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Getting Started Right

Let's Revise Our Priorities

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | January 2, 2000

Selected highlights from this sermon

Looking at the preparations Joshua made to enter the Promised Land, Pastor Lutzer shows us how we can be transformed by meditating on the Word of God.

In this message, we will learn how to internalize and personalize Scripture every day of our lives through memorization and repetition.

While the future lies before us  

Like a path of driven snow, 

Be careful how you tread it.  

For every step will show.  

It’s wonderful, isn’t it, to be at the beginning of a new year, to have that new beginning, that new motivation that comes, recognizing that we’ve not been here before? But I need to ask you a question today, and get personal, right at the beginning of this message. What is there in your life that needs to change in order for you to become the person that God wants you to be? That’s the question. What are the barriers? What are the barricades, rather, that stand between you and a vibrant relationship with God? What would you like God to do in your life today that will change the way you will act and live forever? That’s the question. What priorities need to be changed so that as we anticipate the future, it is with that sense of confidence and that inner character that carries us through times that are good and times that are bad? 

I do invite you to take your Bibles and turn to the first chapter of the book of Joshua. Joshua, chapter 1. You know that we’re beginning a series of messages titled, “Getting Started Right,” and today I do speak about priorities. The book of Joshua opens with the Israelites not having done anything really in the last thirty-eight years. And they were wandering around in the desert.  

You know, it is possible to have some kind of activity without making progress, and that certainly was true of them, wasn’t it? And it was going to be difficult to get the nation going. And it may not be true of us. I hope it’s not true of us that for thirty-eight years we haven’t been doing anything, but we always need to be retreaded, and we always need a new vision. But the people were very satisfied with what had happened because, first of all, they had the security of peace. Realize that after they actually began the wanderings, after Kadesh Barnea—not before. They had many battles before, but after Kadesh Barnea basically they were war-free because nobody else was living there in the desert. And they wanted to continue on because they didn’t want to get involved in conflict, so psychologically it would have been very fine for them if they’d have just stayed where they were, rather than to being challenged to go in and take the land. 

And then there was the security of provision. Just think of it. For 38 years, they did not have to plant a single garden. They didn’t have to work to get food because God was always giving them manna. So I can imagine that many of them were saying in their minds, “I’d like to stay right where I am.” Someone has said, “I’d rather keep my problems than go through the uncomfortable process of change.” And that’s the way we are. We would like to keep our problems because we know that to change—my goodness. That means that God begins to deal with us, and we need to make things right with others as well as with Him. And it may begin a whole series of events that make us feel uncomfortable, so what we want to do is to simply say to ourselves, “I’ll stay where I am.” But God says, “Joshua, it’s time to move.” 

What is it that God asked Joshua to do? Well, let’s pick up the text. Verse 1 of chapter 1: “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready...’” That’s the little phrase I want you to remember. Get ready because God is going to do something new among them. That means that they are going to have to do two things: put away sin (and God will give them specific instructions on how to do that), so that sin is behind them, and God is before them, and they are going to have to walk in new territory. Get ready. And I say to you personally, and I say to you as a church as we think about the future, “Get ready.” 

Some of you have heard some of the things that we’re going to be doing, but what we will be involved in will be primarily a spiritual enterprise, not just physical, not just monetary, but a spiritual enterprise. Get ready. 

Now, also I’m going to continue to read because we’ll see that God says three times in effect, “Joshua, get strong.” You’ll notice, “I will give you (verse 3) every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Great Sea on the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  

And I just can’t help but comment on that sense of continuity that God gives. One generation comes. Another generation goes. God never runs out of men. God never runs out of women. God never runs out of resources. God is there. “I will be with you.” And then He says, verse 6, “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.” I shall leave verse 8 for later, but notice jumping down to verse 9, “...Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Get up, get ready, and now he’s saying, “Get strong.”  

