Many of you know our story. We left home about nine months ago out of a desire to follow the Lord as fully (perfectly) as we can so that we can have as much of Him as we can this side of eternity. We quit our jobs as University professors, sold our home and our possessions, packed our suitcases and headed out to the nations. We are banking on the promises of God for our family as we purpose to seek His Kingdom first by obeying Him and discipling the nations. Currently we are in the Middle East. I say all of that to set up this series I am writing on “the wilderness.” We feel very honored that God has taken us out, but we also have felt a kindredness with the people of God in their wilderness journey. Like them, we have left the only home we knew. Like them, we left the demand of building other peoples kingdoms. Like them, we left the idolatry of our old land. And, like them, we were delivered quickly and miraculously into…well…not the promised land, but a middle ground, a liminal space; the space in between the promise given and the promise kept.
Life in the In-Between Land
In the in-between land, you know where you have been very well, but you have no idea what the place looks like that you are going. You feel grateful for freedom but face the temptation of regret or “looking back”–not because what you left was so great, but because it such a final thing. It was what you knew…and now, there’s just no going back.
Call it transition. Call it adjustment. Call it acclimation. But the effect of the “in-between” is a shaking of everything that was home except for our crazy family of six and the Lord. It is an honor and gift from the Lord. If we really accept this season for all it can be, I think He is inviting us to to settle into trust, into making Yahweh our home before He settles us in a new land. He is stripping us of our comfort so we can find our comfort only in Him. He is helping us withdraw cold turkey from our numbing or coping mechanisms so we can really feel again. He is striping us of the idolatry so we can worship in Spirit and Truth. After all, leaving Egypt was not just about freedom from slavery. It was a call to worship. God told Moses to tell Pharoah to “Let my people go so that they may worship me.” (Exodus 7:16, 8:1, 9:13).
When the people got out into the wilderness, they worshiped well (tambourines and dancing and EVERYTHING)…for the first few days.
Then they panicked.
They talked about going back to Egypt (cue Keith Green’s “So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt”). It was not that they wanted to return to slavery. They just wanted the familiar, the sense of comfort in knowing where you would go and what you would do each day. They wanted variety in their diet. A stable roof over their head. A house instead of a tent. But, in the in-between, you have none of these things. How do you worship when you are in the in-between?
Worship in the In-Between Land
Worship in the in-between land initially feels like the most natural thing in the world. After all, you have been set free. You have left a land of slavery for a new place of promise. And God did it so miraculously. For the Jewish people it was the parting of the Red Sea. For us it was the parting of paperwork, the help that came around us at the end to sell our stuff and our home, to send us out with prophecies and prayer. It was the provision of safe, soft spaces to land and see the wideness and beauty of the world in our journey to our final destination. We worshiped because we were free, grateful, and full of awe.
Further in and deeper into the wilderness, worship becomes a discipline. The wilderness journey for the Jewish people went from being a miracle, to a pilgrimage, then to a migration, then to a wandering. The romance of the beginning fades and you realize how tired you are. You realize your provisions are getting depleted, you start to worry about your children and their “homelessness.” And the temptation to grumble and complain enters the heart. Sometimes the best story is a cautionary tale. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors in the wilderness. And so, in these moments we ask ourselves, What would it have looked like if God’s people had done the wilderness well?
It would have been worshipful. Oh man…that truth calls us deeper in.
It would have been each person resisting the temptation to despair and worry and instead CHOOSE faith; to command our minds to come into alignment with His sovereignty and power and say every single morning, “BLESS THE LORD, OH MY SOUL!” It would have been a lot of reminding one another about the miraculous deliverance. It would have been absolutely intolerant of idolatry. We would not indulge people speaking against Yahweh in a faithless way, but call of one another to deeper faith, stronger trust, and perseverance. It would have been FORWARD facing to the promises made by Almighty God. It would have been radically set on hope. It would have been a disciplined fast from the world they knew, consecrating themselves to the Lord’s work in the world, and a joy and peace that came from the Lord’s leadership.
It would have been a determined, fought for trust that has endurance as its key descriptor. It would have been an persevering insistence on the ability of God to fulfill His word and a readiness to move when God said to move. It would have been a desire to hear from the Lord–to expand the tent of meeting, to walk in purity and holiness before Him, a circumcision of the heart. It would have been a preparation for entering the land, a training and building up of the community of faith to face giants to come. It would have meant reminding our children that provision was around the corner every time. It would mean that we could go a little further than we think we can. We can be a little braver than we thought we were. We can give up a little more than we planned to. We can go without a lot more than we had expected. Not because we enjoy poverty or lack, but because we are embracing the season of in-between, where God is our portion, our only source of provision. And we worship! We lift Him above our perceived lack. We lift Him presence above our desire for other things. We honor the beauty and wisdom of His leadership.
