Once upon a time, I tore my ACL. I was a very athletic kid back in my day, so I used to imagine getting some kind of epic injury as I’m scoring a winning goal, sliding into home base, or diving into a ditch to catch a frisbee. Instead, I jumped off a five-foot wall and...that was it.
My ACL was destroyed and I had a quarter-sized bone fragment chipped off in the process. Not exactly the epic story I had hoped for.
When I got back from surgery, I was weaker than I had ever been or thought I would be. I had broken bones and sprains joints and gotten stitches before; this was much worse. Aside from the actual pain of the recovering knee, my medication made me constantly nauseous and put me in a perpetual brain fog (I watched Napoleon Dynamite four times in one day – that’s how dead my brain was). I slept on the couch for what felt like years because I couldn’t make it up the stairs to my room. I constantly needed others’ help.
Until this experience, I had never realized how much our physical condition can affect our spiritual condition. It sounds obvious, but it was novel to me. I wasn’t just weak physically – it spilled over into my spiritual life as well.
Spiritually, I was all self-pity. All whining. No giving. No growing. I was wrapped up in my needy self.
Coffee cup commentary
During that season of my life, I saw a good amount of coffee cups and word art with Joshua 1:9 plastered on them. I was surprised at the number of them that cut the verse down to save room and just said: “Be strong and courageous.” That message tells people: Be strong and courageous! You can do it! You’re awesome and you can overcome anything – just be strong!
It’s better that way, right? Plus it leaves more room for cute, flowery decorations.
Seeing that phrase during my ACL recovery time, I felt absolutely zero encouragement. I am a pretty willful person, but I knew I couldn’t just will myself into strength – either physically or spiritually – in this matter.
Having the words “be strong and courageous” on a mug doesn’t help a single soul unless they know the words that come after: “For the Lord your God is with you.”
When we look at Joshua 1:9, how could we isolate the first half (not even to mention all that we miss from the 8 verses before it)? We cannot tell someone to be strong without a reason. Be strong and courageous for the Lord is with you!
We read verses like Joshua 1:9 all the time. Many verses talk about being strong. Psalm 73:25-26, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Then consider Deuteronomy 31:6, Ephesians 6:10, Nehemiah 8:10, and 2 Timothy 2:1.
There is a trend among all these. Not a single verse in the whole Bible tells us to be strong in ourselves, which is the message you get from stopping after the first phrase in Joshua 1:9. Never are we told to muster up strength from somewhere deep inside of us because we are not strong. Scripture tells us how weak and helpless we really are, despite even the most convincing facade of strength we may hide behind.
All these verses and more point us to the One who is strong. “Be strong and courageous,” Why? “For the Lord your God is with you.” And He is stronger than we can imagine.
What we miss
What does it mean for God to really be our strength? It means that we don’t have to be strong in ourselves; which is encouraging because we can’t be. We don’t have to be strong because He is strong and He is with us. So Joshua 1:9 is not about us strengthening ourselves in any way. It’s not an action we can do ourselves. Instead, it’s always the Lord who completes the action.
I tell the story of this injury because it took me being at my weakest point physically to even begin understanding how strong Christ is and what it actually means to depend on Him. Physically, I was weak and dependent on others. Spiritually, I am still weak and completely dependent on Another. God used my injury and surgery to show me what strength was. And it doesn’t involve me scoring the tie-breaking goal, or sliding into home base, or telling myself to be strong and courageous.
Even though we may not all need crutches to walk, we still have to depend on the only strong One, our Savior, and be strengthened by Him, for the Lord our God is with us wherever we go.