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Desiring the Wilderness
This week I was looking at the topic of courage and I read God’s word to Joshua as the Israelites were preparing to cross over the Jordan River to enter and possess the Promised Land. When I think about this I see our own journey of faith, our journey to spiritual transformation, and the courage we need to possess the promises of God.
The Lord said to Joshua,
“Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9 NKJV)
But as they were making preparations to cross over Joshua reiterated a promise Moses made to three of the tribes.
And what I saw from this exchange is how many believers have become content with the wilderness and fail to enjoy God’s promises.
Read Joshua 1:10-18
The story of this agreement is found in Numbers chapter 32. These tribes had a lot of livestock, and the land East of the Jordan River was well suited for their needs. It was fertile and perfect for grazing and pasturing their flocks, but technically it was still considered part of the wilderness and not a part of the Promised Land.
So they came to Moses and requested this land instead of the inheritance mapped out for them. Basically they said,
“We’d rather stay here. This has got everything we need, and we don’t want all the trouble it’s going to take to cross over and possess something we haven’t seen yet.”
Moses became angry and rebuked them believing that by their actions and request they would discourage the rest of the tribes, the same way the 10 spies did forty years earlier resulting in Israel wandering the wilderness for 40 years.
But a compromise was reached. They would build places for their families and livestock on the East side of the Jordan River, and then the men would cross over armed for battle thus helping the other tribes receive their inheritance.
These are the words they spoke to Moses at this compromise.
“We will cross over armed before the Lord into the land of Canaan, but the possession of our inheritance shall remain with us on this side of the Jordan.” (Numbers 32:32 NKJV)
Moses agreed with the compromise, maybe because he really couldn’t do anything else knowing that everyone has the right to choose the level of life they’re going to live in.
And so these tribes tied themselves to the wilderness, desiring the wilderness more than God’s promises, and therefore sealed their fate – they didn’t stand a chance!
How will we know if we’re following in their footsteps? This is important, because far too many Christians actually come up short of God’s promises by being content with the wilderness as well.
Here are some questions we need to ask to help us identify this possibility.
To compromise is to make certain concessions in order to achieve a desired end. There are both good and bad compromises. What makes a bad compromise is when we enter into a situation we know is wrong.
The Apostle James says,
“To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17 NKJV)
The tribes of Ruben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, worked out such a compromise. They’d get what they wanted, the land East of the Jordan River, but a land never promised to them by God.
The height of their compromise was when they said they would obey what Joshua said, as long as it went along with their desire. (Joshua 1:16-18)
Isn’t it interesting how they were willing to obey Joshua, yet at the same time they were willing to disobeyed God?
We make such compromises when we start trying to make deals with God. But God wants us to enter into His promises, and that means obeying His commands.
When we make such compromises when we say things like, “Lord, I’ll give You the tithe when I get out of debt,” or “when I get a raise at work.” Or, “Lord, You know how hard it is for me to share my faith, so let my life be my witness.”
And then there are the “I wills.” “Lord, when my children grow up, then I will…” Or “Lord, once football season is over, then I will…”
These are nothing more than compromises, us trying to make a deal with God so that we don’t have to follow His commandments. And so instead of helping us enter into the promises of God, these compromises lead us back into the wilderness.
Contentment is basically being satisfied with what we have and not wanting anything else.
While contentment can be a virtue, like when the Apostle Paul said that no matter what the situation may be, he learned to be content (Philippians 4:11-12), it can also be a detriment.
The type of contentment I’m referring to is when we get content with where we are as Christians not using the gifts and talents God has given us. Paul’s admonition to Timothy reveals that this can happen even to the best of us.
“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:6-7 NKJV)
Timothy was allowing contentment to settle into his heart, and was becoming afraid of stepping out into the fullness of God’s calling and promises.
The tribes of Ruben, Gad, and one half tribe of Manasseh were satisfied where they were. The land provided everything they needed, and it had everything they wanted. They had no need for anything else, even though what they wanted wasn’t what God wanted for them.
How can we tell if such contentment is happening in our lives? When someone asks us to volunteer, and we have the ability and time, but we find reasons and excuses not to because we’re comfortable and it might be a little inconvenient.
Jesus, however, gives us an example of how to prevent this from happening. He took up a towel and washed the disciple’s feet, and then sais we’re to do the same thing, that is, to be servants to one another. Paul said we are to bear one another’s burdens. (Galatians 6:2)
To be a servant bearing one another’s burdens means we’ve got to get out of our comfort zones. We have to move out of those areas that are holding us to the wilderness and move into those areas God is calling us to take.
Yes, it’s easier to stay where we are, and doing those things that stretch us will mean a sacrifice. But God is not calling us to take up our conveniences and follow Him, but rather He’s calling us to take up our crosses, which means dying to our desires.
