Have you heard the old riddle, “How to you get to Carnegie Hall?” Before you grab a smartphone and look it up on your favorite Maps app, the traditional answer to that riddle is “Practice”. Motivational speakers and coaches would probably remind us that “practice doesn’t always make perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect”.
Both of those statements are a little ironic in my case, since I’m pretty sure that no amount of practice would get me to perform a musical number at Carnegie Hall, no matter how much I believe in the benefit of working hard to get better. (Someday, if Carnegie Hall hosts an engineering show, a programming competition, or a lecture circuit, I might have an outside chance of being an opening act for someone…but I’m definitely not in the caliber of musicians for which Carnegie Hall is known.)
Still, no matter what our goal, there are ways to get us closer to that goal. Doing nothing is never the answer to reach a goal (unless perhaps you’re trying to win a napping contest). Instead, we must find out what will help us reach our targets, and take tangible steps to make that happen…or else we’re likely to be disappointed with our progress.
In the book of Joshua, God gave Joshua a number of instructions, including the following:
This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.
Joshua 1:8 NASB
Joshua – as part of the Israelite nation – had received instructions (“the law”) from God, through Joshua’s predecessor, Moses. This outlined how God expected the nation of Israel to live, both in regards to moral standards, and as a testimony to the world around them.
God offered Joshua prosperity and success, but this was not a “freebie”. The mechanism by which this would be achieved required some effort from Joshua. And, I don’t think that this was a “pay to play” scenario – instead, the actions commanded of Joshua would naturally result in a positive outcome.
First, he needed to know and dwell on the law. These directions from God ranged from the simple (“You shall not steal.” – see Exodus 20:15), to the complex (see most any chapter from the book of Leviticus, like Leviticus 4, for instance). However, I suspect that this was not just a matter of committing a set of rules to memory, nor merely repeating them by rote. Being prone to forget things myself (or at least not remember them at the right time), I think that some of this was to keep God’s will forefront in Joshua’s mind, so that he would know the right thing to do at the right time.
Secondly, this would allow Joshua to actually follow God’s instructions. Knowing the right thing to do, and not doing it, is just as bad – and probably worse – than not knowing in the first place. The key to success was not in just knowing what God wanted from Joshua and the Israelites – it was in actually living those things out.
Only in both of these things was prosperity promised. Learning God’s will, but not doing anything about it, is pointless. Trying to do the right thing, without actually understanding what God seeks from us, tends to skew towards what we (or others) think is a good idea at the time. However, doing both aligns us with the plan that God has had for us all along. He didn’t create rules to oppress or exploit us; instead, His direction is designed to allow us to live up to the potential for which we were created, and to maximize the good that can be done.
At this point, some could point out (correctly) that Jesus’ fulfillment of the law means that we are no longer bound by all of the practices outlined in the law of Moses. That’s true, but the principles of Joshua 1:8 still apply in a state of grace.
For one thing, Jesus made it clear that loving Him meant keeping His commandments:
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
John 14:15 NASB
I don’t read this as some sort of process by which we earn God’s favor. Instead, this statement sounds like a simple declaration of fact: The logical outcome of loving Jesus is keeping His commandments.
Note that this doesn’t say that we must keep all of His commandments (or even a certain percentage of them) in order to receive grace and salvation. But, it does tell us what loving Jesus will look like. And, to keep Jesus’ commandments, we obviously must know and understand what they are, which brings us back to the principles of Joshua 1:8.
So, if you love Jesus, I hope that you aren’t passively reading about His will and just sitting on that knowledge. I would cringe (if only in empathy, since I’ve been there) if you are trying to do good based on whatever you personally think is right. (And, if you’re doing what other people tell you is right, without checking against the instructions of Jesus, well, I hope that I can persuade you to change direction on that.)
Instead, may each of us study the message of Jesus to understand how He calls us to live, and then strive to live that kind of life to the fullest. It’s a rewarding path on earth, but even that joy will pale in comparison to receiving His compliment of “Well done”.
We might not make it to Carnegie Hall, but I think that we can do even better.