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Facing Jericho

And the commander of the Lord‘s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.   Joshua 5:15 ESV

If you are familiar with often recited Bible stories, then you might be familiar with the story about Joshua defeating Jericho.  Jericho was a city surrounded by walls, and Joshua was the leader of God’s people and the plan was for the army to walk around the city until the walls fell leading to victory for Joshua and his people. However, this strange plan was not just to walk around once, but to walk around the city once per day, for six days. On the seventh day, the Israelite army would march around Jericho seven times followed by seven priests blowing seven rams’ horns until the walls came crashing down and Israel could claim victory. This unusual method separates this story from most Old Testament stories of war.

Before Joshua even gets to Jericho, however, he has an even more interesting encounter. In Joshua 5:13 we notice this language: “When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked.”

If you have ever had a big moment coming right around the corner— the start of a new job, a big move, a tough decision, an important day at work— then you have been where Joshua is in this moment. Joshua knows that the conquering of Jericho is ahead because God has promised the Israelites the land, but he isn’t quite there yet. All he can do is think about what is to come and see Jericho in the distance.

When I am in this place before something important, all the possibilities at hand tend to crowd my mind. Maybe you do the same thing, maybe you ignore preparing for the big day that is coming, or maybe you plan and plan to make sure nothing will go wrong. In chapter 5 we see that when Joshua is in this very position, he has an encounter with a messenger from the Lord.

 

When Joshua looks up, he sees a man standing before him. Joshua asks the man if he is on their side or the enemies’ side. The man responds that he is neither, but he is a commander of the Lord- Yahweh’s army. Joshua then falls on his face and worships and asks, “What does my Lord say to his servant?” (Joshua 5:14b). This is already very different from my natural reaction to looming, important, and tense days ahead. Joshua encounters a member of Yahweh’s army, worships, and asks how he, the leader of his own army, can serve his Lord. The best part of this story, in my opinion, is the commander’s response.

“‘Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so” (Joshua 5:15).

The commander of the Lord’s army does not start off by giving Joshua the grand plan on how to face his enemies and have victory at Jericho. The commander does not give Joshua a pump up speech, nor does he bully Joshua into doing a good job. In a time of heavy stress, the commander tells Joshua that this moment is holy. Not only is this place holy, but Joshua is asked to take his shoes off and sit awhile.

Maybe this command is familiar to you. Earlier in the story of God’s people, Moses is also told to do the same thing when he finds himself standing on holy ground (Exodus 3:5). We are told that an angel of the LORD (Yahweh) meets Moses in a burning bush, and when Moses turns aside to see the bush, he is told to take off his sandals. This seems to be a common way that God invites His people to just listen and take a moment in His presence.

When Joshua takes his sandals off, the chapter ends. The next chapter picks up describing how Jericho is shut up inside and out. Then the Lord gives Joshua the seemingly silly plan to walk around the city for days. Even though this plan of attack seems strange, as readers who know Joshua’s recent encounter with God, we can be confident in the plan. We see that Joshua is not acting of his own strength or his own thought; rather, Joshua leads God’s people with the plan God gives him.

Later in the story we read that the plan succeeds. God had a plan, and he used Joshua’s leadership to carry out the plan. We see in Joshua that Christian leadership is full of difficult choices and, at times, large responsibilities. However, we also see in Joshua that Christian leadership begins in our devotion to God. Christian leadership begins when believers submit to God, trusting in God’s plan and in God’s ways. Joshua worships before the victory ever happens at Jericho.

This week think about these questions: What Jericho are you facing? What does it look like for you to “take off your sandals” and notice the holiness of where God has you? How can you praise God this week before you see a victory? Sitting with God reminds us that he is a God we can trust. He is the I AM and he calls us to look up, take off our sandals, and know that where we are standing is holy ground— not because of who we are, but because of who God is.

Mary Katherine Wildeman, New City Stories Contributor

A Deep Relief: The Practice of Centering Prayer

12 “And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.” 1 Kings 19:12 ESV

Although I am a person whose bookshelf is full of books on spirituality, there has been one spiritual practice that I have learned about recently that is not from a book.

As I sat across from a counselor one night, we discussed ways to address coping skills for anxiety through my relationship with God. She suggested the practice of centering prayer. While this was a discussion for my specific context, I want to encourage you that this practice is for more than just the whirlwind of anxiety.

Two years prior it was very difficult to trust that God could work through counseling sessions and medicine to help me understand these fears. This was especially due to the fact that what I really wanted to do was read a good book on it, call it a season, and move forward with my life. Thankfully, God knows me better than I know myself. His timing and His ways on this journey have been sweet, difficult, piercing, and empowering.

A few things that often draw me close to God are music, nature, encouraging friendships, and wisdom found in books. However, centering prayer practice requires none of these. While the presence of God is absolutely present in the loyalty of a good friend, in beautiful words pinned in a song, and the green of trees testifying to God’s beauty, God’s presence is also in the silence. Centering prayer helps us slow down to notice the presence that is already there. Just as in other practices like reading scripture, fasting, praying, sabbath, and worship, we do not coax the presence of God. We do not practice these things so that God will take notice of  to center. When thoughts come to mind, you do not follow them as in other prayer practices, but you let the thoughts pass like a cloud. The thoughts come and go as you repeat only the centering word in your head.

The first time I practiced centering prayer I started at five minutes and centered on the word “trust”. See, long before I knew about this practice God had already been impressing on me the phrase “slow down and trust.” There was nothing fancy about picking my centering word, I just used what God was already showing me in life. Later, I chose the name of God, “Abba,” because it conveys a sense of sovereignty and closeness of God. The five minutes went by a lot quicker than I expected, and so I added five more minutes to my timer and continued. After doing the practice once or twice a day for a week, I noticed a growing desire to be in the word of God. I wanted to spend more time with God. My counselor expressed sensing the presence of God during her time, and I’m sure many others have their own accounts of experiences with centering prayer. I share my personal experience to offer you some insight into the practice. However, remember that you have your own relationship with God that is different from mine. Just as I am
different from my counselor, so are you different from me.

Elijah hiding his face from God after he hears His whisper. 1 Kings 19

Maybe for you, taking time like this is not something you can afford or maybe sitting in silence is terrifying. Let me encourage you with a story of Elijah. Previously, Elijah had just reached the point of giving up on life. Elijah was worn down and burdened by the wickedness around him and his love for the people of God. After the Lord’s angels provided Elijah with food and water, Elijah sought refuge on a mountain in a cave:

“And the word of the Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of  the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him” (1 Kings 19:11-13).

Just like Elijah’s simple response to the still, small voice, I do not come away from centering prayer always overwhelmed with a great “mountaintop experience.” It is much more like Elijah’s response, where after ten minutes centering on the name “Abba” I wrap up
in the cool of the morning, look out of the window trusting that the Lord is there, as mighty as the wind and as faithful as the morning.

I encourage you to practice New City’s core value of risk this week by taking the time to sit in the presence of God. I think you’ll find that this time is full of rest and love. As you are sent and spent by God throughout the week, you can go in the confidence of God’s sustaining I AM presence. You do not have to wait until Sunday to refill spiritually if you have grown tired as Elijah did. God has created us for this very communion with Him. Go in grace and peace this week.

 

Mary Katherine Wildeman, New City Stories Contributor