“We’ve gotten the promised land and the wilderness confused,” he said over another one of our coffee talks. It may have been the same morning as this talk, but it was likely a different one. They all blur together into a story of deeper truth that unfolds at the table with family.
“When we find ourselves working hard for something, having to provide our own sustenance and work our own land – that’s the promised destination. The wilderness had supernatural provision, but the promised land brought hard work.”
And there’s the truth.
There is something easily overlooked in the middle of our wilderness seasons. We scan our circumstances and cry out loudly about the barrenness, the lack of direction or clarity of path, and the slow-moving pace. But we easily forget the provision.
“For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.” [Neh 9:21]
For forty years, as they wandered and journeyed, God alone upheld them. Pure and simple.
But the people grumbled in unbelief and wished they could turn back, all the while forgetting the presence of a God who sustained them even in the driest and most barren of seasons. The testimony of God was in this season. The provision of God was in this season. The grace of God was in this season.
It takes no faith to look around at our circumstances and see what is missing and all we wish could be. And it takes no character to grumble to those around so the message spreads of the painful process of the wilderness season.
As barren and dry as your land may be, God has not abandoned you to a life in the desert. He is actively providing for you. For the wilderness is where you and I receive supernatural sustenance for the day at hand. No more, no less. Just enough to move through today.
And when we finally break camp, advance, and cross over, it is time to head up the hill. To take possession of the land and eat the fruit of the soil, not the quail and manna from above. What is supernaturally provided in the wilderness becomes what we work for in the promised land.
To receive what is being given to us isn’t some passive sit-down-and-wait posture, but a wholly active one. It means we dig our hands deep into the dirt of the ground, get bruises on our arms and sweat on our brow, and work to receive what is promised.
Because God gives to us by grace what we are to work for in that grace. For the promise is both the gift and the burden.
What is offered to us as we step into new land, just as to the Israelites, is the potential of the promise, the possibility of what the land could be. But they, like us, were responsible to steward and work for it. To overcome the enemies’ holds, labor for the provision, and be faithful in it.
This is where we get to partner with God, equally receiving both the potential and the responsibility of what he promises to us.
If you find yourself digging hard today, plowing and toiling while wondering when in the world you will move into that promised place of your dreams, reconsider where your feet are planted. If you have tired muscles and dirt under your nails, it’s likely you’re standing on a ground of potential with a God who calls you to steward, sow, take responsibility, and actively receive the promised land below your feet.