Now let’s remind ourselves what the Israelites had to do. They had to take territory away from the enemy. Now, you know it’s always easier to defend what is yours than to take away that which belongs to another. By the way, teenagers, young people, and all of us, that’s why it’s so important that we never get started drinking, we never get started doing drugs, we never get started with pornography. Why? Because it is always easier to defend what we have not given away than it is to take something away that has already been handed to the enemy. I hope that that’s clear.  
You see, once we have allowed that stronghold in our lives, it is more difficult for us to get rid of it than it would be if we had never been involved in those things. That’s why some of us do not find any temptation when it comes to drink or drugs. It’s just no temptation at all because we’ve never been involved in it, and that’s the best way to win the battle. 

Well, in this case they aren’t going to be able to have that luxury. They are going to have to go in and take something away that the enemy thinks is his. And I’ll tell you it’s going to be a battle. It’s going to involve conflict. 

Now God says, and I read it a moment ago, “I will give you every place where you set your foot... (verse 3).” But it isn’t going to be easy. There’s going to be a battle involved. God says, “I’ve given you the land as a gift, but this is one gift for which you shall have to fight.” And there’s no contradiction in that. When it comes to the doctrine of salvation it is a free gift. We simply receive it from the hands of God, but having believed on Christ, we now enter into a battle, and even though God says, “I’ve given you all of the blessings in Jesus Christ”—to accept them, to inherit them, to enjoy them is a struggle, because we do not fight against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this age. 

I believe that God has all kinds of blessings with our name on the title deed. But folks, we need to fight. Did you identify a moment ago that which stands between you and the promised land, that which stands between you and victory? I want you to know that those barricades will not easily come down. There will be conflict, but God will give you the land.  

There’s going to be conflict, there’s going to be time. The entire book of Joshua takes about 13 or 14 years. It didn’t mean they could just walk through the land casually and suddenly it would all be theirs. There were at least seven different warring nations that they were going to have to subdue. And it will take faith. And there are going to be times when they are going to doubt whether or not God is going to give them all that He promised. Because they say to themselves, “We’re not sure whether God’s promise really is true.” And you and I have been there, have we not? 

There was a little boy who was standing next to a guard at the Washington Monument. And the story goes that he said to the guard, “I would like to buy the Washington Monument.” And the guard said to him, “Well, how much do you have?” And the boy pulled out thirty-five cents, and he said, “I’ve got thirty-five cents.” And the guard told him two things. First of all, he said that thirty-five cents is not enough to buy the Washington Monument (and in fact, it’s not for sale), but secondly, if you’re an American citizen, you already own it. 

My dear friend, there are many things that God has given to us. He has given us all the promises of God which are yeah and amen in Christ. Ephesians says He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. And if you are a citizen of the Kingdom, that is yours, but there’s going to be conflict. There’s going to be time. There’s going to be a need for faith because your faith, my faith, our church’s faith will be stretched at times until we think, “Lord, we cannot believe any more that God will be there and walk with us.” 

So, God says to Joshua, “Get ready, get strong, and get focused.” And here I zero in now on verses 8 and 9. “Be strong (verse 7) and very courageous...” Verse 8, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; 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.” 

Now, God says, “This is going to be where you’re going to focus. It is my Law.” Now remember, Joshua only had the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. That was his Bible. Joshua didn’t have the Psalms. He didn’t have the New Testament. He didn’t have the promises of the book of Romans. That’s all that he had, and God says, “Meditate in this Law during the day and during the night, and you will be strong and successful.” 

Now, I titled this message, “Getting Your Priorities Straight,” but actually I have only one priority that I’m going to emphasize today, and that is the Word of God in conquering the territory that God wants us to conquer, those barricades that stand in your way to spiritual growth and maturity, and finally to be free in Christ so that you can be what God wants you to be. It’s the Word of God. 

In another book which I wrote on Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible I have a quote from Robert Chapman. Just listen carefully regarding the Bible.  

