Staying Faithful in the Wilderness
Everyone loves a gift! Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and many other occasions are the delight of all when someone provides just what is needed. God is the perfect gift giver and once stood ready to deliver on a promise made to Israel’s ancestor Abraham. As His people stood at the doorsteps of Canaan, God said, “Look! I have already given the land to you. Go, occupy the territory that I, the Lord, promised to give to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to their descendants” (Deuteronomy 1:8 NET). It was theirs for the taking. Their Lord had promised His divine assistance in gaining possession of the land through defeat of its pagan tenants; yet, Israel had a problem. Shortly before his death, Moses reminded a new generation why their fathers had failed to take the gift offered by God: “You were not willing to go up, however, but instead rebelled against the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 1:26). Simply put, the Israelites began looking at the inhabitants of the land and allowed them to obscure their view of God. Though God’s promise was big, the enemy seemed bigger. God’s promise of grace was lost in the smallness of their faith.
It is easy to belittle Israel. It is no secret that they struggled in the wilderness; they murmured for food, water, protection, rest, and every other creature comfort humans cherish. They allowed their restlessness to grow to epidemic proportions and foolishly longed for their old land of slavery, even referring to Egypt as the land of “milk and honey.” However, before too much judgment is heaped on this disgruntled lot, self-examination is needed. A Christian’s honest evaluation of his or her desire for Heaven may, at times, painfully juxtapose with Israel’s journey to Canaan. God’s wonderful gracious gift may be lost by becoming fixated on the wilderness of this life.
There should be no doubt citizenship in Heaven is an act of divine grace. Paul succinctly provided evidence of this when he wrote, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As the human progenitors turned their faces from God in the Garden of Eden, their descendants have followed suit, down to the last man and woman. Still, God desires the best for His wayward family. As the apostle Peter wrote to first-century Christians, he used the monikers once pinned to the nation of Israel to describe the followers of Christ as a lot chosen by the grace of God: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (I Peter 2:9-10). One can almost hear the old man Moses speaking the words of God not to ancient Israel, but to the followers of Christ who look toward the Promised Land of Heaven: “Look! I have already given the land to you. Go, occupy the territory that I, the Lord, promised to give to you.”
Just as with Israel, Christians become sidetracked. The journey through the harsh wilderness was not easy for Israel, just as the journey through this life is not easy for the followers of Christ. As Israel craved full stomachs and peaceful conditions, Christians can allow these same desires to deter their faith in God. It is no surprise that throughout the Bible God periodically pauses to warn of the dangers of material possessions. Perhaps the apex of these reminders comes in Jesus’ encounter with a young man rich in this world’s goods. When told to part company with his treasures and follow Jesus, the text states the young man “went away sorrowful.” The “meat pots of Egypt” have been the sirens’ call for many a saint who exits the path that is narrow and difficult for the one of ease through the wilderness of this life.
Christians also face their own set of giants. When the people of Israel saw the stature of the Canaanites, they were scared right out of their belief that God was bigger. Caleb, standing like a lonely beacon of faith, sought to rally his people to go and fight, only to see them melt in fear. The problems of 2017 can look just as formidable. Terrorism, unrest, political division, and economic uncertainty can lead a Christian to lose faith in the power of God. These giants can diminish God’s words of comfort and cause a loss of focus on the grand promise recorded by Peter: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (I Peter 5:6-7). Just as there was no Canaanite too powerful for God, neither is there a modern giant too powerful for Him. While these things may look fearful for the moment, a view from faith will quickly place them in appropriate perspective.
Perhaps the biggest culprit for Israel, as well as for Christians, is plain old weariness. Photos of the wilderness where these ancient souls trod reveal the desolation they faced on a daily basis. The monotony of everyday life was enough to fuel the desire of returning to Egypt, even if it meant resuming their enslavement. The same can be said of the journey through the wilderness of life. The journey to Heaven puts one in rough terrain. Every day, potential battles with the adversary loom, including battles with apathy and with a lack of trust in God. The gracious promise of God can seem hopelessly distant, leading some to turn back to slavery simply for the false peace of mind that comes from giving up. Paul admonished the Corinthians about a host of problems they shared with ancient Israel. He wrote, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (I Corinthians 10:11). Simply put, they were to learn from the examples recorded about God’s wayward people, just as Christians of the modern era must learn. Though weariness may come, the promise of Heaven must always shine brighter; it must fight away the desire to return back to darkness.
Every child of God must make it a daily habit to think about Heaven. Hymnist Eliza E. Hewitt gave good motivation when she penned, “Just one glimpse of Him in glory will the toils of life repay.” No matter the lack of material comfort, the giants that are faced, or the weariness that threatens to bog one down, the thought of an eternal day with God should alleviate the temptation to quit. While an ancient generation died a vain death in the wilderness, may the followers of Christ find renewal in their own wilderness and never losing sight of the gracious gift God has promised. May every Christian live each day by viewing themselves as one step closer to the Promised Land!