So often we talk about , hear about and are taught about either leaving Egypt or entering the promised land in great detail. We seem to rarely get taught about how to survive “somewhere in between”. We are simply told that it’s a transient place designed to lead us from where we were to where we are meant to be. The only advice I remember ever getting is to “focus” on my final destination and trust God. While these are obviously very important, very sound pieces of advice, I have realized that for me they just weren’t enough. To be honest the first sentence of Hosea 4:6 i.e. “My people perish from lack of knowledge” is a clear description of how I navigated my “somewhere in between”. Unaware of any pitfalls I was at risk of while I trudged through this great unknown. So “focused” on Canaan som much that I was oblivious to all the pitfalls that the enemy had set for me. Pitfalls designed to keep me in this place of bare minimum, moving just enough to look and feel like I am making progress but slow and blissful enough to neither arrive where I want nor to realize that I have a problem on my hands. All this in an effort to frustrate my journey enough to convince me to give up.
PITFALL #1- Feeling “homesick”.
As I went through the Israelite’s journey I couldn’t help but notice that from the Red Sea to the bank of the River Jordan every time things went “wrong” the Israelites always said they would rather have been in Egypt- as someone who has been studying away from home I can totally relate to this feeling of wishing things had gone wrong while I was back home instead of this unfamiliar, foreign land, where despite having been here for almost 3 years I still feel out of place. The danger of feeling “homesick” for the place God rescued you from is that we place ourselves in a prison of the heart and mind. We become prisoners of the feeling, the idea that where we are coming from is where we belong so much that we find ourselves torn. Torn, usually because we know we don’t belong there but our hearts long for the garlic and the bread of Egypt anyway. Our minds are “focused” on the goal but often our hearts were left where we were for so long because that is what is familiar to us and the heart loves what is most familiar.
The danger of this is that where our hearts are our minds will always drift towards where our hearts are. So despite knowing that our heart is in the wrong place we find ourselves wondering in that same direction. Jesus said to him, “‘ Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind .’ (Matthew 22:37 NET). Why would God insist on being loved by your heart first and your mind last? It’s because the instinct of the mind is to follow your heart, that’s why how your heart feels about something or someone your mind can always justify that is why Proverbs 4:23 says “Keep thy heart more than anything that is guarded; for out of it are the issues of life.” (DARBY) As we are “somewhere in between” it is important that we continue to check our hearts an ensure that they are where they are supposed to because Jeremiah warns us that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and incurable; who can know it? “(Jer 17:9) Just as the Israelites thought their hearts were set on the Promised Land yet their words (Luke 6:45) reflected that they were actually still in Egypt so also we often deceive ourselves into thinking our hearts are set on what our minds know to be true. Remembering that the battle is ultimately for our hearts not just our minds because we are saved by believing and believing happens in the heart. So how do we check where our hearts are? How do we know that it is truly on the things of God and not deceiving us?🤔 We can pray the prayer of David in Psalms 139:23-24, asking God to search us, test us and lead us to ways everlasting. Ask him to shift our desires from where we were to where we ought to be. For only He who knows our inner most being can tame this wild creature we call the heart.
Pitfall #2- Failure to recognize and break the pattern.
Throughout Numbers the Israelites complained, rebelled, got punished and repented….only to do it again. In fact the complaining at the beginning of their journey at the Red Sea. As they started their their journey God tolerated it because he understood that they neither knew him nor did they know any better. With time thought he expected them to grow to know him as he walked with them and that they would know better than to continuously complain. Instead they moved from just murmuring and complaining to building idols and rebelling. Until God realized that if he didn’t punish them they would destroy themselves in the wilderness. In fact he got so upset he told them to go on without them at some point (Ex 33:1-5). God is faithful to his word and would never not fulfill his word so there was never a risk that they would not get that which was promised to them but their actions did move them out of his presence. Sad reality is that so many of us have unknowingly developed our own patterns that strain our relationship with God. So many of have long since left him behind somewhere and we assume that just because things that God promised us are happening it translates to us being in his presence. For the Israelites the inability to recognize and break the pattern is the reason why they had to spend 40yrs in the desert, at the edge of the promised land where so many died. You see Moses’ declaration that he would not move without the presence of the Lord put the Israelites back on the right side of God but that was the last time God tolerated their nonsense. Like any loving father he began to discipline his children and allow them to bear the consequences of their actions in an effort to teach them right from wrong. So it is with us- failure to break bad habits means we will reap the ruins of such seeds.
My questin to you today is , “What’s your pattern?” Mine? When things get tough I grab a bottle of the strong stuff to “help me forget”. At some point in my life I became a barely functioning alcoholic. I became known in my circles as that girl that had a high alcohol tolerance. I began to avoid hose people that would point out that I had a problem. What had been my “secret coping mechanism” for years was on display for all to see. It wasn’t until I realized that this was how I “dealt” with the issues in my life that I found myself beginning to break the cycle- which was get a problem, turn to alcohol and get more problems because of the alcohol so drink more in hope that the problems would magically melt into oblivion. What I now know is that these patterns we create wear us out and make us feel as if God has ditched us. Overcoming this pitfall is not easy true but I thank the Father that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me because breaking habits and addictions is not easy. The greatest breakthrough is recognizing that you have created a cycle and knowing what the cycle is, is a great step towards breaking it. The Israelites were unable to do this seemingly simple thing and it cost them a lot. Truth be told a cycle is often difficult to notice unless you are not within it- it’s easier to see from the outside looking in so I suggest you employ the help of a good friend to tell you what they see. As with the Israelires some cycles cannot be allowed to cross over into the promise so the enemy uses this to keep us in this unproductive place. May the Holy Spirit teach us to break our patterns and may we humble urselves enough to have teachable spirits.
