“But the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders…How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you?” Joshua 17:18; 18:2
Borders. We tend to think of them as restrictive, as confining, as limiting. We give them a negative connotation instead of a positive demarcation. Borders mark our territory; they delineate our acreage; they stretch out our inheritance! While we may see them as fence lines we aren’t supposed to cross, in reality, we rarely walk our fence lines, much less camp beside them. Truth be told, most of us live in a small portion of our land and all too often fail to stretch to the edge of our “restrictive” borders; we fail to clear our “forest country”.
That’s what the Israelites did…or didn’t…do. After entering the Promised Land and driving out its inhabitants, the twelve tribes were to settle their land, to inhabit not just a portion of the land, but all the way to its borders. For most, this was a daunting task. Yes, God had given them the land He’d promised; yes, He’d allowed them to overthrow kings; yes, He’d dried up riverbeds and knocked down walls, but no land was completely established…no territory was cleared all the way to its borders!
The tribes of Joseph did what many of us tend to do. They looked at their inheritance and said, “Is that all we get? It’ll never be enough.” To which Joshua replied, “But you own all the way to the far borders…beyond the hills and through the forest country. Can’t you see it?” But apparently they could only see to the forest and not through the forest; what they couldn’t see was the border beyond the brush-line.
I think about these instructions of Joshua whenever I see land that has been cleared and brush that has been piled. Sometimes, the scene is one of land being made ready for use, of a territory claimed, conquered, and cleared. But sometimes, the scene is one of devastation, of land that has been hacked, hauled, and heaped. Work has been done, but not completed; piles have been made but not burned; territory has been exposed, but not expanded. It’s frustrating to see such starts…without the follow through of a finish. All the work that went into cutting and piling, but without the burning, has left the land no more inhabitable than when the timber stood vertically rather than lying horizontally. Why so close…why the almost instead of the Amen? And so my thoughts wander…and rise…and land at God’s feet…where He collects them, and addresses them.
“You do this, too.”
“What? Me? I always burn my piles!”
“Yes, the ones in the woods you do, but what about the ones in your heart?”
“Lord, what piles are in my heart? What have You cut down that I have left stacked up?”
“Well, there’s the pile of doubt, uncertainties, and fear along your northern border. That should go. Then, there’s the prickly pile of pride with its thorns of ‘what will others think’ and ‘what if I mess up’ that’s hampering access to the western border. On the south end, there’s – ”
“Um, excuse me, but just how many more piles are there?”
“As I was saying, to the south there’s the pile of impatience…to which you may add that branch you just picked up…and to the east, there’s that brush pile of selfishness. All piles of fallen timbers that I have cut and you have stacked…but not burned.”
(Gulp.) “Lord, I don’t know what to say except…may I have a Light?”
Heart piles. Who knew? Areas that need to be cut down, mounded up, and burned through. Areas that block our borders and limit our latitude. Areas that increase our flammability but decrease our fruit-ability because they prevent us from inhabiting all of our inheritance. In the book of Joshua, the tribes have been given the promised land; now, they have to land on the promise. God delivered them, He promised to help them develop; God conquered for them, He promised to help them claim; God exhumed for them, He promised to help them expand. At every turn, God was there before, beside, behind, and below. River in the way? God piled it up. Walls in the way? God pulled them down. Kings in the way? God plucked them out. Trees in the way? God handed them an ax.
Sometimes I wait on God and sometimes He waits on me. I think I’m being patient while He’s being purposeful when in actuality He’s being patient while I’m being impudent. Sometimes it’s hard to see the border for the trees; sometimes it’s hard to see the perimeter for the piles. It’s true of physical inheritances and it’s true of spiritual inheritances; it’s true of land borders and of heart borders. How often, if we think about it, has God brought us to our promised area just to see us dwell in a portion of our acreage? How often have we asked God for more without even inhabiting all that we have? How often has God cleared our forests only to watch us stack up the fallen timbers as if to memorialize that which has been cut down? Oh, that we would trust in…and inhabit…His promises. If we did, we’d have larger territories, wider borders, and no fire hazards; we’d not only have all the room we need, but we’d have enough for everyone whom we’d invite…for generations to come! And, we’d have said of us what the Israelites had said of them.
“Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. (Joshua 21:43-45 ESV)
God made good on His promise to the Israelites more than 3,500 years ago. Why? Because they were His chosen people. God makes good on His promises to us right here, right now. Why? Because we are His adopted children. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, so we don’t have to be. He’s cleared our sins, so we can reach our borders; He’s stacked our fears, so we can clear our territory; and He’s given us a burn permit, so we can increase our inheritance.
So, won’t you join me in “Project Burn”? It’s time for the piles to go. It’s time for the land to be inhabited…fully and far-ly (it’s a new word…feel free to use it as it’s now in print), to the fence and back. Ready? I’ve got my Lighter…do you have yours?