THE STORY CHAPTER 6 WANDERING OR POSSESSING WHAT GOD HAS FOR US
Have you ever taken children on a road trip? You start the trip with such optimism and joy…but it doesn’t take much for things to start getting hard. Maybe you didn’t grow up with five siblings as I did. It started with little fights and arguments in the back seat over important things like “he’s touching me” or “that’s mine”. We would fight in the back seat keeping a watchful eye to make sure Dad’s hand didn’t come over the seat to slap us—not politically correct today; very real in my day! Then, of course, there are those relentless moments of impatience, “Are we there yet?”
I have to admit that my weakness on road trips is to not confuse it with a road race. I don’t want to stop. Anywhere. Ever. It might affect my time. Whatever time the map says it should take, well, I want to beat that time. My wife always asks,” Dale, why are you in a hurry to get there? Is there something you have to do right away when you get there?” Of course, I don’t have anything I have to do when I get there. It isn’t just that I have to hurry and get there so I can do nothing. It’s about beating the time! I’m competing against someone’s calculation of time to make the trip and I must beat it! That makes sense doesn’t it? Well, to most men it does, right?
When my kids were growing up, we didn’t have GPS for road trips. It was all maps, reading signs, looking for exits and interchanges. In the stress (and sometimes arguments) of navigation, trips could become especially trying. One trip I especially remember. It is etched forever in my mind. We were in downtown Atlanta, traffic everywhere, and we were simply trying to return to El Paso where we lived. In all of the chaos and busyness of trying to understand exits and road signs, I missed a turn. As I frantically drove, I remember the sick feeling in my stomach when I saw a sign basically welcoming us to Tennessee. In case you don’t know, Tennessee is not on the way from Atlanta, Georgia to El Paso, Texas. Not unless you plan an extended scenic road trip. I had gone several hours in the wrong direction. If you can relate at all to my travel adventures, then perhaps you can understand at least a little of what Moses and God went through in getting the children of Israel from Egypt through the wilderness to the Promise Land.
Can you imagine what I’m talking about multiplied times two to three million people (plus animals, etc.)? The journey starts off so optimistically, “We’re going to the land of milk and honey!” To make things worse, this was not a long journey, even walking. It was a journey that, theoretically, could’ve been done in two weeks! It ended up taking 40 years. Don’t blame Moses or lack of GPS. The cause of this extended journey was a heart condition—not a directional one. There are several reasons involved. It is very important for us to understand these reasons as we pursue our journey with God. You see, how we take the journey will determine whether our life becomes a joyful part of God’s story or not. It will determine whether our journey is to possess the land God has for us or to live as nomads; wandering through life, never arriving at our real purpose and ultimately dying in the wilderness.
The first issue is understanding the fact that God’s plan for our journey through life is often different than our plans. In our plans, moving from here to there should always be done as quickly as possible with as few stops or challenges as possible. Quick, easy, done. Whether that’s from dating to marrying, graduating to finding the perfect job, being called to the ministry to fulfilling our ministry, having children to having children that actually obey us...
I could go on and on; however, I think you get it. We must understand that much of life is in the “in between” —more than we ever thought or wanted. The fact is that God rarely picks direct flights. His way is rarely the fastest or the easiest; but, it is the best. Truthfully? God is more concerned about what He’s doing in us than He is where He is taking us.
In Deuteronomy 8:2 Moses explained: “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands” (NIV)
You see, it is a lot easier for God to get His people out of Egypt than it is for God to get Egypt out of His people. God can get us out of places through miracles; nevertheless, He can only get us to the place where He can use us to our potential through a process of maturity. Maturity isn’t nearly as exciting as getting miracles. In fact, it is often boring and difficult, ugh. It is a process, however, that is absolutely necessary to develop us. God doesn’t just prepare a dream for us, He must prepare us for the dream.
There were at least 10 tests to produce maturity in those wandering years. For the most part, Israel fails all of the tests. 3 big ones are mentioned in this story; testing, testing, 1, 2, 3…
First, the Attitude test: how would they respond to Manna. In the case of Manna [and many similar things] their “go to” response was to complain and murmur. At first, they got mad at their circumstances; however, it quickly turned to being mad at God. Pass/Fail: FAIL
As a culture, we tend to think of complaining as a minor sin, what’s a little griping going to hurt? Well, I guess it’s fine if you prefer to wander for the rest of your life in your own personal desert! It is clear in this story that complaining and total dissatisfaction with their circumstances is one of the primary reasons they became wanderers instead of possessors of God’s destiny. Manna comes in many forms in our lives today. I came up with this acronym for manna:
No one really likes the “manna” all the time in our lives. Yet, it is essential to our becoming mature in Christ. Our “manna” is learning to be faithful and content doing those everyday things that discipline us in our walk with God—even if they seem to be repetitious and boring. To be ruler over much requires to be faithful over little. Learning to be patient, grateful, obedient, consistent is the basis of winning the race. It is like the tortoise and the hare; slow and steady wins the race. If we do faithfully what God wants us to do, with the attitude He wants us to have, we will move faster and more effectively to the destiny He has planned. When we whine, negativity takes control of our heart. Whining is the opposite of worship. Worship makes a big deal out of Who God is, what God has done, and what He will do. Whining makes a big deal of what is wrong, asking God “why me”, and upset with what God hasn’t done to our satisfaction. When you and I are whining, we are wandering! Two weeks vs 40 years…hmmm… you do the math…
Second, the Authority test: how well they submitted to authority. Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ siblings, got tired of submitting to Moses’ leadership. They began to have a rebellious heart towards Moses’ [and, by extension, God’s] authority. Authority, when someone deserves it is a right; not a privilege. God decides who is deserving and He elevates people into positions of authority. Miriam and Aaron did not understand that. They forgot that Moses wasn’t just the brother, he was chosen by God to lead them. Pass/Fail: FAIL.
