faith · family · learn

40, a Lent devotional: years in the wilderness

Week 1: 40 years in the wilderness.
Texts: Numbers 14

40 years is a long time. I’m 40. 40 is an entire generation so that when God made the Jews wander for 40 years, He was essentially wiping out a whole generation. The generation that whined and moaned about being there in the first place. He said, that’s it. I’m tired of your complaining and I am pulling this car over and you are getting out.

We read some pretty harrowing words in Numbers 14, Gods judgment against the people.

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. (Numbers 14:32, 33 ESV)

If you are new to the story, or if you were to read just this chapter in a vacuum, you might think that God is not so great after all. He sounds cruel and even petty. You people complain all the time, and are so ungrateful. So I’m giving you a time out.

But there’s more to the story than that. For years God provided for them, He did incredible miracles to get them out of Egypt where they were slaves, and He promised them freedom and a land of their own. When they complained about being thirsty, He gave them sweet water. When they were hungry, He rained down quail and made bread from the land, until the people were full. And not just once, but every single day. He showed up time and time again. But still they complained.

It’s easy enough for me to look back and say pshaw! What a bunch of dopes! But if I’m honest and taking stock of my own heart, I realize how daily I complain in some way. I’m tired. I don’t want to wait for things any more. I want more time with my husband. I want a well paying job without leaving the house. I want more fun toys for Naomi. I want God to show up.

And then He does. And then a few days later I complain that He didn’t show up in the way I wanted Him to with the things I wanted or the answers I felt I deserved. And I am humbled and must repent. Repent of my discontent and doubt. Repent of my self righteous pride, thinking in some way that I could do this thing called life better than God is currently doing it.

There are other times though, when I am in quiet reflection, humbled and seeking Gods heart, when it occurs to me that I feel like God is punishing me with His silence. I mean, the precedent is set here in Numbers, isn’t it? We see clearly how God punished this particular group of people, an entire generation and their children for their unfaithfulness. Is that not scary to you? It’s frightening to me. I start to wrack my brain for my sins and play out all the possible consequences on my life and on the lives of my family. It’s overwhelming and I start to come undone. Will God not show mercy? Have I exhausted His patience?

No. Simply put. First, we must resist the notion that all God does through our trials and suffering – times of waiting or times of getting the answers we don’t want – is punish us for some sin in our lives. If you were to point just to Numbers 14, you may come to that conclusion. But reading the rest of God’s story (oh how I praise Him for His word!!) we are comforted in that God does not punish us forever or even according to what we deserve, and that we see clear evidence that all bad things that happen are not a direct consequence of sin in our lives or in our ancestors’.

And secondly, we cling to God’s promise that when we repent, turn from our sin, give up our disobedient hearts, that He is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us. He promises us new, abundant life, and to always provide for us whatever we need.

Questions:

What are you complaining about today? Do you not have something that you want? Do you feel God is punishing you and making you wait for it?

Have you asked God to reveal to you areas of sin, particularly stubbornness, grumbling, discontent? Do you spend more time doubting His goodness than expecting it? Do you claim His promises for yourself, and your children?

What do you need today? Think about today, and only today. I encourage you to make a list, write it out. What has to happen today? And tomorrow morning, look through the list and see how God had provided for you.

And feel free to come back here to share it! 🙂

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