So you find yourself in the wilderness, your own private exile. You may even have begun to identify with the Israelites in the desert and again in Babylon, awaiting your promised land or your return to the promised land. Or maybe you are a Joseph, languishing in a prison not of your own making, waiting for the realization of the dream that God placed in your heart. You could be like David running for your life from your very own King Saul, holding out for the day when God will lift you up. You might even have settled in for the long haul, determined to wait out your time, believing that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He has promised to do. Or you may feel despair. Your longing for home may be so intense that you identify with the Israelites when they cried out to Moses to let them return to Egypt. (Numbers 14:3) That is not an uncommon sentiment when we start out on our journey with the Lord; everything feels so hard and unfamiliar so that even if we know our “Egypt” was lacking we long to go back. When I surrendered my life to the Lord and left behind the who I had been with all its comforts, familiarities, and routines, I didn’t know if I could do it; this new way just seemed so hard. I was no longer sure of who I was, of where I belonged, how I should act, how I should speak. It was so foreign to me. So often I would find myself acting like an Egyptian in Israel and I would run home ashamed. I didn’t know how to be in this foreign place called church. I only knew that the One I was following had saved me when nothing and no one else could, so I was going to do my best to learn these new customs, to wear these new clothes, to try and make them fit. I used to love the words to a song by Sarah Groves, they resonated with my soul: “I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt, leaving out what it lacks, cause the future feels so hard and I wanna go back, but the places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I’ve learned, and those roads were closed off to me, when my back was turned.”
However you find yourself in the wilderness, settled in or still running scared, most of us have at one time or another taken comfort in Romans 8:28: “and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” God has not abandoned us to the grave (Acts 2:27), we know our faith will be rewarded. But what if we are meant to flourish IN our wilderness? This is an extremely difficult concept to swallow. Things do not naturally grow in the wilderness, in those desert places. In the last few months I have begun to associate living in northern Manitoba as my wilderness experience, my frozen northern desert. When we moved from southern Ontario to the north of Manitoba four and a half years ago, we believed it was God calling us here. And although I had never felt a calling to the north, I did believe God had a call on my life, plans to give me a hope and a future. Whatever ministry God desired to plant in me, I thought He would do it here since this was where He was calling us. But I hated it here; the frigid winters drag on and on and the summers are too short, cool and windy; I am far from family, far from old friends, far from familiar places of worship, even the same worship songs are sung differently. The financial prosperity we thought would come turned into near financial ruin. I battled my past when the abortion I had had threatened to overwhelm me and then I battled my future when cancer came to frighten me. When I could not stand, I fell on the promises of God that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us”. (Romans 8:18) Slowly, God changed my heart and I no longer hated my northern situation. I made friends, celebrated the seasons of the year, visited family down south and grew in my relationship with God. I began to see how this wilderness, this desert place, is doing in me what comfort and prosperity would not be able to. And I began to see the beauty of the desert, where the wild things grow. Then it occurred to me that this is not just a waiting place. Things grow in the desert. Maybe I am not just waiting for the future; maybe the future is now.
Recall how we read the Lord’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11-14a and how we then zoomed out to read verses 10 and the second half of 14, to see the promise in the context of exile? If we zoom out a little father, we read verses 4-7: “this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” These are not just words of perseverance; these are not just words of persistence and determination while the going is rough. No these are the promises God intends for those who will journey with Him through the wilderness: He is the One who settles us when we are in a foreign place, who provides us with food to eat there, and occasions to celebrate. In our wilderness, God gives us increase, He provides peace and He prospers us. How great our God is that He would not only prepare a way through the wilderness but that He would prosper us in our wilderness!! Now we can read Romans 8:28 with fresh eyes: “and we know that IN all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” God does not just work it all out for our good at the end; He works good for us IN all things. Hallelujah!! So let us take heart, God can reveal to us His good plans for us even while we are yet in our wilderness, while we are still being conformed to the image of Christ. We can take heart, knowing that our victory is assured because “IN all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) Go in peace.
I don’t want to leave here, I dont want to stay It feels like pinching to me either way And the places I long for the most are the places where I’ve been They are calling out to me like a long lost friend
Its not about losing faith, its not about trust Its all about comfortable when you move so much And the place I was wasn’t perfect but I had found a way to live And it wasn’t milk or honey but then neither is this
I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt, leaving out what it lacks ‘Cause the future feels so hard and I wanna go back But the places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I’ve learned Those roads were closed off to me while my back was turned, oh
The past is so tangible I know it by heart Familiar things are never easy to discard And I was dying for some freedom but now I hesitate to go I am caught between the promise and the things I know
I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt and leaving out what it lacks The future feels so hard and I wanna go back But the places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I’ve learned And those roads were closed off to me Oh those roads were closed off to me while my back was turned
If it comes to quick, I may not appreciate it Is that the reason behind all this time and sand? And if it comes to quick, I may not recognize it Is that the reason behind all this time and sand?