Monday, June 3, 2013

Wandering In The Wilderness

For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.” – Hebrews 3:16-19

Back several years ago when I was in my early thirties, I had a dear friend tell me that I was “wandering in the wilderness”.  It was in the middle of a conversation that I don’t remember, but I remember her saying that I was “wandering in the wilderness”.  What’s sad is that I didn’t understand what it meant.  After spending my whole life in church, I did not have an inkling of what it meant to wander in the wilderness.  I’d carried a Bible to church every Sunday of my life, but never took the time to read it to understand more than a few verses at a time.

I was living with the volume on God turned down to a low hum in the background of life.  Life was centered on pleasing people.  My thoughts and concerns were to having the right shoes to match each outfit, driving the right car, dressing my kids in ways that would help them find favor in others, and keeping up appearances.  I miserably held on to a marriage filled with distrust and disrespect because I didn’t want to hurt or disappoint family members.  I had a job I loved because it was one I could be prideful of, and I was.  I prayed daily, which went something like “Dear God, thank you for this day, give me…give me…give me…Amen.”  And yes, on Sundays and Wednesday nights we went to church. 

Was I wandering in the wilderness?  Yes.  But I didn’t know it.  The wilderness seemed pretty soothing.  I had as much God in my life as I wanted…or so I thought.  I was content with misery on several levels.  I became content with the feeling of never measuring up to people’s expectations, of never feeling equal.  I was satisfied with the appearance of a happy family life, and the title of Christian without letting go of the reins of my life, and letting God have full control.  I’d decided, without understanding the decision I’d made, to not enter the rest that God prepared for His children.

When God freed the children of Israel from Egypt, He had great plans for them.  He had prepared “The Promised Land”, which was a land “flowing with milk and honey”, a plentiful place of peace and rest.  He showed the Israelites His power in the ten plagues brought upon Egypt that finally lead to their release.  He showed them His protection as He parted the Red Sea, allowing them to escape the Egyptian army that followed, and causing it to fall on their enemy.  Without lifting a single weapon, they were delivered from their enemies and from years of slavery at God’s hand. 

When they got to the outskirts of the Promised Land, God had them send in 12 spies, one from each tribe of Israel.  For forty days they explored the Promised Land.  Joshua and Caleb came back ready to overtake the inhabitants and possess the land God had given them in full belief that He would deliver them from all harm.  But ten spies came back filled with fear, saying that the land was good but the people were like giants, so large that they felt like grasshoppers next to them.  They said “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.”(Numbers 13:31)  They’d seen the battle as one they had to fight on their own [“stronger than WE”], not one that God had already promised they would win.

So all the people of Israel cried all night, tore their clothes, blamed God for putting them in the wilderness and said, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt!”  They wanted to elect someone to take them back to Egypt to again become slaves. 

Joshua and Caleb tried to reason with them, saying “The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’ Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them.(Numbers 14:7-9)” But the people of Israel, though they believed in God, could not in Him for their protection.  They could not trust Him for the promise of rest He had made them.

God was ready to destroy the entire generation of unbelievers right then, and replace them with a new nation of people.  He said in Numbers 14:11 “How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” But Moses interceded for them, and God, in His endless mercy, allowed them to wander in the wilderness for forty years, one year for each day they explored the land, until the unbelieving generation died.  They died within a few miles of a land that would have given them rest from their labor, bountiful provisions for every day, living in the full blessings of God.

In Hebrews 3 the writer talks of the Israelites, God’s own people, wandering in the wilderness.  He says For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. They believed in God.  They believed He existed.  But they didn’t fully trust Him to be God Almighty. 

They believed He could part the Red Sea because they’d seen it done.  They believed He could kill an Egyptian army.  But they didn’t believe He could crush the Anakins that inhabited the Promised Land, their current enemy. They believed He could rain down manna from Heaven, feeding them daily without laboring.  But they didn’t fully believe they could live in a land “flowing with milk and honey”, where their labors would cease.  They struggled to believe God was God of all, able to do all that He has promised.

There came a time in my mid-thirties that I began to fully believe God’s promises.  It happened on a weekend when I heard 15 people, mostly women, speak of the many flavors of God’s grace and His presence over their struggles in life.  It happened as I watched them live before Him for three days.  I walked away understanding that God was not just a wrathful God, peeking around every corner waiting for me to sin so He could punish me.  I understood He loves me, and wants to give me rest from all my struggles.  I learned He had helped others through struggles with relationships, self-inflicted judgments, marriages and issues with raising children.  I learned He could be fully trusted, and I put my full faith in Him.  During that weekend, I left the wilderness.

If you find yourself wandering in the wilderness, unable to trust God fully with all your problems, not feeling the joy of your relationship with Him, step out!  Be a Joshua or a Caleb, and trust God to show up.  Step out on faith that He will meet you where you are.  He can be trusted with all your problems.  Come before Him with courage that He will give you the rest He has promised.

“There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. “ – Hebrews 4:9-16

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