The fact is that when we are rebellious to God given authority we are resisting God not the people in authority (read Romans 13). God doesn’t call people to be lone rangers, He created order by putting us under authority in the home, at work, in society, and even at the church (Eph. 5:15-6:6; Hebrews 13:17). Our attitude and our willingness to respect, honor, and yield to that authority is one of the things that will either keep us in the center of God’s will or take us out of it.
Third, the Absolute Trust vs Anxiety test: faith or fear. In reading The Story, when this mass of people get to the promise land the first time, they don’t enter in because of fear. They focus all the giants in the land instead of God. 12 spies are sent in to check out the land. 10 are scared, and say “no, we can’t defeat the giants!”. 2 say, “Yes, of course we can!”. This mass of people is overwhelmed with fear, want to choose a new leader and go back to Egypt! Egypt! Slavery, death, miraculous Exodus…not to mention they might not be welcome since God wiped out Pharaoh and his entire army! Their fear cost every adult over the age of 20 [except the two spies who said “yes!”] dearly. Eventually everyone in the whole nation over 20 years old other than Joshua and Caleb, were sentenced to wandering in the desert until they died off—40 years, an entire generation. God was sending them on a dead-end route because they chose to live in fear and disobedience rather than faith. It was their choice. Pass/Fail: FAIL
We see in this story the incredible power of choices. Moses repeatedly warns and urges them to think of the consequences of their choices on their children who are in the “car” with them. An entire generation that should’ve grown up in the promise land flowing with milk and honey had to grow old in the wilderness because of their parent’s choices. Moses, in his final discourse, will speak to the next generation and tell them that before them are life or death; it’s their choice. They can choose to trust and obey God [pass] or not trust and disobey God [fail]; again, it’s their choice.
The good news is that, because of God’s grace, God can reroute our lives even where we have made wrong choices in the past. In the upper story part of this lesson we see that it is as though God has a heavenly GPS system (the ultimate Global Positioning Satellite). He sees the whole picture. That is why when He says, “move!”, we should instantly move. When He says, “Stop!”, we should slam on the brakes. In the lower story, we can’t always see why things are taking so long. God knows and sometimes the wait may be to protect us from a disaster that would happen if we got our possession too soon. Sometimes we push and get off track, take matters into our own hands. God will reroute us when we’ve gotten off track when we let Him. Joshua and Caleb had to wander around with the rest of the people even though they’d had faith. They chose to trust Him in spite of all the setbacks and eventually the came into their promised destiny.
When we need to reroute our life, and most of us do at some point, the key is to recognize our need for course correction and submit our heart to be in line with God’s plan. Then we can stay on course and find God’s destiny for our life. God wants us to see the difficult circumstances, the long delays, and even the frightening threats that come our way as tests in life. God is not abandoning us or ignoring us. These tests are designed to bring to the surface any unsanctified, unhealed, and unrefined parts of our character, thinking, and desires so that we can surrender them to God. Once surrendered, He will replace them with responses that mature us and position us to stay on track with His will. God wants us to understand correction or consequences for our choices are not “punishments”, they are part of rerouting us. God’s loving “course corrections” refine us and prepare us to be mature, capable, and faith-filled people who can possess our destiny. God wants us to exercise our faith and respond to Him in a fresh way that affirms who He is and builds His character and attitudes in our lives. Joshua and Caleb are great examples of this. They, no doubt, felt the fear, and probably had the natural negative reactions to the giants they saw. Nevertheless, instead of giving into their fears, they surrendered and repositioned their focus on God. By faith, they declared their belief in what God could do; which was the foundation of their obedience.
I often drive by an intersection in El Paso where my best friend in High School made a bad choice to speed recklessly through an intersection and end up in a fatal car accident. This is a picture for me of the power of choice. Think about the choices you’ve made, you are making. What about the children in the car with you? I think it is significant that this Deuteronomy passage speaks of not allowing God’s word to depart from our mouth or our heart. We grow inwardly to our destiny when our words and actions are held in agreement with who God says we are, what we are to do and be. As we make these choices God can keep us or reroute us to claim our promised land. Pass/Fail: Choose wisely.