Does God exist to make me happy?
You know when you read the Bible and suddenly your eyes are opened to a revelation that was there all along, but NOW YOU CAN SEE IT?
That’s what happened as I studied the first few chapters of Joshua this past week.
The first revelation I discovered, which I’d like to unfold in this blog post, is this:
God doesn’t exist for my happiness, and that is a very good thing.
In the book of Joshua, the namesake character is leading the people of Israel through Canaan, which was the land promised by God for them to live in. Hence the term we use today, “The Promise Land”. The only problem is that Canaan is inhabited already…by giants and by kings with strong & powerful armies. And the Israelites, though they have an army, are wanderers who haven’t had a home base in decades. The last home base they had was as slaves for 400 years in Egypt. So they aren’t exactly living in ideal conditions to go in and take down powerful rulers in the Canaanites’ home base.
This is where we pick up the story in Joshua chapter 5. The Israelites are camped outside of the city of Jericho, the first city in Canaan that they are commanded by God to capture. “The Fall of Jericho’s Walls” is a common Sunday School story, but let me refresh your memory.
Jericho is a city fortified by tall, thick walls, and some scholars believe the stone wall surrounding the city was over 6 feet thick and 30 feet tall. These massive walls prevented attacks, especially from a poorly-equipped, nomadic people group like the Israelites.
As the Israelites are camped outside of Jericho, awaiting the Lord’s instruction on how to capture this well-defended city, a fascinating event takes place. If you’re reading the story of Jericho’s fall in Joshua chapter 6, you probably skim through chapter 5, because truly the tumbling of 30-foot walls is a more captivating story. But don’t miss this!
In the last few verses of Joshua chapter 5, Joshua is approached by a man whom he doesn’t know who is wielding a sword, and of course his first question is:
“Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”
Little does Joshua know that this isn’t a wandering soldier from Jericho. And he’s not a low-ranking soldier of Israel whom Joshua doesn’t know. The Bible reveals that the man is The Commander of the Army of the Lord. Boom!
Some scholars believe this commander is an angel, and the Army of the Lord is an army of angel soldiers. There are multiple accounts throughout this time period when God sends angel armies to defend His people. And in fact, I believe angel armies still exist to defend His people now. I believe that just as the Israelites faced ongoing physical wars between God and wicked people, so too, are we modern-day believers involved in ongoing war. Our war is spiritual, but angels are still involved, and it’s important to learn what applications we can about the Lord as we study these wars, not as a history lesson, but so we can know the God of eternity who never changes. In the same way He fights for the Israelites in the Old Testament, so He also fights for us in the present age.
We call it spiritual warfare.
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Okay, back to the book of Joshua.
Here is Joshua, outside of the fortified city of Jericho, approached by an unknown man with his sword drawn. Joshua asks, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”
The unknown man, who is The. Commander. Of. The. Army. Of. The. Lord. answers Joshua:
“No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.”
I missed it before, and maybe you did, too. Let me use The Message translation, because you’ll see it clearly:
"And then this, while Joshua was there near Jericho: He looked up and saw right in front of him a man standing, holding his drawn sword. Joshua stepped up to him and said, “Whose side are you on—ours or our enemies’?” He said, “Neither. I’m commander of God’s army. I’ve just arrived.”
What I want you to see is that the Commander essentially says, “I don’t work for you or against you. I work for God.” That’s pivotal, because therein lies the revelation. God doesn’t work for me, or against me. He works for His own glory.
God exists for His glory, not my happiness.
Another angle we can use to view this point is:
God doesn’t exist for my happiness. I don’t exist for my happiness. I exist for God’s glory.
For too long in the modern American church we have hidden mature Christianity behind the fragile facade of, “God loves you.” It’s not wrong, but it’s not the point.
(I’ve mentioned in past blog posts that as a new Christian in my youth, I just needed to know that God loved me. It took years before I realized that the goal of my faith isn’t to be loved, but rather to love the Lord.)
It’s like this: If I were to ask my husband what he wants for dinner, and he responds, “I’d like ketchup with dinner"…it’s not a wrong thing to say, but it misses the main point. What MAIN DISH would you like to eat for dinner??
In the same way, we’ve taken the truth of the Bible which wholly points to God’s eternal glory as the main point of our lives, our beings, our daily opportunities… And we’ve twisted it to making it about us and our fragile, fleeting happiness.
It’s not that God is opposed to our happiness, it’s just that it’s a side issue that is resolved when the main point of God’s glory is magnified above our “ketchup”.
