Deuteronomy 8:1 – Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the Lord promised on oath to your forefathers.
2 – Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands.
3 – He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
4 – Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years.
5 – Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.
As I’ve told you before, when I was a kid our family vacation every summer always involved a road trip from our home in Dover, Delaware to see my grandparents in Alabama and Mississippi. I hate to reveal my age but this was that era before Interstate highways and so our thousand mile journey took us two or three days. At first my three siblings and I would be excited about the trip. We’d count the days until our departure date. We couldn’t wait to get on the road…but about ten miles outside of Dover that question all travelling children ask their parents would be heard in our Chevy station wagon: “Are we….THERE YET?” The trip, the time between where we were and where we were going, was hard for us. We wanted the trip to end so that the good times of vacation could begin.
To help pass the time mom and dad would play games with us because these were also the days before portable video games and DVD systems. In fact, pretty much all cars had back then was a radio, so parents had to be more creative. And my mom and dad were.
- They’d have us see who could count the most license plates from other states.
- We’d play the alphabet game, I’m sure you know that one.
- And then we’d play a game that I think my parents invented called “The Cow Game.”
Here’s how it would work. We’d divide into two teams, three Adamses per team. One team would take the passenger side of the car and the other would take the driver’s side. Each team would count any cows they saw in fields on their side of the road. But if there was ever a white horse spotted on your side you had to subtract ten cows from your total. If there was a graveyard, you lost all your cows all and had to start over. The team with the most cows at the end of the day won. We played that game every summer so as the years went by we became quite knowledgeable when it came to livestock pasturage between Delaware and Alabama!
I bring this up because in our reading for this week, Chapter 6 of The Story, Moses led the Hebrew people on a road trip of sorts from Egypt all the way to the Promised Land. It looked to be a fairly simple journey at first. If they took the most obvious route they would have taken a heavily traveled road that Isaiah 9:1 refers to as, “The Way of the Sea.” In fact, Jacob and his seventy family members probably used that road on their way to Egypt when they came there to both escape the famine and be re-united with Joseph. It was only about 175 miles long, and was scenic to boot. If you walked an average of 20 miles a day you could make the trip in a week and a half. Of course the Hebrews were a huge crowd, about three million people, and they were hauling a lot of stuff but even then it shouldn’t have taken them more than a month.
Okay, it’s test time. How many of you did your reading this week? Good! Then you should know the answer to this question: Did they take the “Way of the Sea” road? NO! God took them on a detour south to Sinai, as you can see on this next slide but even that side trip shouldn’t have added that much time to their trip. In fact, Deuteronomy 1:2 says it takes 11 days to travel from Sinai to Kadesh Barnea (which is the south side of the Promised Land). So it still should have been an easy trip, even though the road north from Sinai wasn’t as scenic. But as we read this week, it was anything but. Things didn’t go smoothly at all. Moses learned that leading the Hebrews was like herding cats. Let me put it this way. Moses was in the “front seat” and the Hebrews were in the “back seat” but unlike my parents who only had four kids to manage, Moses had nearly three million, a daunting task indeed. It would be like trying to lead the entire population of the D.C. area from Derwood to Williamsburg, Virginia on foot.
Sure, at first there was a sense of expectancy, the same kind we all have when we first depart on a trip. Keep in mind, they had been camped at the foot of Mount Sinai for over a year which means they were all probably a little stir-crazy so they were surely ready to go, at least as excited as my siblings and I were when we first left Delaware. By the way, there was a reason they spent an entire year camped at Sinai. Remember, they had been immersed in the Egyptian culture for over FOUR centuries, so they needed some time to detox. They needed time to connect with God before He would lead them north. That’s why God kept them camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai so long.
