor was it found in his character, though that was of sterling quality. The key was not found in Joshua at all. It was found in God.
History is most often viewed from a strictly human perspective, yet such a view is inherently incomplete. God is sovereign over history. Therefore, a study of any historical character must originate from God's viewpoint. To study Joshua as a great man would do a disservice to God and to Joshua. Joshua was an ordinary man who served a great God.
Joshua had many admirable qualities, but he also had flaws. Like everyone, he had his limitations. People, even "great" people are prone to failure. They can succumb to difficult circumstances. But words like cannot and impossible have no place in God's vocabulary (Rom. 8:31). From heaven's perspective, nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37). Likewise, when God sets a plan in motion, failure is not an option. These truths were made abundantly clear in Joshua's life despite humble circumstances.
GOD USED JOSHUA DESPITE HIS PAST
Details about Joshua's father are sketchy except that he was a slave from a long line of slaves. His name was Nun. Joshua's grandfather and great-grandfather were raised in bondage. It was their family business. It was all they knew. Generations of Joshua's ancestors grew up without the privileges most people take for granted. They were deprived of rights such as freedom of movement, access to education, possession of property, and respectful treatment.
Joshua's education was dictated by his position. A strong back was more useful than a keen mind. One can imagine Nun instructing his young son, "Now Joshua, you are old enough to be working with the other men. Be careful not to look an Egyptian in the eye. That will get you a lash across your back. And don't ever be caught standing idle; it makes the taskmasters furious!"
Such childhood training would lead most Israelite children to grow up with few aspirations. At best, they could hope for a life with the fewest beatings possible and, God willing, the strength to endure each day. Such a lowly beginning was hardly what one would expect for a mighty general!
Joshua Knew Suffering
Joshua undoubtedly grew up well acquainted with suffering. Thousands of years before workers' rights, legal protection, or public health care, a Hebrew slave's life would have been tedious, painful, and brief. The book of Exodus describes Egypt's cruel oppression of God's people. When God enlisted Moses to be His minister of deliverance for them, God said, "I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows" (Ex. 3:7).
Joshua quite likely saw those he loved whipped and beaten. Perhaps he helped tend their bloodied backs and watched the adults nursing their broken bones and rubbing their aching muscles. As he looked into his countrymen's eyes, did Joshua see the distant, hollow looks of those who had long-since lost any hope of their freedom? It's possible that among the sounds of moaning and weeping during the night's stillness, Joshua also overheard the hushed conversations of the adults wistfully describing their hope for the future and debating whether they would ever escape their misery.
What must have passed through young Joshua's mind as he watched the dreaded Egyptian soldiers racing past in their splendid chariots? Did Joshua remember that only a generation earlier, these soldiers had brutally massacred Hebrew babies in a crude attempt at population control? Was he mocked and mimicked by proud Egyptian boys as he passed them on the way to his work site? By the time Joshua was a teenager he had probably been taunted with every derogatory term in the Egyptian language. While Egyptian boys dreamed of becoming war heroes, victorious generals, and world travelers, what dreams did the slave boy Joshua harbor? Everything about Joshua's world spoke of hopelessness. Yet did he dream, as young boys do, of a nobler life for himself and for his children?
Stories From The Past
Whatever his dreams were, in reality his future looked bleak, and his present circumstances were equally dismal. Yet his distant past must have intrigued him. Hebrew parents would regularly recite the stories of their beginnings to their children. They would recount how, centuries earlier, God had encountered Abraham and told him to move his family from Haran to the land of Canaan. The adults would describe how Abraham trusted God's promise that one day his descendents would fill that land and be as numerous as the stars in the sky.
They would relate how the revered patriarch Abraham, when he was one hundred years old, miraculously became a father. His elderly wife Sarah bore a son, Isaac. Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob. Despite Jacob's questionable beginnings, he, too, became a patriarch and God renamed him Israel. Jacob had twelve famous sons. God apparently had special plans for the eleventh son, Joseph. As a young boy, Joseph dreamed of one day being used mightily by God. Joseph's brothers grew jealous of their younger brother, so they sold him into slavery and exiled him to Egypt.
At this point in the story, young Joshua's heart must have quickened, for he was a descendent of Joseph. Regardless of how many times he heard the story, Joshua must have been thrilled to hear how Joseph rocketed from confinement in a dismal Egyptian prison cell all the way to an exalted and influential position at Pharaoh's right hand. When a famine forced Joseph's brothers to move their families to Egypt, Joseph became preeminent over them, just as God had foretold.
As the twelve sons of Jacob had children and enlarged their families, each of Jacob's sons' descendents became a tribe of Israel. Unlike the other tribes, however, God declared that Joseph's descendents would be so numerous as to form two tribes under his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Both tribes would become powerful, but the descendants of the younger brother Ephraim would greatly surpass those from Manasseh's tribe. Joshua was from Ephraim's tribe.
Joseph's story may have seemed like a fairy tale to the young boys of Joshua's day. But it had happened. God had taken one of His children from the lowest position in society and elevated him to the highest. "If God did it once ..." Surely the young Hebrew boys would have argued over which tribe was the greatest and speculated whether the distant prophecies concerning their tribes would ever become a reality.