The Commander of the Army of the Lord doesn’t work for Joshua. Or Israel. Or their protection. He works to fulfill God’s Word, which in fact was to protect the people of Israel. But if the Commander decided to make the protection of Israel his priority, then he would have sized up the walls of Jericho, sized up Israel’s cute little ill-equipped army, and led them to retreat back to the Wilderness. Instead, the Commander was under the direct order of the Lord to fulfill His Word that Israel would possess Jericho and all of Canaan as their Promise Land turned homebase until the end of time.
Godly Friends Are Needed
Isn’t it SO GOOD to have people in your life who see God’s glory as the main priority rather than our indecisive happiness? People who will stand up to your concern over your daily woes and tell you, “God will be glorified, even through this. I am here to help you fight for God’s glory in your life.” Amidst the news of cancer, and kidney stones, and a broken hip, and boyfriend problems, marriage problems, toddlers who are struggling through potty training, bills, work woes, etc. God will be glorified.
We need friends like that, and we need to be those kinds of friends. Friends who will enter the battle with us, not for our comfort, but for God’s glory to be displayed in our lives.
A comfort friend would tell you to retreat into the wilderness when you’re up against giant people and giant walls. A godly friend will remind you of the promises of the faithful living God.
So then, if you’re on God’s side, you KNOW your partnership with a friend like that is divine, not flimsy. Shoot! I revealed my next point already!
The first revelation I covered in Joshua 5 is that God isn’t here for my happiness. He is here for His glory. He invites us to join His side, not vice versa.
In the book of Joshua, chapter 6 is when the 30-foot walls of Jericho fall down, the Israelites easily capture this well-fortified, well-protected, well-equipped city. And God gets the glory. Amen!
2. God will be glorified.
The second revelation that hit me square between the eyes is found in Deuteronomy chapter 9. Let me give you the backstory to how the book of Deuteronomy connects to the book of Joshua. In Deuteronomy, before the Israelites began to take over the land of Canaan, their initial view of Canaan was that it was owned by giants, and there’s no way they would be able to defeat them.
Israelite spies were sent to Canaan to size up the land, the people, and report their findings to the army commanders of Israel. The report of the spies said they feared the Canaanites, and they shouldn’t obey God’s command to take the land of Canaan. However, God immediately promised to subdue the Canaanites, even though the Israelite army was weaker, the people were smaller in size, and their army population was the least in this area of the world. Because of all of these deficits, God would be even more glorified because it would be clear that it was Him and not the Israelites who are powerful.
Let’s pick up in Deuteronomy, when God initially promises to expel the Canaanites:
1 Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, 2 a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ 3 Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you.
4 “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. 5 Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
6 “Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.
This is not a warm, fuzzy passage. This is not a passage you would quote when you’re feeling down and your faith is challenged. It’s a hard thing to hear, yet it still applies to our lives today.
The second revelation we can gather here is that God will be glorified in His people, even when they are stubborn and disobedient. …And by “they” I mean “we”.
That should be a hopeful thought, but maybe it’s not.
I’ve noticed that there is this idea permeating Christians today that before we “got saved”, we were bad, but now we’re not, and all the good stuff God gives us is because we’re so stinking good. Because we go to church. Because we tithe. Because of our great faith.
This passage says the exact opposite, but there is a highly important distinction we need to understand in this passage.
In Scripture, there is a GINORMOUS difference between the words “bad” and “wicked”. We could use the word “bad” to describe the Israelites, a people who watch God perform some of the greatest miracles of the Bible (I’ll take "Parting the Red Sea” for 1000, please"), and they still turn to worshiping idols on multiple occasions. In fact, we could summarize the Old Testament like this:
God performs miracles. God’s people are amazed…until they’re not, and then they sin. God condemns the sin. They repent & sacrifice. God restores them and moves them forward. Repeat times 1,000. (End of Old Testament)
Okay, so God’s people, the Israelites, aren’t exactly the most faithful bunch. They’re sinners, just like you and me. They get distracted. They follow idols. They are led astray and turn back to God over and over. Just like you and me.
But the important distinction is in categorizing the Canaanites, who are in opposition to the Israelites, as “wicked”. Wicked doesn’t mean that they sin. It means that they reject the one true God and worship idols for generations upon generations… Oh, and this important detail:
They birth children just to sacrifice them to their false gods.
9 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft,11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you.
Can you imagine how depraved a woman must be to kill her own baby in the name of religion?! These are a *WICKED* people, these Canaanites.
Let’s look back to Deuteronomy chapter 9. The Israelites aren’t oh so good, so God is giving them blessings. God is reassigning blessings from the wicked child-killers to the bad (but not wicked) Israelites, who at best are fair-weather followers of God.
Does Israel ever become “wicked”?
