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Friday, October 8, 2010

Weekly Snippet: Peace in the Desert

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.--Proverbs 3: 5, 6 NIV

When the Israelites stepped over the far bank of the Red Sea, they were looking out over a desert horizon to the east.  They had no map, and their own eyes couldn't see what was coming.  How could so many people, with so many millions of belongings and animals, find their way across a barren landscape to a home they had never seen, in a land filled with frightening and powerful peoples?  What they had known was not ideal, but at least it was familiar.  So they asked themselves, "Shouldn't we turn back now?" (Numbers 14: 2-4).

Too often I have found myself thinking the same thing--wouldn't it be safer if I just went back to the way things were, where I at least knew my way around?  Haven't you been there?

Sometimes it seems that we pray for change to come, and when it does, we get frightened, look back, and forget what was behind us.  Was the past really so much more peaceful than our present circumstances?  When the impossible stretches across our entire horizon, and God seems to be taking us far outside our comfort zone, can we be happy striking out without a map?  More importantly, can we still find peace there? 

The answer I found in the Bible today is a resounding "Yes!"  We can find peace in the desert, even when we cannot see where we're going.  Are you intrigued?  Read on to find out how.

Trust God

The one problem that kept cropping up wherever the Israelites wandered was the major issue of basic physical needs.  There were huge flocks of animals to feed and water, if feeding and providing a drink for all those people wasn't enough of a problem. This issue made them restless, and they would start grumbling against Moses' leadership and against God.

What this really revealed about them was a total lack of trust in God.  If God had led them through a green wilderness, with lots of water and things to eat, they would have been fine with His leadership.  Why?  Because they would have felt there was something they could do for themselves to preserve their lives and their livelihoods, and even if they got lost, they could survive.  They trusted in themselves, and in their own understanding.  They believed that their own judgment, the landscape, and the word of their friends were all proofs that this was a fool's errand.

In the passage that is the theme for today, Proverbs 3: 5, 6, we read that the Israelites had it all wrong, and if we aren't careful, we could be like them.  Sometimes God challenges us to see if we are really trusting Him with all of our hearts, and that requires us to follow Him, even when it seems to make no sense.  He has said many times that He loves us and is looking out for us, and He has confirmed it in His actions toward us, even sending His Son.  Do we really believe Him, or are we still calling Him a liar?

No Map, but I'm not Lost

Believing that we trust God and living it are different things.  I have known the words of Proverbs 3: 5,6 (in the King James Version) since I was small.  I think that was one of my first Sunday school memory verses.  Later, though, "deserts" came into my life and I was challenged to put that verse into practice.  It is easy to give lip service to God, but when we are challenged to walk away from all hope of "saving ourselves," that is when we learn to take our eyes off ourselves and focus them on God.

The Israelites got several chances to learn about this, when God miraculously provided them with food and water in the desert.  How was it possible, after seeing such miraculous things, that they still didn't trust God, and refused to go into the Promised Land with Him? 

I was reading Isaiah 48 and Psalms 49 earlier today and I believe I got an answer to that question from these two, seemingly-discordant chapters.   At the end of Isaiah 48 we read,  "They did not thirst when He led them through the deserts; He made water flow for them from the rock; He split the rock and water gushed out.  'There is no peace,' says the Lord, 'for the wicked,'" (Isaiah 48: 21, 22 NIV).  They saw this miraculous provision, and yet they still didn't know peace?  I believe that the Israelites did not feel peace because they still insisted that they had gotten their miracles by demanding them of God; in essence, by sheer force of will or of numbers, they had somehow intimidated God into giving them what they wanted.  Viewed from that perspective, a miracle was nothing but a cause for worry, because they wondered if they were going to be able to force God's hand the next time.  They didn't know peace because they didn't trust anyone else's way of reading the signs they had been given.  They didn't trust their Navigator.

Psalm 49 speaks of the frailty of mankind, and how they cannot save themselves, even with great riches, from the clutches of death in the end.  Verse 13 says, "This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings."  This is something even the Israelites knew.  They believed that they had fended off death for another day or week or month, by rattling food and water from the hand of God, but they knew that ultimately there was nothing they could do to protect their frail bodies. This is another reason why they didn't feel peace in the desert.  They did not have any hope for their future.

The Psalmist did, and he wrote, "But God will redeem my life from the grave; He will surely take me to Himself," (Psalm 49: 15 NIV).  He believed that the same God who sustained him in life would take care of Him in death.  He didn't believe he could save himself, not from hunger and thirst, or even from the grave!  Instead, he believed that God not only had that power, above all human ability, but also that God was going to use that power to help him.  Because of that, he had the peace, and the confidence, to write that "[God] will surely take me to Himself"!  Aha!

If we want peace in the middle of the desert trials of this life, we've got to follow the Psalmist's example.  It boils down to a trust in God that doesn't need to see the end before we are ready to follow Him.  We cannot go on believing that we have taken what we have from God; this is wickedness that leads to disappointment and fear that we won't survive the next time we need to hear from God.  Our own understanding ultimately fails to direct us to a safe and peaceful path, as the Israelites discovered.  They went their own way, grumbling and restless the whole way, and didn't even arrive at their destination.

When we trust God, it is like knowing that a friend has gone ahead of us into the uncharted wilderness, and we are following His map.  We haven't seen our destination, or anywhere along the way, but we have peace that we are going to get there, because He is guiding us.  Isn't that the better way?


Shannon said...

Thanks for the reminder! At every stage of life there are new challenges and uncharted territory, but we have a Leader who has been through it all before (Hebrews 4:15), who always works for our good (Romans 8:28), and who is completely trustworthy and ever faithful (Psalm 37:25). All we must do is accept His leadership.