Monday, May 18, 2015

So, Your Promised Land Isn't What You Expected It To Be...?

"I want to be a grown up now," exclaims my eight-year-old son.

My knife doesn't even pause at this statement as I serve up three slabs of strawberry cake, drop clinking forks on the table, count cups a second time to make sure I didn't forget a child, and glance at the clock that warns of bedtime's rapid approach.

"No you don' the time you realize being an adult isn't all you thought it'd be, it's too late.  You're already there with all the responsibilities adults have."

Desiring adulthood is the curse of being young.  How many times did I think the same thing growing up?

No matter how good I had it, I was always looking forward to when I would be an when I could make my own choices, all the while never realizing what that freedom would cost.

Even now as an adult, I find myself focusing in on the promises of God, and when He grants me blessings innumerable or when He fulfills the desires of my heart--still, I'm looking for the next great thing.  And still, what I thought I wanted is not what I ever expected it to be.

In all honesty, even when I am plopped down in the dead center of God's will, that place is not at all what I imagined in my own mind.  What's's a whole lot more work than I expected.

My spiritual "Promised Land"--the place where God has placed me to "bear much fruit" is the exact opposite of my fleshly vision of ease, comfort, and pleasure (Jn. 15:8). 

In the Old Testament, I imagine the Israelites felt much the same way about their physical Promised Land.

In his final words, Moses tells the children of Israel what they can expect once they pass the Jordan and take up residence in the land promised Abraham and their forefathers:

"Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food without scarcity, in which you will not lack anything; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today" (Deut. 8:6-11).

It is of utmost importance that Moses begins and ends this description of their Promised Land with a reference to obeying God.  In other words, if we desire our Promised Land to be everything it is supposed to be, our lives, our days, our minutes must start and end with "keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes" (v. 11).

For argument's sake, let's say we are achieving that requirement and are walking daily with a heart devoted to keeping God's commands as Jesus summarized them in the New Testament--loving the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul, and mind and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Lk. 10:27).

Walking in that obedience, then, what does our Promised Land look like?  

Moses describes the physical land of promise as a land of complete and total fruitfulness, "a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey" and all of these in such abundance that we will "not lack anything" (v. 7,8).  

As one author says, the use of seven different types of produce in this verse serves to symbolize the land's perfection--it is completely productive, completely fruitful.*

And yet, the next verses don't speak of a laid-back life among this glorious abundance.  Instead, it speaks of "a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper" (v. 9).  

The second image is clear--some of that "produce" is not on the surface ready for consumption but must be mined out of the ground.

The first image, though, may not immediately make sense to a non-farmer.  With my dad's family coming from Michigan, I know how detrimental stones are for farmers plowing the fields--hit a stone large enough, and you'll be buying a new plow tomorrow.  What's more, no matter how many times you remove those stones from your field, the earth's constant movement shoves more to the surface.  To work the land, the farmer must continuously clean his field of these stones, stacking huge piles of boulders at the edge of his field. 

Both images above depict hard, dirty work to constantly prepare the land to reach its fruitful potential and to mine out that potential.

Consider how this may speak to us today concerning our spiritual Promised Land in Jesus. Abundant life in Him is our Promised Land where we are commanded to bear much fruit.

With the Holy Spirit residing within, we are capable of being completely productive....completely fruitful.  But, just because we have the capacity for fruitfulness doesn't mean it's going to be easy.

We must work diligently with the Spirit's guidance wherever the Lord has placed us.  We must constantly mine the fruits of God's Word with much time and dedication. Yes, we must roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty as we labor for the kingdom.

The good news is that through His Word and the Holy Spirit, God has given us everything we need to accomplish His will wherever He has placed us.  It's just up to us to do the work necessary so we can bear the fruit He intended when He first saved us.

*The Law of Love: Lessons from the Pages of Deuteronomy.  p. 21

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