Some promises in Scripture are just as sobering as the commands and warnings. What God promises to be for us — protection from evil, deliverance from temptation, refuge in suffering —exposes some threatening shadow of reality, the kind of shadows we often try to ignore and avoid, the kind of shadows we all inevitably face.
When Joshua stood at the edge of the Promised Land, trying to prepare his heart for the hostility and uncertainty he would meet, God said to him,
Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)
But strength and courage can be stubbornly elusive, especially when the dangers are real and the stakes high, as they were for Joshua and everyone following him.
God says, “Be strong and courageous,” but he says more than that. He leads Joshua, and us, into a sure shelter from our fears, into an arsenal stronger than the opposition and resistance we face, into a well deep enough to satisfy our souls, even in trials. He prepares us for the battles of faith, the everyday and the extraordinary, by training us to read his word well. We will not find strength and courage for suffering without learning to read, really read, the Bible.
The courage we need in our hearts begins with learning to focus our minds. If we have read the Bible for any amount of time, we have realized just how much “reading” we can do without really reading anything. Our eyes can roll over words, and paragraphs, and even pages, while our minds run off somewhere else — to something difficult from yesterday, or to something pressing today, or to some alert on our phones. Some of us are persistently afraid or stressed because we have forgotten how to fix our minds on God long enough to hear from him.
The Lord says to Joshua, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left” (Joshua 1:7). And then in the next verse, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth . . . so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8). Not just faithful, but careful, discerning traps and errors on the left and the right. This kind of reading requires more patience, attention, and thinking than many of us are used to giving the Bible.
The words of God, however, were never meant to stay in the mind. The mind can become a kind of cul-de-sac for what we know about God, cutting our theology off from our sins and needs, relationships and fears. We read and read and read, and never feel. Some of us think ourselves strong and courageous because we know the Bible says we should be, but we have not really experienced what God has promised. So we pretend. We fight to suppress our fears, instead of facing them with God.
God wants the roots of truth, however, to drive themselves into all our feelings — about him, about the world, about holiness and sin, about ourselves and our troubles. Again, he says, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night” (Joshua 1:8). So we don’t just read carefully, but we also work to massage what we read into our hearts until we feel its reality — until we start to feel courageous again.
The blessed man meditates on the law of the Lord day and night because he delights in it (Psalm 1:2), and he delights in the law of the Lord because he meditates on it day and night. Analysis and understanding will not be enough in real life; we need to read, and wait, and pray, and think until we feel the Bible, and delight in what we read.
Thinking without meditating will undermine our Bible reading, and so will thinking and even feeling without doing (James 2:17). Some of us feel loved, inspired, or even convicted when we read, but then we do nothing. We read and read and read, and never change.
Two words are massively important and often missed in the Lord’s charge to Joshua: “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law” (Joshua 1:7). Again, in the next verse, “You shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8). Obedience is critical to courage. We will find what we need for unusually challenging times ahead by committing to do whatever God says at all times. Full courage may not come that moment, or for some time, but we won’t find real courage in the Lord without taking real steps toward him.
Israel wasn’t going to find any real resolution for their fears by heading back across the Jordan (Joshua 1:2). If they wanted to be delivered, healed, made whole, they had to go through the fire — with God. We shouldn’t expect to have courage or strength from God — or peace, or joy, or life — if we’re not willing to carefully do what he says.
When you read the Bible, read with your mouth. This one may be the most surprising, but only until we chew on the idea for a moment. The Lord says, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth” (Joshua 1:8). Part of finding fresh courage, and persevering in courage, is reminding someone else to be courageous.
Some years earlier, Moses gave the people a similar command. Notice the connection between our hearts and mouths:
Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children. (Deuteronomy 4:9)
Teaching the children was not just about making sure the next generation knew what to believe, but also about the present generation remembering what to believe. Jesus weaves this same dynamic into the Christian life (Matthew 28:19–20). If you want to keep your soul and your heart, go tell someone what God in Christ has done for you, and then keep telling them and anyone else who will listen.
Who might need to hear something you read in the Bible this week that stabilized your hope, deepened your joy, and strengthened you to persevere in obedience to Christ?
Finally, and most importantly, read the Bible with your God. All our reading, and feeling, and speaking, and even obeying will be in vain if he is not with us.
The Lord says to Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). The ultimate source of any real strength, the deepest and strongest well of sincere courage, is not in words, phrases, pages, or spiritual disciplines, but in God. Every day when we sit down to read, he is the goal, the barometer, the prize. Have we tasted and seen his goodness again?
When fears assemble, and trials suddenly surface, and loved ones we had leaned on abandon us or have little help to offer, our God says, through every fire and flood,
Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:1–2)
As you read, and live, and suffer, know that this God is always with you. Read to have him, and to be had — mind, heart, hands, mouth, and life — by him.
Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have a son and live in Minneapolis.