Our journey of a lifetime continues as we move into the Book of Numbers. One of the things I have noticed between reading the Bible and watching the news is the difference having faith and hope makes. And what it means to be satisfied with what we have and where we are. Let me try to unpack all this. When we encountered Abraham, he, and his barren wife Sarah, they didn't have a whole lot of hope. They were older and childless. Abraham had a vast fortune and no one to leave it to except for a trusted servant, Eleazer of Damascus. But God made them a promise that they would have descendants. He just didn't tell them it would be 25 years before He kept His promise! That gave them hope. They had hope that their lives would change. There was something to look forward to. Once Isaac was born the promises were passed on to him...descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the land. And the promises of descendants and land continued to be passed down through the generations.
The patriarchs had seen evidence of God's glory and His faithfulness. Because of that they had faith when He told them He was about to accomplish something. Throughout Israel's history God had been active. He had made promises and kept them. They knew they could trust God and that gave them faith. We have seen how God pruned Joseph into the man He wanted him to be and how God used Joseph. Joseph learned to be content where he was even when he did not understand why he was there. We see the apostle Paul say this In Philippians 4:11-13,” I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances...I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” As I make phone calls and talk with church family members there are several folks who have significant challenges. But every time I speak with these folks, they do not dwell on their challenges. Instead, they share how grateful they are for the many blessings God has given them. And they offer up thanks and praise for Him.
That is not what we see in the general population. And it is not what we see in the Israelites either. I have one friend who is an amazing guy, but he does not believe. The pandemic has been hard on his family, his business and him. And because he does not believe he has no place to find hope. He has no place to turn when it looks like the sky is falling. And he is trying to operate in his own strength rather than the strength of Jesus who strengthens those of us who believe. Having said that it doesn't mean that believers’ lives have been easy this last year. However, we are not walking in our own strength or under our own power.
As the Israelites move through the wilderness they did not turn to God for strength or comfort. They turned to God to complain about what they did not have rather than giving thanks for what He had graciously given them. They are not satisfied...anywhere. It was too hard in Egypt as slaves. The trek to the promised land is too hard, the accommodations are lousy and the food stinks. The thing is many of us have found ourselves in places we didn't always like. We have lived through situations that were difficult if not impossible. We have known challenges and struggles. We also know that if we turn those challenges and struggles over to God, he will not only carry the load, but He will give us the strength we need to keep moving forward. Many today do not know that luxury.
This last year has been unlike any we have ever seen. It has been hard for everybody. We long for things to go back to normal. We do not like waiting and many of us do not want to be told what we need to do. Many have a hard time seeing the need to set their wants aside for the good of others. It is hard to be satisfied with where we are right now. Some are losing hope they will ever be able to leave their home again. Like the Israelites we want what we want, and we want it right now. Sometimes our lives must be turned upside down before God can get our attention. We see that in the Israelites. Their lives were turned upside down when they left Egypt. For a time, this was exciting because they were finally moving on from being slaves. Life would change. But they did not expect the changes to be harder than the life they had been living. We know life will get better but like Abraham and Sarah, we do not know when the promise of better will happen.
God closed the door on their slavery and now He was leading them to something bigger and better. But they could not see it. Someone once said, “When God closes one door, He opens another, but the hallway is hell.” The Israelites were wandering in the hallway. But just because we find ourselves in the hallway does not mean God has abandoned us there. Sometimes the hallway is a place of refining, self-searching, or even pruning. For the Israelites it was a time of learning to trust God and one another. They weren't very good at it. Sometimes, we aren't either. Change is hard. In the Lord we have someone to hang onto, to lean into. He will walk with us just as He did with the Israelites. These challenging times are a golden opportunity for us as believers. We all know people who do not believe. Many of them are at wits end. They have no place to turn and nowhere to find hope. We have Jesus Christ to share. Maybe that is why we are all in the hallway together.
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.