What He is Doing in the In-Between
Adonai is taking us back through infancy, through absolute reliance. It’s like the bonding of a parent and child, just our eyes looking into His eyes, getting to know the nature and voice of our provider, our Father–learning the rules of the household, learning it’s boundaries, learning how to relate in honoring one another, so HE can build His Kingdom among us. We can only see it this clearly with all other distractions out of the way. Though it may seem like deprivation, it is not. It is an entering into abundance. The door is narrow–so narrow that our stuff, our careers, our legacy, our riches, our renown cannot fit through. We are cut deep and shaved thin, until we are simply “just us.” We are like babies who have nothing to offer, but are loved and accepted, for no reason other than the fact that we belong to someone. God shows us this kind of love in the in-between. Like babies, we have nothing to bring to Him but our love. And somehow, that’s enough. But we are learning to walk step by step. We are learning to trust again. We are learning to distinguish His voice from among the noise so we can say what He is saying and do what He is doing (John 5, John 12).
Doing the wilderness well is the accepting of true child-likeness and sonship or daughterhood. It is a place of aligning with His heart and His ways of leading us, according to His ways, not our preferred style of leadership. We are learning to honestly and truly believe again that His promises are for us and our children. We are meant to be in partnership with Him to establish His kingdom, not an earthly one yet, but within people. We work to fulfill His assignments, not our dreams. In fact, it’s often in the wilderness that our dreams come lock-step into the same trajectory as His and we find our placement is at His feet, ministering to His heart. The wilderness is a time to worship. What is He crying over? We cry too. What is He rejoicing over? We rejoice too! What is He saying is coming? We announce it with confidence, preparing the way for the Lord! The fullness of the Gentiles will come in and His people will look on the Messiah they have pierced and receive mercy! And the word of the Lord will go out from HERE!
The wilderness is more than a land of in-between place, a necessary thing to endure from the land of slavery to freedom. The wilderness is proving itself to be a desolate place where needs arise urgently and often, but also a place where Yeshua lays out a never-ending banquet feast of last minute provision. We see how near He really is, how aware He is of what we need. How the body of Messiah is put into motion on our behalf. Why does He love us this way? Because He is love. It’s who He is. Why did we ever expect anything else? Because we have been in a culture of slavery for too long, where cruelty rules and self is King. But God is rewriting our understanding of purpose and identity–simply to be 100% His. He is rewriting our understanding of culture to be the “already-not-yet” Kingdom, this safe place of soul peace, where our Father is in authority (and, by extension, so are we), to be honoring, to be loving, to be abundantly provided for and out of that place, to provide for others.
How did we get here? We just heard the invitation and we accepted and we yielded. We wanted to be perfect as Jesus described it to the rich young ruler, not because of legalism, but because we saw ourselves in him. We were enslaved by what we owned. We were locked in shackles of over-commitment and slavery to man, not the purposes of Yahweh. But we wanted to make a different choice than the rich young ruler made. We heard the invitation and we wanted to choose follow Yeshua. So we shed everything we could, and went through the gate as narrow as the eye of a needle. We left so that we could worship Him. We left because we wanted more of Him. More of the Kingdom. We left to put our hand to the plow and work the fields. We left with the promise of provision (the restoration of even more than we left behind), both in this life and the life after this one. We accepted the invitation to the promised land, passed through the waters of chaos, watched Him defeat the spiritual enemy forces that tried to hold us back, and we entered the wilderness.
The wilderness is very…literal. We literally do not know where our head is going. We do not know how we will pay for our food. We do not know more than our next step. It sounds awful right? But it’s actually wonderful. The wilderness is not what you’d think. It’s blooming here. There are rivers of fresh water springing from the Rock of Messiah. It’s not always easy, but we are so happy. We may have done hard things in getting here, but we didn’t do this for God, we did it for us–because we wanted to! Actually, He did this for us. We do not expect a reward for this. He is our portion! We are just greedy for more of Him. Are you hungry for more of Him and also hearing the invitation? Come and join us out here in the in-between! Run to disciple the nations.
The wilderness is temporary. Soon we will be settled and fully functional in our promised land. But the wilderness is a place where faith becomes sight.
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Mark 10