The desert is the world.
The desert does not merely represent passing difficulties, a season of suffering, or some big problem we are facing. The Promised Land is not just around the corner; it cannot be entered upon accepting a new job, making the most of a new opportunity, falling in love, pursuing your dreams, or regaining your health. Or whatever else you think will make you happy.
Only upon dying do we enter the Promised Land fully.
Up until a few days ago I was terribly mistaken – I believed that for me being entrusted with the Living Waters Ranch was in some way an entering God’s Promised Land, a sacred place of safety where I would somehow be removed from the stains of this world, completely immersed in the goodness of His Kingdom. Something like heaven on earth. My grand exit from my affluent life in the States into my role as “mom” for orphaned and abandoned kids has actually increased my daily trials ten-fold. Robberies. Financial insecurity. Corruption. Lost friendships due to geographical distance. Water and electricity that go out frequently. The Promised Land?
I’m still in the desert.
And so are you, or maybe you’re still in slavery, which, although it might seem more comfortable than life in the desert, is worse.
Most people are at least fairly familiar with the story of Exodus, of God rescuing His people out of slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago, leading them through the parted Red Sea, guiding them as they wandered in the desert for 40 years, and then finally leading them to the abundant land He promised to Abraham years before.
Although it is probably shockingly simple to some, what I learned this past week through our beloved mentor who has humbly served as a missionary in Honduras for over 20 years has profoundly altered my perspective on everything:
Egyptian slavery represents our life when we were slaves to sin and far from God.
The crossing of the Red Sea represents our salvation, when we recognize Jesus as our Lord. This crossing was the literal salvation of the Israelites fleeing Egypt as God allowed them to escape via the parted sea from their enemies who were hounding them.
The 40 years in the desert represent life after salvation while we are still alive. This time of desert trial does not end while we are alive. It is incredibly difficult and, as is mentioned in Exodus chapter 17, many of us may even wonder why it is that we left Egypt (which, remember, represents slavery.) Our task in the desert is to believe God is with us even though the temptation will be to doubt, to feel abandoned in a dry land.
The Promised Land represents our entrance into the Kingdom of God, or, more commonly know as heaven. This entrance becomes fully realized only upon death. While in this world we are participants in the Kingdom of God and get tastes of the King’s goodness, we do not fully enter until our death in this world, i.e. our complete exit from the desert.
Our problems and daily difficulties are not to be griped about or even merely tolerated, waiting eagerly for the day when they will pass. We are to find Christ in the midst of those difficulties, give thanks even though it may at first seem unnatural, and confirm in our spirit that God is with us and guiding us home.
So a couple days ago as Darwin and I were in the midst of a couple potentially distressful situations, I felt as though perhaps for the first time in my life I was truly enjoying that inexplicable peace that Christ offers us rather than trying to take everything in my own hands and fix the problems myself, vowing not to rest until everything is under control (which is never). My normal reaction would have been for my heart rate to accelerate, my thoughts roaring against the question Why? and trying to find the quickest and most painless solution, straining ahead looking for a glimpse of tranquility, of the Promised Land that never seems to arrive. But instead of growing dark circles under my eyes a contagious grin took over my face and that peace that I have never before experienced enveloped me. My husband looked at me as if I had lost my mind, and I shrugged care-freely and said, “We’re in the desert. This is our time of trial to see if we believe God is with us. And I believe He is. Let us give thanks for this trial because it will help perfect our faith.”
And then we sat down to discuss everything I had learned that week in our faith community’s discipleship group because he had been in the hospital caring for our youngest and had not been able to attend. After discussing animatedly the fact that our task while we are alive is to embrace our trials and difficulties, giving thanks to God and trusting He is with us (not waiting impatiently for the trials to end…because they never do, or complaining in the desert as the Isrealites did), knowing that Christ, our rock, is with us if only we will recognize Him, Darwin looked at me, amazed at this work God is doing in his young wife who typically maintains an almost constant level of stress and anxiety. With wonder in his eyes, he said, “You look serene.”
I laughed as words of thanksgiving flowed from my mouth, and he and I read together the following verses from the Bible:
James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Exodus 17: 1-7 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”
Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”
But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Psalm 95 Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”