“This book contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s [charter]. Here Paradise is restored, Heaven opened, and the gates of hell disclosed. Christ is its grand subject, our good the design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, [rule] the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. It is given you in this life, will be opened at the judgment, and be remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, [will] reward the greatest labor, and [will] condemns all who trifle with its sacred contents.” 

I commend to you today the Word of God at the beginning of this new year. 

Now, what if I were to sit down and tell you this—make a promise to you that if you were to give fifteen or twenty minutes a day to what I am going to suggest, and you were to seriously do that, that your life at the end of this year would be very different from the beginning of the year, that the barricades you have identified in your life most probably will have tumbled, and finally you will sense that God is bringing together in your life the things that seem to be so strewn in the past? What if I made you that promise? Well, I’m going to make that promise today and I want you to carry out in what I’m going to suggest, and then you come back in a year’s time and tell me whether or not I overpromised. All right? That’s the deal. What do we do? We meditate on the law of God day and night. 

Now, if Joshua were to meditate in the Word of God as you and I do, what would he get in return? First of all, he would get a clean mind. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.” Jesus said, “Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” The Scripture speaks about the washing of water through the Word. If we want to be pure in the midst of a generation that has become so sensual and so sinful, it is the Word of God that cleanses the mind. It really does clean it. 

You say, “What is the answer to pollution?” It’s the Word of God. It cleanses the mind. It calms the mind. Joshua is going to face some very formidable enemies. He’s going to face the Hittites, and all of the tribes that lived there. And he’s going to have to remain calm. He’s going to have within himself an island of tranquility in the midst of all this turbulence. Well, the Bible enables us to do that. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.” There is that sense of quiet rest near to the heart of God, and then it will direct his mind. The Word of God will actually tell him what to do: (Joshua 1:8) “...that thou may observe to do according to all that is written therein...” And then the promise is, “You will have good success.” 

The same promise is made in Psalm 1. “He (who meditates on the Law of God) shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he doeth shall prosper.” So, the question is, “How do we do it?” I’m going to tell you how today. 

You know that people say, “Well, meditation? I thought that was New Age.” No, no, you see, New Age meditation says, “I want to empty the mind,” and they will actually give you a word that has no meaning, and you are supposed to write that so that your mind is content-less, and that leads to the destruction of the mind. Biblical meditation is filled with content. It is filled with God’s Word. It is filled with hymns, and what a transformation it brings about, and what a promise you can claim. 

There are two Hebrew words for meditation. One I think is “siyach,” which means to go over in the mind such as in Psalm 77:12, “I will meditate on all thy works.” Another verse is Psalm 119:15, “I will meditate on all thy precepts.” “Hagah” is the one that is used here, and also in Psalm 1. It means to reflect deeply on God and His ways. To reflect deeply. That might mean you’re going to have to shut off the computer. You’re going to have to shut off the television set. You’re going to have to shut off the internet, all of those things that absorb our time, and that we become so involved in. And you’re going to have to give fifteen or twenty minutes, at least, to God, preferably early in the morning, though any time during the day would be fine, as long as it is done. And here’s the way we’re going to do it. 

Now, up until now many of you have not been taking notes, and that’s okay. I haven’t been either. But from now on you should be writing because here’s the program. Here is the way that God will transform you. I promise that because I can speak from experience.  

What do we do? Number one, you analyze. You analyze. What does it mean to analyze? Here are three questions that you have to ask the text that you are reading. Let me give you an example. I decided I’m going to begin in the book of Acts as this year opens, so yesterday I read Acts, chapter 1. And I began to analyze verse 8 especially, though I read the whole chapter, and there were other things in there that spoke to me. But verse 8, you remember, talks about the fact that you shall receive power after that the Holy Spirit has come upon you. And what happens is—how do you analyze?  

You ask the text three questions, and here they are. Number one, “What does this text teach me about God?” Secondly you ask, “What does the text tell me to do?” and thirdly, “What promise can I claim?” 

