Who does not want to be successful? My tenth grade Bible class is beginning to study the Old Testament book of Joshua. In the first nine verses, we were surprised to discover seven habits that lead to prosperity and success. Considering that these may interest a broader audience, I will outline seven habits, which enable anyone who practices them to be successful. But first, an important perspective on what constitutes success.
A Biblical Perspective on Success
A biblical perspective on success differs significantly from the popular understanding of success, which seems to be associated with fame, fortune and a large social media following. In contrast, let us consider Jesus, the New Testament Joshua. In John 17:4 Jesus prays to his Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” Having this in mind, Jesus may have defined success as accomplishing the work that God has given a person to do. This perspective certainly contrasted with how people in Jesus’ day viewed success. In eyes of his generation, Jesus had no fortune; he was infamous – a liar or worse, and most of his followers abandoned him. They would have given Jesus a big “F” for failure. But this is not what God thought. God exalted him and gave him a name above every other name (Philippians 2:9). Why? Because Jesus accomplished the work God gave him to do. This understanding of success, defined as accomplishing the work God has given a person to do, frames the practice of the seven habits of people who accomplish great things for God.
With this biblical understanding of success in mind, let’s return to Joshua 1:1-9 and look at the first habit of people who accomplish great things for God.
1. Hear what God says. The Book of Joshua begins, “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant…”, and the next eight verses continue God’s message to Joshua. So we will start our seven habits of people who accomplish great things for God with the observation that anyone who accomplishes great things for God must first hear what God says.
2. Go where God sends you. Verses 2-5 record God’s first instruction to Joshua.
“Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life.” (ESV)
God’s command to Joshua was “arise, go….” Reading on we see that God was sending Joshua and the people into the Promised Land, which God was giving to them. God promised Abraham that he would give this land to his descendants (Genesis 12:7). The time had now come. God was at work fulfilling his promise. We too can accomplish great things for God when we go where God is at work and join Him in what he is doing.
3. Be strong and courageous. Three times in this passage God commands Joshua to be strong and courageous. However this command was preceded by a great promise (v. 5) “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.“ God’s presence was secret of Joshua’s success and it continues to be the secret of the Church’s success (Matthew 28:18-19). Today we might say that God had Joshua’s back. And he continues to be with those who follow his call to make disciples of all nations. We might think of courage as “holy boldness”, inspired by God’s presence and commission. Courage is the choice to act boldly in the face of great risk. Without a doubt, courage is needed to accomplish great things for God.
4. Be careful to obey all God’s Word. Habit Nr. 4 is at the heart of our list and is probably the most essential of them all: “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you” (v.7a NIV). This same phrase is repeated in verse 8, and I also hear an echo of this verse in the Great Commission. “Make disciples of all nations….teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). People who accomplish great things for God must be careful to obey all of God’s word.
5. Do not turn to the right or left. “Do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go” (v. 7b NIV). Joshua was to have a singular focus on his mission. Tuning to the right or the left would simply involve pursuing other things outside his calling. Jesus shares a similar comment in the parable of the sower. He notes that some “hear the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:18b,19 NASB). Reflecting on both examples, we learn that maintaining a singular focus leads to success.
6. Memorize God’s word. 8 “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips.” The only way to keep God’s word on your lips is to first memorize it. This sets the stage for the final habit, which is…
7. Meditate on God’s word. Joshua 1:8 is considered the golden verse of the entire book and highlights the final key to success: Meditating on God’s word.
“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (v. 8 NIV)
People who accomplish great things for God memorize and meditate on God’s Word. This is not an end in itself as the intended outcome is to “be careful to do everything written in it.” This leads to success.
Success follows practicing these seven habits
William Carey, the Father of the Modern Missions Movement (1761-1834), exhorted his generation to “Expect great things from God; Attempt great things for God!” Joshua was certainly a person who not only attempted great things for God but accomplished great things for God. The remainder of the book of Joshua tells how he led the people into the Promised Land and possessed it, fulfilling a promise God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob centuries prior. Throughout his life Joshua practiced the seven habits outlined here, and the people of Israel served the Lord too (cf. Joshua 24:31). It seems reasonable that those who faithfully practice all seven habits outlined here will accomplish great things for God too. What about you?
Questions for Further Reflection:
- How do you view success?
- What surprises you about these seven habits?
- What challenges you about these habits?
- What will you do to practice all seven of these habits?