What types of battles are you facing right now? The list of battles we face throughout a lifetime is far too lengthy to list, but I have no doubt you are facing one. I heard an old preacher say one time, “you are either in a battle, coming out of a battle, or about to enter one.” No one really gets excited about a discussion on battles. We would rather talk about victories, or steps to overcoming. At this point, if you are still reading, chances are you are facing some battles of your own.
If there is anyone who knew how to fight battles it was Joshua. Yes, Moses brought them to the promised land, but it was Joshua who led them through battles in the promised land. One might say that Moses saw further than he would go (standing on Mt. Nebo looking out over the promised land), but Joshua went further than he could see. Joshua led them to battle in Jericho, Ai and then went on to conquer the northern kingdoms and the southern kingdoms. Although those battles were incredibly important, I would present to you that those were only half the battle. The greatest victory didn’t happen when the walls fell in Jericho in Joshua chapter 6; instead, it happened when the walls fell in their hearts in chapter 5. Perhaps the greatest and most profound battle they ever fought was not on the battlefield, but on the banks of the Jordan river. It wasn’t a battle they fought on the outside, but rather on the inside. The profoundness of this truth came to me as I was reading through this story and was paralyzed with a passage of Scripture in Joshua 5. I must have read this verse hundreds of times over the years, but I missed it every time until now. Verse 9 reads, “then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal to this day.”
Did you catch that? “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” This word “reproach” in Hebrew is translated as shame or scorn. Why does God say “today?” After all, the Israelites had left Egypt more than 40 years prior to this day. Egypt was a cruel and brutal place, but the generation that experienced that pain had died in the wilderness. This new generation of Israelites had never even been to Egypt, they were born in the wilderness. So why did God choose to bring it up now? He had removed His people from slavery, but the scorn and shame of slavery still remained in them. God was telling them, I removed you from slavery 40 years ago, but today I am going to remove slavery from you. I removed you from the painful situation 40 years ago, but today I am going to remove the painful situation from you.
How many times has this happened to us? We have been removed from the painful situation years ago, but a piece of the pain remains. The divorce was 30 years ago, but the pain of the divorce remains within. The abusive situation was during childhood, but a piece of the abuse remains. The children of Israel had not experienced slavery in more than 40 years. In fact, this generation had never felt the actual sting of a whip on their back, but the scorn, shame, and reproach of a slave mentality remained.
God knew that sending them into battle in their current state would only enable them to fight half the battle. He knew that before He ever sent these warriors into battle, He must first challenge them to face the biggest opponent they will ever face—themselves. So in Joshua 5, before the future battles to come, God commands Joshua to circumcise every male. Wait a minute—what did you say, God? First of all, that’s awkward. Second, that’s painful. But remember, circumcision was a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham as His chosen people. Genesis 17:10-11 reads, “this is My covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.”
Circumcision was an ongoing reminder of the covenant relationship between God and His people. Before the Israelites went into battle against Jericho and future enemies, God wanted to remind them of His promise: You a child of God. You are a chosen people. This is a covenant relationship. You don’t go into battle by yourself. I go into battle with you. God was challenging them to remember that they were His children and they were no longer slaves.
For us today, circumcision is not of the flesh, but of the heart. Romans 2:28-29 reminds us that, “a person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. God is completely and utterly obsessed with your heart. And He demands to have all of it. The question we all must ask ourselves is this: is there something in my heart that is not supposed to be there? This requires a constant examination of our hearts and the steady and consistent cutting away of those things that do not belong. Jeremiah 4:3a reads, “circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts…”
Before God ever leads you to fight with a sword on the battlefield, He challenges us to take the scalpel of His Word to our own hearts. Are there past pains that linger deep in our heart? Are there past situations, circumstances, people, or moments that have become hidden? Sometimes it might seem easier to just shove the pain into a deep, dark place in your heart and go on about your life.
If anyone knew the idea of placing pain in dark places, it is Mary and Martha. In John 11 their brother Lazarus fell ill. Lazarus’ friend Jesus had been sent for, and surely He would come and heal Lazarus. They had seen Jesus heal others, so why would He not come and heal His friend. To their disappointment, Jesus and His disciples stayed where they were for four days and Lazarus died. Rejected by the One they loved and disappointed in their predicament, Mary and Martha are forced to bury the pain of loss. What did they do with the pain? They put the pain in a dark place, rolled a stone over and it and declared it dead, off limits to anyone who passed by. Many times, this is a perfect illustration of what we do with our pain. We do not know how to process it, deal with it, or talk about it, so we put it in a dark place, roll a stone in front of it, and seal it off to the world.
The good news for Mary and Martha (and it’s good news for us too) is that Jesus came to challenge them to take Him to their place of pain. John 11:33–34 reads, “when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ He asked.” Jesus does the same for us. He gently approaches in the same way He approached Mary and Martha, asking where we have hidden our pain. Their reply in verse 34 was crucial to their healing and to ours, “come and see, Lord.”
It’s one thing to visit your place of pain, it’s a completely different discussion to remove the seal and expose what lies in the darkness just behind it. When Jesus asked them to roll back the stone, their reply was to remind Jesus that Lazarus has been dead for four days and the stench would be horrible (as if Jesus doesn’t know the science of decomposing bodies). They were reminding Jesus that there was a stench behind the stone. And if we take an honest look at ourselves, many times our pain has built up a stench of its own. Our pain has become infected and incredibly sensitive to the touch. But Mary and Martha’s obedience was greater than their pain. We too must be willing to expose the painful places in our hearts, climb up on the surgery table, and allow the Great Physician to get out His scalpel and circumcise our hearts. Cutting away rejection, unforgiveness, bitterness, shame, and regret. Jesus resurrected what was dead in the tomb that day, and He can do the same for us if we have the courage to lead Him to our place of pain and expose the dark places to reveal our stench behind the stone.
I believe there are great victories in your future. The walls of your future Jericho will fall too, but those future battles only represent half the battle. Many times, a public victory is preceded by a private battle. The battle within yourself. Escort Jesus to your place of pain and watch Him resurrect things that you thought were dead.
Half the Battle, the new book by The King’s University President, Dr. Jon Chasteen, is out now and available for sale at Gateway Publishing.