Now, yesterday I read Acts, chapter 1. This morning I read Acts, chapter 2. I discovered that there were all kinds of things that it taught me about God. His faithfulness. Peter is preaching and he says, “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; Neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption,” and he refers it to David, and then he refers it to Christ, that we can die with confidence. That’s one thing I learned about God, the faithfulness of God.  

What does it tell me to do? Peter is quoting the Old Testament. [Earlier in that Psalm it says] “I have set the Lord always before me: Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” What promise can I claim? Well, one of the statements I just quoted is a promise. So, what you do is you ask the text three questions. What does it tell me about God? What does it tell me to do? And does it have a promise I can claim. That’s the analysis. 

Now the reason for this is there are so many people who say, “Well, you know, I always thought a chapter a day kept the devil away.” No, a chapter a day doesn’t necessarily keep the devil away because you don’t even remember what you’ve read after you’ve read it. When you read a chapter sometimes you have to always use a bookmark and put a little check because you could end up reading the same chapter the next day and not know it until you get to the end, and say, “You know, I think this phrase is familiar.” [laughter] 

D. L. Moody said many of us read our Bibles like he used to have to hoe potatoes. And I can identify with this, where when you hoe a row and then the next row, and then you go for lunch, you have to actually mark the row because you do such a poor job that you do not know what is already hoed, and you wouldn’t know were it not for the marker.

“Oh,” you say, “well, you know, when I read the Word my mind is like a sieve.” Well, that’s fine. That’s true to some extent, and you know what? When water goes through a sieve, even though the water doesn’t stay there, even then it still cleans the sieve. There’s some hope for that. 

What am I trying to get you to do? The text doesn’t say, “Read a chapter in the morning and then forget about it when you get on the ‘El’ and never think about it again.” It says meditate in the Law of God during the day and during the night. There is no way that you and I will meditate unless the Word of God lodges in our minds. And that’s why when you read it you ask the text questions. What does it teach me about God? What does it tell me to do? And what promise is there I can claim? Analyze. 

Number two, you memorize. Now I’m not talking about long memory, though that’s wonderful. What you do is you take that snatch of Scripture and you will not close the Bible until there is this snatch of Scripture, a verse or a phrase, that you will take with you through the day that will highlight the answer to one or more of these questions because you are not going to close the Word until you have something to carry with you throughout the entire day. 

You analyze, you memorize, and you personalize. If you have anxiety, you memorize verses such as “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”  

You make this passage of Scripture so personal that it becomes your passage of Scripture, and it will sustain you throughout the whole day. It really will. Once you’ve practiced this it’ll be in your mind. It’s something like when the choir sings a song and they’ve been practicing it all week, they actually wake up with those words going through their minds. I believe they do. I know I do, and I’m not even in the choir—yet. [laughter] Just kidding. Somebody back there said, “Another 20 years.” Yeah. 

I love to tell the story of Niemoller, Martin Niemoller, who stood against Hitler during the days of Nazism. Here he is. It’s 1938 and he’s being tried in Berlin for (quote) abuse of pulpit because he was not going along with the regime. So, he was taken and captured and put in solitary confinement for seven months, and then he was taken to trial. He knew in advance he’d be found guilty. I mean there was no such thing as a fair trial. It was just a matter of doing it so he could be condemned. But as a guard got him out of his jail cell to take him to the court room, they had to walk in an underground tunnel. And as they were walking along step by step, he overheard some words. In fact, because of the echo in the tunnel he didn’t know where the words were coming from. And then he realized the guard next to him was whispering some verses in his ear. And the guard was quoting Proverbs, chapter 18:[10]—“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; [the righteous] run to it and are safe.” 

Niemoller said that it was if this verse came to him directly from heaven. And even as he walked into the court room and saw a picture of Hitler, and knew he would be condemned, he said he was so sustained that it was as if God was with him because this one verse of Scripture was given to him at a moment of need. That’s a time of personalization where the Word of God becomes what we need exactly when we need it. You personalize the Word of God. 

