Forty Days or Forty Years?

A painting by Krzysztof Lubieniecki of Moses striking water from a stone

Josh, an avid explorer and amateur archeologist, decided to act on his old desire to travel to the Middle East. He wanted to view some of the past along with some of the more recent archeological excavations in the region, and even hoped to do some digs himself along the way.

He asked his archeology classmates to join him, and six of them committed to the project. Less than eight months later, Josh and his team found themselves in the Middle East, on their way to a well-developed archeological work near the southwestern portion.

After spending many days both observing and working with professional archeologists, Josh decided that he and the team should move on to their own project some distance away. They all packed up their gear, said their farewells and headed out from the camp, excited yet reluctant. They had met many who were familiar with the area that considered Josh’s intentions and departure with skepticism. But he remained confident that he and the team could fulfill their mission in around four days.

Two days into the trip, Kathy, one of the less experienced members, began to grumble about how the ‘place’ Josh kept speaking of seemed to be farther and farther away.

Then Julio, a seasoned archeological student, came to his defense when he remarked that all the surrounding terrain looked very similar, and they should not give up so soon.

Their fears were allayed when Josh came across the first stop on their journey through the wilderness. The dig he found was small, but they were able to unearth several artifacts that might have come from King David’s era. The team cheered over their find, but the following morning, a few of their provisions ran out, and so did their enthusiasm.

That afternoon, they come across a small pool of water with a few trees nearby. One team member was elated, and he hurried over, quickly removed his boots, and walked into the water. But he had no sooner entered before wild shrieks burst forth. Josh rushed over as the man raced out of the water, only to find snakes—dozens in all sizes—moving rapidly toward him. After fleeing quickly away, Josh and the team packed as fast as they could and fled the area before anyone was bitten.

Day four arrived with no fanfare at all. In fact, most of the team was dismayed and disappointed. Kathy went into another tirade of murmuring and complaining. As she walked all around their camp, she made known her disgust and unbelief. When she became unable to restrain herself any longer, she confronted Josh face-to-face about their current predicament.

“Okay, Mr. Intrepid Explorer, where is this wonderful place you keep leading us on about? It has been four days, actually eight if you include the main archeological base, since we left the airport. What have we found? Rock and sand, tons of both, and a few artifacts! I thought the archeologists and locals way back there were wrong in their skepticism about us coming out this way. But now I’m in full agreement with them!”

Another team member came up right beside her, yelling, “Yeah, it was pleasant at that camp, and at least somebody was finding artifacts, not wandering around aimlessly in temperatures that would not only fry an egg, but dehydrate and package it for shipping, too! Where are all these water holes and the huge oases you told us about on the plane?”

Josh responded hesitantly with a vague answer. Then he wandered away and climbed up a small mountain passageway and looked toward heaven, wondering what to do next. An hour later, he concluded that continuing forward would be best, hoping the site would soon appear. After much effort, he eventually convinced the team to go on rather than going back, especially considering all the snakes in the pond earlier. So off they went with only a little more than half of their supplies remaining, and no end to their journey in sight.

photo of Sinai desert

Their high expectations continued to turn to disappointment and despair as day after day dragged by. They soon gave up and cried out to God for help. But no sooner did He provide, then they would take Him for granted again and begin complaining and wandering around. Before long Kathy arrived at an awful conclusion, saying: “Hey! We passed that rock formation a week ago. Way over on the right is the pool with the snakes! This means that, for over a month, we’ve been going around in a circle! Josh, how could you and your God let this happen to us?”

A scenario like this really did happen in the Middle East several thousand years ago, when the Israelites were led out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, and into the wilderness.

God intended for them to pass through the land in less than forty days, but they trudged on for forty years instead. Like the exploring team in this story, they had been going around and around in a circle.

They would not trust God. They wanted to go back to the land God had just delivered them from. They’d cry out to God for help. As soon as He provided, when the next test of their trust in Him came, they would murmur and complain all over again. They repeatedly took God for granted, and ended up going around in yet another circle. They finally reached a point where God could not let them into the land promised to them, because they no longer believed that He could help them. They would rather go back into the bondage of Egypt than trust God.

