Last Friday, I wrote a post called Messy Church. More than half of my twitter followers clicked on the link to the post – obviously people can relate. It generated quite a number of comments, which lead to the next post on Tuesday called, Should We Even Bother? In that post, I wrote about continuing to press into the Lord to look and ask for his direction. Despite our faithlessness to follow through, God continues to be faithful as we seek his face.
While that is certainly true, seemingly opposite turns of events does not necessarily mean that one thing was right and one thing was wrong. To give an actual example, the church I attended hired a lead pastor almost 5 years ago. Most recently, the pastor was asked for a resignation (a nice way of saying he was fired). It appears the leadership team did a 180° when faced with pressure from the congregation because they no longer liked what the pastor was doing. The topic today is: what if God used both events to bring about the change the church needed?
The journey from Egypt to the Promised Land is an 11-day journey by foot; given the estimated 2 million Israelites (counting women & children), let’s allow 15 days for bathroom breaks, etc. For most Christians, this bit of geography trivia is well-known. We know it and quote it with smugness and pride, suggesting that the Israelites were ignorant of God’s will and ways and had they been listening to God instead of complaining, then they could have saved themselves 40 years in the desert. I disagree and I believe the Bible supports a wilderness experience, as designated by God.
First, way back in Genesis, before the Israelites were Israelites, before any children were born to Abraham God told Abram (he wasn’t even Abraham yet) that God was giving him the land but it wasn’t going to be for a long time. Why? Because the sin of the Amorites had not yet reached its full measure (Genesis 15:12-16). Say what? The Lord, in his foreknowledge, knew that the Amorites were a wicked people and he was going to use the Israelites to punish the Amorites, but time had to pass before the Lord would act on their wickedness. Sometimes our desert experience isn’t just about us. Sometimes, the Lord is preparing another person and will use us as his instrument for action.
Second, fast forward 400 years, and God’s people are in the desert. He could have taken them a shorter way through the Philistine country but he didn’t (Exodus 13:17-18). Why? Because if they passed through the Philistine country, they would be faced with war which they weren’t prepared for so God, in his grace, rerouted them. God is kind towards his people. He never sets us up to fail. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that he will never tempt us beyond what we can bear. Sometimes, the best route is the one that takes longer because the most direct route has pitfalls in which we will surely fail.
Third, when the Israelites would finally take the land God promised, they were going to have to fight for it. The enemies in the land were stronger than they were (Deuteronomy 7:1-2); they were slaves – what did they know about battle? God used the desert to toughen them and change their thinking from slave men to fighting men. Sometimes, we just need time to grow into what he's made us to be.
In the same way that the Lord used 40 long years in the desert to bring the Israelites to the Promised Land, perhaps God uses different events to bring about the change necessary to bring us into align with his ultimate will for our destiny. It applies personally, as well as corporately.
God is less concerned about comfort, as he is with holiness. God’s chief desire is to dwell among his people and have relationship with us, but he is holy and he requires us to be holy if we want his presence.
Have you had a desert experience? Did you question whether it was God’s plan? Did it make you bitter or better?