And so have we compromised and allowed contentment to set in?
God made a promise to me before everything went south while I was headed north. He said He would restore the years that the locust had eaten away from my life. And what I’ve come to realize is that the promise wasn’t to bless me so much as it was to get me to fulfill His purpose for my life.
It is in these times that I feel what Paul says fits the best.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NKJV)
The things that happened to me, things I considered to be bad, God was using to fulfill His promise so that I could fulfill my purpose. And throughout the years God has been fulfilling this promise bringing me into His purposes.
I guess what I’m getting at is that God blesses us with His promises so that we can move into His purposes.
God promised these two and a half tribes land that they could till, cultivate, and raise up their herds and flocks, but God’s purpose was for this to be given within the boundaries He set up. They saw only the promises, not God’s intended purpose.
It’s easy to lose sight of God’s purposes when we’re coveting His promises. Yes I believe God desires to bless the church, but not at the expense of forgetting our purpose, which is not to have a nice new facility as much as it is to fulfill His calling upon this ministry and in our lives. It’s to reach the lost with the gospel message of Jesus Christ. It’s to build up the House of God within each person, and it’s to make a difference in our community for Christ.
My question is, have you found yourself in any of theses three categories, that is, have you compromised, been content, or swapped God’s purpose for the promises?
If you have then what can you do?
God told Joshua to step out by faith and take the Promised Land saying, “Arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them–the children of Israel.” (Joshua 1:2 NKJV)
And then God told Joshua …
“Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.” (Joshua 1:6 NKJV)
There needs to be a step of faith if we want to enter into the Promise Land.
Now, while the men of these two and a half tribes did lead the rest of Israel into the Promised Land, they were not totally committed to the cause. The reason is because they had nothing at stake. Their families and possessions were kept safely behind. You might say they had an escape clause in their contract.
Far too many of us do the same thing. We start to get involved, but not fully. We’ve developed safety nets. If things don’t go the way we planned, if the going gets a little rocky, and if we meet more resistance than expected, then we’ve got our escape route already mapped out and we go back to where we were.
We need to fully step out by faith into God’s promises, and in order to do this we must sever all ties to the wilderness. We must be strong and courageous and take out those avenues of escape.
And I know how scary this is, especially those struggling with past issues of abuse, abandonment, and addictions. But you’ll never truly heal until you realize that the only stronghold and tower of strength is God, and not anything contrived by man.
When I think about risking it all, my mind goes to Abraham and how he was willing to risk it all when God called him.
God said to Abraham,
“Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1 NKJV)
Abraham risked it all, and God blessed Him, and because he stepped out by faith, willing to risk it all for God, and God counted it as righteousness. (Galatians 3:6)
But these two and a half tribes didn’t risk it all. Their families and possessions were safe on the other side of the Jordan River.
People have a built in resistance to risk. They settle in their comfort zones afraid to venture out. But faith involves taking a risk, and the Bible says tat without faith it’s impossible to please Him. Therefore, I believe the Lord is pleased when His people trust Him, and are not afraid to fully risk for Him.
What I’ve seen over the years is how many Christians miss out on great opportunities just because they’re afraid, because the end isn’t guaranteed and their safety isn’t fully assured.
Risking it all, however, doesn’t automatically mean you leave everything and move to a foreign country.
Will you fully step out by faith and risk it all for the Lord?
I really see no other way if we want to fulfill God’s plan and purpose and enter into the fullness of His promises.
Let’s take a moment and look at the end result or the danger of desiring the wilderness. In other words, what happened to these 2 ½ tribes?
“So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria … He carried the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh into captivity.” (1 Chronicles 5:26 NKJV)
They were the first of all the tribes of Israel to be taken captive.
There’s an interesting statement made in the song of Deborah after her victory over the Canaanites. She talked about how the tribe of Ruben stayed behind to watch their flocks instead of coming when called, therefore, they had a great searching of heart it says. (Judges 5:15b-16)
There is a basic truth, and that is, once we’ve compromised, once we’ve walked away, it becomes easier to do it again. And so if we’ve found ourselves not entering into the promises and purposes of God, then likewise we need to search our hearts.
There is a very real danger in desiring the wilderness and enjoying the comforts of this world. And there really isn’t anything wrong in enjoying what the Lord has given, but only when it’s attached to His promise and purpose, otherwise it will draw us away.
And so the question becomes, “On what level do we want to live our Christian lives?”
The choice is ours to make. We can chose to enter into the land full of blessings and promise, or we can choose to stay in the wilderness.
Do we say, “Lord I’ve gone far enough.”
Or do we say, “Lord here am I, send me.”
Wednesday Evening Bible Study