Well, imagine how it felt when the year had passed and they were finally heading for the Promised Land! Moses had instructed the people to make two trumpets that would be blown to signal when it was time to begin the march and God Himself would be their “GPS!” He’d lead them with a pillar of fire at night and a cloud by day. I bet Moses could hardly contain himself as those trumpets blew and he turned around and saw those millions of people beginning their journey. It was really happening! They were going to be God’s chosen nation, a kingdom of priests! Finally, they were leaving for the Promised Land! Well, the sense of expectancy—the excitement of the trip, it lasted about three days and that’s not an exaggeration. In one chapter the Bible paints a glorious picture of each tribe leaving its camp, marching proudly under its banner and the very next chapter begins, “Now the people complained about their hardships.”
For the briefest time they were able to enter the Upper Story of a God Who keeps His promises. As a ‘nation’ they had started out with just seventy people when they arrived in Egypt, four hundred years earlier, and just as God had promised, they had grown in number. They had been promised their own land and were now on their way to occupy it. But all too soon, they fell back into the tunnel vision of their Lower Story. ‘It’s hot. It’s dusty. We’re tired. It’s taking longer than we thought it would.
And it did. A trip that should have took a couple weeks, a month at the outside, took four decades.
But don’t misunderstand, in spite of their “are we there yet” grumbling they got to Canaan fairly quickly, but then when they sent spies in to reconnoiter, ten of the twelve came back and reported that the land God had promised them was occupied and was unconquerable, because of the size of its inhabitants and their fortified cities. Sure it was indeed a land flowing with milk and honey but it was also flowing with giants. Because of this lack of faith in God’s ability to lead them to conquer this Promised Land, He led the people around in the desert until the unbelieving generation had died out. It was four decades before they returned and were ready to cross over into the land that had been promised them. We’ll study about that in this next week’s reading. Well this 40 year road trip, this embarrassing part of Hebrew History is called “The Wandering” and as you know if you read this week’s 20 chapters, a LOT happened in these decades; much more than I could possibly deal with in one sermon, but I do think there is important truth we can and should learn from this wandering time and that’s what I want to talk about. Let’s begin our focus on this “travel truth” with a definition of the word: “WANDERING.” Kyle Idelman of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville gives us a great one. He says “wandering” is: “living in the space between where I started and where I want to be.” And we all understand this concept because we all go through “wandering times.” We all endure times in which we find ourselves “living in the space between where we are and where we want to be.” For example, we find ourselves…
- Living in the space between graduating and getting a real job.
- Living in the space between dating and getting married.
- Living in the space between diagnosis and remission.
- Living in the space between depression and hope, or anxiety and peace.
- Living in the space between being let go and finding new employment.
- Living in the space between saying good-bye to a loved one and being reunited with them in Heaven.
You all know what I’m talking about because we all experience wandering. We all find ourselves waiting in that space between where we are and where we want to be. Perhaps this is what inspired Lewis Smeades to write:
Waiting is our destiny. As creatures who cannot by themselves bring about what they hope for, we wait in the darkness for a flame we cannot light. We wait in fear for a happy ending we cannot write. We wait for a ‘not yet’ that feels like a ‘not ever.’
And the question I want us to deal with is, “How do we live through these times? How do we survive as we live in the space between? How do we respond to God when we endure times of wandering?”
(1) First we must learn PATIENCE.
We must understand that wandering is a part of progress because anything good takes time, and this is especially true when it comes to spiritual growth. But, let’s be honest. Patience is hard for us because we are always IM-patient, always in a hurry. We are like little kids who always wonder if they are there yet. And this hurried, impatient mindset is part of our culture, part of our lifestyle. This is why we are always coming up with labor-saving devices and electronic shortcuts, or as we call them “aps.” We come up with these things because we want to get the “journey” over so we can get to the destination, and this is bad because you can’t hurry progress.
To help you see if you are a bit too impatient or a bit too “hurried” in life I want us to take a short True-False test. Answer honestly even if it makes you feel a bit guilty.
- I have cut through the little strip mall with the post office and Out of the Way Café in it to avoid the red light at Redland Road. When the Exxon station on the corner was open I cut through it.
- I frequently look at my watch or a clock nearby, especially during my pastor’s sermons.
- People who talk slowly irritate me.
- I become annoyed when the person at the checkout line in front of me chooses to pay by writing a check.
- I often find myself finishing other people’s, sentences for them.
