“You will go forth in ministry everywhere, wherever the Lord Jesus sends you. And wherever in ‘everywhere’ you pitch your tent, you are to go to everyone. And the ‘I am with you’ will be your strength.” With these words, Dr. Malcom Cronk summarized the Great Commission. Although he said this many years ago, in a chapel message at Moody Bible Institute, I have never forgotten it. Is the “I am with you” our strength?
Our meditations have been about how to be like David was in his darkest moments of need and how to strengthen ourselves in God. There is no more important discipline to learn than how to experience and draw strength from the “I am with you.”
Joshua was the man of God called to step into some huge sandals. In Joshua 1 we read what must have been terrifying news to Joshua. “Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel.”
Moses, God’s servant, was dead. Moses was a supremely gifted leader whom God had used uniquely. He was the Law giver, prophet, and God’s mouthpiece giving God’s instruction to the people. He led the Children of Israel out of Egypt. He was the instrument that God used to bring the ten plagues on Egypt. Moses was the one God thrust into the forefront at the miracle of the Red Sea. To know that God was with them, they looked to the cloud and the fire. To know what God wanted them to do, they went to Moses. Moses was irreplaceable. God promised that someday He would raise a prophet like Moses in Israel. That would be the Messiah.
Now Moses who was everythingT to Israel was dead. Joshua, his assistant, was thrust into those huge sandals. Some think Joshua was by nature a timid man. I think not. He led the armies of Israel as a general. He stood with Caleb in the face of the entire nation at Kadesh-barnea. He did not become second to Moses because he was timid. Still, to follow such a unique leader like Moses was more than daunting. It had to be utterly terrifying even for Joshua.
So, God encourages His chosen leader of the people, Joshua, giving him some very important promises. The greatest of the promises is found in verse 5 and is repeated in verse 9. “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you” Joshua 1:5. Like we often do, Joshua needed to hear God’s promise again. So God repeated it. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9.
Joshua experienced God’s presence with Him in the process of doing the task that God called him to do. Joshua experienced God’s presence also in the keeping of God’s Word (Joshua 1:8), which is the context of the promise in verse 9.
This promise appears several times in other passages in the Bible. Isaiah wrote as God’s spokesman the precious promise to Judah in Isaiah 41:10-13. “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ Behold, all those who were incensed against you shall be ashamed and disgraced; they shall be as nothing, and those who strive with you shall perish. You shall seek them and not find them— those who contended with you. Those who war against you shall be as nothing, as a nonexistent thing. For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, Saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’”
God issues these promises and words of comfort on the heels of the great revelation of who He is in Isaiah 40. The One who is with Judah and dispels their fear must be understood as the One before whom the nations are a drop in the bucket. He who holds their right hand is the One of Isaiah 40:10-11. “Behold, the Lord God shall come with a strong hand, And His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, And His work before Him. He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom, And gently lead those who are with young.”
There is much strength in the passage in Joshua for the Commander in Chief of the covenant people on the brink of the Promised Land. Isaiah is also helpful to the covenant people of Judah. But what about us New Testament believers? Does none of this apply to us? It sure does. The people of Israel knew God’s presence as they took on the job that God had for them and as they sought to know the Word of God and obey it in their lives.
In the New Testament, we find that there are similar but even greater promises given to God’s New Covenant people. In the Great Commission we find this promise. As we noted in the beginning, the “I am with you” gives us the strength and courage to go and take the gospel with us to those who have not heard it. He is with us in the disciple making. He is with us in the church planting– baptizing and teaching them to do all that He has commanded. And He is with us to the end of our time on planet earth. “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen” (Matthew 28:20). How do we know in a practical sense that He is with us? We will know it as we are actively obeying Him in service.
We also must remember it in very difficult situations. Remember the Apostle Paul in Corinth? In 1 Corinthians Paul reminded them that what God did through Paul in planting the church there was not because Paul was strong, confident, and eloquent. God did it in His power. God, who worked with and through an afraid, weak, and trembling Apostle Paul, changed lives. “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:2–5).
Paul was not kidding about his physical and spiritual condition in Corinth. Luke wrote in Acts 18:9-10. “Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.’” We learn here that when the Apostle Paul was afraid and weak and had much trembling, the “I am with you” was his strength.
Now the writer to the Hebrews when he finishes his book with these important statements of truth includes this incredible promise to every one of us who know the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5–6).
The Writer tells us to not let greed or desiring what another has ever dominate our lives because we have something much better than stuff. We have the presence of our living Lord with us always. He underlines this truth with two absolute statements. Both Greek negatives are put together to say that this absolutely cannot happen. My daughter had a t-shirt that said, “No way, no how, no can do.” That is what God is saying here. I will “no way, no how, no can do” ever leave you. I will “no way, no how, no can do” ever forsake you. It flatly cannot happen.
From this the Writer takes a sentence from Psalm 56 to make a practical application to our lives as New Testament believers. “So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’”
This suggests some important questions for us. Do we have the Word of God in our hearts and lives so that we do not forget that God is for us and our lives are lived before His face and in His very presence? Do we talk with Him in prayer and walk with Him in obedience so that we sense His continual presence? Have we learned how the “I am with you” is our strength?