In Numbers 27 when Joshua is chosen by God to be the next leader of the Children of Israel, the Bible characterizes him as a man in whom is the spirit. You will never be able to influence others spiritually until your life is being controlled by the Spirit of God yourself. The New Testament terminology for this in Ephesians 5 is being “filled with the Spirit.” Think of it like driving. I wonder how many of you are like me in that whenever you are in a car you need to be the one driving. Unfortunately, that's how many of us are when it comes to our lives. We must be the one who makes the decisions regarding where we go, what we do, what we spend, how we respond, and what we say. In most cases, we tend to control our own lives. To be filled with the Spirit means that I get out from behind the steering wheel of my life and give that control to the Spirit of God. No longer will it be me making the decisions. From now on, it is, “God, what do You want me to do? Where do You want me to go? What do You want me to say? What do You want me to spend? How do You want me to respond?”
In Numbers 27 God tells Moses that he is about to die. Moses now makes a request and what’s interesting is that his request is not about himself. He doesn’t day, “Well, God, do You think maybe I can just put one foot in the land before I die just to say I got there?” Or, “God, could You give me just one more year? How about one more month? Maybe a week? That's not what Moses asks for. Moses’ request is that God would appoint a man over the congregation who would lead them so that they not become like sheep which have no shepherd. You see, Moses understood the importance of spiritual leaders in our life. He knew that without spiritual leaders the people would wander and make little progress. Folks, listen, let’s never forget how important spiritual leaders are in our life. That's why I am so thankful for the Elder Board that God has raised up here at my church – Leaders who care about the spiritual welfare of our church and who are determined to keep us on course so that we're making progress in both our purpose and our vision. I remember in my four years at Liberty University hearing Jerry Falwell say over and over again “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”
Moses is not allowed to enter the promised land because he had rebelled against God in front of the people. Instead, God takes him to Mt Nebo and simply shows him the land. But if you fast forward many decades into the life of Jesus, you'll remember a story when Jesus is on the Mount of Transfiguration and there, in front of Peter, James and John, He's transfigured and they see Him in His glory. Remember who's standing with Him at that moment? Elijah and Moses. Now, think about it. God could not let Moses into the land on his own because of his sin. But through Jesus Moses got there. You see, folks, when you follow Jesus you'll go places. Through Jesus Moses got there. Isn't that a beautiful picture of our lives? Because of our sin, on our own we can never step one foot into heaven which is our Promised Land. However, when we put our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Bible guarantees us that we get eternal life in heaven through Him. Moses becomes a beautiful picture of our relationship today with Jesus. On our own, we can never get to heaven. But through faith in Jesus we will someday be in that incredible place.
In Numbers 27, it is time for Moses to die. Before he does, God takes him up on Mt Nebo and shows him the Promised Land. I have had the privilege of standing on Mt. Nebo many times. When I first read this passage I thought that God supernaturally allowed Moses to see all the land of promise but then I stood up on Mt. Nebo myself and saw that on a clear day you literally can see all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. This is not in the Bible but I have a hunch that on that day God probably explained to Moses what was going to happen in that land. Can't you picture God saying, “Now, Moses, you see that palm tree way over there? That's a place that will be called Bethlehem and one day I'm going to send My own Son and He's going to be born of a virgin right there. And see that hill right over there? That's going to be called Jerusalem and just outside that city one day My Son is going to be crucified to pay the penalty for the sin of the world but then He is going to rise again. I think that on that day Moses and God had quite the intimate conversation before Moses died.
In Numbers 13, the majority of the spies give a very negative and fearful report of the obstacles they saw in the land God had promised them and in spite of God’s promise, the people buy into the negative words of the spies and reject the promise of God. This is a great example of the fact that our negative words have a far greater negative impact on people than our positive words have a positive impact on them. Let me say that again. Our negative words have a far greater negative impact on people than our positive words have a positive impact on them. If you don't think that's true, talk to any business person who runs a customer service oriented company and who relies on reviews for their success and they will tell you that for every negative review, it takes 12 positive reviews to overcome the damage. We have to keep this in mind when it comes to our churches, our lives, our families, and where we work. When we speak negatively, when we utter negative words, it has a far greater negative impact than our positive words have a positive impact. No wonder Paul wrote in the book of Ephesians to not let any unwholesome word come out of your mouth.
