I had exited Egypt and lapped my wilderness. I was strong and courageous. I did not shrink back. I prayed hard, worked hard, stewarded all my talents and blessings, ran my race, pursued my dream, and made it to my promised land. Then the strangest thing happened… it sucked. It was hard. It kind of felt like that moment where the reviews of the resort were great and you got a smokin’ deal, but then you got there and it wasn’t anything like what you expected. My promised land seemed so disastrous that it put the best of family vacation-gone-bad movies to shame. I jest, but as a matter of fact, my promised land was full of exponentially more trials, conflict, doubt, and exhaustion taking its toll mentally, physically, and emotionally while bleeding me dry. The promised land is supposed to flow with milk, honey, and have table grapes the size of small children. It is supposed to afford me rest after my slavery, exodus, and wandering. If THIS is my promised land, I have to be honest and tell you I want to go back to Egypt. I’m comforted in knowing that I’m not the worst Christian ever, because perhaps the Israelites felt this way too. Not even after 400 years of Egyptian servitude or 40 years lapping a desolate wilderness did the Israelites enter the promise land to rest and savor that milk and honey, but instead, they went to war. War, the exact opposite of the expectations for the promised land.
The book of Joshua, 1:13 promises, “The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.” Buckets of blood, mounds of slaughtered bodies, and 31 kingdoms later, Joshua 14:15 says, “Then the land had rest from war.” Did you catch that was 31 kingdoms? Not 31 battles. 31 kings were dethroned. The same Joshua chap asked to be strong and courageous and fill Moses’ shoes leans into a promise of rest that is made by a life of war. This was not a season of trial for Joshua and the Israelites, but a life of it.
These promised lands we strive and hope for are shallow counterfeits for the promised land God has for us.
I often expect seasons of trial to take me to a proverbial promised land and I also expect them to end at some point. I fail to recognize that this is just how it is. This is how living in a fallen world works. Our children’s Bibles tout the person of Christ as “rescuer” and we hear the echoing of our society’s view of trials and God as a fairytale master with a happy ending within a 90-minute movie. Some even misinterpret the gospel to think it will always lead us to prosperity and relief in the here and now. Your seasons of slavery and wilderness should end in the luxury or rest, right? I believe this and then my promise land ends up being, well, unpromised. That dream fulfilled, milestone hit, season ended somehow feels hard if not harder for the fact that it wasn’t what I expected. Forget that our promised land is not even really in this world.
In my unrenewed mind I think, “This promised land was not promised at all. It seems like a cruel joke on the faithful who dared believe in the gospel. After all the fear, waiting, bipolar faith, learning, seasoning, pruning, guilt, and growing, I JUST NEED REST.” Once my flesh gets over the shock of me, I don’t know, not getting what I want or what I think God should want for me, I find the gospel’s truth. I remember truth’s like:
Consider it Joy when you encounter various trials. (James 1:2)
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. (James 1:9-10)
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40)
We are to seek joy in hurt, and hope in outcomes unseen.
There are so many truths like these throughout the old and new testaments, but the theme is the same. The twist for us who believe is to behave opposite to our culture and the world’s response. We are to seek joy in hurt, and hope in outcomes unseen. The world expects bad things to happen, life gets hard, but then a miracle happens, things start looking up, and everyone lives happily ever after. But we are in the world and not of it. We don’t end here. We don’t reach the promised land here. These promised lands we strive and hope for are shallow counterfeits for the promised land God has for us. We are called to act backwards of the world’s standards. We are called to practice joy in the chastening. We are called to war much more when we thought we already had. When you really think about it, our faith may come across as a bit pessimistic to some, yet we find a moment’s rest in the knowledge that there is a stellar, satisfying ending for us ahead. It really puts the art of gratitude in perspective. If there is such a great promised land that we will see upon our demise, then we should see every good thing and everything made good as a sheer gift from above.
Our generation is touted as being extra, extra special for such a time as this, and then we find ourselves pursuing big, huge dreams that all of a sudden are really complicated and convoluted. I’m there. I have a dream plopped in my lap and it is hard, exhausting, and sometimes even maddening. This is not how my dream is supposed to be, so I whine. It seems like half-moments of glory amid the constant toil, strive, and yuck. How could this be my promised land? It’s not. It’s a promised land that may just be hard because hard is sharpening me, challenging me, staring me down, daring me to shrink back. And it’s those hard and seemingly unpromised half-moments that are simply bigger than our own understanding.
The story is so much bigger than our meager parts and it is the sum of our actions and responses that truly matter.
Perhaps you are in a circumstance where you wonder if you made a wrong turn, you crossed the finish line and there were not streamers, or the curtain dropped and you heard no applause. Have hope in the fact that you will rest and you are in the promised land where you stand today though you do not realize it. The story is so much bigger than our meager parts and it is the sum of our actions and responses that truly matter. While you war to change a generation or change the world, it could be that the much smaller actions, the seemingly unnoticed actions and ill-fitting circumstances you work through do more for the kingdom than the best laid expectations of our own promised lands. With this gospel truth my hope is that you can change how you view your unpromising land to a place of growth and refining as it prepares you for a promised land that is not of this world.
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Image Credit: Horizon, Creative Commons