- When I am delayed and am running late, I am irrationally upset. You can vote for your spouse on this one.
- I have difficulty finding time for things like a doctor’s appointment.
- I feel compelled to leave worship early to beat the rush on Redland Road caused by the Catholics up the street.
- During this test I have lied to appear more mature than the people sitting around me.
If you had a lot of TRUE answers don’t feel bad because we’re all that way. We all are infected with what John Ortberg calls, “Hurry sickness” and this is why wandering times are so hard for us.
Well friends, God is never in a hurry. We should know this because we’ve already seen it in our study of The Story. Remember? Abraham was told, “You’re going to be the father of a great nation.” And it wasn’t for many decades that his son Isaac was finally born. Joseph had a dream that his brothers would bow down to him. This didn’t happen for 22 years, years Joseph spent wandering through slavery and imprisonment. Moses spent 40 years chasing sheep in the desert before he met God at that burning bush. In a few week’s we will read how David would be anointed king twenty years before he would actually wear the crown. I could go on, but these examples from God’s book show us that He never hurries. And one reason He never does is because He knows that it takes time for a fallen person like you and me to mature. God knows that spiritual growth takes time, that there are things that we can only learn by going through times of wandering. Let me put it this way. God led the people in these 40 years of wandering to give time for that doubtful, faithless, unbelieving generation to die out, and sometimes He leads us through times of wandering to let things die out in us, attitudes like selfishness or pride or stubbornness. You see, often the best way to get rid of these kinds of things is to simply let TIME past, enough time for us to come to our senses, enough time for us to decide to put aside these things. And since our Heavenly Father loves us. He is more concerned with who we are becoming than He is where we are going. In fact Moses says as much about the Hebrews in our reading for this past week. Remember? He explained the purpose of these four decades of desert wandering in Deuteronomy 8:2-4:
God has led you in the desert for these forty years, taking away your pride and testing you, because He wanted to show what was in your heart. He took away your pride when He let you get hungry and then He fed you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had ever seen. This was to teach you that a person does not live by eating only bread, but by everything the Lord says. During these forty years, your clothes did not wear out, and your feet did not swell. Know in your heart that the Lord your God corrects you as a parent corrects a child.
So, during these desert decades God helped the Hebrew people to grow up. He took away their pride and taught them to rely on Him to provide for them. Did God want them to reach the Promised Land? Of course He did! But God was more concerned that they arrive PREPARED than that they arrive SOON. The pain of wandering through these seemingly endless years of delay would serve to teach the Israelite people vital lessons, lessons they would need to learn if they were to be His priestly people, His representatives in this fallen world.
I’m reminded of the story of two maestros who attended a concert to hear a promising young soprano. One commented on the purity of her voice. The other responded, “Yes, but she’ll sing better once her heart is broken.” This second maestro was right for there are certain passions that can only be learned by pain. Knowing that, there are times when God allows us to endure the pain of wandering for the sake of the “song.”
A New Testament example of this principle is found in the account of the death of Lazarus. Remember? Jesus delayed in going to Lazarus’ bedside. In that time of “wandering,” pacing back and forth, WAITING for the Miracle Worker to come, Mary and Martha watched their brother, Lazarus die. Only after he was dead and in the grave for four days did Jesus finally arrive, too late to do any good in the minds of Mary and Martha. When Jesus showed up Martha said to Him, “Lord if You had been here my brother would not have died.” In other words, “If You had not made us go through this time of WANDERING this wouldn’t have happened.” Of course, Jesus then raised Lazarus back to life—and as a result these two ladies learned an amazing truth. To use the paraphrase of Henry Blackaby Jesus told them,
If I had come when you asked Me to, I would have healed Lazarus. But you would have never known any more about Me than you already know. I made you wait—or WANDER—because I wanted you to realize that I am the Resurrection and the Life. This time was an opportunity for Me to disclose to you more of Me than you have ever known.
So, Scripture teaches over and over again that wandering is often part of God’s Upper Story plan.