It wasn’t until sometime later that God said to the next generation of Israelites: “Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward” (Deuteronomy 2:3). Going “northward” meant to finally travel into the land that God had promised them forty years earlier.

This account of the Israelites’ journey in the wilderness spiritually parallels our walk with God as believers in Him. God will deliberately lead us into what we consider to be a wasteland, in order to break us of our reliance on self, and bring us into dependence on Him. The problem comes when we don’t allow God to work in our lives. We want to have everything on our terms and conditions. As a result, we frustrate and hinder His efforts and, in the end, we take Him for granted.

Multitudes around the world are compassing a mountain right now, and will continue to do so until they yield to God.

He doesn’t want us to remain this way any more than we do. But, as long as we complain and murmur against Him and what He has done for us, our time spent wandering aimlessly will grow longer and longer.

Let’s not reach the point of the first generation of Israelites and be denied entrance into the Promised Land due to continual unbelief. Let’s obey as God commanded and “turn you northward” out of the wilderness and into His Kingdom. Our trust has to be in Him, not in ourself. Don’t let a forty day journey turn into forty years!

 

[Image credit:Krzysztof Lubieniecki [Public domain]; Sabine Kulau/pixabay]

Reassurance When the Master Compels Us

Black and white painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner 'The Disciples See Christ Walking'

“And straightway Jesus constrained [compelled] His disciples to get into a ship, and to go before Him unto the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, He was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea…And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased” (Matthew 14:22-25,32).

Jesus had just performed the miracle of feeding more than five thousand people with only five loaves of bread and two fishes. This was one of many tests of trusting God for His disciples (and the people as well). And now God was planning another test for them concerning faith and obedience. Therefore, Jesus insisted that the disciples get into the ship and sail without Him to the other side. Then, after sending all the people that had just been fed on their way, He quietly slipped up into the mountain where He could get alone in prayer to His Father without anyone knowing.

Take note here how Jesus urged His disciples to cross the sea alone. He knew that something needed to happen that would test their resolve. But this would not be possible if He was with them.

They had to go on without Him. Yet, the key word here is that He compelled them to go—it wasn’t a mild suggestion. He left no option open to do something else. If He had, they might have sensed that the waters and sky were not normal and refused to leave. They might even have stayed at the shore and waited until He finished praying.

Jesus had to push them on out into the waters so He could have an opportunity to demonstrate His faithfulness in their time of need. Not long after they left the shore, the winds blew hard against them and the waves increased in height and frequency. As their boat was drawn farther out from their destination, it was very likely that fear and consternation developed in everyone on board. They were quickly losing control of the situation, but no one was around to help.

Yet all hope was not lost. Sometime between three and six in the morning, Jesus came toward them, actually walking on the water, moving in their direction!

Then, after Jesus had “…come into the ship, the wind ceased.” Jesus surely could have calmed the waters long before this point. Or He could have waited until they capsized and were struggling to stay afloat. Actually, in Mark 6:48 we find out what did happen—Jesus “would have passed by them”!

The point is, Jesus compelled them in the first place to enter into the ship and go. When the Lord presses us to go, we need to obey, even if it later seems hopeless.

It is actually reassuring when He compels us to enter in and go forth. He already knows what lies ahead, and He is not going to leave us alone. The Lord does this because He wants us to learn to trust in Him, not in ourselves. The disciples could have become so focused on their desperate situation that Jesus could have passed right by them unnoticed. It was only after they noticed Him and asked Him to come into the ship that calm ensued.

Where are you right now?—still waiting on the shore with uncertainty, even though He has already compelled you to get into the ship and travel to the other side?

Don’t contemplate the situation and agonize over it; do as He has commanded—go!

Maybe you have obeyed Him and are now struggling against the wind and waves, feeling very much alone and ready to give up. Remember that Jesus was the One who sent you forth alone in the first place, and, just as He did with the disciples, He will arrive at just the right time and tell you, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid” (Matthew 14:27).

