Sunday, April 19, 2015

Don't Make Your Wilderness Into Your Grave

We've all experienced a season in the wilderness.  Maybe we've even experienced more than one.

In our memories, it is a dark place of uncertainty, struggle, difficulty, and often pain.  It is not a desert we ever would have chosen to walk through, even if what it led to was worth the trip in retrospect.

There we stood in the wilderness--day after day, month after month, maybe even year after year....struggling to lift one foot in front of the other as we slogged up sandy dunes taller than we had ever climbed before.  Each dune was so tall that when we slid down to the valley between them, we could see neither where we were headed nor where we had been.  Some days, in the deepest core of our wilderness, even when we mastered another summit, all we beheld from that height were equally-high mountains of sand as far as the eye could see.

We lived in the wilderness, a barren desert with no entrance to retreat back through and no visible exit.

Why am I here?

The Israelites surely must have asked this very question as they camped in the wilderness with Moses after leaving behind the slavery of Egypt and aiming towards their Promised Land.

We all know the story, how an eleven day journey transformed into a 38+ year wandering in the desert after the people lacked sufficient faith to possess the Promised Land.  Thirty-eight years of pointless wandering in circles, all the while transforming their wilderness into a graveyard as tens of thousands of people died to fulfill God's judgment.

God said to that unfaithful group: "your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness" (Num. 14:29-33).

God's desire was not for the Israelites to wander aimlessly in their wilderness for 40 years.  He longed for them to have faith in Him.  He longed for them to obey Him.  Instead of grumbling and disobeying God in their lack of faith, God wanted them to understand that yes, they were meant to go through this difficult time in the wilderness, but to also understand that He. Was. There.  What's more, He. Was. Enough. 

God was with them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.  God was with them in the daily manna.  God was even with them in the evening quail after they grumbled about the monotony of manna.   

All the while, He was striving to prepare their hearts in that wilderness.  He was working to bring them to a Promised Land of plenty that He had prepared for them.  

As Moses told the Israelites, "And he [the Lord] brought us out from there [Egypt], that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers" (Deut. 6:23). 

The Lord brought them out of Egypt so he could bring them in to the Promised Land.   

He didn't merely bring them "out" in order for them to remain in the wilderness.  He desired to bring them "in" to a land where they could be fruitful.  And yet, instead of believing God....instead of obeying God, their disobedience kept God from bringing them "in" to the land of promise.

What cuts me to the quick is that last verse in the Numbers 14 passage above: "And your children....shall suffer for your faithlessness" (v. 33).

The children suffered for the faithless disobedience of their fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers.  Innocent children.....suffering needlessly for their elders' sin.  

This is not a mere history story.  It is not a "let's point our fingers at those stupid Israelites" story either.  No.  This lesson applies even to those of us this side of the cross--to those of us adopted into Moses and Abraham's spiritual family.  

Jesus told His disciples to expect difficulty in their lives if they chose to obey and follow Him: "A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also" (Jn. 15:20). He promised them trials to test them, to sanctify their souls. In short, He promised the child of God seasons in the wilderness.

God will send you and me through the wilderness. If for no other reason, He will be saving us from ourselves by working to sanctify our souls.  It's just a matter of when.  

When those seasons come, though, we can rest in peace knowing that as we struggle through the difficult days, God does not intend for us to remain there in our wilderness until all that's left are our sun-bleached bones. The wilderness need not be our grave.  

God only leads us "out" into the wilderness to "bring us in" to something far greater, to somewhere that we can bear fruit!  It's simply up to us to seek Him in our difficulty so that our hearts do not turn bitter and defiant.  

Otherwise, in our disobedience, we not only doom ourselves to pointless wandering in our wilderness, but we doom our children to all too many years of that fate as well.

Image: Stone marked grave in Libya

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