For those of you stuck in the middle of the desert… I feel you. I feel your pain. I hear your heart and know exactly how it is to be exactly where you are. Why are you stuck here? (Because God says so.) What did you do to deserve this? (Nothing.) And the most important question: How do we get out?
You’re not going to like this answer.
It’s not a quick fix.
Listen up, friend. I’ve been there. I’ve been stuck in the desert, waiting and waiting, and waiting on God to bring me out of a (in my mind) terrible place.
Do you want to know how the Israelites finally got out of the desert? Do you? Here it is:
They were led.
They got out when God led them out. Plain and simple. Here’s the thing. We think that the Israelites wandered around, don’t we? We think they were undeserving of the Promised Land, their hearts weren’t ready, and their devotion to God wasn’t evident. And all of that is true. But here’s the most important thing about their travels for 40 years: The cloud appeared by day, and the pillar appeared at night. The cloud led them around for 40 years until the hardness of their journey came to a beautiful fruition with the proven devotion of their hearts. Then, they were led out of the desert.
By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Exodus 13:21
The testing, wandering, even the journey itself was for a purpose. But we can’t really call it wandering if they were led, can we?
Numbers 33 tells us about all the places where the Lord led His people, step by step – each resting place, and each stage of the journey. And Exodus 40:38 reminds us,
38 So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels.
The cloud was in their sight during ALL of their travels.
Did you get that?
Every battle. Every hard day. Every tough night. The Lord never left them! Now the Israelites? They left God time and time again. (Just like we do.) They forgot what God had done for them (just like we do), erected other gods (just like we do)… even their leaders forgot God! He HAD to lead them from point to point so He could separate the wheat from the chaff. He had to be sure that the amazing, precious future that He was giving them was going to those who truly loved Him, those who would recognize where it came from! It’s so easy for us to imagine that we’re wandering our desert alone, but God gives us a picture of what truly happens when we struggle. He leads us into our wilderness – to develop our character and to strengthen our bond with him, but more importantly because when our trial is over there is something better that He wants to bring us to, when and only when we’re ready. Exodus 9:18-22 says,
18 At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. 19 When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out. 20 Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. 21 Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. 22 Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out.
Of all of the journey steps mentioned in Numbers 33, some lasted only as long as an overnight stay, while others lasted a month or a year. Just as He does with us, God would on occasion move quickly, and other times He would have the Israelites wait in one spot, while He quietly worked in the background. The biggest mistake we can make is to assume that because we haven’t moved from our last “step” in awhile, that it means that God has left us, moved on, or has no plan for us to move out of our desert.
On the contrary! Our position is simply our stay put, even if it’s longer than we’d like. Our task is to have faith that He’s still present, and stay still, waiting for Him to move. How many times have we failed Him because of our impatience? You cannot be led and lead at the same time. You cannot submit to The Lord and take charge simultaneously. We cannot Have God lead us out of the wilderness by the hand if we’ve ran on ahead without Him.
It’s a bit like the corn maze my family visits in the fall. From our view on the ground, we get frustrated, scared, or discouraged when every angle looks the same, corn, corn, and more corn, so we take the path that looks like the quickest way out. But God’s view is a 50,000 foot view. He sees the corn maze, and He knows not only the way out, but where we go once we get there. If we’re not careful, our impulses can convince us to take this path or that step, when in fact, God needs us to stay right where we are – even if it’s hard, trusting that He’s still in charge. Because we are His children, and because the Holy Spirit lives IN us, no matter how long we stay in one spot before He provides the next step, we can take comfort knowing HE IS WITH US. Psalms 25:10 reminds us that,
All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
Not just some of His ways. ALL of the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful to us. So if you’re stuck in the desert? Know this:
1. God’s with you the entire step of the way.
2. He promises you that ALL of His ways towards you are loving and faithful.
3. Somewhere on the other side, there IS a Promised Land with your name on it. Know that God will take you there when the time is right. The hardest part for us is to trust that He has a plan for us even if we can’t see it. One of my favorite verses is Romans 8:24 (& 25), which says,
But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Faith is believing and knowing that God is right by you, no matter what, just as He promises.
For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go – He will never leave you or forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Just like the most faithful of the Israelites were led to the Promised Land, God will lead you as well. Be strong, be patient, and remember that God is right by your side, waiting to lead you out of your desert in His perfect time.
Cheering for you,