Joshua is old. He is about to die.
He has time for a farewell speech, though. It’s a good speech, reviewing everything God has done for Israel: setting them free from Egypt; leading them through the wilderness; bringing them to this promised land; allowing them to defeat bigger armies with bigger soldiers. I can picture the people getting pumped up remembering all those victories.
Then the trip down memory lane builds to a challenge:
“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (24:14-15).
The people have a choice. Neither God nor Joshua is going to make them serve God. They can choose to go serve other gods, if they want.
Joshua just made that good speech, though, so the people are prime for this kind of commitment. Their hearts full of inspiration make the right answer obvious. “We will serve the LORD!” the people say.
“You better mean it,” Joshua says (my paraphrase). “God won’t put up with unfaithfulness.”
“We won’t be unfaithful – we will serve the LORD!” the people say.
So they say.
And so we say – in the moment. It’s easy when we’re in church or at some retreat. The right answer is obvious when beautiful music is playing and candles are flickering and all of us giving our full attention to the Word. It’s almost hard not to say, “We will serve the LORD!”
Once we go back home… that’s another story.
It’s harder there. There are distractions and temptations and exhaustions and complications. But home is where the real service happens – not at the end of a good speech with mere words, but out in everyday life with real actions. To serve, after all, is to do something.
We cannot serve the LORD without doing something.
Do you want to serve the LORD?
Well, then – what are you going to do about it when you stop reading this blog and go on living your life?
Joshua himself names a specific arena, an area of our lives that ought to serve the LORD.
Or our apartments, or our townhomes, or whatever. Joshua says, “as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” The Hebrew bayith means much of what we say when we use the English “house”: the building, the people, the animals, the stuff… everything that goes into a home. Joshua says that he and his people and his buildings and his animals and his stuff will serve the LORD.
We, too, can make our households into places that serve the LORD. In fact, our homes are the only places we can control. The world can choose to serve evil or greed or violence, and it often does. I would like to control the world’s choices – especially when it walks into a peaceful church and opens fire. I’m sick of that, sick of seeing news reports of that kind of violence. I cannot make those evil people serve the LORD; neither can I make the world a place that serves the LORD.
But my household? I can make that a place that serves the LORD.
So let’s do it.
Micah 6 has been on my mind this week because it asks a very similar question to Joshua’s, and the answer gives a great framework for how to serve the LORD. Here’s the question:
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (6:6-7).
In other words: What does God want of me? How much is enough for God?
Now here’s the answer:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
If we want to make our households places that serve the LORD, this is what we ought to work toward: justice and kindness and a humble walk with God.
I like them in the opposite order, though.
Our households serve the LORD by encouraging a humble walk with God. Humility before God means recognizing that God is greater, more important than me. Walking with God means spending time with God. To accomplish both, we can set aside some of the precious few hours out of each day to be with God.
We can pray; prayer before meals and before bed is a great beginning. We can read Scripture; a good way to start is with the gospel of Matthew, reading a chapter a day. We can observe a Sabbath; trying our best to let Sunday be a day for church and rest. These are not the only ways to humbly walk with God… but they’re a pretty good place to start.
Our households serve the LORD by loving kindness. To paraphrase 1 John 4:20, we can’t love God while hating the people we live with. This is no easy task; most of us are hard to live with. We get on each other’s nerves, leave empty toilet paper rolls behind, spend money we shouldn’t have, get too busy and stop speaking to each other. Be kind to those you live with. Be kind to those who visit your home. And if you live by yourself, remember: you need to be kind to yourself, as well.
Our households serve the LORD by doing justice. Justice is making systematic changes that look out for the needs of all. Often, justice most affects the “underdogs” that can get trampled on. Your home, believe it or not, can be a place of justice. You can work justice for creation by recycling. You can work justice for the underpaid by cleaning our your closet and donating clothes. You can work justice for those who don’t have enough by choosing to live on less than your full income, and making offerings to church and donations to charities.
“As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD,” Joshua says.
Let’s say that, too: “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
But don’t just say it – do it.
Make your home a place where time is set aside for God.
Make your home a place where kindness reigns.
Make your home a place where justice is done.