Don't Go Back to Prison
Recently, I have been reading through the book of Numbers. In the book of Numbers, the people of Israel, recently freed from slavery in Egypt, head towards the Promised Land. Numbers records the journey of the people of Israel, as well as all of their grumbling and complaining in the wilderness. In one particular instance, in Numbers chapter 11, we see that the people of Israel begin complaining about the food they have to eat in the desert. God had miraculously provided manna for the Israelites to eat. When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down. It could be made into loaves or cooked in a pot. But what the Israelites wanted was meat to eat. They began to grumble and complain about it. The Israelites begin thinking about the food they were able to eat in Egypt. They say, "If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost- also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetites; we never see anything but this manna!" (Num. 11:4-6).
As I was reflecting on this passage, I realized that there have been several seasons in my own life where I have responded to situations similarly to the Israelites. In one way or another, we are all headed to the "Promised Land" of experiencing and fulfilling God's destiny and plan for our lives. As we move along on our journey with the Lord, He often moves us out of one season and into another, out of one position and into another, maybe even out of one location and into another. It has been my experience that desert and wilderness seasons often accompany the important transitions in my life.
The wilderness seasons are hard. Like the Israelites, we have to leave our respective "Egypts" without knowing when we will arrive at the Promised Land. What's more, we don't know what the Promised Land with look like when we get there. The Promised Land is filled with uncertainties and unknowns. The whole process requires us to have a great deal of faith. Instead of looking at our circumstances, we need to set our eyes on the Lord and put our confidence in His character, who He is and His love for us. But we struggle with that.
The wilderness will make us squirm and it will certainly make us uncomfortable. Sometimes we may even feel lost in the wilderness, unsure of where we are going and what the next step is. One thing I have discovered is that God will use the desert seasons of life to strip us of all of our comforts of the last season. This is what the Israelites are experiencing in this passage. Although they were treated horribly as slaves in Egypt, now that they are in the wilderness, all they can seem to remember are the small comforts they had before...mainly the food! Their selective memories seem to have forgotten the harsh treatment they endured and the weight of the bondage and the oppression that they were under. In fact, their memories fail them so badly that they are able to say that they would be better off back in Egypt!
I think we do the same thing in our own lives. Faced with the challenges of the wilderness, at times we look back to the past and remember certain comforts we have lost along the way. There may be certain crutches we have had to let go of. There may be certain people, places or situations we have had to give up to continue along our journey. Like the Israelites, we might even forget that the season we left was a prison cell! We might forget the bondage we experienced in that place and all of the oppression we were under. We might forget how faithful the Lord was to deliver us from the place that we were in. And if we are not careful, we might even be tempted to head back to Egypt, to slavery, to bondage, just to experience the small, momentary and fleeting pleasures of the previous season.
Today if you find yourself in the wilderness don't be discouraged. This simply means that you are transitioning from the old to the new. You are on the path to the Promised Land. Lately, I have been encouraged by this verse:
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isa. 43:19)
The thing about new things is that they are, well, new. The new thing that God is doing in your life is going to be new. It is not going to look like the past. It won't be the way you have always done things. It won't be the way you thought it was going to be. It won't look familiar. But you don't want it to. And the new thing will be a good thing. You will be stretched and you will be tested in the wilderness, but it will prepare you for all that is to come. You will grow, you will mature and you will be changed in the process. Don't lose heart. Remember, just as the Lord led the Israelites through the wilderness with the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, He is leading you step by step. When things get hard and you long for the familiar comforts of your past, don't go back to prison. Take His hand, take one more step and hold on to Him. He is holding on to you.