On October 13, 1972, a charter flight crashed in the Andes Mountains. A military plane from Uruguay was carrying an amateur rugby team from Montevideo, Uruguay to a match Santiago, Chile. The plane was forced to land, the plane landed in Mendoza, Argentina when the weather became too treacherous to continue. Since there was no way around the Andes, the passengers and crew stayed the night hoping conditions would improve. However, Chilean law prohibited a military aircraft from another country to stay more than twenty-four hours.
Fortunately the weather cleared the next afternoon. Unfortunately it was late afternoon and as the sun set on that day the weather over the Andes once again took a turn to the treacherous. Thirty-two of the 45 passengers survived the initial crash. Within a few days four of the severely injured died in the harsh conditions. The remaining twenty-eight survivors existed on some alcohol, candy and a few miscellaneous food items they found among the wreckage. After several weeks of waiting to be rescued, and resorting to desperate means to ward off starvation, the group knew they had to do something or all would soon die. To exacerbate their plight, heavy snows resulted in an avalanche that killed several.
On Dec. 11, the remaining men began a 10-day trek out of the isolated mountain valley. For more than a week they pushed their way over some of the highest mountains in the world. On Thursday, Dec. 21st — 70 days after the plane crash — a poor Chilean shepherd found the group, now numbering only 16 and led them out of the remote valley and back to civilization.
Here’s where the story takes an even sadder turn. The passengers aboard the crashed charter did not know that they were close to a well-stocked ski resort closed for the season. Had they gone just a few miles in the other direction all the survivors would have lived and none would have to carry the horrible memories of their desperate survival. But they had never been there before and didn’t know which way to go.
We are coming to a new year. Like those aboard that tragic flight, none of us have ever been where we are all heading … into the future. But unlike the rugby team, we have a Guide who has already made the journey and knows how to lead us to the safe place.
There’s a 3,000 year-old story found in the Bible that provides a guideline for venturing into the unknown. It is found in the book of Joshua. This Old Testament writing contains the story of the Israelites traveling from their forty years of wilderness wandering into the Promised Land. The story in Joshua 3 illustrates not only how to face the unknown but move successfully into in it.
The story begins, “Then Joshua rose early in the morning; and he and all the sons of Israel set out from Shittim and came to the Jordan, and they lodged there before they crossed. 2 At the end of three days the officers went through the midst of the camp; 3 and they commanded the people, saying, ‘When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God with the Levitical priests carrying it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. 4 However, there shall be between you and it a distance of about 2,000 cubits [about 1,500 yards] by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.”
5 Then Joshua said to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.’ 6 And Joshua spoke to the priests, saying, ‘Take up the Ark of the Covenant and cross over ahead of the people.’ So they took up the Ark of the Covenant and went ahead of the people.”
From this story you can glean six steps for walking into the unknown. First, you must be ready to move (v.1). I wonder if the wilderness had become a comfortable place for the Israelites. They knew it well, having lived in it all their lives. Sometimes it is hard to leave the comfortable and familiar. But to get to the Promised Land they had to be ready to move. To go into the future successfully, you must be ready to move as well.
Secondly, you need to watch for God’s movement (v.3). For the Israelites it was the movement of the Ark of the Covenant. For you it will be God’s Holy Spirit using whatever aid needed to get your attention.
Next, you need to be ready to follow (v.3). You want to move forward but when the time comes you hesitate. But to follow God you must be ready to follow Him.
Number four, you must take care to follow God God’s way (v.4). God will not simply point you in the right direction and turn you loose; He will be your Guide.
Five, you must be clean and ready for God’s service (v.5). This is the meaning behind “consecrate yourself.” To follow God into the unknown you must keep yourself fit to follow, meaning you must not be tarnished by holding onto ungodliness in thought and action.
Finally, you must believe in the greatness, the omnipotence of God (v.5). Don’t limit what God can do in your life this year. He can accomplish all the He has planned.
There is one more step. You must be ready to exercise faith (vv. 8-14). Before they could cross into the Promised Land, the Israelites had to cross a flooding Jordan River. They had to step into it and only after they did did God do the miracle. You need to apply the same faith. Trust God as you follow Him into a new year. Don’t look for a door to open until it is time for it to do so. God will keep His promise to guide you; you need to trust Him as He does.