How To Shortcircuit Mistakes


A Study of Joshua 7:1-13

One of life’s inevitabilities is that we all make mistakes. Sometimes we’re knocked back by our own mistakes; sometimes the mistakes of others hit us for six. The text contains the oft-repeated messages that we should respond to a defeat by getting back up and dusting ourselves off. But it also introduces us to a much more profound strategy for avoiding many of the problems we face. Frequently, we run into trouble because of something within us that we have not addressed. By identifying and then eradicating this harmful influence, we are less likely to see it lead to a defeat. We’ll still face battles brought on by external circumstances. But the text shows that if we are in touch with God, and walk His way in the spirit of concern for the common good, He will guide us through the storm. God will also call on us to analyze the why and how of what happened. It’s in accurately answering those questions that we position ourselves to advance to a new opportunity, rather than wallow in the setback.

Pastor Paul from the pulpit

Chuck Swindoll, the evangelical Christian radio preacher, shares a story in his book Growing Deep in the Christian Life. He writes there were once two seriously ill men in a hospital room barely big enough for their beds and bedside lockers. The door opened onto the hall, and there was just a single window.

Part of the treatment for one of the men meant he could to sit up in bed for an hour each afternoon. This had to do with draining the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the window, while the other man had to spend all his time flat on his back.

The two men were in the room away from other patients because they had to be kept quiet and still. They were grateful for the peace and privacy, but they were also not allowed much to do.

There could be no reading, no radio-playing, certainly no television. So the men used to talk. They conversed for hours about their wives, their children, their homes, their former jobs, their hobbies, their childhoods, what they did during the war, where they had been on vacations.

Every afternoon, the man in the bed next to the window would spend his hour propped up describing wonderful sights outside. The other man began to live for those hours.

The descriptions told that the window overlooked a park with a lake where children tossed bread to ducks and swans, and sailed model boats. Young lovers walked hand-in-hand beneath the trees. There were flowers and stretches of grass, where some played softball, others basked in the sun. In the distance, there was a fine view of the city skyline.

The man on his back would listen to all of this, enjoying every minute. He heard how a child nearly fell into the lake, and how beautiful the girls were in their summer dresses. There was an account of an exciting ball game, and another of a boy playing with his puppy. It came to be that the man on his back could almost see what was happening outside thanks to his roommate’s descriptions.

Then, on an afternoon there was some sort of parade, the thought struck the man on his back: Why should the roommate have all the pleasure of seeing what was going on?

The man on is back felt ashamed of thinking such a thing, but the more he tried to avoid it, the more he wanted to switch places with the man next to the window.

Within days he had turned sour, and was prepared to do anything to make the switch. He brooded and could not sleep. He also grew even more ill, which none of the doctors could comprehend.

One night, the man was staring at the ceiling when his roommate suddenly woke up coughing and choking. Fluid filled the roommate’s lungs, and his hands groped for the button that would bring the night nurse running. But the man in the bed with no window access listened without moving or saying a word. As the sound of breathing from over by the window stopped, he continued to stare at the ceiling.

Next morning, a nurse arrived with water for their baths, and found the man by the window dead. Orderlies took away his body, quietly, and with no fuss. As soon as it seemed decent, the surviving man asked if he could be moved to the bed next to the window. Orderlies moved him, tucked him in, and made him quite comfortable, before leaving him alone to be quiet and still.

The minute they left the room, the man painfully and laboriously propped himself up on one elbow, and looked through the pane.

He could see no park, or lake or woods or city skyline.

The window faced a blank wall!

This story tells us that …

… defeat begins from within.

We also learn that …

… we need to quickly address the things that, if left uncorrected, cause us to be unsuccessful.

As our text opens, Israel has just conquered Jericho. The Israelites are still giddy from their victory when they plot to next attack the city of Ai as they continue their bid to conquer the Promised Land.

It is at Ai, however, that Israel experiences her first defeat. Joshua and the people are traumatized and demoralized. A study of the events leading to Israel’s decision to attack Ai reveals defeat was all but inevitable. Before attacking the city, Israel made at least two major mistakes, which led to several tactical errors.

First, they were blinded by overconfidence. Israel thought that the ease with which they had conquered Jericho would be duplicated at Ai. In essence, they were living off yesterday’s success.

The success of yesterday does not always carry over into today’s endeavors.

One of my psychology professors used to say,

– “Enjoy today’s moment today because tomorrow is a new day.”

Israel’s second mistake was that they ignored the need for spiritual discernment. They did not seek the direction, guidance and will of God. Israel assumed that God was with them.

Ahead of all our actions in all matters, we must ask: “Is this of or for God, or is this for me?”

