What follows is a long post and I hope you will bear with me through the end. It could be that you will not relate to this in any way; or its just possible that you also are faced with terrible storms that make you want to change course. Whatever the case, I hope this will be edifying to you.
As many of my long time readers and personal acquaintances are aware, 2015 was a very challenging year for me and my family. I won’t go into great detail, but we have dealt with a disability that brought about medical retirement and have been searching for new job opportunities since August. We’ve been waiting for doors to open, putting out resumes and preparing for some lean times. We’ve been busy during our wait and praying hard for direction and strength.
Around Christmas, we got a phone call—a potential job opportunity in Texas. Houses, food, gas (pretty much everything) is cheaper in Texas. We could do more than just “get by” over there.
My immediate reaction was resistance and—though I am ashamed to admit it—fear
Texas is flat!
How can we move so far away from my parents and in-laws?
That part of Texas doesn’t have much natural beauty…
How would the kids handle being uprooted?
How would we afford the move?
But it’s Texas!
I’m a native Californian… I won’t fit in.
We have to leave behind orchestra, my daughter’s truly awesome violin teacher and our homeschool group.
I’ll be even further from the coast!
Fortunately, 2015 was a year of significant spiritual growth. So, even though my mind was all flashing lights and blaring sirens, I knew that I needed to take it all to the Lord. So I prayed and pondered. I talked to my spouse, then prayed and pondered some more. I started sounding out friends and family and prayed even more. Slowly but surely I began to see all the positives. If this is the direction God wants us to take, then He will help us through it. I need to trust Him to do what He has always done.
No final decision has been made as we are still doing our homework, which includes an upcoming trip to assess the potential of the job offers, the housing and the local churches. As all these things have been unfolding, I was struck by something, but I kept it to myself until about a week ago.
I thought of the Israelites.
I can hear you groaning: “Oh no! Not more about the Israelites, Elihu!” I see so many of my own foibles in them that I feel compelled to write about them and—hopefully—learn from their mistakes.
I thought of the account in Numbers 13 when the Israelites had reached the edge of the Promised Land and they sent twelve spies to check it out. The account even lists the names of these men. Two men of faith and then men of infamy…
They don’t hop on google to look at photos, crime stats and housing prices. They don’t get a birds-eye view from Google Earth. Not having the benefit of modern technology, they pack their walking sticks and maybe the last bit of the day’s manna and quail ration and head in on foot. The rest of the Israelites pace about for forty anxious days waiting for their return. They may have been thinking,”Do you think it’ll be as amazing as God says? I wonder how hard it will be to move in?”
At the end of forty days, the twelve men return with more than what they packed. They have fruit! Mouthwatering, savory, sweet, colorful fruit! When all you’ve had is manna and quail for months, fruit is pretty exciting.
With twelve different men, one would anticipate twelve different perspectives. It came down to two: fear vs faith.
Let’s read the account:
At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.
And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.”
Joy of joys! This is what God had promised! He wasn’t making it up, and the men had brought back evidence. Can you imagine seeing fruit after eating nothing but quail and manna for months?
How do you think the Israelites are going to react? Are they going to rush eagerly toward their new home?
Hang on to your hats, the men have more to say:
Uh-oh. This can’t be good…
“…the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.”
Houston, we have a problem. This won’t be as easy as we thought! Lions, and tigers, and bears—oh my!
But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”
Whoa. Why did Caleb think they could take the land? They didn’t have chariots, horses or battering rams. They were just a rag-tag assortment of ex-slaves! How could they overcome these gigantic, well-armed people?
Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.””
So…. who’s giving the correct assessment? Is Caleb having delusions of grandeur or are these men cowards?
Fear says: Freeze! Don’t go another step! We can’t do this!
Faith says: Yes, this is daunting, but God and I make a majority. God promised this land and He wants us to take it. He’ll lead us through it one step at a time.
Faith trusts God in spite of fear.
Faith moves trembling feet forward.
This story isn’t over….
So all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims?
Oh the agony! One minute, the promised land is within their grasp, the next minute they are lead to believe they cannot have it. Instead of pausing to consider or even praying about their fear, they weep and wail.
Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us select a leader and return to Egypt.”
They wanted to go back to slavery? They must be mental!
It’s doubtful the people of Egypt would have welcomed them back with open arms. It’s more likely they would have killed them on the spot. And yet, how often do we make outlandishly stupid statements at the height of our anxiety?
The minority is going to speak:
Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the people of Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel,
“The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”
Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel.
Joshua and Caleb—two small but strong voices of reason. Two voices who speak from faith, not fear. In the turmoil of emotion, the people pick up stones to kill them (hmmm…. Sound familiar?)
“The Lord is with us; do not fear them.”
I would venture to guess (and it is only a guess) that Joshua and Caleb had been noting, with gratitude and awe, all the ways in which God had cared for them since they had left Egypt: the manna, the quail, the longevity of their clothes and shoes, the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, and the water in the wilderness. They had seen a mighty empire defeated without a single spear tossed. All these wondrous things they had committed to their heart. They had confidence in the power of the Lord.
I would also guess (though, again, I could be wrong) that these men had a huge adrenaline rush when they saw the Anakim and the fortified cities. I’m confident they were a little scared. Fear is a natural reaction to such things. Joshua and Caleb didn’t know how God would defeat their enemies, they simply trusted that he could. They feared God more than they feared the Canaanites. Their faith held more sway than their fear.
How often do we fail to see God’s provisions, both small and large, and consider ourselves entitled to those blessings? Such a mindset will lead to a lack of trust and progress in our walk with God.
What was the outcome of this account?
And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying,
“How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me.
Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.
But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness.
According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ I, the Lord, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.”
And the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing up a bad report about the land— the men who brought up a bad report of the land—died by plague before the Lord. Of those men who went to spy out the land, only Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive.
(The above passages are from Numbers 13 and Numbers 14. As always, I suggest reading the full context.)
Confident, courageous faith will take you beyond what seems possible, guard you through perils unthinkable and carry you to heights incomprehensible.
An unhealthy fear of everything but God will paralyze you, leaving you to wander about life barely subsisting, never quite tasting the joy that comes from trusting in the Lord.
As I thought about this possible move, I had to ask myself—Am I going to walk by faith or freeze with fear?
I wondered, “Am I being offered the chance for better things and forsaking it for the comfort of my known wilderness?” During a discussion one evening about our possible future, my spouse began comparing the situation to the Israelite spies.
I burst out laughing. Our thoughts were nearly identical.
So, the two of us are going to go “spy out the land” as it were. This choice will have a huge impact on our family one way or another and I would be dishonest to say it doesn’t matter. I want this choice to be positive not simply so we can be “better off” financially, but so our family will grow in the Lord. If living in this new place wold damage that, I’d rather not go. If staying here will weaken us, I’d rather not stay. Unfortunately, I cannot see all the far-reaching implications, but I have confidence in my God who does see and whose wisdom is so far beyond my own.
Unlike the Israelites, we don’t have any sort of promised land on this earth. Our promised land lies beyond this life. Yet the choices we make today have long-term consequences that impact our spiritual health. I’d rather have a dinner of herbs with God in my home, than a sumptuous feast without Him. I want my choices—even these piddly ones like moving—to fulfill God’s purpose on this earth. No matter where he leads me, I need to be making Him the goal with each breath. It could be this door is opening just to reveal it’s the wrong one. Who knows?
Seek the Lord’s guidance each step of the way and remember that the promised land lies beyond this earth. Don’t let your fear keep you from it. Walk by faith.