We know what happens when the Caanites wickedness is judged, but what do you think happens when the Israelites are wicked? Does God wipe them out? Not exactly. We see throughout the Israelites long history between being slaves in Egypt and owning the nation state of Israel that God rids the wicked people many times over. There’s the initial wipe-out of the original Israelites who were freed from Egypt but are too wicked to enter the Promise Land. So the whole people group of Israel has to stay right outside the Promise Land until that generation dies off, and a new (hopefully more) faithful generation rises up. (Enter: Joshua.)
But there are multiple other times God kills off Israelites whose hearts are hardened against Him. Such as Achan and his entire family in Joshua chapter 7. Achan’s sin of covetousness and stealing costs the lives of 36 innocent Israelite soldiers and soon after, Achan’s sin is revealed and his entire family is stoned by the Israelites and their bodies burned. (Because stoned to death isn’t deadly enough apparently... JK, they were following God’s orders.)
Likewise, in our lives, God will kill off the parts of us that refuse to bow down to Him.
In my life, here’s what it’s looked like:
When I moved to Florida, some 6 years ago, I had such an identity crisis. I thought I was following the Lord’s voice, but I didn’t realize that God would reveal His glory through me by changing me. I arrived in Florida armed with nothing more than a lot of adrenaline. In Louisiana, I left behind a career in a fun industry, all my friends, family and social connections, and all the things I thought made up my identity. In Florida, I knew nobody, and nobody knew me. That ended up being a very good thing, because God had a lot of work to do on me. He stripped away all the things that I thought were so important and started rebuilding my life just a few years ago. He killed off the things that my sinful side treasured: the alcohol, the binge eating, the binge shopping, the wild nights out and the reputation for being the life of the party. Granted, I tried to hold on to them even after I moved, but it ended with a lot of mornings waking up not knowing where I was, who I was with, and being incredibly lost. It was at these “bottom of the pit” moments when I reached out to God and asked Him to rebuild my life with things that will last.
I lost friends, but I’ve gained new godly friends, and re-bonded with godly friends I left behind in my wild days.
I lost my identity in my reputation, but I’ve learned my true identity is in Jesus — because of Him, my foremost identity is Daughter of the King.
I surrendered my promising career in finance along with the potential income and “respect” I thought I needed in life, but God gave me this ministry of blogging.
I surrendered my sexuality and my romantic life, and God’s given me a godly, loving husband.
It sucked when God was killing off the old me, but I’m so much happier now. And not just the temporary happiness we talked about at the beginning of this post. I’ve found lasting joy in learning to surrender my needs, wants, and comfort in order to bring God glory.
I got to spread God’s love in West Kenya last month! And I got to visit my Brother last week and have such good, life-giving conversation — an old relationship filled with new life! And every day, I get to use my life to disciple Christians through my writing.
It’s all so amazing, and it’s not because I’m righteous or faithful. It’s all because His grace!
That’s where I think I’ll end this thing. It used to be my slogan for this blog: “Because His grace”. I’ve rebranded to “Godly perspective on everyday life for women”, but I always want to be operating in His grace — His undeserved favor. Not my merit of goodness, not my own efforts, but God’s grace!
Let me leave you with one last revelatory thought; let’s call it revelation 2B:
God will be glorified through His people,
and we can actively be a part of it!
Though I presented that last passage of Scripture in Deuteronomy chapter 9 as kind of a gloomy outlook that God will be glorified through His people, even though we’re sinful… Well, we don’t HAVE TO be sinful. Yes, we will sin. But we don’t constantly have to fall prey to the same habitual, juvenile sins. The New Testament is notably more hopeful in this regard.
Ephesians 4 says:
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
That’s a jam-packed section of the Bible. It tells us all the signs of immature, ungodly living — which is the way of sin and death. And it tells us what a mature, godly person should be doing, things like: speaking the truth, sharing with the needy, forgiving fellow Christians.
(Side note: forgiveness is a true sign of maturity. The Bible tells us to be forgiving, which means we will be hurt and offended, but we don’t have to stay that way. Identifying the hurt is a necessary step, but it’s only the first step. Mature believe learn to forgive.)
Wrap it up
I hope you’ll go back and read Joshua chapters 5-7. Read it with new eyes, with fresh revelation, and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal new revelation to you, too!
As you read, remember these points:
God doesn’t exist for our happiness. He exists for His glory, and we are invited to join Him on that mission.
God will be glorified through His people, even when we are stubborn and disobedient. He will kill off the parts of us that oppose His glory, and although it may be painful, what remains will be eternal.
2B. God will be glorified through His people, and we can actively be a part of it!