Between the Promise and the Promised Land
"Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands." Deuteronomy 8:2 (NIV)
"If you follow this plan, you will lose weight!" I loved reading that promise. I wanted to lose weight and the program made it sound so simple. All I had to do was follow a plan. At the end of the plan was a thinner, healthier me. My "promised land" awaited.
When I read the plan, my confidence shook a bit. But still, the promised land sounded so good. So I started out carefully following the plan that first week, and saw some great results on the scale.
But the next week, I started missing crackers. So I snuck a few. The promise still sounded great, but the plan was harder than I thought. Could I make it from the promise to the promised land? I wasn't sure.
My struggle reminded me of a story in the Bible about another journey from a promise to a promised land. In Genesis, God promised Abraham (known as Abram at this time) that a great nation would descend from him, and they would have a place of their own ... the "Promised Land" (Gen. 12:1-4).
So Abraham gathered up his family and possessions and traveled to this wonderful land. He arrived in Canaan and for the most part lived happily ever after, dying at the age of 175 after seeing God's promises fulfilled.
If that were the end of the story, this message would be wrapped up in a pretty bow. If only all promises were so easily achieved.
Sadly, not all of Abraham's descendants enjoyed the same long life in the Promised Land. Due to a famine, God's people left Canaan for Egypt and there the story takes a dramatic turn with their enslavement for 400 years.
But they never forgot God's promise of a home of their own. I imagine they held on to that promise during days of back-breaking work and persecution. So when God set them free from slavery through Moses, they must have been ecstatic! Finally, the fulfillment of God's promise!
If I were them, I would have expected to be whisked right into that wonderful piece of land after suffering for so long. Instead they ended up in a desert. For 40 years. And that's where our story sits for a while. In the desert. Wondering what happened to God's promise.
I've been there before ... in that desert. It's the place where it's not so fun to obey any more. The healthy eating plan gets hard. Parenting a willful child is frustrating. Writing that tithe check makes me cringe with worry. Forgiving someone who has betrayed me just "feels" wrong.
I'd much rather move through the desert ... quickly ... and get on to the good stuff.
In my times in the desert, I've found myself harboring bitterness, doubt, complaining and pouting. Here's what those responses get me: more time in the desert. That's what happened to the Israelites too. In fact, they complained so much, God forbade that whole grumbling generation from entering the Promised Land.
But I've also discovered the desert of waiting can be a fruitful place. Our key verse shows us that God used the desert time to test His followers' hearts. This wasn't to be a time of empty suffering. It was a time to demonstrate trust and obedience.
When we look at it that way, the desert can be a place of personal growth. But, this only happens when I choose to trust that God will fulfill His promises in His perfect way and time. The fruit of that choice is patience, discipline, obedience, an increased alertness to God's involvement in my life, and a deeper dependence upon Him.
God gave the Israelites their Promised Land through a miraculous conquering of the city. But between the promise and the Promised Land there was a desert - for them and us. And that desert is fertile ground. The decision we all have to make is whether we will grow in faith and character, or negativity.
Dear Lord, thank You for Your faithfulness - to Your followers of old and to me. Thank You for always keeping your promises. Forgive me for times when I have doubted You. I want to have faithful patience and a gracious spirit during times in the desert. Please help me. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Identify a promise from God's Word to memorize and hold on to during your own time in the desert.
Why is it difficult to trust that God will keep His promises?
What do I struggle most with when I'm waiting on God?
Romans 4:20-21, "Yet he (Abraham) did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised." (NIV)