Have you ever noticed that when confronted with new challenges we often retreat. We see what possibly lies ahead and decide that it is too hard or daunting a challenge. At least that has been my experience. I end up frozen, immobile and stuck. Memories of being called “loser” in junior high and even elementary school rise to my mind. Years later, that word still haunts me when faced with new opportunities. Or at least that used to the case.
But at least, I am not alone. The Bible is full of stories of “losers” who win the battle and save the day. The Israelites are a good example, often of what not to do. The bible tells us the story of the Israelites coming out of Egypt after hundreds of years in slavery. They were promised freedom and a new land by the God of their ancestor, Abraham (Exodus 14). They had seen God destroy the first born of the Egyptians while preserving their own people. When the Egyptians pursued them, after they had been given permission by the Pharaoh to leave, God protected the Israelites. He led them through the Red Sea on dry land until all their people were safe on the other side. Then the Egyptian soldiers who had followed them onto the dry land were washed away when God released the banked waters of the Sea.
Every step along the way that the Israelites made on their journey to the Promised Land, God provided for them. He gave them food each day but Saturday straight from heaven, manna, (Exodus 16:4) and water from a rock (Exodus 17:6). Yet, they still often complained.
Once they arrived at the shore of the Jordan River, outside of the border of the Promised Land, Moses sent 12 spies into the land to check out the territory. God had given them promises that the land would be theirs in spite of the inhabitants of the land that were already there (Deuteronomy 1:29). All the spies returned, raving about the beauty and bounty of the land. Then 10 of the men told the Israelites of the large size of the men of the land and of the fortified cities. Only two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, did not quake in fear as they told of the inhabitants of the land and their cities(Numbers 13: 27-33). Caleb and Joshua continued to stand in faith, believing that God would fight for them just as He had done when they had left Egypt. In Numbers 13:30 it says, “Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.”.
The other spies continued speaking to the Israelites, telling them how strong and large the inhabitants of the land were. “The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” (Numbers 13:32b-33). The Israelites chose to believe the bad report from the majority of the spies instead of holding onto the promises that God had given them. All of them but Caleb and Joshua cried and complained that it would have been better for them to have remained in the land of Egypt or to have died in the wilderness. They refused to listen as both Moses and Aaron threw themselves down before them. Caleb and Joshua also pleaded with them to trust in God, tearing their clothes. Caleb said,
“If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it to
us, a land flowing with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land for they are our bread, their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them,” (Numbers 14:7b-9)
But the Israelites refused to listen. Instead they rose up against Caleb and Joshua, throwing stones at them.
Because of their unbelief, God did not allow any of them who had doubted to set foot in the Promised Land. Only Joshua and Caleb were given that opportunity.
I feel heartsick when I look at the story of the Israelites in the wilderness. The question, “Do I want to be like the Israelites, preferring bondage versus freedom?” Or would I rather desire to be like Joshua and Caleb, believing that with God all things are possible as He leads me to step out in faith into new areas.
Abram, later known as Abraham, was another example of someone who moved out in faith. He lived in the cultural center of his day. His was a life of familiarity and a certain amount of comfort before he responded to the quiet voice of God which promised him a new land. It took courage for Abram to move away from home, away from his family and the creature comforts of his day. He had to move forward with His eyes on this unseen God and see what only God could see. If he had remained in Ur, he would never have stepped into the land that God had for him and his children. He definitely would never have entered into a covenant with God. But yes, he did choose to move out in faith and believe an unknown and untested God. Today, we have him and God to thank for his obedience and tenacity to pursue God.
I tremble with a healthy fear and respect for God at the thought of the Israelites own lack of faith. It is better to move out in faith like Abraham than to quiver in unbelief. So I stand today, on the brink of the unknown, trembling with both fear and anticipation as I contemplate my own journey with God. I desire to move out of my complacency and mediocrity to explore the timelessness and beauty of the art which God has placed within me. To dream of a better life, a life well worth aspiring for as I march on this sod with God through the muck and mire and onto the higher ground where angels dance.
Photo Afonso Lima