by Charles McMahan
Where would the world be today without those who answered the call at the right time?
Esther answered her call “for such a time as this.” Paul, the self-described “chief of sinners,” humbly began a ministry that would lead the gospel westward. How? He answered God’s call to go to the Gentile world.
Where would we be as a country without the leadership of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? What would have happened to the Civil Rights movement had Martin Luther King, Jr. ignored a call that demanded all the courage he could muster?
In Joshua chapter 1 the children of Israel are at a crucial crossroad. They are about to enter the promised land given to them by God’s divine will and purpose. But Moses their leader is dead. Who will succeed him? God taps Joshua on the shoulder. Joshua answers.
Notice the nature of God’s call on Joshua’s life.
A Successive Call to Leadership
Joshua had been trained to follow Moses. He had watched Moses. He had assisted Moses. He had supported Moses. It seems he was a natural successor to Moses’ leadership. In Joshua 1:1 he is called “Moses’ aide,” a title given to him as he served Moses for many years as second in command.
Sometimes a call to leadership comes naturally through those who have influenced us. Many leadership calls have been answered because a positive impact left a leader-to-be saying, “I want to do what he does. I want to have the impact he has had. I want to continue his ministry in the place God puts me. I see similar strengths in me the Lord could use.”
Elisha followed Elijah and received a call. Elijah passed on his mantle of leadership and Elisha arguably had a more influential ministry than his predecessor. Elijah had done his job.
Sometimes a leadership call is not a mystery; it follows an influence. This is common because one is not ready to lead until he or she has followed. Personally, I would never have heard any call to leadership but for the mentors in my life I respected deeply. I saw characteristics and abilities in myself I would never have seen without their reflection and influence.
But there is a challenge here: We have to allow ourselves to be led while maintaining our unique personality and identity. It’s been said, “God made us all originals and many of us spend our lives trying to be copies of someone else.”
God made only one you—for a reason. Be influenced. Follow. But know yourself and be yourself.
You will likely follow someone. That’s good. But be yourself, too. An elderly rabbi named Zusya said something Joshua could have said: “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”
A Selective Call to Leadership
God picked Joshua for a specific task: to lead the people into the promised land. Moses was not going to cross over with the people of Israel. And now he was gone. It was Joshua’s task to lead the people across the Jordan; he was selected for this very purpose. Somehow Joshua was in a place where God could speak to him.
All of us are called to service. There are no exceptions. But a specific call to leadership can vary in intensity, in responsibility, and in term. Sometimes a specific call lasts a lifetime. Sometimes a specific call lasts for a season.
It is imperative we listen. Every day. So that we can stay in step with the movements of the Spirit.
On the road to Damascus the apostle Paul was knocked off his horse of religious presumption. He had presumed God was vehemently opposed to this new sect of Nazarene devotees. He was blind for three days. Jesus had his attention. Jesus told him, “You are my chosen instrument to take my message to the non-Jews.” I doubt if Paul ever failed to pay attention to his Selector again. He told us, “Walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16) and again, “Keep in step with the Spirit” (v. 25).
Maybe you’ve been chosen for a specific task. Maybe for a lifetime. Or maybe for a season. Pay attention.
A Subjective Call to Leadership
The Scriptures say in Joshua 1:1 that the Lord spoke to Joshua. We’re not given any hint that anyone else heard God speak to Joshua and call him to this most critical leadership position. There would be doubters, no doubt. There would be skeptics. There would be people who would say, “He’s no Moses. I miss getting direction from God on stone tablets like Moses used to give us.”
We know the rest of the story. We know about Jericho and the Jordan River stopping its flow and the successful military campaigns. We have the benefit of the record of Joshua’s success. He had not seen the story yet.
I’ve never studied a leader’s life whose call was not tested because there is an inherent subjectivity in the call to leadership. I have been in local ministry for 25 years and I admit there have been many times—and still are—when I wonder if I answered the right call. That’s the nature of the call.
While we’re wondering, God is working, however. He teaches us lessons and uses the subjectivity of the call to show he is always in the lead.
If you’re in the midst of a subjective call the message the Lord has for Joshua is for you. It’s the same message you and I have to trust to stay true to our call:
My promise is yours: I have a future for you. Joshua was told, “This journey has only begun with Moses. You’re leading my people home.”
“I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west” (Joshua 1:3, 4).
My presence is yours: I am with you always. Joshua heard, “If I am for you, no one can stand against you.”
“No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you” (v. 5).
My power is yours: Be strong. Joshua had to make a willful determination to be courageous, not necessarily feel courageous. “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.” (v. 6)
My principles are yours: Obey the law. Joshua could trust that if he stayed on course with the principles of truth revealed in the law, God’s blessing would remain on him. “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you . . . . Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (vv. 7-9)
Joshua decisively acted on God’s leading, however open for discussion it may have seemed to some. He took charge. Joshua ordered the military officers: “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you for your own’” (vv. 10, 11).
And the people responded, as people usually do to anointed, consecrated, gifted leadership. “Then they answered Joshua, ‘Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the LORD your God be with you as he was with Moses. Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, is to be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!’” (vv. 16-18).
There has never been a leader who didn’t wonder if he heard God incorrectly or if the signal got mixed up in between Heaven and earth. There has never been a leader who didn’t doubt at times whether he was the right man for the job. If that is you, get quiet. Say to God in the quiet place, “Speak. You have my attention. And until told otherwise, I will serve courageously in the place I am. Fulfill your purposes in me.”
Charles McMahan is minister of Southbrook Christian Church in Miamisburg, Ohio.
What is your call?
• Have you felt a call to leadership? Who or what did God use to get your attention?
• Has your leadership call been for only a season, or has it lasted over a long period of time?
• Have you had a time of doubt about your call? What lessons on trust has God taught you in your time of questioning?