[Image credit:Henry Ossawa Tanner [Public domain]]

The Vine, the Branch, the Fruit

A cluster of grapes hanging on a vine

“I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Jesus stated here that He is the Vine and His followers are the branches. This verse emphasizes the importance of a branch abiding in the vine it comes from, meaning that it is absolutely necessary for Christ’s followers to abide in Him. It is only the branches which abide in Him that will produce worthwhile fruit.

Look closely at a vineyard. You’ll see that the vine and the branches are attached, like your head is attached to your body. Jesus is referring here to branches that now are, or once were, in union with Him by a living faith. “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12). Close union with Christ is the real message here.

An orange hanging on a tree doesn’t try to find a way to make itself plump and ripe. It just hangs from the branch, and, with proper care, when the right time arrives it becomes ripe and ready to feed someone. It is only natural for the vine to produce fruit through its branches. It doesn’t plan ahead or work at it. You need to just hang in there with Christ, and let the fruit He is producing in and through you develop naturally and mature. Then it will be of benefit to others. Christ is telling you here to just abide in Him, because you can’t produce fruit on your own. Are you abiding in Him? If not, there is no way you can produce fruit for Him by yourself. Your intentions may be good, but you can’t make plans and projections on your own to fulfill your goal of bearing fruit for Christ.

You can find all kinds of ‘Christian’ projects going on these days that look good, but they have not been initiated or directed by the Spirit of God. They are therefore actually just a waste of time and energy and money.

In fact, anything you do for God that does not come forth from abiding in Christ has as much value as wood, hay and stubble—which are only fit to be burned in the end.

You simply cannot bring forth any worthwhile fruit unto God separate from the power of Christ living within you. Only fruit produced as a result of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ will be worthwhile in the end.

Once you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you start out grafted into the Vine, which is Him. You slowly become part of the Vine and it feeds you. If you continue to grow with Him, your life will start to bear fruit. It will not be much at first, but soon you will have more than you started with. And it won’t be long before you will have much fruit coming forth from your life. It is the power of Christ’s presence and His Holy Spirit in you that will enable you to produce the fruit of the Spirit. Then the love and peace and righteousness of Jesus will come forth from you and through you.

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and you are the branches” (John 15:5a). He meant that you need to be united to Him and to commune with Him by sincerely believing in Him. As you faithfully stand for Christ and practice your faith in Him with action that is steady, serious, and energetic, it will be accompanied with His blessing and assistance. The Holy Spirit will inspire you to do what Jesus wants. This is where you will find the only way for a believer to become fruitful in holiness.

So continue steadily in your love and attachment to Jesus by living a life of constant communion with Him. Make it a habit to fix your heart on Him daily in full confidence and faith.

This will be your indisputable method to get all the supply you need from Him. You will gain both the influence of His Holy Spirit and His comforting presence. He will protect you and provide for you and direct you by His Word. Continue on united to Him. Doing this on a regular basis, like daily exercise, will become necessary in order to produce works of righteousness, both from within and without. Then you will be like a branch on a vine, laden down with fully developed fruit!

But if you defect from your loyalty and relationship with Christ, you will lose His influence over you and what you produce. No one who is separated from the True Vine can bear any fruit that is worthwhile. Only the one who abides in Christ is able to produce worthwhile fruit. Christ alone is the vine and the fountain and spring and source of life. His branches don’t have any life or power apart from Him. You need the grace of God and the power of Christ in you, or you cannot produce action that pleases God, any more than a dry, withered branch can produce succulent fruit. You are nothing, you have nothing, and you can do nothing at all that is truly spiritual and acceptable to God if you do not abide in Christ.

Jesus told us: “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b). Underline that in your Bible. How often we try to do things for God which always fail in the end. Then we realize, when we are finally able to see the truth of the matter, that apart from Jesus, “I—can—do—nothing!” But Paul declared in Philippians 4:13: “…I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

Keep foremost in your mind these two statements which go together:
Apart from Christ, I can do nothing.
But through Christ, I can do all things!

