It seems that the fulfillment of God’s promises in our lives typically comes by traversing an off-road path that keeps us dependent on him. The journey isn’t the nicely paved road, but the trek filled with mountains, sharp edges, and unexpected turns.
We easily can relate to the disciples who were told to get in the boat and head to the other side. They saw a destination ahead of them, not the storm that would be their teacher long before their feet were back on ground. [Matt 8] Or there are the Israelites, whose 11 day journey in the wilderness to the promise land stretched out over 38 years and 8 months.
Promised destinations never arrive quickly. Though they sure come suddenly.
When the Israelites first headed into the wilderness, they were full of trust in the God who parted waters before their eyes. He performed miracles, provided supernaturally, and promised a land to them. They started out eager to arrive, conquer the land, and dwell within their home.
Most of our journeys are the same. At first, with the promise before us, our hearts are full of trust. We remember who God is and how supernaturally he works, and we’re expectant to see it. We’re excited to get to that promised destination and plant ourselves in what he has destined for us.
But, just like the Israelites, it’s easy to forget.
The time came along their journey where they were given the chance to explore what was up ahead. “Go check it out,” said God. “This is what I set aside for you.” [Num 13]
But instead of coming back with fiery eyes of passion and hearts full of gratitude, they came back wearing a heavy coat of intimidation. They forgot how God could work through them, making it all look too big, impossible, and overwhelming.
In fact, they came back holding onto words never actually spoken to them. It wasn’t the enemy who said they were the size of grasshoppers. They allowed the circumstances to fill their unbelief with words and pictures to validate those internal fears.
They became intimidated by what they saw, minimizing their identities by their own perceptions. And all of a sudden, what was promised became terrifying with giants too large and them too little. They peered over into what was ahead and said, “It’s too big.”
The Israelites refused to believe God’s ability to work in them and became totally lost, desiring to head back from where they came rather than move forward into what was promised.
I wonder if a transition happened along their 38-year journey of waiting in the wilderness as their hearts started to doubt what was possible with God. I wonder if, as dry and barren as the wilderness was, it became comfortable to them. Safe. Familiar. Without intimidating giants to keep them feeling unqualified, small, or exposed.
I wonder if their season of hiddenness, marked by God for a purpose, became a season of hiding by way of their own fear.
As fired up as they were when they first left Egypt for this destination, along the way they became willing to forgo it for the slavery of the past, or the wilderness hiding of the present. Comfort and safety in hiding outweighed the responsibility of stewardship and leadership over what was being offered.
But then, all these years later, as God’s people stood at the same place where the law was first given and God was encountered, he spoke these words: “You have stayed at this mountain LONG ENOUGH. Break camp and advance.” [Deut 1]
It was time. No more hiding or wandering. God charged them to turn, take hold of their journey, and head up that dang hill to occupy what was theirs.
As much as we wrestle and battle through our own wilderness experiences, we can hide in them past our season. The Israelites found themselves in the desert because they were enslaved and needed freedom. We similarly find ourselves in the dry land because of God moving us out of where we were to bring us into something new. Yet, if we’re not careful to remember the God who works through us even when our circumstances are barren around us, we may find ourselves hiding in a wilderness of fears and doubts that says we’re too ill-equipped for what’s up that hill.
But then an unassuming Thursday comes along and we are standing in the middle of a wilderness journey long past when we were sure we would be on the other side. We wake up to how we’ve been hiding in our fears, that it’s time to get moving again. Yet, in the same breath, we remember how we don’t feel like it and decide tomorrow will be better.
Just as we go to sit down and wait out another day, God’s arrow of grace comes shooting at us with the words, “You have stayed at this mountain LONG ENOUGH. Break camp and advance.”