One thing I always enjoy doing when I am travelling on the plane is pay intimate attention to the on-board safety demonstration before take off. Now to everyone else I’m travelling with; in the event of an emergency…..you’re welcome. Seriously, no one cares these days, everyone is looking at their novel/iPad/duty free catalog, whatever.
The thing is though, I studied aeronautics at school and yes, flying is inherently dangerous. Why? because physics, that’s why. 250 tonnes was not really meant to hang in the air 12kms above the earth. In order for this to be nonetheless achieved, we worked out early on that the best way to do it was to bolt engines to ‘aircraft’ that are much, much too powerful.
Let’s be honest, it’s a recipe for disaster and that is why humanity has devoted so much time and attention to minimizing the risk of air travel. The journey is inherently risky. The only reason air travel has become so safe is because of the sheer amount of risk management that has gone into aircraft design, pilot training and passenger awareness over the last 100 years.
You know what else is risky? Spiritual travel. Spiritual journeys. This is why the first five books of the Bible devote so much time and effort to the journey of the people of Israel through the wilderness.
Back to the aircraft safety demo that no-one watches; have you ever noticed that they always finish the demo by saying something like: “thank you for flying (insert airline here) please observe these guidelines for a pleasant journey,”? No? well you’ll just have to trust me.
This leads me to ask the question, What if Israel’s journey with God in the wilderness was a bit like a ‘safety demo’ for all spiritual journeys?
What are the obvious guidelines that need to be adhered to for a safe and even en-joy-able journey through the most risky and dangerous of spiritual deserts? If God is teaching us something about how to get through the wilderness to the promised land, then what is even the number 1 lesson?
Well, one morning recently I wondered if I may have seen it for the first time. It happened like this:
Do have one of those ‘daily bible’ apps on your phone? If you don’t they’re great. They just post up a bible verse on your home screen each morning so the first thing you see is God’s word. Well, on the 07-04-16 I got this:
Deuteronomy 8:1-3 This entire commandment that I command you today you must diligently observe, so that you may live and increase, and go in and occupy the land that the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. 2 Remember the long way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. 3 He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
This really seemed to speak to me on that day and I thought I might take a break from the usual walk thru ‘Acts’ to have a looksee at this one instead.
The most immediate message for me behind this passage was that God often reveals his love to us in ways we don’t understand. This is because the zenith of God’s love for us is the revelation of his true self. Therefore in his love, he will not let his people get away with false ideas about who he is or what he is here to do.
I don’t think we ponder this nearly enough. Imagine how much more patient we would be if we noticed our learning deepen about who God really is in the midst of even the most difficult circumstances. Imagine the increase in poise we would have if the ‘best life,’ was not one of ultimate ease but of ultimate discovery.
There is no discovery more ultimate that discovering that God is there and he does care.
But real discovery involves real difficulty. It’s tough to discover the above fact when everything’s been handed to you on a platter. I’m sure Mother Teresa said it best: “you’ll never know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you got.”
It also revealed to me that all the seasons of anger against God (and hence in tern seasons of internal spiritual misery) were really under-girded by one enormous limiting belief: “I know better than God.”
Please notice here that I am not talking about seasons of legitimate grief or times when we are being subjected to various forms of abuse. But in the everyday ins and outs of normal life; Do you know why we’re miserable? We think we know better than God.
Do you know why we just can’t see ourselves loving ‘that’ person? We think we know better than God.
When we’re scared of what other people think of us….we think we know better than God
When we compare ourselves to others….we be thinkin’ we know better than God.
When we’re undisciplined and don’t keep promises…we think we know better than God.
When we’re scared of the ‘fallen world’ outside…you guessed it, it’s because we think we know better than God.
Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” (Jn 14:1) He may as well have said “Don’t start to think that you know better how things should go than I do, you don’t. Trust me.”
This is THE lesson everyone has to learn if we are going to see God do anything let alone amazing things in and though us. But the thing hit me for the very first time last week is/was this:
How long we want that lesson to take, is completely up to us.
You see the thing about Deuteronomy is that it’s a summary and a re-telling of the 40ish year journey that the Israelite’s took with God through the wilderness before they entered the promised land.
But the whole ‘elephant in the room’ here is that this 40 year journey from Egypt to Canaan could of course, geographically speaking, be completed in a matter of days, NOT years.
When you fast forward to the New Testament, This exact verse is indeed quoted by Jesus who is at that point being put through the trial of temptation by Satan. Guess where? yep; the wilderness. (Matt 4:4)
Moreover if you’ve spent more than 10 minutes studying the temptation of Christ, you’ll also be aware than all of his quotations of Scripture that he utilities to answer Satan’s questions are from, guess which book? Deuteronomy.
This is because the temptations of Jesus are along the lines of the three main issues that the Israelite’s failed to ‘pass’ in their journey. They are (to use Matthew’s order):
- Does God provide?
- Does God care?
- Is God worth worshiping?
Every step of Jesus’ journey reverses the failures of Israel and indeed humanity in their/our wilderness experience. Hence, Jesus displays himself to be the true Son of God.
And THIS is the reason for the greatest difference between his time in the wilderness and Israel’s. Possibly the most obvious difference, one so obvious it took me 20 years to notice it.
Israel achieved what should have taken days in a matter of decades. Jesus achieved what takes us decades in a matter of days.
Ok, so what? Here’s what: The reason why Jesus’s risky journey was roughly 365 times shorter was because he trusted God with every step.
Let me type that again: He trusted GOD with every step.
So…..how long do we want to be in the wilderness? How long do you want to be out there?
What if God asked you that right now? Because he is.Luke 11:9 So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
Last of all, can I encourage you with this:
Have you seen progress? Do you look back and all of a sudden realize that he’s been with you, that you’ve grown and that you now know more about the real God than you did before?
Guess what, it’s not you, it’s him, Jesus working in you.
He’s the only one perfect, powerful and loving enough to be able to reduce years and years of wandering to a purposeful, shortened journey in a straight line.
The only instructions for a pleasant journey across the wilderness. As far as it depends on you, trust him with every step and he’ll show the way through that takes ‘day’ rather than ‘decades’.