October 15, 2009
by Patrick Lafferty
And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
Four teams remain in the quest for baseball’s annual designation of world champion. Every player recognizes he is competing at the pinnacle of a professional sport; their collective performance thus far has been unequaled. And yet the first thing they do each game day is the same thing any eight-year-old Little Leaguer does: they shag a few ground balls, limber up with the lumber in batting practice, run a few sprints up the first base line. They dare not step onto the playing field without at first reacquainting their minds and bodies with a few fundamentals.
On any given night before a performance of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, you’ll hear each musician—they, too, at the peak of professional performance—doing the same tuning and scales that any first-year, aspiring instrumentalist does. The lithe way they conduct even their warm-up makes all that informal arpeggiation seem superfluous. But for them it would be unthinkable to dispense with the time in the fundamentals.
The events in Joshua 5 represent for Israel a rehearsal, of sorts, of the fundamentals. Niel Nielson explained last Sunday how preparedness for life in the world as a servant of God is bound up with assurance of His presence with us. The assurance itself was bound up with a few fundamental truths Israel had to be reacquainted with—truths which you and I must reacquaint ourselves with not periodically, but daily.
What are they? What might we best remember in prayer each morning before we step onto the playing field or orchestra stage of our day?
We are His. When Joshua circumcised the generation born in the wilderness, he wasn’t out to fulfill mere ritual requirement. It was to remind the rising generation they belonged to God. However their experience may have shaped their self-perceptions, they could not understand themselves apart from how the Lord understood them. By the covenant sign of circumcision they would remember whose they were. That’s no small point. How often are you tempted to define yourself by something other than your relatedness to God? We live indestructibly when we identify ourselves with Him whose designation does not fluctuate. What person, position, or portfolio can promise that? Like the shortstop who before each game fields some fungoes, shouldn’t we be vocalizing an “I am Yours” as a necessary warm-up?
We are His at a cost to Him. Eating the Passover on the east side of the Jordan was more than for the sake of sharing a family tradition. It was to remind the people of Israel that they lived contingently upon His provision—specifically a provision of sacrifice in blood. If ever they would doubt His regard for them, the meal would be one more testimony to His expensive love. We have even more reason to trust that regard: we are the beneficiaries of a gift that cost Him His own Son. We therefore can never evaluate our worth apart from how He established it by the provision of His Son. Like the cellist who dutifully practices his scales, it’s fitting that we should rehearse to ourselves, “I am Yours at a cost to You,” as a prelude to our day.
We are His for His honor. The commander before whom Joshua bowed in worship did more than remind Israel of the Lord’s presence; He braced them with their purpose. He’d led them to a land where they could prosper, to fruit that they might savor. But above all, they’d been made His at His cost so that they might make His name known everywhere. They would not order their purposes apart from His purposes for them. Neither shall we when we rehearse this truth. If the Lord is changing the world through changing men’s hearts in Christ, ought not all our pursuits become aligned with his overarching purpose for us? Take a moment and remember what you heard when you were young: “I am Yours for Your honor.”
There’s nothing innovative about these truths. You’ve heard them countless times. But you never escape the need to reflect upon what’s rudimentary. A professional athlete or musician neglects the fundamentals to his or her peril. So do you. Considering all the things or people to whom you might feel inordinately beholden, all the ways you might superficially define your worth, and all the causes in which you might rashly find your purpose—forming a routine of remembering the fundamentals qualifies you for life in the real world. It would be unthinkable not to.