In other words, we must consider timing and our source of motivation. When we act and operate according to our own timetable, the chances are pretty good that we will encounter glitches, pitfalls, and a host of unforeseen problems. This is why it is critical that we discern whether or not God has given us the go-ahead.

When God gives us the green light, it means that He has already worked out the fine details.

Israel’s blunders led to serious tactical errors.

First, Israel’s reconnaissance was poor. Before attacking, Israel dispatched spies, as it had done in previous campaigns. But the spies’ reports this time underestimated the enemy. The spies had not been thorough in their investigation, which led to a poor assessment of the situation.

Before we engage in any activity or endeavor, it critical that we do our due diligence.

While problems may still occur, we are more likely to have made an appropriate decision if we begin with as much accurate information as possible.

As a result of poor reconnaissance, Israel’s planning was poor. Operating on faulty information, and still euphoric from the victory at Jericho, Israel presumed not much effort was needed to take the city of Ai.

It is said that …

– “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”

We must be careful not to allow emotions and sentiment cloud our judgment and set our course.

My father used to say,

– “When you have important decisions to make, take your emotions out of the equation because not doing so is the surest way to prevent you from seeing things clearly.”

After having planned poorly, Israel went ahead alone. In an episode of the sitcom The Odd Couple, Tony Randall said in the role of neat-freak Felix Unger,

– “When you assume, you make an ass of you and me.”

Israel assumed that God was with them, and that He would give them the victory.

Failure to seek the support and counsel of God will undoubtedly lead to ruin.

Indeed, Ai in Hebrew means heap of ruins. When we leave God out of the equation, we can be sure we will meet our “Ai”.

Years ago there was an American Express advertising slogan,

– “Don’t leave home without it.”

We would do well to apply that to God …

– “Don’t leave home without Him.”

In addition to all of the other mistakes Israel made, one of their soldiers fell to greed and selfishness. Achan took it upon himself to take from Jericho what God had said should be earmarked for destruction.

John Stuart Mill, the father of utilitarian ethics, said,

– “Actions are right to the degree that they promote the greatest good for the greatest number of people.”

Whenever we place personal desires above the collective good of the family, church, community or place of employment, it is a tactical error in judgment.

The text shows us that …

… defeats are a part of life and will happen.

It also points out that …

… defeats and setbacks are tools that God uses to teach us something about ourselves and those around us.

So how should we deal with defeat? In our text, God tells Joshua to do three things:

– Get up

– Identify the source of the problem

– Remove the problem

As we take God’s instructions to Joshua and apply them to our lives, a few maxims emerge:

When knocked down, get back up! When the unforeseen makes us stagger, our response should be to right ourselves. Defeat is not being knocked down, but staying down.

Assess why and how it happened. This is where spiritual discernment is required. We already know what happened, so there is no sense is rehashing the what. That would be living in the problem. We need God to shine His light on why and how a particular event happened. But, most importantly, we need Him to tell us whether He is with us. Indeed, if God is not with us, then that would explain the why and the how.

Take corrective action immediately. When God reveals the source of a problem, He does so for the express purpose of making us notice something we need to immediately address. It is not God’s will that His people be defeated in life or dwell in their problems. That is why the Scripture says,

– “We are more than conquerors.”

God reveals the source and nature of problems so that, as children of God, we can move from living in the problem to living in the solution.

The only way we can make the transition is by taking corrective action following God’s revelation.

Through a process of spiritual discernment, God revealed to Joshua and Israel that the primary culprit behind the unsuccessful campaign at Ai was Achan. His actions, like those of the man in the hospital who allowed his roommate to die, prove that defeat occurs from within.

– We are already defeated when we allow our desires to rage out of control.

– We are already defeated when we ride the euphoria of yesterday’s victory into today.

– We are already defeated when the spirit of covetousness leads us to take short cuts and subvert divine rules and prohibitions.

– We are already defeated when we place personal agenda over what will be best for the collective good.

To deal with defeat, we must slay the enemy within.

If you have been knocked down and are having difficulty getting back up, perhaps you are experiencing a spiritual power outage and need help. Jesus is alone in being able to provide help beyond the level you seek or can imagine. Just ask Him. He will help you get back on your feet.

Almighty Father,

I know and acknowledge that I am a sinner. I repent, right now, of all my sins, and I am asking you to forgive me. You said in your Word, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). I am calling on the name of your Son, Jesus, to come into my heart and be my Savior.

You also said, “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). I believe with my heart that Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead so that I may have eternal life. I confess Him, right now, as my Lord.

I ask you Lord Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to live on the inside of me, and help me to live a life that is pleasing to both you and God, the Father.

In the name of Jesus, I submit this prayer.


Sunday 8 November 2009

May God Bless You

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