Now, mind you, the passage of Scripture that ministers to me today will be lost very probably, and I need food for tomorrow. So tomorrow—even after being with the people of God and bringing my Bible to church, and listening to the message, and being edified by the singing, as a result of all of that, still tomorrow suddenly I wake up and I don’t necessarily have a heart that’s hot for God. So I read the Word and I begin to personalize it for myself. And then I begin to pray for others even as we have illustrated many times using the Word of God—personalizing it for myself and for others. Like yesterday Acts 1:8, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” I pray that for myself, I pray that for my wife, I pray that for my children, and that then becomes, you see, the basis of my prayers so when I have left the Word there is something that is lodged within that stays with me, and that I ponder during the day and during the night. And what is the promise? Then you shall be strong, then you shall be successful, then you have shall have God’s blessing and God’s benediction. 

Now, how are we going to make this year different from other years? We’re going to make it different because we are going to be people of the Book. We’re going to read the Book. We’re going to analyze. We’re going to memorize. We’re going to personalize. And we’re going to let the Word of God change us. “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” It really does when it is personalized. It changes us. 

Are you willing to do that? You know, that barrier that exists between you and the Promised Land? You think to yourself that there’s no way it can come down, and it will not come down apart from the words of God to Joshua: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth.” You speak it. You read it out loud if you can, but you meditate in it, and God will grant you that which you seek. 

I like to tell the story of the missionary who comes back from the mission field and says that years ago he was in a remote part of South America, talking to a drug dealer about the Bible, and giving him a copy of the New Testament. The drug dealer said, “I’m not interested. All I do is smoke pot. In fact,” he said, “if you did give me a New Testament, I’m going to use its leaves to wrap tobacco and smoke it.” And the missionary said, “Well, go ahead but what I want you to do is to make sure  you read the passage that you wrap for the day. Just read it, and then go ahead and smoke it.” [laughter] 

Years later he went back and discovered that there were believers there, and that the drug dealer had become a Christian, and was a leader of the Christian movement. And what he said was, “Look, I was able to smoke through Matthew. [laughter] I smoked through Mark. I smoked through Luke, but I couldn’t smoke through the book of John. There I found that I had to be born again. There I discovered that unless I received Christ as my Savior I would be lost.” And he said, “I was converted.” 

It’s the power of the Word of God. And so, when we talk about priorities, and we talk about the new year, twenty minutes a day (fifteen or twenty minutes)—And in my life so much time is wasted. In your life so much time is wasted. We all have that much time and we simply give it to God, and we say, “We’re going to analyze, memorize and personalize it.” In fact, we normally don’t do this on a Sunday morning, but would you say those words with me? Analyze, memorize, and personalize. Let’s say them together. Analyze, memorize, personalize. Amen, and the promise is that you will have good success. 

You know when Joshua did this, that didn’t mean the walls of Jericho became lower. It didn’t mean the giants became smaller. What it did mean is that he began to think such grand thoughts about God that it didn’t matter how high the walls were or how tall the giants were, because his new conception of God enveloped everything, and became so much greater than the challenges that lay ahead. Our greatest need is to see God, and we see Him through His Word. 

Would you join me as we pray? 

Our Father, we ask that you shall forgive us for the sin of neglecting your Word. Father, we have turned to so many different things, and our lives are crammed with stuff that will not matter a hundred years from now. And we ask, oh Father, that you will make us people of the Book. Grant us, oh God, hunger and thirst for your Word. “For man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Help us to live this way this coming year we ask, and may the grace of Christ, and may His strength and may His benediction abide with us, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Editor’s Note: In this transcript, the verbatim intelligent transcription process simplifies and enhances spoken content by eliminating redundant words, unnecessary sounds, fixing grammar errors, and clarifying meaning while preserving the author's original intent. All Scripture quotes are according to the biblical text, not as they were originally spoken. 

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