“Most of us can barely rustle up a prayer for a parking space at church. Joshua prayed for the sun to stand still! What appears to be impossible for us is not remotely difficult for God.” - Mark Bailey speaking at New Wine Ireland’s summer conference in Sligo. (Painting by Andrew Garvey-Williams)
Lessons from Joshua chapter one
By Craig Cooney
For the past 18 months, I’ve heard many Christians and church leaders throughout Ireland express similar things: “Something is stirring; something is happening; God is up to something.” It can be difficult to articulate, but from Cork to Coleraine, Dublin to Galway, there is a strong sense that the spiritual temperature is rising.
As someone from the North who currently ministers in Dublin, I was asked to share at the New Wine Summer Conference in Sligo what I believe God is doing in our land. Here is a summary of what I shared:
Moses is dead: Leave the past behind
After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant: “Moses my servant is dead.” (Joshua 1: 1).
The people had just spent 30 days mourning Moses’ death. Then God says: “Moses is dead.” Why does God tell Joshua something he already knows?
I believe God was communicating: “I am doing something new. But to experience the new, you’re going to have to accept that Moses is dead and he’s not coming back.”
In the same way, for the Church in Ireland, I believe God is telling us to stop living in the past. He is doing a new thing. But to grasp hold of that new thing, we will have to let go of some old things.
I don’t believe God wants to revive something that is dying but rather to allow the old ways to die in order to give birth to something new. It may honour and build on the past, but it won’t look like the past.
The river is right here: step into it
In verse three, God tells Joshua: “I will give you every place where you set your foot…”
The first place they had to walk was right into the river. There’s a difference between standing beside the river and stepping into it. For 40 years, God’s people talked about crossing the river. Now, God says: “Don’t just look; get in!”
For decades in Ireland, we have talked and prayed and preached about revival. I believe God is saying: “Revival is here! Stop waiting for it. Put your foot in the river. This is your time, a kairos moment of divine opportunity.”
Part of the problem is that God doesn’t do what we expect! When we read about past revivals, they often came like a flash flood. But at other times, God did things more gradually.
In recent years, the water level has been rising slowly. Churches are growing. New churches are being planted. People are coming to faith in Jesus. There is an openness to the Gospel rarely seen before.
Be bold: in action and in prayer
Three times God says the same thing: “Be strong and courageous…” (verses 6, 7, 9)
To walk into the Promised Land, God’s people needed courage and boldness. For too long, the church in Ireland has settled for small visions and small thinking. We have prayed small prayers to a small God of our own making.
When I arrived at St. Catherine’s in 2012, the church was in a bad place financially. One Sunday, two men from the States visited our worship service. Afterwards, as we chatted, they asked what they could do. My normal spiritual response is: “Please pray?” Instead, I answered, “Please give us a grand every month.” I couldn’t believe what I had said! They simply smiled and left. Ten days later an envelope arrived with a cheque for $15,000!
Boldness got me what timidity couldn’t. God is saying: “Be bold. Expect big things. Pray big prayers. I’m a big God.”
Expect opposition: it is a sign that you are advancing
“Three days from now you will… take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (v. 10)
God had given His people the land and yet they still had to take possession of it. When they crossed the river, they had to fight!
Many Christians have told me that this has been one of the most difficult seasons but it’s also been one of the most fruitful. God is moving and there is a backlash! The opposition is a good sign. You are advancing, moving forward and taking ground, and God is working through you.
Goliath was the best thing that ever happened to David. If there was no giant to fight, David would have stayed a shepherd boy.
These are great days to be a Christian in this land but it doesn’t mean they will be easy days. God is moving, but the enemy will not give up without a fight. It will be hard. But we fight from victory, not for victory.
Different tribes are coming together: centred on mission
But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, “…all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them…” (verses 12-15)
There were 12 tribes. Joshua reminds them that the only way they can enter the land is to do it together.
In recent years in Ireland, God has brought together different “tribes” based on relationship rather than denominational allegiances. A new unity is developing among groups who previously didn’t work together. We’re putting our differences aside and uniting around the Gospel, mission and the things that really matter. Unity is key to revival.
Get ready for an acceleration
“Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan…’” (v. 11)
For 40 years, the Israelites wandered in the desert. Then overnight, everything changed. I believe that things are going to speed up. Before I shared this message in July, most weeks in our church we were seeing one or two people come to faith. The week I returned, we saw nine people respond to the Gospel.
In John 4:35, Jesus says: “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.”
We need to open our eyes. The harvest is ripe. We simply need labourers – people like you and me - to go into the field and gather it.
Rev. Craig Cooney leads St. Catherine's (Church of Ireland) in inner-city Dublin. Originally from Co. Armagh, he is married to Becky and they have a two-year-old son, Elijah. In his spare time he enjoys running, reading and eating high calorie-food.