 So remember: Christ comes before fruit. Remain attached to Him and trust in Him. Depend on Him by remaining near His heart on a regular basis. In this way He will be your constant source of strength and fruit, because He will be in you. And then, the more fruit you bring forth, the more you will abound in what is good, and the more He will be glorified!

[Image credit: Jassy Onyae/unsplash]

Can Trials and Tribulations Be A Good Thing?

Black and white photo of an old car stuck in the mud

When you first accepted Christ into your heart, you most likely felt like you had conquered the world and that the problems you had up to that point no longer seemed so difficult. What a pleasant time it was, with little to fear. But it was not long before the euphoria faded and new concerns and struggles started to appear. Then you began questioning why you made this choice in the first place. It can seem that, as soon as one difficult situation is taken care of, another arises—sometimes even more than one! Now those problems you thought you had overcome when you became a child of God are coming at you with a vengeance. Does it have to be this way? Will you have to forever fight against these difficulties? Will you ever find peace and rest?

Your answer is twofold. First, if you are not following God’s plan for your life, by insisting on going your own way (or continuing your old habits), then these problems will always plague you. They are the product of disobedience. You may not be intentionally rebelling against God, but you are still not obeying His commands and following in His paths. Many times you blame someone else, or even the devil, for what is actually the consequence of your own wrongful actions. You also may blame God, thereby only adding to the violations you have already committed against Him!

Man bent over laying bricks

Secondly, God will send various circumstances and trials your way to strengthen and shape you into the person that He has already pictured you becoming. God is building you in a manner resembling a bricklayer forming a wall. A wall is never begun from the top or the middle. The bricklayer first lays one row of bricks on the bottom foundation, then another on top of that, and another, until eventually the top of the wall is reached. Just as it is with these bricks, each test God permits to come upon you provides support or preparation for the next one. Some believe that God is just preparing us with these problems and situations for the future when we will rule and reign with His Son after He returns to Earth. But actually, all of this is for the time we are now living in. God wants us to be able to manage each future difficult situation patiently and in full confidence—not in ourselves—but in Christ Himself. The Apostle Paul said, “…we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope” (Romans 5:3,4).

Many were brought up with the mindset that we must try to avoid all problems that could occur in our life. Therefore, when God sends trying circumstances our way, we do our best to evade them. We often succeed in bypassing the trial, but that does not mean that we have passed God’s test. God will send the circumstance back to us in another form instead, and will continue to do so until we stop avoiding it and learn to turn to Him for help in overcoming it.

Many believers around the world struggle with the same afflictions year after year. Some continue to follow a manmade method to circumvent these ordeals, without having the slightest realization that God wants them to go through the trials, not around them. Others give up on God entirely and fall back into the old sinful worldly system they were once delivered from. They conclude that living for God is too much trouble, not realizing that all they needed to do was to learn to turn the problem over to God and leave it there.

God wants you to make good use of the trials and tribulations you encounter as a means of correction and growth. He never intended for them to drag you down and, ultimately, away from Him. When a situation arises that is greater than you can handle, do what the psalmist did: “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.” (Psalm 73:16,17). He came to the point where he could not understand or resolve the problem he faced on his own. He found that the best thing to do was to go before God for the answer.

Woman looking downward with book in hand near face with bluish fog and trees in background

When problems come your way, seek the Lord first and inquire whether the latest problem arose as a result of your own actions. He wants us to know that it is a good thing when trials and tribulations come after He sees areas in us in need of strengthening. God does not want our problems to leave us fearful, upset, or discouraged. Instead He tells us, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations [various trials or testings]; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect [blameless] and entire, wanting [lacking] nothing” (James 1:2-4).

Are you in a perplexing situation right now, or sense that one is on its way? Don’t hang your head low in defeat. Look up, and rejoice that God wants to improve your life! He alone is the source of your victory over whatever problem or obstacle you may encounter. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication [petition] with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5-7).

[Image credits:flickr/Mennonite Church USA, maxpixel [1] & [2]]