Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Suffering of Waiting

They crept into the foreign land at night. From shadows and cloaks the twelve spies saw what wonders filled this place of promise. But after seeing the land God had promised to Israel, ten of their twelve told only of giants in the land, too mighty to overcome.
“Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. All the sons of Israel complained and the whole congregation said, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is God bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?’ So they said to one another, ‘Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.’ … Joshua and Caleb (two of those who had spied out the land) tore their clothes, saying to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, ‘The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land! If God is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us--a land which flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be defeated! Their protection has been removed from them; and God is with us; do not fear them!’ But all the congregation said to stone them with stones…” (Numbers 14).
The result of that climactic event was 40 years of wandering in the desert, enough time for the entire generation, minus those who were willing, to die in the wilderness (ironically, that which they said they preferred). It would be their children and not they who desired to return to Egypt (that land of worldly slavery) who would return and obediently follow God into that great land through the same point of entry encountered by their parents a generation earlier.

Only this week have I considered how greatly Joshua and Caleb must have suffered during those 40 wandering years. They had actually seen and tasted the goodness of the promised land, the land Scripture explains as a symbol of God's coming kingdom; and they had to leave it for 40 years of waiting. How hard it must have been for them to wander, waiting to experience what they had seen and tasted! But they did wait, and suffered in the waiting, because God would not let them enter in without His people.

There are some that have seen and tasted the vision of Christ's kingdom on this earth. That supernatural, love- and light-filled life with God and His people possible for us even here and now. That life Jesus tells us to pray for, "Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6). Some of us, like Joshua and Caleb, are eager and willing to set aside everything to enter in and yet are held back because many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are too bound to "Egypt" and too fearful of the kingdom. We are held back because God will not let us enter in without some other portion of His people. Entering in is a community affair.

But there is great purpose in this difficult time of waiting... another aspect of Joshua and Caleb's story and the prayer Jesus taught in Matthew 6. It is that experience of daily bread... "Give us this day our daily bread". Joshua and Caleb's 40 years of wandering in the desert was accompanied by a lesson taught through the daily provision of manna, that strange supernaturally provided food that settled on the ground with the morning dew. They learned utter dependence on God. Maybe that's why, in Jesus' prayer, He immediately follows the prayer for the kingdom with a prayer for daily bread. We need supernatural daily sustenance from God while we suffer through our waiting. As we take of Christ, our daily bread (John 6:51), we too are refined to trust in utter dependence on God's provision through any circumstance... even when we "walk through the valley of the shadow of death..."

So as we pray relentlessly for the kingdom, hastening our entry into it, we simultaneously embrace the refining of this waiting season, this season of suffering, because it's bringing us into utter dependence on God - a habit we will desperately need to hold onto in the potentially distracting abundance of His lavish kingdom blessing which is coming!

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