In fact, for the believer, wandering can be an amazing blessing. This is why James 1:2-4 says:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work…so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
When we find ourselves wandering in that space between where we started and where we want to be we must learn to be patient and trust God, trust that He is at work for our good. We must remember that He sees our times of wandering from an infinitely better perspective than we do. He knows where we need to go and He knows what has to happen or us to get there. We have to be still and trust that His timing is always perfect no matter how long it takes. 2nd Peter 3:8-9 alludes to this principle when it advises, “…do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise as some think of slowness….”
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the economist who read this passage from 2nd Peter and was quite amazed by it and talked to God about it. He prayed, “Lord, is it true that a thousand years are just like one minute to you?” The Lord said, “Yes.” The economist said, “Well then a million dollars to us must be like one penny to you.” And the Lord again said, “Well, yes.” The economist then said, “Well, Lord, will you give me one of Your ‘pennies’?” And the Lord said, “All right, I will. Wait here a minute.”
Often we want God’s resources, but we don’t want His timing. We want the “penny” but not the “minute.” We want His hand, but we don’t want His calendar. We forget that His work in us while we wander is as important as our destination. We must learn to be patient and trust that God knows what He is doing…that just as the lyrics to the chorus go, God, “…makes all things beautiful in HIS time.”
(2) A second attitude we must embrace in our wandering times is HUMILITY.
We have to remember that we are not in control. We are not calling the shots, God is. We have to remember who we are and Who God is. He’s in charge, not us. We have to humble ourselves and wrap our hearts around the conviction that He knows what is best for us better than we do. That He withholds no good thing from us, even as we are enduring the difficulties that come with being in this space between where we started and where we want to be.
This past week in our reading we learned that the Hebrews failed in this area. Almost immediately they began to question God’s authority with their complaining and grumbling.
By the way the word for “grumbling” does not refer to a LOUD, vocal complaining. No, it’s more of an under-the-breath sound that you can hear coming from a crowd of people if everyone is doing it. We could simulate it this morning if I were to say that my sermon will go about three more hours. This is what the people were doing. And the fact is grumblers and complainers are the opposite of humble. They are people who forget who they are and Who God is. They forget what He has done. They don’t have enough faith to trust what He is doing in their times of wandering. They think they know how to take care of things better than God.
In our reading this week we learned that one thing the Hebrews grumbled about was the food. God had provided them with manna from Heaven. Flakes of this substance would fall with the dew every morning. The Hebrews would gather it and use it to make cakes or porridge. As their Creator of course God would have designed manna to more than meet their bodies’ physical needs but the people still complained. In Numbers 11:4-6 it says,
The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!’
And whereas the Hebrews complained about the food, what they really wanted was CONTROL. They didn’t trust God with something as basic as their menu God punished them for this because a kingdom of priests would only succeed in its God-given task if its people were humble enough to place their trust in God, even when things did not make sense to them.
Well, the complaining went on even after God gave them meat in the form of quail. God had provided them with guidance, protection, water, meat, manna, He had even miraculously kept their shoes and clothing from wearing out, yet the faithless, prideful, complaining and grumbling continued. It began with the people on the outskirts on the camp, the “rabble or riff raff”, but it spread because that’s what complaining does. It just takes one person in a family, or just a couple neighbors, or a few co-workers, or a half dozen people in a church and pretty soon everyone is complaining. Negativity spreads like an infection and it’s toxic. It sucks the joy out of everyone and everything. It blinds us to Who God is and all He has done.
There have been studies that show how detrimental complaining is to community. This week I read about one, research done by the University of Denver and they looked at couples who were in their first ten years of marriage. They said one of the most accurate ways to predict whether they will stay together or not is by examining how much complaining or grumbling happens. They found that in marriages where there are five or less negative comments (meaning whining, complaining, criticizing) per one hundred comments, five or less, that the marriage had a great chance of being happy, and of the couple staying together. But in marriages where there is ten or more negative comments per one hundred, it becomes fairly sure that this marriage will not make it. I have seen similarly disastrous results on complaining churches.
