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Lectionary Living

Energy for One's Own Goals

1 Kings 8:(1,6,10-11), 22-30, 41-43 and Psalm 84  •  Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 and Psalm 34:15-22  •  Ephesians 6:10-20  •  John 6:56-69


Today I'm turning to the alternate Old Testament reading in Joshua 24. To set the stage, Joshua is nearing the end of his life, having brought the Hebrew people into the promised land. While he has led them in some military victories (the famous story of the walls of Jericho, tumbling down, is found here), for the most part, they have entered an area with enough land so that they manage to co-habit with the existing population, who worship other gods.


For us today, I cannot imagine a more relevant story. The multitude of rival gods surrounding us today is not at all dissimilar to human life over 2500 years ago, when the Hebrew people first settled in Canaan. In their time, the idols brought from previous homes or the gods of the Amorites in the land where they had come to dwell were both distracting the people from serving the Lord. In our time, we continue to fool ourselves into thinking that all of our wishes can be managed or juggled or balanced without losing focus.


Joshua, though, was having none of it. Any goal, any priority, besides following God, was suspect. If you won't serve the Lord, then choose what god you will serve, he demanded. Somehow, in Joshua's mind at least, it was much worse to make a half-hearted effort to appease all the gods than to decide to serve any one of them.


One of the most-quoted lines in scripture is found near the end of this reading, when Joshua tells the people to serve whoever they are going to serve, but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. A note in my Bible says that the translators are unclear about whether 'household' meant his family or a larger community. Whether it's families or congregations or organizations or nations, those with shared goals tend to work together more effectively than those whose intentions are unaligned. 


In a sense, Joshua's closing statement is a modelling of intentionality, telling the people that he will not be spending his time trying to convince them of what they should do, but is clear about what he (and his household) will do. At this point, the people all decide to follow his lead. Somehow, those who get clear about themselves, and their lives, attract followers.


First things first though. How does a person get clear and then stick with it? It's one thing to decide on a direction, but it's quite another to make it happen. The biggest problem – bigger than the number of false gods out there – is an internal one. A person's own emotional system can be at odds with her mature self. One result: one's energy goes towards being responsible for others, taking from them what are essentially their own chances to grow. Another potential result is an over-focus on others and their responses to oneself. Does she appreciate/like/care about me? Does he agree/support/sympathize with my view? Setting aside such questions is possible when one can learn to reason with one's own emotions and notice one's own reactivity.


Thinking about what others should do/feel/say is a serious time sink. Thinking about what oneself is going to do – and sticking with it, as Joshua did – leads to a different life, with energy for one's own goals. When the emotional system and the intellectual system can work together, perceiving the false gods and finding the true, good intentions can become realities.



Morning: What are the false gods in my world? How can I be less distracted today?

Evening: When did I manage to stay on track? When did I lose energy by assuming responsibility for others or focusing on them and their responses to me?

Psalm 34:18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.

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