accepting the wilderness

Have you ever wished that, if God wasn’t planning to remove you from a trial anytime soon, that He would at least tell you how long it was going to last?

I used to ask that when I was single. Lord, I am okay with not having a boyfriend right now, but can you just give me a hint of when I will meet him so that I can be content now?

Or when I was miserable in my job but couldn’t find another job. Father, please just give me some sort of “finish line” so that I can make it through all of this.

Or even now, while raising support, I find myself making this request. I just need to know when we will make it to the other side.

Living in a time-bound world, we want to know how to plan and what to expect. We think that if we can just understand God’s time frame, we will be able to endure where we are now. You can convince yourself when running a marathon or riding in a bike race to “keep going – just x-number more miles!” and you get to see your progress as the miles fall behind you.

But as Eric and I were talking about desiring to know more of how much longer the road ahead is, I heard a still small voice prompt me to research the Israelites.

Side note: God knows how much the Old Testament speaks to my heart – especially the Genesis through Judges portion. I am a wandering Israelite, but for some reason I can’t see my own sin until I point it out in those fickle people, and the Holy Spirit convicts me to turn and point to myself just the same way Nathan the prophet told David a story then said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7)

So as I am processing timing and wishing I at least knew what to expect for this season, I turned back and looked at Numbers 14, when the Israelites rebelled and refused to enter Canaan due to the report from the spies.

And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? … I have pardoned according to {Moses’ plea for forgiveness of the people}. But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. (Numbers 14: 11, 20-23)

I can’t say that they didn’t deserve this.  For the love.

Yet I can’t be quick to judge, since my heart fears and doubts with the best (or worst?) of them. And can you imagine being told that you were going to have travelled all this way only to die in the desert, just like you were dramatically complaining about a few verses earlier?

Then imagine being their children. Those under 20 years old were not held responsible and knew they would get to see the Promised Land. However, God also explained that their journey would continue until all of the older generation had passed – and He wasn’t going to send a plague or something to accomplish that. There would be a punishment for their disobedience.

But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure. (Numbers 14:32-34)

The Israelites were told in the beginning how long they would wander. The adults had to walk through the wilderness daily, knowing that they really weren’t going anywhere. Knowing that they wouldn’t arrive at the destination, and knowing that it could take up to forty years of aimlessly traveling, depending on when they died. Forty years of kids probably asking, “Are we there yet?” and being reminded that you would never get there.

Then imagine being one of the children in the generation who was still going to get to experience the fulfillment of this age-old promise. They knew they would get there eventually. But they also knew that it wouldn’t be for a long time. Even the oldest – the nineteen year olds – would be almost sixty before they arrived at their destination.

We still see rebellions and complaining and doubts throughout their journey, even though they know how much longer it is going to be. They are unhappy with the day they are living, even with the ability to count down the days until things are different. That finish line doesn’t help because they are still unhappy with the present.

So maybe knowing God’s timing isn’t the solution to surviving a tough season. Knowing the details of God’s plan won’t provide contentment in your current situation. It might even make it harder to live in the present, knowing exactly what awaits you.

I want to change the desire of my heart. Instead of desiring what’s a few miles down the road, I want to rest in the walk the Lord has for me today. To not “wrestle, just nestle” (a la Corrie Ten Boom). To claim the name for myself “Acceptance-with-Joy” (reference this blog post I wrote sophomore year of college, then read Hinds’ Feet on High Places because it’s the best).

I’m not sure I know exactly what that looks like, though. It’s going to take some work on my heart, I think, and eyes to see the gift of today.

Do you have any advice for how to live with joy in the present? What are you seeking to “accept with joy”? 

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