By Matthew Nawrocki
Newberry Correctional Facility, Newberry, MI
What is the major scene of the Old Testament? We all know about the children of Israel, God’s chosen people, and their captivity in Egypt, and the Promised Land given to them in Canaan. Yet the Bible doesn’t record much about their time in Egypt (bondage) or in Canaan (freedom). The overwhelming theme of the Old Testament is the wilderness.
Why? Well, because Egypt causes us to focus on our circumstances and the Promised Land causes us to focus on the blessings of God, but only the wilderness causes us to focus on Him for who He is.
When we’ve got nothing else around us, who do we look to? That’s the point. Dependency on God and God alone. God wants to be known by us, to have intimacy and fellowship with us. He desires to reveal His secrets, His counsel, and His purposes to us if only we’d pay attention to Him and not our circumstances (Egypt) or His provision (Canaan).
Is He not enough? How many more prophets does He need to send for it to click with us that following rules and being good and playing church is not what He created us for? We love God’s blessings (His hand) and we love telling people about how He delivered us from that old life (Egypt), yet both of those are only intended to cause us to see His face, and to purify us of our selfishness and cause us to see Him more clearly. Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
God has “predestined us to be conformed into the image of His Son,” (Rom. 8:29) and the wilderness is His tool of transformation. The Teacher (God) tests His students (us) “to know what is in their hearts” (Deut. 8:2). He closes the book, stops talking, and sees how well they really know the material they’ve been instructed in. The Teacher’s goal is to prepare His students to advance, to grow, and to mature. Yet the student always has the option to murmur, complain, argue, or give up. Israel did just that, and an entire generation died in the wilderness instead of entering the land that was given to them.
“It is eleven days journey from Horeb by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh Barnea. Now it came to pass in the fortieth year…” (Deut. 1:2-3)
Wait, what? 40 years? 11 day journey? Why? Because they did not learn the lessons God was using the wilderness for. So, too, we can get “held back” because in order to be successful at the next grade we need to pass the previous grade. If I don’t get good enough grades, I’ll be held back to re-learn the lessons and tools needed for what’s next. At some point, we will be fed up with being “held back” a grade, year after year, and be faced with the choices to give up, keep complaining and blaming circumstances, or press forward.
My prayer is that we would press forward to what God is calling us to. Phillipians 3:12-15, “…but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me . . . one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.”
Listen to The Message translation, ” I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward – to Jesus. I’m off and running and I’m not turning back. So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision – you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.”
The call of God is for us to allow God to purify us to the point of transparency, as in the refining of gold to purity, that the world would only see Him, and not us.
We must stop playing church and start being the Church. “You have dwelt long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey…” (Deut. 1:6-7). Turn to God, seek His face, fellowship with Him, build your intimacy with Him, for He is your Promised Land.