God had made a promise to the Children of Israel that He was going to give them the Promised Land. Unfortunately, after sending out 12 spies to scout out the land, ten of those spies would not put their trust in the promise of God because of all the obstacles they saw. The result was that Israel would wander in the wilderness for 40 years. From this example we see the importance of putting our roots down in the promises of God. When you read the Bible, write down every promise you see. There are over 7,400 of them in the Bible. Now, be careful. They don't all apply to you. Some are directed toward an individual. For example, God promised Abraham and Sarah that in their old age they would have a baby. You can't claim that promise to which most of you would say, “Amen!” Some promises in the Bible that are conditional. I will do this, God says, if you do this. For example, 1 John 1:9 says, if we confess our sins then He is faithful and just to forgive us. So God will keep the promise based on what? Our condition. the more you know the promises of God the more you can make decisions of faith even when there appears to be obstacles.
Joshua would be a great military leader for Israel but for the first 95 years of his life he knew nothing but slavery and the wilderness - two very horrible scenarios. However, what prepared Joshua to be a great leader was the many spiritual lessons he learned during the 40 years he wandered in the wilderness. All of us have wilderness times in our life. Some of you are going through a wilderness time right now as you find yourself facing a huge adversity. It's so easy for us, when we get into these wilderness times, to become discontent and to complain. Isn't that what Israel did during there 40 years? Can I remind you of something? God brings wilderness times into your life for a purpose. The greatest lessons God wants you to learn He teaches you in the wilderness. If you're going into a time of wilderness in your life, don’t despise this time. Don’t become bitter and slip away spiritually. It's the 40 years in the wilderness that prepared Joshua to be a great leader. If you will stay faithful in the wilderness, if you will keep your heart open to the lessons God wants to teach you during this time, on the other side of the wilderness you will see incredible growth.
In Exodus 33 we see Moses going out to the tent of meeting where he met with God. When the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of this tent they knew that God was talking to Moses and they also would worship at their own tent. When Moses returned to the camp, Scripture says that Joshua stayed there. You see, those who make good leaders desire God in even greater ways than their own leaders did. From watching Moses, Joshua had gotten a taste of what it's like to be a man who talks with God, and now he wanted that in an even greater way. In 2 Kings we see another example as Elijah, before going to heaven, gives his student, Elisha, one request. Elisha asks that a double portion of the power of God that had been on Elijah would now rest on him. Elisha had seen how God used Elijah, even calling down fire from God on Mt. Carmel. He had gotten a taste of that and now he desired to see God use him in an even greater way. I hope that happens with my kids and grandkids. I hope that they will love and serve Jesus in greater ways than I ever did. I hope that my spiritual ceiling becomes their spiritual floor.
Those who become great leaders must first learn how to be courageous followers. That is foreign in our culture today, isn't it? Our culture doesn't follow well. Our culture is one that criticizes and rebels against authority. Unfortunately, we have brought that same mindset into the church. Can I ask you a question? How courageously do you follow your boss at work? Teenagers, how courageously do you follow your parents? How courageously do you follow your church leadership? I'm not talking following them if they're doing something wrong. I'm talking outside of that. I remember a particular time when I was an assistant pastor and my Senior Pastor came up with an idea that I was convinced would not work. I sat down with him in his office and showed him all the ways it could fail, trying to get him to change his mind. But at the end of the conversation he stuck with his idea. Though I thought it was a bad idea, I left his office the greatest cheerleader for that idea that the church had. Why? Because I knew that if you're ever going to be a good leader, you must be a courageous follower. How are you doing when it comes to courageously following the authorities that are over you?
Those who become great spiritual leaders are those who spend time carefully observing the spiritual walk of other great leaders. That was the story of Joshua who prepared for being a great spiritual leader by watching Moses’ walk. I think of the different leaders that God brought into my life that, who by observing their walk, made a huge difference in who I am today as a spiritual leader. I think first of my dad. As I observed my dad growing up I saw a man who was faithfully committed to the local church. By watching my dad, I developed a passion for the local church. I think of a Sunday School teacher I had named Rick Matthew from whom I developed a passion about sharing Jesus with others. While at Liberty University I watched the walk of my dorm supervisor, Harry Walls, and from him I learned how to pray. I watched the walk of a professor of mine named Paul Fink and from him I learned how to study my Bible. What spiritual leader are you watching so that you can catch from them lessons that will allow you to improve your spiritual influence with others? Those who become great spiritual leaders are those who spend time carefully observing the spiritual walk of other great spiritual leaders. Joshua did this! So should we!