The Wilderness Road

Sixteen years.

It was today, sixteen years ago, that I formally told God I was serious about this—that I wanted to see this journey through to the end.

I was thinking this morning about the second generation of Israelites who came out of Egypt.

I wonder if they ever resented their parents’ generation for failing to go up into Canaan when they had the chance. Sure, they were going to get into the Promised Land eventually, but Israel’s needless panic at the border turned a one-and-a-half-year trip into a 40-year one.

It wasn’t the younger generation’s fault, but they were the ones saddled with an extra 38 and a half years of travel time because of choices they didn’t make.

Funny. Didn’t think about it until just now, but I’ve been baptized for about half that amount of time.

Life is so much like that wilderness trek, isn’t it?

We’re wandering through a world that’s not what it’s supposed to be—not what it could have been if the people before us had made better decisions.

In the opening pages of the Bible, two people eat the fruit they were never supposed to touch, and then there’s a series of about 4,000 years’ worth of bad decisions from people and nations.

And here we are, stewing in the consequences. On our way to somewhere better, but stuck in a place we never asked to be.

Makes it hard not to be bitter. Or frustrated. Frustrated at all the trials—and even inconveniences of this life.

We could have been somewhere better.

It’s the wrong attitude. If nothing else, it doesn’t make the trip itself very pleasant—grumbling and sputtering about what could have been.

The what-ifs aren’t all that relevant. You are where you are—and more importantly, you’re going where you’re going.

A lot of you have been in the desert a lot longer than I have. Even longer than the Israelites themselves.

I’m sure you had things you could have grumbled about—have grumbled about—but what about the blessings?

There’s a lot of those. Pretty easy to focus on the blessings we’re moving toward and forget the ones that are around us right now.

The Israelites had food and water provided consistently by God Himself (Deuteronomy 8:3). For four decades, their clothes didn’t wear out and their feet didn’t swell up (Deuteronomy 8:4). They traveled with the very presence of God, and that presence shielded them from the heat of the sun and illuminated their path in the darkness, guiding and protecting them along their journey (Exodus 13:21-22; Numbers 14:14; Deuteronomy 1:33; Psalm 105:39). They had the perfect law of God establishing the boundaries of justice and equity.

Incredible blessings. Maybe a little easier to overlook every time you have to pull down and set up your tent, or march from one patch of wilderness to another. Maybe a little easier to take for granted after the 12,480th time you head outside your tent to gather your omer of manna for the day.

There’s a beautiful Millennial prophecy in Isaiah about a day when “the wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad … and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose” (Isaiah 35:1).

(That’s the translation I’m used to, but the Hebrew there seems to be referring to a crocus, not a rose. Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the same way, but we’re still talking about a breathtaking scene.)

That’s a day I look forward to seeing literally fulfilled. But I think right now, today, as we travel through the wilderness and wasteland of this world—as we pitch our tents and take them down, as we daily gather up the provisions that God provides for us—there are times when God fulfills that passage for us on a smaller scale.

When’s the last time you noticed the desert around you blossoming? When’s the last time God poured out heaven’s blessings on you to the point there wasn’t “room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10)? When’s the last time something truly beautiful gave you pause in your travels?

It’s easy to resent being in this desert, this wilderness. It’s easy to be frustrated that we’re not at the destination yet—that the actions of others throughout history have moved us farther from that destination than we’d like.

But the truth is that, no matter how long it’s been since we committed to this journey—sixteen years, half a century, or even four score—we’re traveling with the presence of God, not just around us, but within us—transforming us a little more with each step we take.

I want to get where we’re going, too. I want to be somewhere my car doesn’t break down, where I don’t have to worry about growing financial stresses, where my kids can play safely outside, where the governmental structure is filled with servants instead of self-servants, where people don’t die early or senselessly, where relationships are repaired instead of abandoned, and where people instinctively consider the needs of those around them.

The Promised Land is what makes the journey worth it. It’s hard to be reminded that we’re here and not there. Hard to think about all the steps behind us and ahead of us.

But the wilderness road is filled with blessings, too. The fact that there even is a road for us to take is a blessing all in itself. And sometimes…

Sometimes it’s worth stopping to smell the crocuses.

Until next time,

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