If there was ever a man who had reason to be afraid, it was Joshua the son of Nun. Joshua had served as the protege of Moses, and after the mighty prophet passed, took up his mantle of leadership over the nascent nation of Israel. Joshua had three primary challenges before him.
First, he was leading the nation in the shadow of Moses—a man who walked with God like no other. Second, the people—probably over two million in number—were self-willed, obstinate, and often unbelieving. And third, Joshua was leading Israel into battle against hardened warriors who were often led by giants. Under Moses’ leadership, Israel had defeated Og, king of Bashan, and his iron bed was thirteen and a half feet long by six feet wide (Deuteronomy 3:11).
After Moses died, the Lord spoke a message to Joshua that many of His children have since drawn upon for strength and encouragement during fearful times:
“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. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. 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, that you may have good success wherever you go. 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 good success. 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 1:2-9 (ESV)
What encouraging words the Lord spoke to Joshua! God would be with him, empower him in battle, and never forsake him. What else could Joshua have asked for?
God’s Conditional Promise
But the Lord also gave a stern warning to his aspiring leader about the Mosaic law: “This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do.”
God’s promises for strength and success were conditional, and those conditions depended upon Joshua seeking and adhering to the Lord’s ways. In other words, Joshua’s will had to be submitted to God’s will.
There is only one Almighty God in this universe, and neither you nor I qualify. The most exhausting endeavor we could ever undertake is for us, as finite beings, to fulfill the role of the infinite God. Even attempting to do so seems like a foolish undertaking, but these are the motivations that drive human nature.
If we want to abide in God’s restful design, we must abide in His truth, and to abide in His truth, we must seek and submit to His ways. Submitting to His ways, my friends, is one of the most difficult challenges that any of us will ever face.
The Quest for Control
This brings us to the second component of the “I will ascend!” mantra. And if you thought that human self-centeredness was confusing, our desire for self-sovereignty is even more so. At the heart of all of our self-sovereign drive is a quest for control. The innate desire for control finds four primary expressions—the first of which we will address in this chapter. Each attempt to take control, in its own way, steals our peace and joy:
1. We lust for power.
2. We want what we want.
3. We are afraid.
4. We carry burdens.
We lust for power. Nowhere is this innate human tendency more evident than in the realms of business and government. Like an insatiable thirst, no amount of power ever satisfies. How many wars have been fought as a result? How many lives lost? How many of our species have been relegated to slavery—or treated as such under the guise of employment? How many families have been fractured?
The lust for control is why wise leaders structure democratic governments with a balance of power. They know human tendencies all too well because of the many monarchies and dictatorships that have ruled with iron fists, having stolen the God-given right to human freedom.
If you are a person who lusts for power, the fear of losing control will haunt you. It was cause you to commit unjust acts of which you never thought yourself possible. You will view other people as your enemies, but your own lust will eat at you like a cancer from the inside out.
Moreover, if you willfully choose to continue your quest for control, you will lose. Badly. Painfully. Regretfully. No matter what victories you think you have won, in the end, you will lose. Your crown will decay in earthen dust, and you will be without rest. Forever.
Only the wise and humble understand that servanthood is the foundation of healthy leadership. But rare is the influential leader who learns to reign over his or her “aboriginal impulse” to pursue such an insatiable thirst. What else are we to do other than fall on our faces before God and cry out, “But for Your grace, Lord, there go I!”
*Bob Santos has authored several books, and this post is drawn from an upcoming work titled The Search for Rest.