The aged Jacob had prophesied of Joseph's tribe:
Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; His branches run over the wall. The archers have bitterly grieved him, shot at him and hated him. But his bows remained in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), by the God of your father who will help you, and by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father have excelled the blessings of my ancestors, up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. They shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers. (Genesis 49:22-26)
As young Joshua heard the elders reciting this prophecy, it may have seemed like a cruel joke. Yet the prophecy claimed that one day, Joseph's descendents would receive bountiful blessings from God. They would be valiant warriors with deadly bows. God Himself would strengthen the arms of their archers. Joshua was a direct descendant of the famous Joseph. Joshua knew the prophecy that his tribe, Ephraim, would one day be a mighty people (Gen. 48:19). Joshua's grandfather was Elishama, the chief of Ephraim (1 Chron. 7:26-27, Num. 1:10, 7:48). Yet, despite his prominent ties to Ephraim, God's promises probably seemed as distant to Joshua as his dead ancestor Joseph.
Winston Churchill may have experienced thoughts quite similar to Joshua's. Churchill's ancestor, John Churchill, was a successful general who had brilliantly saved England from her enemies. Having never lost a battle, he was named the first Duke of Marlborough. He established a splendid estate at Blenheim. Yet the Duke's coat of arms might have given a clue to his descendents' fortunes: it read "Faithful but Unfortunate." And so they were.
Over the years the Churchill family fortunes languished. Winston's father, Randolph Churchill, was a famed member of parliament but his political career, along with his health, painfully declined. Winston had experienced numerous setbacks by the time he came of age. He had failed miserably in school, receiving regular beatings from the principal. His father was too busy to spend time with him. Having no confidence in Winston's abilities, he suggested his son enter the army, since he was unlikely to succeed at law.
From this dubious beginning, Winston Churchill eventually became Britain's prime minister during his nation's greatest crisis. More so than any of his countrymen, he saved Britain from destruction and subjugation during World War Two. Heralded by many historians as the most influential leader of the twentieth century, young Churchill showed scant indication of his future accomplishments.
GOD USED JOSHUA DESPITE HIS YOUTH
In Joshua's day the Israelite people revered their elders. The elders made all the decisions. Joshua would have still been relatively young when the Exodus began. He would not have been considered a prominent national leader. Moses and his generation were the influential ones of that day. This may explain, in part, Joshua's initial silence when he returned from spying out the land with the other eleven spies. He and Caleb were in favor of immediately occupying the land of Canaan (Num. 13:30; 14:6-10).
When the minority report was given, however, the elder Caleb initially spoke out rather than Joshua. And, when Joshua lent his voice to Caleb's pleas, rather than being persuaded, the people sought to kill him. Ironically, there would come a time when the Israelites would not question a word from Joshua, no matter how incredulous it might sound. However, in Joshua's youth this was not yet the case. Joshua still had much to learn and much to experience before the people would follow him unquestioningly. God was still shaping his young life.
Possibilities Revealed to the Young
The Bible reveals a consistent pattern wherein God revealed to young men and women His plans to use their lives in a significant way. God gave young Joseph dreams of ruling over his brothers long before that revelation became a reality (Gen. 37:5-11). Samuel was consecrated to the Lord's service even before his conception (1 Sam. 1:11).
Likewise, God appointed the prophet Jeremiah for service before he was born (Jer. 1:5). Jeremiah hesitated to serve God because he was young, but God exhorted him, "Do not say, 'I am a youth,' For you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak" (Jer. 1:7).
David was still a young shepherd boy when God alerted him that one day he would be a king (1 Sam. 16:12-13). Mary was still a teenager when she learned of God's incredible plans for her future (Luke 1:26-37). John was probably a young man when Jesus called him to follow Him. As the apostle Paul mentored young Timothy, he had to encourage his youthful protege, "Let no one despise your youth" (1 Tim. 4:12).
Historically, God has repeatedly chosen young people and fashioned them into great leaders. The key for each of them, as it would be for Joshua, was their willingness to be patient and obedient as God prepared them for His purposes. At times emerging leaders limit their future possibilities by their impatience. They look for shortcuts to success, but God is methodical. He typically lays a foundation of character before building a superstructure of leadership.
God Provides Mentors
Another pattern found in Scripture is that God often provides significant mentors, teachers, and encouragers in individuals' lives to ready them for their future assignments. The aged priest Eli prepared young Samuel. Samuel worked with Saul. Elijah instructed Elisha. Joshua's primary teacher was Moses.
There is no record of Joshua resisting Moses' leadership or resenting his instruction. Joshua apparently did not second-guess his leader. Rather, he accepted his role as assistant and zealously performed his assignments. Joshua obviously had faith in God's timing. He trusted God, not just in the abstract, but in his present circumstances. Because Joshua did not lose patience with God, he lived to enjoy a rewarding future, just as God promised.
Moses was a transitional leader. God used him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to Canaan's doorstep. Yet Moses would not lead the people into the promised land. The next phase in God's plan would call on Joshua, the one who had been faithful during the transition time. Transitional periods can be difficult, especially for the young.
Excerpted from Called to be God's Leader by HENRY BLACKABY RICHARD BLACKABY Copyright © 2004 by Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby. Excerpted by permission.
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