A few months after turning 15, I had taken a summer job at the local theatre. The job did not pay much, but it was the only job I could find that would hire a 15 year old. My teachers and coaches wrote letters to the employer so they could justify an age exception. I passed my first interview, and then accepted the position of usher. My main role was to greet guests as they arrived, and to ask if I could assist them to their seats. It was essential to have seats in mind before asking someone if I could assist them, so I gathered available seats together by asking seated customers to move over one or two seats. I learned the importance of making the guest feel very special by escorting them to the seats I had selected, and presenting the seats as though they were exclusively saved for them. A small flashlight was used to light the way down the aisle for the customer, without interfering with someone else’s enjoyment of the movie. Having a few seats available for the late arrival was always a nice touch. Occasionally a noisy patron would have to be asked to please keep quiet for the sake of those around. The aisles and foyer were to be kept clean and free of popcorn and paper, while the front of the candy case was to be kept free of fingerprints and smudges. My summer job was in air conditioning. I wore a suit, and I saw a lot of my friends who came to the movies. The work was seven days a week, but only 5 ½ hours per day. One day the schedule was noon until 5:30, the next day 5:30 until 11 pm closing. Living a mile and a half from the theatre made it possible for me to walk to work and back home every day. It seems a shame, but the position of usher as I knew it has now all but vanished from the modern day movie theatre.
That summer of 1963, an Alfred Hitchcock horror movie entitled “The Birds” came to the theatre. The movie is still considered a Hitchcock classic. While it might be deemed tame by today’s standards, it was cutting-edge scary for the time. After watching that movie while working, the mile and a half walk home between 11pm and midnight developed a new level of fear within me. If the movie was not scary enough, the walk home was under the shadows of tall trees growing along the streets between the curbs and sidewalks. The trees blocked most of the light from the few street lights, providing plenty of hiding places for things that can frighten in the night. Residential security systems and leash laws were unheard of, consequently most family dogs slept untethered on the front porch. They were there to keep people walking by at night on edge and at a distance from the property. The more they growled and barked, the safer the family inside must have felt, but they were sheer terror for a 15 year old walking at midnight. I was never attacked, but was often terrified when the growling came from a dark porch where I could not see the dog. It was easier to take a long detour to avoid the dogs and the dark places that bothered me the most. By the time the movie ended its two-week run at the theatre, I had learned a manageable route home, but that whole scary situation became a major obstacle to overcome to keep my job.
Stepping out into the work force, winning the first job, and handling the responsibilities of the position was exciting, but also intimidating in ways I had not anticipated. Walking alone, I often talked to myself, reminding myself of what lay ahead in the next block, and how to navigate the upcoming part of the route home. My imagination had to be brought under control. Though I was not far from home and safety, this was all new and unfamiliar territory when viewed in the dark of midnight. I felt so vulnerable and uncertain. The walk at noon was no problem, because this was my neighborhood. Neither was the walk at 5:30. The only problem was the walk home at midnight. I had to remind myself that nothing had changed between the daytime walk and the walk in the dark. I do not remember praying, though it would have been a good idea. Looking back, I think every step home was a prayer.
When God speaks a word of instruction or advice, it is a good idea to listen. When He repeats that word, He is dead serious. When He says the same thing three times, and offers reasons for what He is saying, we must pay absolute attention, because He owes no one an explanation for anything He says or does. When He offers the explanation, we must study it until it becomes a part of us. Such is the case in Chapter 1 of the Book of Joshua. The children of Israel, who were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, had been freed from over 400 years of Egyptian slavery. Following their release, they had wandered in the desert for 40 more years. Moses, their leader, had died, and a new leader, Joshua, was preparing to take them across the Jordan River and into the land God had promised to them through a covenant going all the way back to Abraham and confirmed to Moses. They were entering an exciting time, but they were definitely stepping out into unfamiliar territory. The advance intelligence reports were mostly scary–fortified cities, giants that could not be conquered, and battles to be fought. Except for the few spies who gathered the intelligence, no one had actually walked this route they were about to take to finally get home. The people were in the dark on what lay ahead.
In the first nine verses of Joshua, Chapter 1, God tells Joshua three times “Be strong and (very) courageous.” Courageous (Hebrew-ames) means to be strong; to strengthen; to harden; to persist; to fortify; to be steadfastly minded. A simple definition of courage is that quality which allows one to do something he/she is afraid to do. In those same first nine verses of Joshua, Chapter 1, God gives Joshua the reasons he should be strong and courageous. These reasons not only applied to the children of Israel as they stood at the banks of the Jordan River, they applied to a 15 year old boy walking home alone at night, and they apply to all in these difficult and stressful times today:
- V.3- “I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses” [and Abraham-emphasis mine]. God’s promises are sure. When we step out following His instruction, every step is a victory moving forward. We win when we are doing what we were created to do or were called to do. We may have to battle, but we will be victorious.
- V.5- “No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life.” When we take a stand based on His word or instruction, the enemy or resistance will have to stand down.
- V.5- “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Joshua had God’s promise that He would be there to “direct, sustain and assure success.” (NIV commentary).
- V.6- “…you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.” Joshua’s leadership was a guaranteed success because God intended to fulfill His promise regarding the land they were about to enter. When we walk in God’s purposes, promises and authority, we are assured success.
- V.7- “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.” God’s promise was conditional on their obedience to His laws. If they were obedient to the law, did not break the law, and did not create law that was contradictory to His, they would be successful wherever they went.
- V.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.” In order to keep God’s commands, they would need to thoroughly know God’s commands. This would require study and meditation day and night, but with this kind of dedicated approach and interest in His word, they would not miss this opportunity to prosper and succeed.
- V.9- “Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged; for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Anything that is difficult, or requires great courage, is easier if one does not have to face it alone. God is saying you will not face this alone; He will be there with you.
These promises from God still provide us with great comfort today. The road ahead may seem dark and scary. Opposition may be lurking in the shadows where it cannot be seen, and small troubles may cast a giant shadow. The attack appears it could come from any side at any time. The growl of the enemy might be intimidating, especially when he remains in hiding. Our imagination may run wild in anticipation of the worst possible outcome. We may find ourselves all alone on unfamiliar territory. We may have to take a stand on a seemingly indefensible position against overwhelming odds.
The courage to prevail under these real or imagined circumstances might come from these three bits of wisdom:
- Fear reproduces itself; fear stimulates fear. Being influenced by a horror movie did not help during the walk home at midnight. Break the thought pattern with Philippians 4:8- “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.”
- The vast majority of bad/fearful things imagined never happen. Statistically speaking, the end of the world does not come all that often. 2 Timothy 1:7 says “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (fear), but a spirit of power, love and of a sound mind.”
- Do not let the darkness impair or diminish what you know or learned in the light. Jesus says in John 8:12 “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
We have good reason to believe God when He says “Do not be afraid.”