1-2 Directed by God, the whole company of Israel moved on by stages from the Wilderness of Sin. They set camp at Rephidim. And there wasn't a drop of water for the people to drink. The people took Moses to task: "Give us water to drink." But Moses said, "Why pester me? Why are you testing God?"3 But the people were thirsty for water there. They complained to Moses, "Why did you take us from Egypt and drag us out here with our children and animals to die of thirst?"
(Exodus 17:1-3 The Message)
Yesterday, we began to explore the lessons of the barren places of the wilderness we find ourselves in at times. We looked at the fact that we often find ourselves "camping out" at a place where it seems like no provision will ever be made. We find ourselves complaining, even growing a little bitter because of the seeming lack of provision in the time we are experiencing. Today, I'd like us to consider that the steps of a righteous man (and woman) are "ordered" by God. That means that even the dry places are by his provision!
The most awesome lesson we can embrace in the wilderness barren places of our lives is that provision for our deliverance is only available through our obedience. Moses was called upon to lead this group of wanderers. In his leadership, he was often faced with the challenge of a very discouraged group of followers - complaining to him about the seeming barren places they would find themselves experiencing. That is how we are - we get delivered from something way too powerful and strong for us to ever overcome on our own (like they were delivered from the hands of the Egyptian armies) - and the next thing you know, we are in a dry place and think God has abandoned us!
The main reason we take so long to actually get out of the wilderness is our "slowness" to learn the lessons of the wilderness journey. The stages of the wilderness are often shortened through our immediate response to trust God, to be obedient to his direction. But...obedience is hard and we often struggle with what we don't understand, so we "linger" a little longer at the dry places and bitter waters because of our own struggles!
When all we can see is our past, bemoaning what it is that we have "lost" in our past, we never really see the provision of the present. In fact, we cannot see the present, nor the future, until we turn from focusing on the past and move toward the new! There is a lesson in the wilderness - that is the lesson of release. In the wilderness, barren places, we learn the value of "releasing" what we have held onto with such tenacity - our past! It may be something we viewed as "good and enjoyable" - not really a bad thing for us, but something that God wants us to be able to "release" to him so that we can press deeper into him. It may indeed be something that God desires us to let go of because it weighs us down unnecessarily. Regardless of the lesson of release he is teaching us, we need to be willing to open our hands (and our hearts) to let go of what he asks us to leave behind.
When we find ourselves in the midst of our complaints about the wilderness - the barren and dry places of our life - we often don't hear the voice of direction. We miss out on the small voice of God's refreshing that direct us into the places of refreshing we so desperately yearn for. The stages of the wilderness may just be shortened a little if we'd learn to be quiet long enough, and frequently enough, to listen for his voice in the moments of seeming barrenness.
I just returned from a trip to the East Coast - enjoying a week in the tall oaks, observing the changing of the colors of the leaves, marveling at the intensity of greens, yellows, oranges, and reds. The time was definitely a refreshing retreat from the struggles of the present "battles" that I found myself in just prior to leaving. I am never more thankful for the dry place than when I get to experience the refreshment of his provision! Remember, getting through the wilderness is done in stages. The steps may seem a little methodical, and a little tumultuous, but they are indeed steps that will reveal his provision all along the way when we keep our eyes focused on him.
When we begin to experience "release" of what we once counted on, held onto so dearly, we sometimes feel a little barren - emptied inside. That is another lesson of the wilderness - it leaves you empty just long enough to be filled up again! God's goal is to empty us of what really does us no good to hold onto and to fill us with that which will refresh us for the journey ahead. Not sure what you are being asked to let go of today, but just know that when you are emptied, he stands ready to fill!