How to cross the swelling river of a global pandemic

As leaders, each of us has to face these challenges with the same spirit of faith that Joshua exemplified. | by Walt Landers

On every airline flight, the pre-flight instructions show passengers how to put on oxygen masks. The instructions always come with a specific warning: be sure to put on your own mask before helping someone else with theirs.

When I think about the unprecedented times we’re facing, as leaders we need to be reminded of faith-building scriptures so we can stay on course ourselves, even while helping others.

Joshua’s life is a story of tragedy, transition and trust. In the book of Joshua, we read of a pivotal experience in his life. God had been preparing Joshua for this divine moment. Forty years earlier, God performed some of the most incredible miracles ever recorded. He set the Israelites free from slavery and led them out with the treasures of Egypt. Yet they arrived at the Jordan river and failed because of unbelief.

On that day, Joshua had been at the brink of entering God’s Promised Land but didn’t get to receive all that God had for him. The Bible is clear that Israel missed this opportunity to possess their promise because of unbelief. They literally talked themselves out of what God intended for them to have.

I can fully relate to what it means to face unsurmountable challenges. I answered the call of God to pastor my first church and found myself inundated with what I call “growth opportunities.” The church grew rapidly. We had to add staff and eventually find another building. Soon after moving into our next building, we went to two services and eventually planted another couple of churches from our church. We also started a successful daycare for our community.

As wonderful as all this sounds, it was extremely stressful. No growth comes without struggles. Then we faced our greatest challenge. Our six-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer.

When we heard the report, it was as if my wife and I were standing on our own river Jordan. I was forced to consider if I really had what it would take to face this. As the life of my daughter was being taken from us, we realized that the loss was also going to devastate us financially.

With all the bad news compounding almost daily, I felt like I simply had no way to cross over the river. And, I wasn’t standing on the banks. I was flat on my back, feeling like I’d had the wind knocked out of me. On that shore of my personal Jordan River, I needed to get on a journey of faith.

I can only imagine Joshua in his pivotal moment. He’d lost his leader and mentor, Moses. He was changing leadership roles to be in charge of his entire nation. He was facing incredible challenges to make another attempt to enter into the nation’s promised land.

In his turmoil, God showed up and, in essence, said, “Moses my servant is dead and now it’s your responsibility to cross over the river Jordan and possess the promised land.”

In our sermons, something that sometimes gets missed is the river. The first time the children of Israel showed up, the river was estimated to be about one hundred feet across. That’s the normal width to the present day. But at the time that Joshua was being called on to lead them across, the river was very different—it was at flood stage. In Joshua 3:14-17, we see that the river was overflowing its banks. I’ve read theologians’ estimates that it was a mile across.

Do you feel today that God has put you in a completely impossible situation? On that riverbank, I’m sure Joshua could have said, “God, we need to talk.” The river wasn’t anything like he remembered. If only he could have been asked to cross it at any other time of the year.

In this passage, I believe we get an insight into why they were meant to cross at this time. It says it was the time of the harvest. What I’ve learned in my faith challenges is that many times in our difficulties, it is simply the time of the harvest. 

During this pandemic, we’re facing many things we’ve never faced before. For some who are elderly or with underlying conditions, the fear of the virus or concern for a family member who is at risk is overwhelming us. For others, it’s the financial consequences, loss of income, or responsibility for a business with employees who are forced into difficult circumstances.

As leaders, each of us has to face these challenges with the same spirit of faith that Joshua exemplified. I believe we can be strengthened in faith by giving priority for God’s Word to speak to us.

In the first chapter of Joshua, God tells him—and I believe he is telling us—not to let His Word depart from our mouth. We are to meditate in the Word day and night that we might observe to do all that He instructs us to do.

This is a great opportunity for us to exemplify faith as a Christ follower and minister effectively the gospel of good news. When we struggle, it’s sometimes difficult to be told to have faith in God, but the reality is this is the very thing that can help us cross over into our promise. This is a time for us to declare God’s word and boldly proclaim His greatness not only for this situation but over all that we face in this life.

There was a time when I didn’t know how to do that. I reached out to some strong believers around me who encouraged me and spoke faith-filled words to me. With their encouragement, my wife and I became deeper in our prayer lives to the point that we began to believe in miracles.

When we stood on that riverbank of discouragement, failure, doubt, and what seemed like unending challenges, through God’s grace we made it across that river. The best thing is the lessons we learned on the riverbank have never left us. Today our church has flourished and been blessed and expanded to a statewide system of schools and church plants. My wife and I have experienced financial blessings. And my daughter is now thirty years old, married and has a successful career as a dyslexia specialist.

If you are standing on that riverbank today looking across the wide overflowing flood of struggles caused by the pandemic, I encourage you to get ministered to yourself. Get into God’s Word and meditate each day. Find faith-filled people to talk to. If you’ll look, they are there for you. If they are not nearby, search them out—perhaps your old college roommate, a childhood friend you follow on Facebook, a pastor friend you once met at a conference.

It is highly likely that you are actually experiencing the deepest part of the river because it is the time of the harvest. My prayer for you is that you’ll cross over into your personal land of promise.

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