So, when we find ourselves acting like the Hebrews, complaining and grumbling, we need to stop and humble ourselves and ask for God’s forgiveness. We need to ask our Heavenly Father to give us a little perspective, so we can see how much He has blessed us. Remember Philippians 4 says,
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God…without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold forth the word of life.
This week I read the testimony of a woman who went on a short-term missionary trip to the island of Tobago, and she worked there among a leper colony for about a month. On her last night she had the lepers gather for a worship service. She asked, “Is there anyone who would like to sing a song? Is there anyone who has a request?” A hand went up in the back and the missionary looked and saw a woman with a very disfigured face. She didn’t have a nose or ears. She had no lips. In fact the hand she had raised was fingerless. This poor woman said, “Could we sing that hymn, ‘Count Your Blessings?’ I love that song!” This leper had more maturity than many healthy people I know…maturity that enabled her to see God’s blessings—blessings that many of us with all our appendages are blind to. When we go through wandering times and fall into complaining we get so focused on the negative that we lose sight of what we have to be thankful for. We must remember that WHINING and COMPLAINING are the opposite of worship. Worship is giving God the glory for Who He is and what He has done. Whining is ignoring Who God is and overlooking what He has done.
To grow in these times of waiting on God we must remember that we are not in charge. We’re the creature. He is the Creator. He is the Potter. We are the clay. This is the principle that Proverbs 3:34 refers to when it says that God, “resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble…” It is right that we should wait on Him, for when we trust God with this kind of quiet humility we are saying that we understand that He is able to take care of us in the wandering times. He is bigger than we are, more intelligent than we are. He has the wisdom and power to run the entire universe so He is certainly more capable to run our lives than we are.
Romans 11:33 says,
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and His paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? From Him and through Him are all things.
So, to grow through these times we must learn to be humble people….content with our humanity and His deity. He’s God and we’re not….He sees the big picture and we can’t. One author said, “There’s a certain paradox in the human situation that God gave man a mind and it’s man’s duty to use that mind to the very limit of human thought. But it is also true, that there are times when that limit is reached and all that is left is to accept and adore.”
(3) One final thing we must do in our wandering times is to learn to HOPE.
You know, HOPE is a very powerful thing for it motivates us to look beyond our circumstances and believe that things will get better eventually. It gives us the strength to endure seemingly endless days of wandering and keep going. Hope keeps hostages alive when they wait and wait and have no rational proof that anyone cares about their plight. Hope is what entices farmers to plant seeds in the spring after three straight years of drought.
How can you generate that caliber of hope? Where does it come from? Well, I think the Bible teaches that for the Christian hope comes from simply being faithful, from obeying God even in the midst of long periods of wandering. Romans 5:3-5 says, “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance [produces] character, and character [produces] hope.” I don’t know about you but I would have expected Paul to list hope first, as the “fuel” that keeps a person going in tough times. But Paul lists it at the end. He does this because faithful obedience to God shows that hope emerges from the struggle, it is a byproduct of faithfulness. So, for the believer wandering must not an inactive time; no, it is a time in which we act on what we know, obeying God as though we can see the outcome. When we do this we become more confident in His instruction, more hope-filled people. In John 17:7 Jesus said, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether My teaching comes from God or whether I speak on My own.”
Note the sequence, CHOOSE to do God’s will and then confidence comes, not the other way around.
Thomas Merton wrote,
We receive enlightenment only in proportion as we give ourselves more and more completely to God by humble submission and love. We do not first see, then act; we act, then see…and that is why the man who waits to see clearly before he will believe, never starts the journey.
You see, the more we seek God in daily prayer, the more we study His Word, the more we trust Him enough to follow His commands, well then, the more we see that He is worthy of our trust and then the more hopeful we can be, even in times of wandering. We don’t get to know God and then do His will. We get to know Him more deeply BY DOING His will. We enter into an active relationship with Him, and in this relationship We develop a faith that is, “…sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1), a faith that is “confident that He who began a good work [in our lives] will carry it on to completion…” no matter how long the journey takes(Philippians 1:6).
LET US PRAY