Pitfall #3- Lack of gratitude and trust i.e.amnesia
For every challenge the Israelites faced they forgot the previous miracle God had just done for them. At every hiccup the the children of Israel forgot that they were traveling with Jehovah Ebenezar, that God who had brought the as far as they had reached. How often do we do the same thing? Forgetting where God took us from and that it is by his grace that we are where we are now- far from where we used to be and closer to where we belong. We forget that the plan to move was never ours to begin with but his. Surely the all knowing God knew that the Israelites would find no water in the desert that he led them into or that they would run out of food and need to eat. I mean in Exodus 33:2 he even offered to send Angels ahead to drive out the the inhabitants of the promised land that the Israelites didnt even know yet when they saw these same people they got afraid a forgot not only the offer but what God had done to the Egyptians.
I mean if we truly believe that God knows everything then why do we speak and behave as if he didn’t know /doesn’t know that you would face/are facing a challenge. The same God we profess to know the beginning from the end, the God who has been, is and will be here, there, everywhere. A God so omnipresent that you couldn’t make your bed in hell to hide away from his presence (Ps 139:8-9). A God with so much wisdom and life experience that nothing we face is new to him, no mistake we make can shock him, nor can any challenge be beyond him , in fact he is faithful through it all making sure each one of us faces only what we can handle and no more (1 Cor 10:13). So why then are we so quick to forget all this when we face trails? When things get tough we begin to complain and question God , forgetting what he did, has done and is doing in our lives- forgetting who he is. By so doing we cut Him out of the equation, thereby prohibiting him from doing his thing.
The word says He inhabits the praises of his people and that when our praises go up his glory comes down. So if we seize to praise where do we expect his presence to manifest itself, how will we tap into that glory? Glory we that brings grace , grace that is sufficient for us in times of need. Imagine how different, how much better, the Israelites’ story would have read if they had praised more and complained less? Imagine if the other 10 spies had thought and spoke like Joshua and Caleb- the Israelites would have saved themselves 40 years, with many of those that had started the journey having been able to enjoy the promise rather than dying in the wilderness. Ask yourself…… WHAT IS YOUR ATTITUDE GAINING/COSTING YOU?
Pitfall #4- Impatience and Idol Building
This is undoubtably the most dangerous pitfall of all. It is no secret that God is a jealous God who won’t share his glory with anyone or anything. He is a jealous lover so passionate about us that he cannot, will not and should not share his place in our lives. This is amazing and great and fulfilling when you can see what he is doing, when you can hear him so clearly , when you can feel him at every moment. You know those days when you are just basking in his presence and you can tell that your season is all sunny and rosy, when he talks you through a confusing or troubling moment holding your hand and all that good stuff? Yeah it’s pretty awesome. But what happens when you suddenly feel like you can neither hear nor feel him and you are getting tired of waiting for the next set of instructions? When you feel like you at the foot of the mountain you know he is in but he has told you stay where you are, don’t move any closer to it your instrucructons are coming… JUST WAIT. Those times when it appears as if he has gone quiet, and we feel like we have been waiting for ever for a looooong time and NOTHING- you at the bottom of the mountain and all you hear is nothing? How do we react? We begin to build idols out of what we have. We attempt to fill the void using the “gold” in our possession. What often become idols to usage not a problem or distructive within themselves until we ‘melt them and mold them’ into such. There was nothing wrong with the gold the Israelites carried- in fact they were told to carry it, the gold became a problem when they decided to use it to make an idol. So it is with us sometimes serving in church, achieving that dream or getting married become our idols- they become more important to us than God. By definition anything or anyone we put above God and what he says is an idol. For others the pastors and prophets we follow have become our idol- we hunger for their words more than we do for the word of God himself. There is nothing wrong with learning and receiving words from these people after all their gifts are from God to teach, shepherd and encourage the church but some of us have set them up on such a high pedestal they are now our stand of living instead of Christ
“What’s your idol?” You might wanna know. Well rcently I realized that my studies had become my idol. I allowed them to consume me and my desire to do well became an obsession. My books and what I had to learn crowded my mind th so much so that I could be doing something else but my mind wouldn’t be there. Even my prayers became mindless ramblings without much though given to what I was saying. I was now too busy to sit and listen to what he had to say to me. Gone were the days I would drop whatever I was doing to listen to and write what he was telling me. I was neglecting what I knew I had to do. To be completely honest I had to fast from my studies to write this. I have to deny myself the satisfaction I feel after a good study session, I have to tame this hunger, this ambition to redirect my efforts and reorganize my priorities. It’s not easy easy no lies but it’s worth it. I have found that a lot of what was bothering and some of what almost overcame me did not have to bother or shake me but it did because I had taken my eyes off the cross.
Having said all this though I just want to remind us that this place, this “somewhere in between” is not all bad and riddled with pitfalls. It a her that God trains us, molds us and changes us into the versions of ourselves that can better handle the challenges that await us in the promised land. It is here threat hat our minds are shifted and renewed. Here we learn to stop thinking like, stop living like, stop speaking like the slaves we were, tand o rather start thinking like, start living like, start speaking like the heirs we now know ourselves to be. Actually “somewhere in between” is not necessarily just about the wilderness, the hunger and the journey from Egypt to the promised land. There are other middle grounds that we find ourselves in in our walk with Christ and in the weeks to follow I hope to be able to explore these with you. Next time we will look at what is God really doing while we walk through the wilderness ,trying to overcome the challenges the journey brings our way and attempting to mind all the afore mentioned pitfalls.