It is another New Year, and here in snowy, cold New Hampshire it seems strange to think about new beginnings while surrounded by winter’s grip. This is also a time that many people stop to reflect on what lies behind; the last year/s or perhaps a lifetime – either your own or the life of someone important to you. A few weeks ago, while preparing a lesson for children, I was struck by a part of the story of the life of Caleb. It was Caleb reflecting on one chapter of his life and preparing for the next.
To set the scene, Caleb was one of the 12 spies that Moses sent into the land of Canaan. They were supposed to see what the land, the people, and the cities were like. When the spies came back to give a report they all talked about how wonderful the land was, but 10 of the 12 were afraid of the people and struck fear into the heart of the people. Only Caleb and Joshua believed that God could do as He said He would do and give them victory and the Promised Land. (Numbers Chapter 13 -14 records the whole story)
The people chose to believe the 10 spies instead of the faithful two, then when God had pronounced judgment on them, they decided to go on their own and try to do what God had told them at first. Not surprisingly, when they went out in their own strength, they were soundly defeated.
Now jump ahead 45 years, Joshua (the other faithful spy) is now the leader of the people, all the people that had rebelled at first have died. Israel is in the promised land and has taken possession of some of it, but there are still some fierce battles to be waged.
Joshua 14:6-8 Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God.
In Deuteronomy, the history of the people’s refusal to enter the Promised Land is reviewed along with the judgment for their rebellion.
Deuteronomy 1:34-36 And the Lord heard your words and was angered, and he swore, “Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the Lord”
That phrase “wholly followed the Lord” is a very convicting phrase. As I sit here at my desk, in a warm house, I am looking out my window at a snow covered cemetery. I wonder, not for the first time, if that phrase “wholly followed the Lord” is true of any part of my life. Caleb was close to my age when he went out as a spy, and already at that point of his life God said of Him that He had wholly followed the Lord.
The Bible goes on chronicling the wilderness years, and Caleb isn’t mentioned specifically again until the book of Joshua. Have you ever pondered those years in between? Caleb and Joshua were the only ones of their generation to be spared the judgment of dying in the wilderness. Caleb was 40 years old, but the judgment applied to everyone 20 years old and older. So during that time of wandering, Caleb watched as all of his peers, and many a generation younger died out, until he was truly the old man in the camp of Israel. What emotions do you suppose he experienced? Was there sorrow at the passing of yet another one he grew up with, or perhaps relief when the time of judgment was drawing to a close, did he feel guilty at a feeling of relief? Numbers 14:34 tells us clearly that he knew the judgment would last 40 years, but what a long 40 years it must have been for him.
Yet through all of that time, there is nothing recorded of him grumbling or complaining against God. So let’s look at the rest of what Caleb said before Joshua.
Joshua 14:10-12 And now behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as He said, these 45 years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day 85 years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for your heard on that day how the Anakim (giants) were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.
If you stop and read the whole passage, Joshua 14:6-12, you can hear in your mind’s ear the ringing voice of the warrior. This man of God who was faithful his whole life, and at 85 years old, as the old man of the congregation of Israel – he wanted the giants! He wanted the big challenge, he knew God was faithful and he wanted to go forward and see God’s promise fulfilled. I pray that if I live to see 85, I would have that passion for serving God.
What strikes me as central to this inspiring story of Caleb, is that phrase, “wholly followed the Lord”. How does a man or woman live their life in such a way that this would be true of them? What was different about Caleb? Thankfully God’s Word doesn’t leave us to wonder, God Himself answers that question.
Numbers 14:24 “But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.”
Caleb had a different spirit. The Hebrew word used here is one that speaks of the deepest parts of a man, it is also used to indicate kindred feelings to the Divine nature. That is what was different about Caleb, his spirit was kindred to the Divine nature of God.
If you are sitting and reflecting on your life, and feeling like nothing could be farther from the Divine nature than what you see in the mirror, you are not alone. There is a lot about my life that I know does not reflect the nature of God. However, just as Caleb believed the word of the Lord concerning his life, we can choose to believe the Word of the Lord concerning our lives. For you see, for anyone that knows their own sinful nature, and calls on Jesus and the power of His shed blood as the only way to be made right with God, there are some very specific promises that apply to our lives.
II Chronicles 5:17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Romans 6:10-11 For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Through the sacrifice of Jesus, and the working of the Holy Spirit in us, we can be kindred to the Divine nature, “alive to God”. I must admit that over the past year as I have spent time thinking and praying about things like building a life that honors God, raising children to love God, and living the Gospel of Reconciliation (II Corinthians 5:18-19); it feels and sounds overwhelming. When I look at the ways my life falls short of the ideal of “wholly following God” it is easy to listen to the voice of the enemy and become discouraged. However, it is important at times like this to remember what we are told in the Bible.
Joshua 24:15 …Choose this day whom you will serve, … as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
II Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
I John 3:23-24 And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us. Whoever keeps His commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
The key is not to look forward by the year, or to the end of your lifetime. Rather, look at the next action you have to take, or the choice you have to make and ask yourself if this next choice or action would be one following the will of God. I can tell you from experience that when you do this, follow God one choice and one action at a time, then God will meet you there. You will find that there are ways that you can minister that you had not expected, people to reach you were not aware of, ways you can shine the light of the Gospel you never even thought of. It may be messy, it will be scary at times, but you will find a peace there in knowing that you are doing the next thing that God has given you.
It sounds to simple, but it is true. Lives are built one choice at a time. If you make your focus one of honoring God with each next action and choice, you will find over time your life is taking a direction you might not have expected. However, it will be a life that God is directing, and you will be able to see the evidence of it. When you make a mistake and shift your focus to yourself as we are so prone to do, you can repent and begin again to honor God by the very nature of that decision to repent.
So maybe instead of a New Year’s resolution this year, consider just developing the habit of pausing before acting, deciding, or speaking and in that pause ask yourself, “Does this choice, action, words etc, line up with what the Bible reveals to be the will of God.”
Then at some point in your day, spend a few minutes with God and examine yourself in front of Him, “Am I this day wholly following the Lord my God?”