Monday, April 13, 2009

Promised Land

It's been nearly a month since my return from Israel... and I'm still reflecting over many of the things I experienced while I was out there.

One thing that strikes me particularly at the moment, is the number of different names we have for the area - Israel, Palestine, Canaan, The Promised Land, The Holy Land...

Of all these, the one that resonates most powerfully with me is The Promised Land. It is a name that holds reassurance for the wanderer, the one who has eked out an existence in the desert whilst every other dog has seemingly repeatedly had his day. It is a name that holds hope for the future.

One thing that has played a lot on my mind since I've got back, are the events described in the book of Numbers, chapters 13 and 14:

After their God engineered miraculous escape from Egypt, the Israelites had been wandering the Sinai Peninsula and had reached a place called Kadesh in the desert of Paran. God commanded Moses to despatch a leader from each of the 12 tribes, to carry out a covert operation in the land.

40 days later, the band of spies return successfully, bearing the mother of all fruit baskets from their little adventure.

The good news - "We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit."

The not so good news - "But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan."

All around the camp came the loud murmur of a nation grumbling at the prospect of entering such a land... they were a real "glass half empty" lot.

In response to this, Caleb then pipes up "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it."

But the Israelites weren't having that... as quick as a flash, all the other spies with the exception of Joshua suddenly embellish the story and transform the inhabitants of Canaan into superhuman warriors (the Nephilim they refer to had such a reputation); they came up with the following cop outs...

"We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are."

"The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them."

Isn't it amazing? How quick we are to forget God's promises... and how easily we forget his deeds for our own convenience?

They should have known better... not long before these events, the whole nation had witnessed God work through Moses - turning the sea to dry land and sweeping away the armies of Pharaoh as those waters returned to their rightful place.

The same God who performed such a feat... and who had led them safe through the desert thus far, was now calling them into the receipt of his divine promise. Would he really have done that if he wasn't prepared to back them up as had previously done?

Let's not be too harsh on Israel. We can be exactly the same... in fact for most of my adult life... yes even my Christian life, I have been. I have committed the sin of choosing safety over promises... and I have missed out. That's one major reason why I went to Israel. I didn't want to be subject to the naysaying of my own doubting heart. I didn't want to be ruled by fear... dread cannot be our sovereign, God must be.

Even now though,I am acutely aware that heading to Israel is actually only the first step... it is the equivalent of heading into the promised land to spy if the risk is worth it.

The challenge for me now is the same as it was for the Israelites. Now that I have seen that taking a risk with God does indeed yield rewards... am I prepared to continue along that path? Or shall I pass it off as a silly flirtation with adventure... and return back to the spiritual desert for another generation?

The thing is... and I can't recall what television programme I heard this sentiment expressed on recently - when one of your dreams comes true... you begin to take the other ones a little more seriously.

The things I hope for, I am now entrusting to God a lot less reluctantly than before. I choose to go forward... because it's new and because the land ahead is good. Yes there will be troubles, trials and struggles... but they will be new ones, not the same old tired ones that have dragged me down into despair and lethargy in the past. Furthermore, pressing on ahead... unknown as that journey may as yet be, is the path God wishes me to walk... and remaining in step with him, I can be assured of having him right there beside me.

I think the main point I want to make... the one that is as much for you as it is for me, is that we have to question the counsel we heed when we are presented with a new and potentially difficult venture on our journey in Christ.

Are we listening to the voices of suspicion, doubt an despair that say it cannot be done... or are we listening to the different spirit that God has put inside our hearts that says "do not be afraid" and "this is the way, walk in it." That different spirit is the Holy Spirit who doesn't just influence us to make the right decisions as in days of old... but instead dwells within us and changes us into the people who can walk in God's ways.

Caleb and Joshua had that different spirit... and so it was that one generation later, when all their contemporaries had passed away in the wilderness... it was they that spearheaded the campaign to claim what God had promised them.

So when the loud clamour of noise tells you that only doom and failure lies ahead, always remember that if God has promised something... it is he who will enable you to attain that promise. Have faith, keep on believing... and you will see God's wonders.

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